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FreeWavz wireless earphones use medical-style sensors to record heart rate data

Jon Phillips | June 25, 2014
First they came for your wrists. Next they came for your eyes. Now the wearable tech manufacturers are coming for your ears.

First they came for your wrists. Next they came for your eyes. Now the wearable tech manufacturers are coming for your ears.

The Freewavz earphones can track your heart rate and share your exercise data via a synthesized voice just like the LG Heart Rate Earphones I reviewed earlier this month. But unlike LG's product, this new Kickstarter project does away with messy wires and uses a pulse oximeter sensor to divine heart rate and blood oxygen saturation data.

The Freewavz inventor — an ear, nose and throat doctor named Eric Hensen — says this sensor offers improved accuracy relative to a more rudimentary spectroscopic approach employed by LG.

Specifically, Hensen says, LG's sensor is just a single-piece affair. It shines a beam of light at blood vessels and measures what's been reflected to determine heart rate. But the Freewavz oximeter depends on two pieces, just like equipment used in hospitals. It shines light through the thin tissue of your earlobe, and measures that light after it hits a photodetector on the other side.

"In the operating room, I can't have errors when my patients are asleep," Hensen told TechHive. "I need to know what they're doing all the time. So I took this particular technology, and applied it to what we're doing. A through-the-tissue approach is more accurate. This is the same way we do it in the OR. We're measuring blood flow and oxygen that's bound — or, in this case, not bound — to hemoglobin."

It's worth noting that I found LG's Heart Rate Earphones to be as accurate as a chest-strap heart rate monitor — a standard-issue gadget that many exercise enthusiasts are already familiar with. But the FreeWavz blood-saturation data could be of interest to more hardcore athletes.

Most people, even during the heat of exercise, maintain saturation levels between 97 and 100 percent, so real-time data reports that dip below 95 percent could signal over-training or a serious medical problem.

The FreeWavz earphones also include an accelerometer to track your steps. That's a trick that's currently unavailable in LG's ear wearable.

They play music too

Earphones being earphones, the FreeWavz play audio just like any other earphone product. But Hensen and FreeWavz president Harry Ericson have added some extra convenience features to make the earphones more compelling.

First off, the FreeWavz are completely wireless. Thanks to the latest Bluetooth technology, the left and right earphones (which are packed with identical hardware) form a wireless connection with each other. Similarly, one of the two earphones assumes a master relationship with your smartphone to wirelessly stream audio from that source. What emerges is a system that's particularly liberating, with no messy wires dangling from your ears or leashed to your phone.


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