TRACE offers HIIT athletes comfortable and accurate heart rate monitoring

Many elite athletes, particularly cyclists and triathletes, incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into their fitness strategy because of its proven effectiveness to boost anaerobic endurance and weight loss at significantly faster rates. To perform HIIT workouts optimally, athletes rely on wearable heart rate monitors (HRMs) to ensure they are within the targeted heart rate zone at each interval.

Most HRMs on the market are either wristwatches or chest straps. However, the prevailing opinion among many athletes is that watches produce erroneous data and chest straps, while more accurate, are uncomfortable to wear.

Amar Basu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been researching wearable health technologies for nearly a decade. Basu is developing a product called TRACE, an advanced HRM that mounts to a person's earlobe.

According to Basu, the limitations associated with common HRMs, particularly wrist-worn devices, are caused by motion artifacts that interfere with data interpretation. Blood flow is less predictable in the wrist, while the earlobe provides a much more stable physiological location for a monitor.

"Today's monitors can give you pseudo-continuous heart rate, but most can't give you advanced fitness metrics like adaptation and recovery rates," said Basu, who also holds a joint position in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. "Heart rate recovery is a key indicator of fatigue, and one of several pieces of data athletes need to ensure they are in the right zone for the right time during HIIT workouts."

The centerpiece product of Basu's startup, TRACE is backed by patented optical proximity sensing technology that was issued in 2019 and has been cited by such market leaders as Fitbit and Samsung. The device is small, comfortable, highly accurate and safe in that it does not obstruct one's ear canal to impede hearing.

TRACE also offers intelligent coaching feedback through a mobile app, developed with assistance from Wayne State computer science students.

"This technology will allow users to develop personalized workouts in accordance with their physiology and current fitness level," said Basu.

Future versions of the device are expected to be able to monitor activity and pulse oximetry, which Basu believes will be key differentiators in the $17 billion global fitness market and allow the business to grow into other spaces within health care and wellness.

Basu, a fitness enthusiast who published his first paper on wearable sensors in 2010, has received funding from the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program and patent application support from WSU Technology Commercialization in the Division of Research.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of Exemplar.

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