Wize up: Look in mirror for health scan

Research into a new smart device called the ‘Wize Mirror’ is being funded by the EU. It could play a vital role in getting people to change their habits and prevent disease — but how safe is a mirror in our bathroom that connects to the internet and stores our information?

The Wize Mirror contains 3D scanners, multispectral cameras, gas sensors, and facial recognition software to evaluate the user’s health. The first prototype of the device was launched by a consortium headed up by an Italian National Research Council team called Semeoticons.

Designed for use in public areas such as workplaces and schools, as well as for personal use in the home, the device will be able to track changes to your health by monitoring parameters such as cholesterol deposits in the skin, heart rate, and oxygen levels.

In the first of three prototypes, facial recognition software logs the viewer in and loads their personal settings. In future versions, users will be able to disable this feature and log in with a user account and password.

Giuseppe Coppini, scientific technical co-ordinator for the project, says cutting-edge technologies are being developed by the team.

“We are measuring cholesterol deposits in the skin without contact with the skin; that’s very challenging and complex,” says Dr Coppini. “We are developing new methods for sensing glycated proteins in the skin that can indicate high blood glucose levels.

“High blood glucose levels are an indicator of Type 2 diabetes. Early detection can be vital in preventing complications of the disease, which can only be a good thing.”

However, after numerous reports of how easily hackable Google Glass is, a mirror in your bathroom that records personal data, contains facial recognition software that logs you in automatically, has web connectivity, and even allows you to share your health status via social media, may sound like a dystopian step too far.

“At present, all the personal data is stored in the mirror, and the user has the option to send information to their GP,” Dr Coppini says.

“But in the future, there will be web connectivity and people will be able to share the information, for example on Facebook, if they want.”

Why does the team feel people will want to share their detailed health information via social media?

“The European Commission wants this because they feel it will increase user engagement,” he says.

“This is in line with the EU’s strategy to encourage people to take a pro-active approach to their health.”

The project began in November 2013 and has received EU funding of €3.87m. It comprises research facilities from universities in various EU member states, but also has members from the private sector, such as Draco, which specialises in remote monitoring systems, and Forthnet, a Greek broadband provider.

Is the Wize Mirror hackable? “There’s protection embedded in the hardware structure; hardware blocks are physically separate, making it hard to hack,” says Dr Coppini.

There are other potential ethical repercussions, including the installation of smart mirrors in public facilities such as workplaces, schools, and pharmacies; gas sensors in the mirrors can detect alcohol and cigarette smoke.

Has the team considered that large employers may use the device to enforce stringent drugs and alcohol policies, or to decide if an employee is fit for work?

“We have discussed this issue. Our strategy is that each user activates the mirror voluntarily,” Dr Coppini says.

He says that Semeoticons are very aware of the potential privacy and other ethical issues around their new invention.

“All new technology poses new ethical issues,” Dr Coppini says.

“We have an internal medical ethics committee and we are carefully considering these things.”

With the project phase not due for completion until November 2016, and after that a series of projected tests in clinical settings, it will be years before the technology becomes widely available, and no tech firm has shown a public interest in buying the rights to Wize Mirror yet.


How to take an active interest in your children’s online lives

Is kindness key to good health?

When it’s the right time to say goodbye?

Tric Kearney: 'Internet shopping and I are finished'

More From The Irish Examiner