Well Being Digital

Developing accurate heart-rate monitoring technology in Hong Kong

Health monitoring wearables are becoming increasingly reliable, convenient and budget-friendly through advances in technology. As a result, global demand for the devices keeps growing to new record highs. HKSTP partner company Well Being Digital (WBD101) is a Hong Kong leader in the in the research and development of wearable technology and it is approaching the harvest stage.   

For wearables to be successful, they must closely match the needs of users. WBD101 co-founder and director Kow Ping says the company recognised that people nowadays were more health-conscious and looking for scientific means to monitor their own health on a daily basis. He says he gets enormous satisfaction in seeing his R&D turned into products that deliver real benefits to the community.

Belief in their own R&D was enough to go it alone  

WBD101 has had a trying journey. More than 10 years ago, Ping and co-founder Wallace Wong worked together, conducting R&D of wearable technology for a Hong Kong electronics manufacturer. They were making good progress but their work was halted when the company changed business direction. Not wanting to see their work go to waste, Ping and Wong bought the technology and patents from their former employer and started a business on their own. There were plenty of challenges, but they persevered and the rest is now history.

WBD101’s core business is developing technology for wearables. Heart rate monitoring is the key technology and the company is hailed as Asia’s only supplier of highly accurate heart rate-measuring chips. The company is not an original design manufacturer (ODM). It makes the semi-conductor chips for product manufacturers. They leave it to their business partners to design and create products based on the needs of their target customers and to take care of sales and marketing.

Using earphones to collect the most accurate data 

The ear is the most convenient organ for collecting bio data without interfering with physical activities. Earphones are also preferred to wrist bands because of the added benefit of hearing instructions. So, WBD101 decided to make chips for ear-worn devices and they have been adopted by international brands such as Pioneer, Motorola and JBL.

Heart-rate monitoring using Photoplethysmography (PPG) is very sensitive to motion and therefore prone to pick up a lot noise if the user is exercising, which would diminish the accuracy of the bio data.  

To overcome this problem, WBD101 developed its patented OpticalFusion technology. Ping says the sensor array design uses multiple LEDs and longer wavelength optical sensors, such as infra-red, to gather a wide spectrum of exercise-related parameters from the skin. The resulting digitised PPG data is passed through its proprietary ActivHearts algorithm to convert to accurate physiological signals like a dynamic heart rate.

Ping says PPG technology has been confirmed by the medical profession as highly accurate and adopted as a regular diagnostic and research tool by hospitals and universities. As well as continuing researching on collecting reliable bio data, WBD101 is refining its ActivHearts algorithm to further enhance its accuracy.

Multiple awards reflect the company’s achievements 

Ping says the company has more than 50 patents approved or pending approval. Its technology and products have won important industry awards, at the International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, the GSMA Mobile World Congress and the Hong Kong ICT Awards, reflecting the company’s achievements over the years. 

Ping appreciates the role that Science Park, spearheaded by HKSTP, has played in the company’s success. WBD101 enjoys an ideal office, R&D and operational space, as well as support with R&D, incubation, business development and marketing and promotion. He says renting at Science Park is great value for money, even without rental subsidies. Through the LEAP and Incu-Tech programmes, the company has gained tremendous help especially in fund-raising. He thinks it would be hard to find comparable ecosystems in Hong Kong or overseas. 

New spin-off applications to measure stress

WBD101’s technology offers other potential applications, for monitoring, prevention and treatment. For example, Ping says that physiological signals such as energy use and metabolic and respiratory rates can also reflect degrees of fatigue and stress, as well as the level of cholesterol, hypertension and blood sugar. 

The company is exploring different spin offs. One client, HeraLeto, has introduced earphones that measure anxiety. Users’ heart rates and heart rate variability are shown on their mobile phone to show their stress level, and then the right music will be played to relieve pressure. WBD101 is also exploring body temperature monitoring technology. It is working with the National University of Singapore on a joint research project to make the world’s smallest in-ear body temperature sensing device. The combination of heart rate and body temperature data is set to enable more comprehensive health monitoring.

Ping says that while the cost of hardware is reducing due to the lower costs of sensors, the ongoing success of the technology depends largely on the development of high-end algorithms and data processing of physiological data. WBD101 will continue its research to achieve even more accurate health monitoring and wider applications of its solutions.

The WBD101 team in full force at an international exhibition.

The WBD101 team in full force at an international exhibition.

The WBD101 heart-rate monitoring chip powers these JBL Bluetooth earphones.

The WBD101 heart-rate monitoring chip powers these JBL Bluetooth earphones.

This is a prototype of the latest wireless earbuds powered by WBD101 heart-rate monitoring technology, now being vigorously tested before market launch.

This is a prototype of the latest wireless earbuds powered by WBD101 heart-rate monitoring technology, now being vigorously tested before market launch.

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