Heart rate monitor helmet could include oxygen saturation sensor

LifeBEAM SMART unit might also be able to measure blood flow

Last week, LifeBEAM released details of their SMART helmet, which has a heart rate monitor embedded in it. The company have now said they could add valuable fitness indicators to the training arsenal with blood flow and oxygen saturation sensors. It would be the first time oxygen saturation monitors have been integrated into cycling-specific products.

First, though, they have to make the unit transferable between helmets. LifeBEAM admitted to BikeRadar that the sensor can only be embedded once into the specially designed Lazer Genesis, so if the lid is damaged the monitor becomes redundant. 

The company’s chief technical officer, Zvika Orron, said the challenge in transferring the sensor is the wide variation in the pressure of helmets against riders’ foreheads, but that if they successfully overcome the difficulty then blood flow and oxygen saturation parameters – which LifeBEAM have successfully integrated into fighter pilots’ head gear – could be added into the mix. 

Usually, oxygen saturation – or the amount of oxygen dissolved in blood, which is typically 95-100 percent in healthy adults at sea level – is measured with a pulse oximeter clipped to an index finger or ear lobe. Research has established that in about 50 percent of elite endurance athletes, oxygen desaturation occurs – a condition called exercise induced arterial hypoxemia (EIAH). In some severe cases it can drop to levels below 90 percent during hard exercise.  

Sports science expert, Dr Stuart Goodall, a senior lecturer in Northumbria University’s Health & Life Sciences department gave a cautious reception for the potential development offered by the SMART unit. He said it could, if accurate enough, help certain highly trained athletes understand a performance drop-off caused by phenomenon known as exercise induced arterial hypoxaemia (EIAH) which is known to occur in 50% of endurance athletes. Furthermore, he also mentioned that it may be useful for cyclists who want to cycle at high altitude.

Dr Goodall said: “There might be some people out there who wonder why their performance is suffering or have always suffered at certain races – they could find they’re de-saturating and they’re experience such hypoxemia.” He said however that for the majority of recreational riders the development would have limited use. He added it could be more useful for elite women, as they are more likely than men to experience EIAH.

Orron said the helmet-mounted heart rate sensor might appeal to women more because of the absence of a chest strap, which can interfere with a bra.

Orron went on to say that LifeBEAM hadn’t included oxygen saturation monitoring and other measurements initially because “other parameters are less known to the cycling community and we assumed that they wouldn't know how to treat them. This could definitely change in the near future.” 

The SMART unit recognises heart rate via an optical sensor planted at the front of the helmet, which presses against the forehead. It feeds a signal to a microprocessor at the back of the lid, which interprets and normalises the data and sends it via the ANT+ protocol or Bluetooth to a range of bike computers and smartphone apps. 

LifeBEAM are on a crowdsourcing mission to refine the product, and have already raised US$40,000 of the US$50,000 they need for the project.

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