What if you could have some sort of device that kept track of every bite you took during the day, and then issued an alert whenever you over indulged? Well, a team of engineers from UCLA have come up with such an invention.
The WearSens is a choker that monitors every single bite you take, by recording vibrations in the neck. As we swallow, the food we eat travels down our throats, and causes our upper chest area to rumble. The WearSens tracks these rumbling sounds and identifies different types of food, depending on the vibrations.
The team behind the WearSens state that each device is tailored to the individual. UCLA engineer and co-founder of WearSens, Majid Sarrafzadeh, says:
“To personalize the device, we ask a new wearer to eat a 3-inch Subway sandwich and then sip down a 12-ounce drink.”
The vibrations caused by eating these two different substances are then recorded and sent to a smartphone app. This app then learns to distinguish between solids and liquids, and then uses this data to determine a person’s distinct swallowing patterns.
But why should we need a device that records our everyday eating habits? Shouldn’t we be able to remember what we eat? Experts think that this failure to accurately record what we have consumed is one reason people cannot stick to diet programmes.
Barbara Rolls is a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, but was not involved in creating the device. She says:
“The obesity epidemic hinges on knowing what people consume, and knowing if dieters actually change their eating habits.”
This is the main reason why co-founder Sarrafzadeh developed the device:
“Many nutrition methods are based on writing down what you eat. But this method has low compliance so we wanted to overcome these issues and wanted to do something that a pedometer does for activity.”
In studies published in the IEEE Sensors Journal, the WearSens was able to accurately distinguish between not only solid and liquid foods, but hot and cold also, with around a 90% accuracy. The person wearing the device can also be prompted if they have missed a meal, which dieticians say is just as important as over-indulging.
A rival company to the WearSens are, unsurprisingly, not convinced that the device will be able to detect the many thousands of foods humans eat, as part of their daily diet. Electrical engineer Edward Sazonov, who currently works at the University of Alabama, says:
“It’s an interesting study, no doubt, but I want to see how it performs in a larger community.”
Sazonov is part of a team that is developing a Bluetooth device using chew patterns in the jaw to record what we consume.
Monitoring our eating patterns is just one of the ways the WearSens can work. The UCLA team are also researching how the device could track the time a person takes a pill, or even help people give up smoking.
The device would also be of great benefit in monitoring the breathing patterns of people who have recently received transplants, as irregular breathing could be an indicator or organ rejection.