RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – That wearable device on your wrist to track your steps and heartbeat could also be a means of detecting an illness such as COVID-19. Or so researchers at RTI International and device maker Garmin are going to find out.

In a project unveiled Tuesday, RTI said it’s working with Garmin with the support of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to determine if collecting more data from wearable devices at more frequent intervals improves disease detection.

“The potential of consumer wearable technology to offer disease detection is important and exciting, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemi,” explained Robert Furberg, senior clinical informaticist at RTI. “Our goal is to test whether more frequent measurements of physiological indicators will be more effective at disease detection than previously possible.”

Data will be gathered from Garmin smartwatches and utilize an app developed by RTI called WRAP-SIGMA.

“Instead of monitoring a person’s average heart rate every 15 seconds, which is a common approach with many wearable device apps, the WRAP-SIGMA app gives RTI researchers the ability to measure the time between each individual heartbeat,” RTI explained.

“This is a departure from previous studies on wearable technology, which have typically not used such high-fidelity data.”

Using smart devices which don’t need to connect to wireless networks in order to collect data would be an important benefit to people who are in remote areas or are prohibited from accessing the internet, RTI added.

Learn more about RTI’s wearable technology research at this site.