Will Smart Earrings Be The Next Big Thing In Wearables? We’re About To Find Out

hero smart earring
Consumers can already suit up with a smartwatch, a smart ring, and a pair of smart glasses, and soon they may be able to add smart earrings to their list of fashionable smart accessories. Designed by researchers at the University of Washington, the Thermal Earring is a wireless wearable that continuously monitors a user’s earlobe temperature.

One may wonder why a smart earring is necessary with all the wearable technology that already exists. Well, the researchers say that the Thermal Earring outperformed a smartwatch when it came to sensing skin temperature during periods of rest. The study observed six users who donned the earrings and the results showed “promise for monitoring signs of stress, eating, exercise and ovulation.”

“I wear a smartwatch to track my personal health, but I’ve found that a lot of people think smartwatches are unfashionable or bulky and uncomfortable,” explained co-lead author Quiyue (Shirley) Xue, a UW doctoral student. “I also like to wear earrings, so we started thinking about what unique things we can get from the earlobe. We found that sensing the skin temperature on the lobe, instead of a hand or wrist, was much more accurate.” Xue added, “It also gave us the option to have part of the sensor dangle to separate ambient room temperature from skin temperature.”

thermal earring

Designing an earring that was not bulky and unfashionable presented a challenge, however. The team needed to figure out how to make the earring small enough, but still have the ability to only need charging every few days.

“It’s a tricky balance,” remarked co-lead author Yujia (Nancy) Liu. “Typically, if you want power to last longer, you should have a bigger battery. But then you sacrifice size. making it wireless also demands more energy.”

To overcome these obstacles, the team made the earring’s power consumption as efficient as possible, while still making room for two temperature sensors, a Bluetooth chip, and an antenna. The researchers then designed the earrings to use Bluetooth advertising mode instead of pairing it with a device to save on power. Bluetooth advertising mode transmits a device’s broadcasts to show it can be paired. The researchers say that after reading and sending the temperature; the earrings go into a deep sleep to save on power.

thermal earring image

One area where the earrings showed promise was in continuous fever monitoring. Dr. Mastafa Springson, co-lead author and a clinical instructor at the Department of Emergency Medicine in the UW School of Medicine, remarked that the ability to monitor a patient’s temperature was key in determining whether an antibiotic was working. Dr. Springston added that longer term monitoring is a method that can “increase sensitivity of capturing fevers, since they can rise and fall throughout the day.”

While the researchers were able to identify several possible use cases for the Thermal Earrings, such as temperature variations correlated with eating, exercising, experiencing stress, and tracking one’s ovulation cycle, the findings are preliminary in nature. The team says more long-term testing needs to be done before the device might be made available to the public.