The new Human++ system adds one very powerful new peripheral to Android smartphones: your own body. It interprets electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, and can be used for medicinal or recreational purposes: Let your doctor know that you’re having a heart attack, or let your Facebook friends know that you’re playing basketball.
Created by Dutch research firm IMEC, Human++ is a type of wireless BAN (body area network). This particular version uses a dongle that actually plugs into your phone’s microSD slot (which is one reason it’s limited to Android–the iPhone, for one, doesn’t have a microSD slot) and receives data over a low-power radio system.
The system includes a wearable sensor – currently in a sort of necklace form factor – that transmits data to the microSD dongle mentioned in the story. That data can then be uplinked to any number of applications ranging from a medical monitoring service to more mundane apps. The story mentioned Facebook, and given the number of people updating their status for nearly every move they make, I can believe that would actually be a big hit.
The medical application is a phenomenal draw. People with intermittent cardiac issues or epilepsy will rarely present their symptoms on demand in a doctor’s office. Those with a serious enough issue get assigned a medical monitoring device but, as small as they’ve gotten, they’re still a chore to carry around and keep functioning. By leveraging existing communications capability in the patient’s cell phone, the size and obtrusiveness of the system is seriously reduced. With additional work on miniturizing the sensors themselves, you could really make this kind of system virtually unnoticed by the wearer. That would significantly increase the chances that the patient will actually wear the device all the time and participate in the collection of their data. More data over longer periods of time and greater varieties of situations will yield a clearer picture of their particular issue which can only help the doctors.
Of course, the capabilities this kind of thing represents will hardly stay confined to the medical realm. The story mentions, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, the possibility that the system could be used to auto-generate Facebook updates. As I said, I can see that happening with no problem. But I can also see someone using that data to provide an additional interactive experience. Speed dating could get a whole lot more accurate, for example, with the addition of this gear to some kind of hypothetical service I’ll call the “Into.U” dating service. Imagine being able to know, physiologically, that your entry into the room caused this or that person’s pulse to quicken. Equally important would be to know that the particular hottie you’re chatting up is nearly flatlining at your advances. Being the (ahem) “seasoned” person that I am, it’s unlikely I’d ever consent to that sort of exposure but I can definitely see the potential in this.
Getting back to what I’ll call “serious” applications, the assist in sports training that such a system could provide would be invaluable. Feedback in law enforcement and military training exercises could reveal a fear or nervousness that’s affecting a person’s physical response even when it doesn’t rise to the level of their conscious notice.
In any case, it’s a fascinating technology. It’s still under development so you won’t find it on Amazon any time soon. I’ll keep my ears open for more and pass it on when I hear something.