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Stanford engineers design an accurate wearable calorie burn counter

Stanford graduate student, Delaney Miller, wearing the energy expenditure monitoring system while running on campus.
(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)
Jul 13 2021
Faculty, Fellow, Research, Stanford

Engineers from Stanford University have developed a new calorie burn measurement system that is small, inexpensive and accurate. Also, people can make it themselves. Whereas smartwatches and smartphones tend to be off by about 40 to 80 percent when it comes to counting calories burned during an activity, this system averages 13 percent error.

“We built a compact system that we evaluated with a diverse group of participants to represent the U.S. population and found that it does very well, with about one third the error of smartwatches,” said Patrick Slade, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Stanford who is lead author of a paper about this work, published July 13 in Nature Communications.

A crucial piece of this research was understanding a basic shortcoming of other wearable calorie counters: that they rely on wrist motion or heart rate, even though neither is especially indicative of energy expenditure. (Consider how a cup of coffee can increase heart rate.) The researchers hypothesized that leg motion would be more telling – and their experiments confirmed that idea.

Lead author, Patrick Slade, is a 2016 SGF Fellow.

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