Do you ever wonder if what you think or assume you do is different from your actual behavior? Most of us have been surprised more than once in our lives when we saw ourselves on video or heard our behavior described and learned our perception was different from reality. We could be talking about small, harmless behaviors, but still had moments when we said, “Oh! I didn’t realize I was doing that!”

Now put yourself in the place of a health care provider who has to rely on self-reporting about behavior by patients who are at risk. For example, people who are obese, diabetic, or asthmatic might not be consciously aware of habits that could put them at risk or worsen their conditions.

That’s the challenge that Michigan State University assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Mi Zhang is working on. With a team of MSU engineers in collaboration with researchers at Bell Labs, Zhang is developing Headscan which he calls “the next generation of wearables.”

Headscan doesn’t look like much right now — just two little patches on circuit boards — that are actually radio antennas. The eventual application may be able to capture a wide range of types and quantity of data. Headscan will be wearable technology designed not to be seen. The function of the design is to detect movement during different behaviors that involve one’s head. For example, eating, drinking, coughing, and talking can all be monitored continuously by Headscan, and not just the behaviors are occurring, but the rate, the force, the timing and schedule, and other factors.

A typical implementation would be for the Headscan antennae to be woven into a garment, with one on each shoulder. Radio waves from the two small antennas are bounced off the patient’s head, capturing movements of the mouth and head caused by eating, drinking, coughing and speaking. Because the antennas will be able to detect how often and at what rate a person talks, algorithms could be constructed to detect signs of depression.

“For example, it can monitor how often a person eats,” Zhang said. “Dietary monitoring is important. However, humans are not good at tracking these sorts of things. Fortunately, computers are. In some cases, the patient may not want to reveal how much he or she has eaten,” Zhang continued. “This will provide objective information on a continuous basis.”

Headscan technology won’t be ready for field use for at least a couple of years, but there may come a time when we can wear a vest that will track a lot more of our behaviors we ever thought possible.