Scientists at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst have created a sensing eye mask that could unobtrusively capture pulse, eye movement and sleep signals.
“Being able to track pulse and eye movement in a single wearable device will enable a host of sleep and psycho-social studies, in addition to improving the accuracy and usability of gaming and virtual reality headsets,” the authors wrote. First author S. Zohreh Homayounfar, will present the findings this week at the online Fall Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
According to the researchers, the mask’s ability to track pulse and eye movements may open future studies into sleep and psychology.
Existing technology that’s used to track eye movements relies on electrooculography (EOG). And although it’s very good at measuring the eye’s electrical potential changes, the technique is over 50 years old and it requires the use of adhesive electrodes stuck to the user’s face, which is uncomfortable and intrusive, reports University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Recording health and behavior signals on or near the face is challenging, notes senior author Trisha L. Andrew, materials chemist and Wearable Electronics Lab director. “because most people are really sensitive and reactive to objects placed on their face or head.”
Named ‘Chesma’, the lightweight, tailorable eye mask is fitted with two kinds of fabric electrodes that can simply be sewn onto a variety of pre-made garments and further miniaturized, if desired. This capability allows them to integrate electrodes into a lightweight foam mask for recording electro-oculography and cardiac signals. Their design automatically positions the electrodes on the face with no need for custom fitting, the UMass report said.
The mask contains five silver (Ag) thread-based hydrogel electrodes –dubbed tAgTrodes – needed to translate ion-based biological signals into an electric current, among other goals. The researchers took advantage of a vapor-phase deposition process to create the electrodes, including what they call a first-of-its-kind reusable and washable hydrogel component that distinguishes the tAgTrode from other equivalents.
Here, Andrew says she takes pride in noting that “part of the work that went into carrying out the deposition process was performed by Emerson T. Alexander, an exceptional student from Springfield Technical Community College,” who took part in a paid internship in her lab and funded by the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program.
The mask also contains one fabric pressure sensor (PressION) positioned over an artery to monitor pulse as a proxy for cardiac function, with the whole linked to two microcontrollers with water-repellant silver threads as connectors. Another author, Ph.D. student Ali Kiaghadi, explains that “the electrode and sensor data need to be communicated once they are acquired. Our design transmits raw data to the cloud for processing and data visualization so that we can reduce the amount of instrumentation that we need to include in the mask itself.”
The team tested the new eye mask on subjects while they were chewing, talking, and during various head and eye movements. They also used the same device for more than a year and after 15 washings found no degradation in performance. Homayounfar notes that the tAgTrode “overcomes all the drawbacks of commercial wet electrodes such as aesthetic issues, discomfort, and wash-stability, while maintaining high and constant signal-to-noise ratios during repeated, longterm applications.”
The study was published in the journal Matter.