Intel partners with headphones maker to develop health-sensing earbuds

By Aditi Pai
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biosport_blueIntel has partnered with headphone maker SMS Audio to develop biometric-sensing earbuds, which the companies plan to launch later this year. The earbuds are powered by Valencell's PerformTek technology. Rapper 50 Cent is a majority owner in SMS Audio.

"The wearable technology collaboration between SMS Audio and Intel elevates our capability to bring smart exercise to consumers," Brian M. Nohe, president of SMS Audio said in a statement. "With the introduction of the SMS Audio BioSport In-Ear Headphones powered by Intel, we're now the first to provide this level of integrated, seamless and helpful biometric information to inspire customers to advance their fitness experiences."

The headphones will offer a built-in optical sensor for continuous heart rate monitoring, sweat and water resistance, and integration with RunKeeper so that users can supplement heart rate tracking with pace, distance, elevation, and calorie tracking metrics. Users will be able to see at which times they were in a relaxed state and at which times they were working hard. 

Intel's partnership announcement comes just six months after the company acquired activity tracker company Basis Science. Basis, which was founded in 2005 under the name PulseTracer included optical cardiac sensing early on. When the company released its first product in 2011, the Basis Band, it offered heart rate, pulse, walking rate, and sweat tracking.

Another company that released health-sensing earbuds recently, LG Electronics, also licensed PerformTek technology from Valencell. Valencell, founded in 2006, first licensed its earbud technology to iRiver ON. It raised $7 million in June to scale its technology further. LG announced its product at CES this year, but launched them in mid-May at a $179.99 price point. The earbuds also track heart rate, but when paired with LG's fitness tracker, the Lifeband Touch, the system also tracks distance and steps.

While Apple has not publicly announced its intention to develop fitness earbuds, the company was granted a patent for health-sensing earbuds in February 2014. The patent explains this device could be embedded in headphones, earbuds, or other headset devices. Sensors in the device will monitor activity of the user, including biometric data, temperature, precipitation, and heart rate. The headphones might also have the capability, through head gestures, to control a connected device, such as a smartphone. Shortly after this patent was granted, in May 2014, Apple acquired Beats Electronics, a company cofounded by producer Jimmy Iovine and rapper Dr. Dre.