Wearables and the Quantified Self: Systematic Benchmarking of Physiological Sensors


Wearable sensors are increasingly used in research, as well as for personal and private purposes. A variety of scientific studies are based on physiological measurements from such rather low-cost wearables. That said, how accurate are such measurements compared to measurements from well-calibrated, high-quality laboratory equipment used in psychological and medical research? The answer to this question, undoubtedly impacts the reliability of a study’s results. In this paper, we demonstrate an approach to quantify the accuracy of low-cost wearables in comparison to high-quality laboratory sensors. We therefore developed a benchmark framework for physiological sensors that covers the entire workflow from sensor data acquisition to the computation and interpretation of diverse correlation and similarity metrics. We evaluated this framework based on a study with 18 participants. Each participant was equipped with one high-quality laboratory sensor and two wearables. These three sensors simultaneously measured the physiological parameters such as heart rate and galvanic skin response, while the participant was cycling on an ergometer following a predefined routine. The results of our benchmarking show that cardiovascular parameters (heart rate, inter-beat interval, heart rate variability) yield very high correlations and similarities. Measurement of galvanic skin response, which is a more delicate undertaking, resulted in lower, but still reasonable correlations and similarities. We conclude that the benchmarked wearables provide physiological measurements such as heart rate and inter-beat interval with an accuracy close to that of the professional high-end sensor, but the accuracy varies more for other parameters, such as galvanic skin response.