Over the years we’ve seen wearables measuring every aspect of your body, but lung capacity is more esoteric than most. Sylvee is a brand new wearable from Respira Labs which continuously measures lung function — perfect for COPD and asthma patients, and other people who may have temporarily reduced lung function. A certain pandemic that affects lung function springs to mind, in particular.

Sylvee is a product that’s worn at the lower part of the rib cage, and it promises to easily and continuously assess lung function without having to blow into anything. The wearable patch has embedded speakers and microphones that measure changes in acoustic resonance. The company claims that this is a good proxy for changes in lung air volume — which is the basis of pulmonary function testing.

The tech is fantastically clever. Sylvee generates noise through its speakers, and then uses the microphones to measure the sounds that are generated. The theory is that if there are air cavities, this changes the quality of the sound, much like if you were to tap a drum head on a drum set, before filling the drum with cotton, wool or liquid and doing the same. Obviously, these are lungs — I’m not a doctor, but I have to assume that there are typically air cavities in there. The wearable uses the data it collects to measure lung volume, capacity, rate of flow and any trapped air.

“Well-established science shows that air trapping can be measured with more than 90% accuracy using low-frequency sound. There is a clear difference in the acoustic resonance spectra of COPD patients versus healthy controls,” explained Dr. Maria Artunduaga, Respira Lab’s founder and CEO. “With more than 100 million Americans affected by COPD, COVID-19 and asthma, and with an aging population, it can be lifesaving to remotely and accurately monitor lung function and discover a problem early enough to avoid serious consequences. Our goal is to flag abnormalities early, enable earlier treatment at home and empower patients to manage their own health.”

Sylvee is worn on the ribcage. It produces sound — and captures the resonance of the lungs — to determine lung health. Illustration: Respira Labs

The product — Sylvee — is named after Artunduaga’s grandmother, who suffered from COPD and died after symptoms quickly worsened without detection.

“The device facilitates early diagnosis and management of acute deterioration, which is what respiratory patients must avoid. We provide vital information to doctors and patients so they can make the medical treatment changes earlier and prevent hospitalizations, Dr. Artunduaga said. “This is what happened with my grandmother. She suffered from COPD and had a sudden exacerbation of her symptoms and tragically died. I left my medical career and devoted myself to devise the Sylvee because of this terrible and common outcome.”

Respira Labs has set a goal of achieving 90% accuracy in measuring air trapping by pursuing a large trial of more than 500 patients located both in the U.S. and internationally. They also intend to publish in top journals by late 2022. The device is currently in prototype, with FDA clearance expected within the next 18 months.