When tracking biometric data, accuracy is pretty significant. Otherwise, what’s the point? Is close good enough? Not likely if you were to ask the users of a health monitoring device. That’s why the makers of the PerformTek sensor technology made accuracy so important with their innovation.
Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, president and co-founder of Valencell, the company behind PerformTek spoke with MDT on his device, the significance of it for healthcare, application areas, and where biometric monitoring tech is headed.
Sean Fenske: Thank you for taking time to speak with me about your unique sensor technology. Before we speak about that innovation, can you please provide some background on Valencell’s experience in the medtech space?
Dr. Steven LeBoeuf: Valencell has been developing clinical-grade biometric sensor technology since 2006. Valencell develops and licenses this patent-protected technology to consumer electronics manufacturers, mobile device and accessory makers, sports and fitness brands, and gaming companies for integration into their products.
Fenske: Can you please tell me about the biometric sensor technology?
Dr. LeBoeuf: Valencell’s PerformTek-powered sensors are the most accurate, wearable biometric sensors that continuously measure heart rate and activity. Valencell has invested years into the research and development of its PerformTek sensor technology, protected by dozens of granted patents and independently validated by the Duke Center for Living, North Carolina State University, the Human Performance Laboratory, and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Fenske: What makes the technology unique from similar technology?
Dr. LeBoeuf: For decades, photoplethysmography (PPG) has been used to measure blood flow changes and translate these changes to pulse rate. The problem is that products using PPG have been too large and uncomfortable for consumer use and have not been effective at measuring blood flow during exercise or outdoors. This is where the patented PerformTek biometric signal extraction method shines.
As with the traditional PPG approach, PerformTek sensor technology measures weak blood flow signals by shining light at the skin with an optical emitter and sensing the scattered light with a photodetector. The key difference is that the PerformTek signal extraction method takes it a step further, employing motion-tolerant PPG, which actively removes noise signals associated with motion artifacts (such as skin motion and footsteps) and environmental exposure (such as sunlight) from the photodetector signal using a method invented and patented by Valencell’s R&D team. The result is a cleaned-up signal that contains more accurate information about blood flow. Because blood flow modulates with heart rate and respiration rate, PerformTek-powered algorithms can accurately extract heart rate, RR-interval, respiration rate, and other blood flow parameters from the photodetector signal even during intense exercise.
Fenske: What challenges are involved with the development of this type of sensor technology?
Dr. LeBoeuf: There are 5 primary challenges with this type of sensor technology:
- Optical noise
- Skin tone
- Crossover problem
- Sensor location on the body
- Low perfusion
I authored an article that you can review about these very same challenges to get more information about them.
Fenske: What are the current healthcare applications in which the technology is being used?
Dr. LeBoeuf: To date, there are no medical devices in the marketplace powered by our technology. However, Clip&Talk has announced a biometric headset product that will provide health assessments autonomously during phone calls.
In addition, the Scosche RHYTHM+ heart rate monitoring band is being used in clinical research studies at Duke University on circadian rhythm patterns.
Fenske: How might this technology be used to evaluate or improve a person’s sleep?
Dr. LeBoeuf: Improving one’s sleep comprises four main parts:
- Identifying if a problem exists
- Identifying the origin of the problem
- Determining a solution (intervention) to the problem
- Monitoring the intervention
Wearable biometrics can play a role in each part:
- Monitoring breathing, blood oxygen, body temperature, motion characteristics, etc., to survey for a problem
- Correlating subjectively reported poor sleep with collected biometrics (collected throughout sleep or even throughout the entire day)
- The choice of interventions can be narrowed down based on analytics from identified trends
- Monitoring the biometrics post-intervention, combined with subject reports, to identify whether the intervention is truly working.
The list is much longer than this of course, but this provides a basic example.
Fenske: Beyond sleep and fitness tracking, what might some clinical applications be for this technology?
Dr. LeBoeuf: There are numerous potential clinical applications for this technology, including cardiovascular monitoring, clinical research studies, home healthcare, cardiovascular disease management, and more.
Fenske: How are you ensuring security of data with your technology?
Dr. LeBoeuf: As a company that licenses our technology to companies who create the final products, our licensees ensure the data associated with their products is secure, including heart rate and derivative data.
Fenske: Is there a social media aspect to the technology, enabling people to “compete” against friends or share data?
Dr. LeBoeuf: That also depends on the final products that the technology is embedded into, but there can absolutely be social aspects to the technology, including being able to compare, compete, and share data.
Fenske: Do you see biometric data eventually being tracked via an implantable solution?
Dr. LeBoeuf: Yes. There is already a market for this — the existing pacemaker market, where HR is continuously monitored via the pacemaker. But in 25 to 35 years, I believe there will be a consumer market for monitoring health stats via implantables.
Fenske: Where is this type of technology headed?
Dr. LeBoeuf: The implantable technology needs to overcome two big limitations in order to achieve mass adoption: battery power and biocompatibility. Both are achievable, but the timeframe for overcoming those hurdles remains to be seen.
Fenske: Any other comments you’d like to share?
Dr. LeBoeuf: Valencell is already seeing signs of a convergence of consumer biometric trackers and healthcare. Over the next five years, we will finally see a true consumer market for wearable health devices that connects the dots between fitness/activity and personal health.