When people talk about wearables or wearable tech, they are mostly thinking of smartwatches and fitness trackers, basically those that are worn on your wrist. Technically speaking, however, any kind of technology that can be worn on your body would qualify as wearables, hence the name, but we have been restrained by the limits of current technologies and design trends. Fortunately, it isn’t a dead end yet, and smart rings are starting to become a viable alternative, allowing some people to still keep track of their health while finally being able to wear their favorite classic watches again. These rings reveal the potential of jewelry that could deliver those same features while allowing you to maintain your fashion sense, like this earring that can read your body temperature, something that is still uncommon even on smartwatches today.
Designers: Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue, Yujia (Nancy) Liu, Joseph Breda, Vikram Iyer, Shwetak Patel, Mastafa Springston (University of Washington)
Our bodies are a treasure trove of data, depending on which part you are observing. Smartwatches try to shed light on our health by literally shining light through the skin on our wrists and down to blood vessels. Smart rings largely do the same, though on your finger, of course. While much of your body’s state can be calculated from these areas, some body parts give more accurate biometrics than others. There might still be some debate about it, but some researchers believe that the ears, particularly our earlobes, are a better source for that kind of information.
That’s the medical foundation that the Thermal Earrings are based on, a research project that is attempting to create a new wearable that is both functional and potentially fashionable, especially for women. The device uses two sensors, one that magnetically clips to the earlobe and measures body temperature, while another dangles an inch below it to measure room temperature. Comparing data from these two sources yields a more accurate body temperature reading compared to smartwatches that can’t properly differentiate ambient temperature. This accurate reading is crucial not just for knowing your body’s temperature but, for women, also for keeping track of their ovulation and periods.
The Thermal Earrings’ diminutive design presents both a challenge and an opportunity. It uses up very little power and uses low-power Bluetooth to transmit its data to a paired smartphone. In theory, it can be charged with solar or kinetic energy, but implementing a charging system for that is proving to be a bit tricky. And since only one earring is enough to read the wearer’s body temperature, it raises the question of what the other earring would do. Should it be a simple non-smart decoy to pair with the smart earring or can it also be used to read some other biometric as well?
More importantly, however, the Thermal Earrings open the doors to another kind of wearable accessory. Although the current prototype is largely limited by the electronics it uses, it can already be customized with charms and gemstones. More research into different materials and forms can hopefully lead to more chic styles, ones that ladies won’t be embarrassed to be seen wearing.