Transforming Earbuds into Brain Activity Monitors using 3D Printing

Researchers from the University of California San Diego have successfully morphed ordinary earbuds into sophisticated devices capable of recording the brain’s electrical activity.

Utilizing 3D screen-printing technology, they engineered flexible sensors that not only monitor electrophysiological brain activity but also analyze sweat—specifically, sweat lactate, an organic acid produced during exercise and normal metabolic functioning. The ear’s proximity to the brain and its sweat glands make earbuds a prime tool for such data collection.

Transforming Earbuds into Brain Activity Monitors using 3D Printing
Printed brain activity sensor, in-ear. (Image Credit: UCSD)

The amalgamation of EEG and sweat lactate data offers a significant diagnostic advantage, aiding in the classification and analysis of various seizure types. Beyond medical diagnostics, this innovation provides insightful data regarding personal performance during exercise, alongside monitoring stress and focus levels.

While in-ear biometric data collection isn’t new, the uniqueness lies in the sensor’s ability to measure both brain activity and lactate. The technology hints at a future where wearables, equipped with neuroimaging sensors, seamlessly collect health data during everyday activities.

A primary challenge faced was fitting these sensors within the ear’s unique anatomy. Overcoming this, researchers created a stamp-like stretchable sensor (seen below), 3D printed to ensure accurate, adjustable contact with the ear, catering to its dynamic nature.

Stretchable sensor
Stretchable sensor. (Image Credit: UCSD)

Despite the necessity for considerable sweat currently, researchers are optimistic about enhancing the sensors’ precision, potentially negating the need for intense workouts to yield meaningful data, thereby inching closer to everyday health monitoring through simple wearables.


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