Equine SmartBits: Mouth-Based Biometrics Monitoring with Maxim Health Sensors

Thousands of racehorses are euthanized each year—a tragedy that technology such as Equine SmartBits could potentially prevent. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Equine SmartBits develops smart sensor-based technology that measures horse biometrics through the mouth. By providing real-time vital sign monitoring and analytics on parameters including temperature, heart rate, and blood-oxygen saturation (SpO2), the company’s technology can transform horse training and improve equine health and performance. Co-founders Mike Saigh, CEO, and Shower Zhang, COO, believe that accurate, real-time insights could also help save some horses’ lives. If any vital sign for a horse is out of optimal range, the trainer and other users receive an alert via an accompanying app.

Saigh and Zhang saw an opportunity to reinvent the horse bridle’s long-unchanged bit, which lets riders place pressure in and around the horse’s mouth to control speed and direction. The team worked closely with equine experts, veterinarians, and biomedical engineers to create its technology, which has received accolades from the St. Louis Business Journal, Startup Connection, AlphaLab Gear, and Startup Runway. The company holds a patent family on its technology that integrates sensors from the oral cavity for animals and humans for applications including the early, non-invasive detection of disease and biometric measurements for sports performance.

Equine SmartBits also has its sights set on developing similar mouth-based biometrics monitoring technology for humans. “What we can do with horses, we can learn so much for human athletes,” noted Saigh.

Challenges

  • Needed highly accurate and small sensors for biometric monitoring

Solutions

Benefits

  • Achieved accurate, continuous biometric monitoring from bridle bits
  • Saved roughly 6 weeks of algorithm development time as well as associated costs

Equine SmartBits’s technology is based on smart sensors that measure horse biometrics through the mouth to deliver real-time health and performance insights.  Equine SmartBits’s technology is based on smart sensors that measure horse biometrics through the mouth to deliver real-time health and performance insights.

Seeking Small, Accurate Sensor Technology

Equine SmartBits’s proprietary bits are embedded with patented electronic devices for biometric measurement. The company can also customize its electronic device and match it with its customers’ own bit designs through a design collaboration program.

Sensors and algorithms are key components of SmartBit technology, while accuracy is essential. There are strap-on devices and electrodes that measure vitals, but their accuracy is hampered by the presence of horse hair. The mouth, Saigh explains, is a perfect spot for direct scientific measurements, as saliva can be an indicator of various health conditions.

To deliver high accuracy, the company’s engineers sought sensors that could accommodate the effects of a horse’s constant, fast motion. Another challenge involved capturing the wide range of heart beats in a horse — from a typical 30 beats per minute (BPM) at rest to up to 200 BPM in a racing situation. Finally, the team sought sensors that would be small enough to fit inside the compact bridle bits.

Bio-algorithm Sensor Hub Saves Development Time

After evaluating available options, Equine SmartBits found its sensor solutions in the MAX30102 high-sensitivity pulse oximeter and heart-rate sensor, the MAX32664 ultra-low-power bio-algorithm sensor hub, and the MAX30205 clinical-grade temperature sensor. The MAX30102 is a biosensor module for mobile and wearable devices that includes internal LEDs, photodetectors, optical elements, and low-noise electronics with ambient light rejection. The MAX32664 provides ready-to-use reference designs, including algorithms, for development of finger-based heart-rate, SpO2 monitoring, and blood-pressure trending applications. And the MAX30205 provides ±0.1°C accuracy for thermometer applications. Also included in the SmartBits technology are the MAX8808X Li+ battery charger, MAX40200 current switch/ideal diode, MAX8902 low-noise 500mA LDO regulator, and the MAX6775 1% accurate battery monitor.

“The Maxim chips performed beautifully when we used them. It really has become a standard with many companies. And the people have just been tremendous,” Saigh said. Zhang noted that the team changed its design from a wired to wireless architecture and appreciated the support of the Maxim field application engineers through the process. “Anytime we had an issue or asked a question, we always got a response on what we could do from a sensor perspective,” she noted.

The MAX30102 provided the accuracy, range, and size that the team needed, while the MAX32664 saved the company time (at least six weeks), effort, and cost in algorithm development. A race horse’s typical top speed of roughly 45mph, along with its movements and gyrations, aren’t hindering the accuracy of the SmartBit data, said Zhang.

“I’ve never seen a company so intrinsically involved in terms of our success,” said Saigh. “Wonderful relationships like this create loyalty.”

The horse is just the beginning for Equine SmartBits. Down the road, the team plans to expand its biometric monitoring technology to humans via a smart mouthguard. Imagine the possibilities of a far less invasive way to detect an array of conditions.