Researchers at Cornell University in the US have developed a wearable life-tracker that listens to non-speech sounds for clues about the user's health and mood.
The BodyBeat prototype constantly listens for sounds such as coughing, laughing and chewing via a microphone worn behind the ear. Unlike conventional life-trackers, it can plot behavioural information such as the precise time that people are eating.
The research is a step towards devices that understand their users and respond proactively to their environments, by assessing the user's mood, responding to voice commands or recording conversations.
The device could one day work with smartphones and wearables such as Google Glass to offer population-level health and wellbeing insights – assessing levels of breathing difficulties in smoggy conditions or mood levels during an economic upturn.
The research feeds into the trend of adding new metrics to wearables to aid full-spectrum life tracking, including data from beyond the body. Sony's SmartBand tracks steps and calories, but also social activities, locations and the weather outside.
It also chimes with the rise of 'ubiquitous listening' devices such as Motorola's Moto X smartphone, which combines the commands it picks up with calendar and location information to automatically control certain functions – for instance, when in meetings.
The next steps in quantified-self technologies will be adding even more body and environmental metrics – stress levels, films watched or online shopping cart contents.