Cardiovascular diseases are tricky to treat once something has gone wrong. And yet it can be tough to convince people to go to regular checkups with their doctors before warning signs appear and they experience serious episodes.
So, a group of scientists from across 11 European research institutes came together to make an in-home monitoring system that tracks changes in a patient’s health. All the patient has to do is look in a mirror.
They’re calling it the Wize Mirror, and it will give users a daily health report based on a minute-long analysis of their face. The touchscreen smart mirror is equipped with 3D scanners, multispectral cameras, facial recognition software and gas sensors that perform various tests.
The skin on a person's face, and how it changes, can convey a lot about his or her health. “We can look at the content of cholesterol in the skin,” said Tomas Stromberg in a video. The professor of biomedical engineering at Linkoping University in Sweden is a member of the team working on the mirror. “We’ll also look at the function of the vessels in the skin, the blood flow and oxygenation of the blood,” he said.
The mirror uses a visible light monitoring system to study a user's blood vessels. Different wavelengths of light get absorbed depending on a person's levels of blood oxygenation, which the mirror can determine based on the backscattered light. Then the mirror scans the face with ultraviolet light to measure concentration of fatty tissues and glycated proteins, which can indicate high blood glucose levels. A change in cholesterol deposits can indicate heart problems, and high blood glucose levels point to increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Changes in blood volume and in a person's pallor and weight can also be signs of cardio-metabolic diseases.
The Wize uses facial recognition software to look for hints of medical issues. Franco Chiarugi, a biomedical engineer at the Foundation of Research and Technology in Greece and design team member, says the software can pick up on anxiety, stress and fatigue through new facial cues, like clenched jaws or under-eye bags.
Then, users can breathe into the so-called "Wize Sniffer." The gas sensors analyze their breath for high concentrations of sugars—an indicator of diabetes—and evidence of smoking and drinking.
The mirror builds a 3-D reconstruction of the face, to assess any changes since the last time the person looked in the mirror. Then, it spits out a score to indicate a user's overall health, and if it's changed. The device can tell users if they're approaching unhealthy or dangerous territory.
The National Research Council in Pisa, Italy, is spearheading the project with a grant from the European Union. They say prevention and early detection is the only way to limit the rapid growth of cardiovascular disease. Globally, non-communicable diseases are the most common cause of death. The World Health Organization reports that these chronic diseases kill 38 million people each year, but that number can be reduced significantly by early treatment.
Semeoticons, the international group of researchers behind the mirror, says they’ll start clinical trials in France and Italy next year. The design phase is due to wrap up by November 2016, and then the team will focus its efforts on marketability. The scientists and engineers imagine a future where Wize Mirrors are in homes, pharmacies, fitness centers and schools.