Researchers Testing Microphone-Powered Calorie Counting Wearable

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Researchers from Northwestern University and SUNY Buffalo have unveiled interesting proof of concept results from a prototype wearable designed to record the sounds made while chewing and swallowing food in hopes of using the audio to eventually identify the foods being consumed based on the unique sounds they make. Researchers hope that, if foods can be identified in this way, a necklace-based wearable could potentially identify the type and amount of food being eaten, which would result in a wearable that was able to passively calculate caloric intake, something that no research team has managed to accomplish with much accuracy.

The wearable device designed by the team houses high-end acoustic microphones designed to pick up sounds associated with biting, chewing, and swallowing. This information is passed to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, where the sound is analyzed and compared to a reference library for identification. To test the accuracy of the device, researchers asked 12 volunteers to eat seven different types of food: apples, carrots, cookies, potato chips, walnuts, peanuts, and water. Acoustic samples were taken from each volunteer as they ate. In total, sensors captured 4,047 unique events, including 54 bites, 3,433 chews, and 560 swallows. Researchers found that audio signals could be used to identify these foods with an  80 to 90 percent accuracy.

Because this is a proof of concept study, there are naturally some major technical barriers that have yet to be addressed. First, and most importantly, could audio sampling like this ever be accurate enough to differentiate between a cupcake and a bran muffin or between seltzer water and regular soda. The caloric implication of very subtle differences can in many cases be huge.

Wenyao Xu, lead researcher on the team, envisions the product eventually being used in conjunction with glucose monitors to provide an additional layer of data to the algorithms for food identification. He see’s the final product being one that supports diabetics and obese patients trying to lose weight.


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