Karaoke and wearable health devices: Weldon School students hit a high note exploring the future of wearable sensors in new course

Just a decade ago, it might not have been predicted that nearly 45% of Americans would use wearable heath devices with the ability to measure various types of physiological and environmental data. Apple alone sells over 40 million Apple Watches per year, which can track your heart rate, mobility and cardio fitness, blood oxygen level, and even detect falls. These types of devices are being used more each day in medical research to collect large amounts of data on patients’ health and behaviors, which can be used to improve disease management and treatment.
Students in BME 595 show off their wearable sensors on stage during a live karaoke lab, designed to measure their reaction to a potentially stressful activity.

Students in BME 595 show off their wearable sensors on stage during a live karaoke lab, designed to measure their reaction to a potentially stressful activity.

Top Row (left to right): Professor Matthew Ward, Chun Wei Hsu, Sam Irons, Siting Zhang, Lucas Van De Weg, Chris Kannmacher, Coby Kirkland, Zeke Huls, Professor Steve Steinhubl; Bottom Row (left to right): Rex Weinstein, Clarisse Zigan, Ramya Karthikeyan, Scott Malloy, Rithu Annadurai, Aditya Sathyaprakash, Aikya Chirra, Manasi Vyas, Jacob Larsen, Sakshi Desure, Aireen Ahmed, Abhijeeth Prabhakar

The potential impact of wearable sensors in the medical field is significant, which is what led two professors from Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering to launch a new course in spring 2023 titled “BME 595: Wearable Sensors in Healthcare.” Matthew Ward, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Adj. Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, and Steven Steinhubl, MD, the Vincent P. Reilly Professor of Biomedical Engineering, guided 22 students as they learned about the origin and meaning of physiological signals generated by wearable sensors, and developed the skills needed to process and analyze these data streams.

At the start of the course, students were given their own state-of-the-art, medical-grade wearable sensor (Corsano 287-2) to learn about their physiology, becoming some of the first students in the world to learn though firsthand experience the challenges and wide-ranging potential health benefits of wearable sensors. Through interactive lectures, readings, homework, virtual cadaver labs, experiential learning labs and group assignments, students learned the challenges and capabilities of utilizing wearable sensor data to interpret physiologic changes in routine daily activities and in response to various psychosocial and environmental stressors. This assisted students to identify key challenges in medical care and health maintenance, and how current and future wearable sensor technologies might address them.

“The future of health care is moving towards being more individualized,” said Steinhubl. “Personalized sensor technologies are a central component of that transition as they can allow for the earlier recognition of important changes in that specific person’s unique physiology and behaviors.”

“But the data provided by these wearable sensors are nowhere near as ‘clean’ as what healthcare providers are used to. Student’s hands-on experience with the ‘messiness’ of wearable data will provide them unparalleled knowledge of some of the challenges of improving health for all people,” adds Ward.

Abhijeeth (Abhi) Prabhakar during his solo karaoke performance of The Color Violet by Tory Lanez.

Abhijeeth (Abhi) Prabhakar during his solo karaoke performance of "The Color Violet" by Tory Lanez. 

Throughout the semester, the course explored other relevant topics including consumer considerations (usability and balancing consumer needs versus sensor/data quality needs) and clinical considerations (regulatory system, health system needs versus the needs of the wearer, privacy, and security), with a particular emphasis on addressing disparities in health research and care.

Scott Malloy, BSBME ’22 and current fifth-year master’s thesis student who enrolled in BME 595 said that he appreciated how the instructors challenged students to get out of their comfort zones and explore the different ways they responded to stressful scenarios, in manners that were educational, thought provoking, and engaging.

“The course concluded with a karaoke lab on stage at Fowler Hall at Purdue, which was the ultimate way to quantify the stress experienced leading up to, during, and after the event,” said Malloy. “Afterwards, we were able to look at the specific responses that were picked up by the Corsano device and compare it to previous stress data collected.”

Malloy continues to work with Professors Steinhubl and Ward to add to the curriculum for the course. “We’re working to refine the course aims and outcomes so future students can continue to be educated on how to use and interpret their own data, and carry these discoveries into the world,” said Malloy.

The Wearable Sensors in Healthcare (BME 595) course will be offered again in Spring 2024. For more information, please contact the course instructors (Ward: mpward@purdue.edu; Steinhubl: ssteinhu@purdue.edu).