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Ear-Resistibly Cool: University of Washington Unveils First Smart Earring Wearable for Continuous Temperature Monitoring

Could an earring more reliable than a smartwatch be the next big thing in women's health?

University of Washington researchers have developed and trialled the inaugural wireless smart earring, which is capable of delivering ongoing temperature monitoring and exhibits the potential for tracking stress, exercise, eating habits, and ovulation, mirroring the capabilities of a conventional smartwatch.

Is it the new smartwatch?

Body temperature serves as a critical indicator of health, often signalling the presence of fever and correlating with various activities like eating, exercising, and stress. However, continuous monitoring of body temperature presents a formidable challenge. Enter Thermal Earring, a groundbreaking innovation in wearable technology. The Thermal Earring stands as the pioneer in smart earrings, offering a dependable solution for continuous temperature monitoring.

The brilliance of Thermal Earring lies in its utilisation of the unique position of earrings, situated in close proximity to the head—a region intricately linked to the body's temperature regulation. This stark contrast to conventional wearables like watches, which are typically worn on extremities, enhances the accuracy and reliability of temperature monitoring.

How the earrings work

Developed as a hardware prototype, Thermal Earring mirrors the dimensions of real earrings with a maximum width of 11.3 mm and a length of 31 mm. Remarkably lightweight at 335 mg, it consumes a mere 14.4 uW, ensuring an impressive battery life of 28 days in real-world testing scenarios. Its compact form factor seamlessly integrates into everyday jewellery, offering fashionable designs without compromising functionality.

Moreover, Thermal Earring boasts a dual sensor design, distinguishing fluctuations in human body temperature from environmental changes. Through rigorous testing, it has been established that the stability of earlobe temperatures is within ±0.32 °C during periods of rest, validating its reliability in capturing subtle temperature variations.

What they found

Building upon these promising outcomes, Thermal Earrings assessed efficacy in fever detection through extensive data collection from both febrile patients and healthy participants. Additionally, they embarked on a pioneering exploration of the relationship between earlobe temperature and various daily activities. Their findings unveiled intriguing insights, showcasing distinct temperature alterations correlated with activities such as eating, exercising, and even acute stressors like public speaking and exams.

Conducting multi-day experiments in real-world settings further affirmed the validity of these findings, reinforcing the potential of Thermal Earrings for automatic activity detection and wearable-based health monitoring. This initial foray lays the groundwork for future advancements in earring-based wearables, promising transformative possibilities in healthcare and wellness monitoring.

Application for Women's Health

Although wearable temperature-based devices are nothing new, the impact of more accurate and reliable products is particularly enhanced when it comes to women's health:

  1. Ovulation Tracking: Accurate temperature monitoring can aid women in identifying their most fertile days, thereby optimising their chances of conception or providing insights into their menstrual cycle for family planning purposes.

  2. Menstrual Cycle Regulation: Understanding fluctuations in body temperature throughout the menstrual cycle can offer valuable insights into hormonal patterns, aiding in the management of irregular periods or hormonal imbalances.

  3. Fertility Awareness: For women practising natural family planning methods, precise temperature data can enhance the effectiveness of fertility awareness-based methods, allowing for informed decisions regarding contraception or conception.

  4. Health Monitoring: Changes in body temperature can sometimes indicate underlying health issues such as thyroid disorders or infections. Accurate temperature tracking can provide early warning signs, prompting women to seek medical attention promptly.

  5. Stress Management: Monitoring temperature variations associated with stress can help women recognise and manage their stress levels more effectively, leading to improved overall well-being.

  6. Exercise Optimization: Tracking body temperature during physical activity can help women tailor their exercise routines to maximise efficiency and avoid overheating or dehydration.

  7. Sleep Quality Assessment: Monitoring overnight temperature fluctuations can provide insights into sleep quality, helping women identify factors affecting their rest and make adjustments for better sleep hygiene.

In summary, devices offering more accurate body temperature information hold immense potential for enhancing various aspects of women's health, from fertility tracking to overall well-being and health management.

Next steps

Although researchers identified numerous promising potential uses for the Thermal Earring, their initial findings were exploratory in nature, as the emphasis was on assessing the breadth of potential applications. Further data is required to refine their models for each specific use case and to conduct more comprehensive testing before the device can be considered for public use.

In subsequent iterations of the device, Qiuyue Shirley Xue and her team will focus on incorporating heart rate and activity monitoring capabilities. She said:

“Eventually, I want to develop a jewellery set for health monitoring,”

“The earrings would sense activity and health metrics such as temperature and heart rate, while a necklace might serve as an electrocardiogram monitor for more effective heart health data.”

In essence, Thermal Earring heralds a new era in wearable technology, revolutionising temperature monitoring with its unparalleled accuracy, convenience, and style. As they continue to push the boundaries of innovation, the potential applications of Thermal Earrings are boundless, offering a glimpse into the future of personalised health monitoring and activity tracking.


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