Body Mounted Sensors – Feeling all over

What is a body sensor?

Body-mounted sensors are devices that can be attached to the human body to measure movement and activity. They can be used to monitor posture, gait, acceleration, orientation, and much more. In this category there are sometimes also included things cooling devices, sensors to create soundscape and even body cams. Especially within health monitoring, they are becoming more important day by day. Outside the health sector, the few body-mounted sensors available are mostly for fitness and sport.

So, body-mounted sensors can include a wide range of gadgets. Even though most of them are aimed at scientific- or medical research, in recent years this technology is slowly reaching outside the academic world. As stated before, the term “body-mounted sensor” isn’t easily determined. Most commonly they are sensors to monitor data concerning your body’s function, for monitoring the heart, blood glucose, etc, or for controlling heartbeats, body temperature, and posture, while training.

Depending on what you want to measure, body sensors can be attached to different parts of the body. And they can be placed for a shorter or longer period, all depending on what the scope is. Sometimes they are integrated with clothing or wearable devices to make them more comfortable and unobtrusive.

What does a body-mounted sensor actually do?

Just to be clear, from now on, we’re talking about sensors that collect and analyze data from your body, when in activity, or for health reasons. We will not include body cams and such.

Whether it’s healthcare, well-being, sports, entertainment, security, or anything else, body sensors can help us measure and improve our health, activity, and behavior in various settings. The use is two-fold. On one hand, they can detect and treat diseases, and prevent injuries. On the other hand, for fitness enthusiasts, they can enhance performance, and let you enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

A recent application of this technology is glucose sensors that monitor blood sugar levels. Those are nowadays manufactured and sold by many pharmaceutic industries and have become a significant income for those companies… Not to mention a dramatic help for diabetics.

Deep brain activity sensors that stimulate neurons are another breakthrough. So are pH sensors that measure acidity in the body, gastrointestinal imagery pills that capture images of the digestive system, fall detection systems that alert caregivers in case of emergencies, and many more.

So, are body-mounted sensors mainly for health purposes?

Well, yes. For now, most development in this area is made for monitoring various well-being problems, or scientific studies. Still, in recent years this technology is slowly reaching outside the academic world. In leisure and sports, the technology of body sensors is becoming an option even for people who just want an efficient assistant. Especially if you are an athlete and want to boost your performance, you should check out what’s available.

For training, just like with fitness trackers, the body sensors can measure your biometrics and movements in real time. Heart rate, breathing rate, muscle activity, distance, velocity, acceleration, orientation – you name it.

body mounted sensors

But compared to fitness trackers, a specialized body-mounted sensor has a somewhat higher sensitivity. That is obvious as it’s actually attached to your body. It can measure more types of data, such as muscle activity, foot pressure, glucose levels, hydration status, etc. Normally, a fitness tracker cannot capture that. The body-mounted sensor can also work with real-time location systems to track the position and movement of the user in different environments.

It gives you a little more thorough data and in-depth analysis than a wearable attached to your wrist.

Body sensors can also be equipped with pressure sensors that improve your balance and posture, biosensors that keep you hydrated and energized, etc.

Body sensors provided by the healthcare vs paid by you.

Some types of body sensors can be pricey, and if you are unfortunate enough to be in need of one for health reasons, your health insurance may not cover them, or cover them just partly. It depends on the kind of body sensor, the insurance plan, and the medical need.

Some insurance plans may pay for continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) if you have diabetes, but it could be that they only pay for certain brands or models, or that they will ask for approval by your physician or proof of need.

For patients with arrhythmia, an artificial cardiac pacemaker is almost always paid for by your healthcare provider.

Obviously, it is the need that is the main factor. And obviously, it is the medical practitioner that ultimately decides if you need a device or not.

On the other hand, if you pay for a body-mounted sensor yourself, you may think you can choose whatever you want. Well, that is not a given. Because many devices are for medical use only, and you cannot buy them in cash even if you wanted.

In the case of a self-purchased gadget, it will probably be for some sort of sport. Almost all body sensors used for non-health reasons are aimed at the sport- and fitness sectors. So, there are actually two distinct markets: The health sector, provided by the health insurance companies, and the private market where the market forces rule. And that is the part that we will address on this website.

Different types of body sensors

A body sensor can include almost any type of meter:

  • Accelerometers measures and analyze linear and angular static gravitational acceleration, normally in three planes (forward/backward, to the right/left, and up/down).
  • Gyroscopes measure orientation and angular velocity. Just like the accelerometer they monitor your body movements.
  • Magnetometers measure the magnetic field, particularly with respect to its magnetic strength and orientation, i.e. a compass.
  • Inertial measurement units (IMUs) are combinations of all these. They are simply units that measure where you are going and how fast but with a whole lot more data in between.

Most body sensors for sports on the open market measure one or just a few things, though. Most commonly heartbeat, pulse, and location with GPS. This is a literary exploding market though, and the possibilities are almost unlimited.

Professional Sports

For clubs and professionals, some manufacturers offer a complete setup. You don’t buy the equipment. Instead, the company takes care of all the collection of data for the whole team. Then they compare and analyze everything, and the managers can see exactly what everybody has done, and if they’re worthwhile or not. The company can also propose training programs for improving performance.

That is a definite improvement for a competing team. Maybe it isn’t an improvement for the single athlete, having someone else monitoring his every move. Maybe it’s better to be master of your own training.

Body-mounted sensors – Availability

There are many companies that offer sports sensors to the public. The label isn’t so much a body sensor or body-mounted sensor, but instead, search for sports sensors.

Polar is a known brand that has a fair cut of the market. Another one is Garmin, known for its GPS products, and watches. But there are many brands not well known to the public. It can sometimes be difficult to understand if a label is trustworthy or not if you don’t know it. Body-mounted sensors is a new market, and we will probably need a few more years before we can separate the good from the bad.

In the meantime, we are here to help you. We test and evaluate the products and give you a heads start.