Feds Spend $2.1 Million to Develop Weight-Tracking Insoles, Buttons

Wearable button videotapes what an obese person eats

October 15, 2014

The federal government is spending more than $2 million to develop wearable insoles and buttons that can track a person’s weight in order to fight obesity.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded grants for two projects that will monitor "lifestyle behavior" through technologies that will encourage people to exercise more.

The first project, awarded to SmartMove, Inc., a company that provides physical activity "coaching solutions," is creating insoles that will track a person’s weight.

"A single device that accurately monitors body weight, posture allocation, physical activity (i.e. movement), and energy expenditure would be an extremely useful tool for weight management," the grant’s abstract states.

The insoles work with a mobile phone app that would show the user their weight and physical activity levels. A video shows a person using an early prototype in 2011 while walking around a fountain.

"Such a device could be used to quantify and modify physical activity and lifestyle behavior in overweight and obese individuals and others with sedentary lifestyles," the project reasons.

The grant added that the insoles "can assist in successful weight management in free-living adults." SmartMove, Inc. has received a total of $1,334,397 for the project so far.

The NIH is also funding research to develop a wearable button that will feature miniature cameras to record what a person eats.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have been given $766,667 to develop the "eButton," with the idea that an accurate monitoring of an overweight person’s eating habits and physical activity levels will lead to a better understanding in fighting obesity.

"The primary goal of this research is to develop an advanced, button-like electronic device (eButton) that can be worn naturally on the chest," the grant states. "This device will contain a powerful microprocessor, a novel eating detector, a pair of cameras, and a variety of electronic sensors to automatically, jointly and objectively measure energy intake and expenditure, as well as environment and behavior related to diet and physical activity."

The button will monitor when a person eats, drinks, or smokes, and will also be linked to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) database to measure the "outdoor environment."

The device will also be linked to a smart phone, "which will allow researchers to monitor the operating status of eButton remotely in real time." Both projects have cost taxpayers $2,101,064 so far.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Laboratory for Computational Neuroscience calls the button an "unusual device," and has designed versions to conceal it as a Pittsburgh Steelers pin.

In one scenario for uses of the button, the button tells a person "No way!" to chicken nuggets because they had already had 1,000 calories. The university also argues that the button could be used for "monitoring the elderly" with the AARP, and for police officers to wear as badges.

The university touts the button as a device that "never sleeps."

"You may have realized that, eButton, a small, attractive, convenient, but powerful electronic chest button, is not an ordinary device. It could mark a new domain of wearable computing," the University said. "Unlike the cell phone which spends most times sleeping, eButton never sleeps—it helps the user all the time."

The researchers have filed two patents and are "actively seeking investments to commercialize" the device. SmartMove, Inc. also hopes to sell the insoles, and has planned to introduce the project to the marketplace this year.

Published under: Government Spending