Measure Heart Rate through Your Skin with the Tiny Pulse Sensor

WHAT: A low-cost, open source sensor that measures your heart rate through your skin [ production sample shown above ]. Students, artists, athletes and game and mobile developers can use the Pulse Sensor to incorporate live heart-rate data into their projects. Its button-sized holes make it easy to sew into clothing, and it can be clipped onto a finger or earlobe. The Pulse Sensor also comes with software to graph data in real time. Designed to be used with Arduino, hardware that can process data.

Project on Kickstarter has raised $14K (original goal was $3K). [ see our profile of the Kogeto Dot, another Kickstarter success story. ]

LAUNCHERS:  Joel Murphy and Yury Gitman, physical computing teachers at Parsons The New School for Design. Joel is the founder of Rachel's Electronics, an online store for electronics kits and breakout boards. Yury is the founder of the Banana Design Lab, which manufactures (in limited runs) and sells quirky high-tech products.

WHEN/WHERE:  Aug. 11 [ production sample ] / New York.

BACKSTORY: Joel and Yury teach students how to incorporate electronics and hardware, specifically with Arduino. Though they haven't assigned making an optical heart-rate monitor to their classes yet, each year a few students try to build them based on published guides, but they often find it difficult to get them to work, much less fine-tune them to work effectively.

"I took a look at this pulse sensor problem, and after a couple of weeks I saw a pretty good solution, a month later found this one that was just rocking," Joel told LAUNCH.

BUSINESS MODEL: Selling Pulse Sensors (and the software) online for about $20.

"We hope to have some wholesale orders from online retailers that specialize in open-source hardware. You may soon see it at an electronics store near you, but conversations are still ongoing," Joel said.

ON KICKSTARTER: "It was really surprising. We thought at first let's go for $5K, but then we said all we want to do is make this damn thing and make a little bit of money. We thought with $3K we would be able to pay ourselves a little bit of money, make a batch, and eventually we would sell them to people. We didn't imagine that there would be as much interest," says Joel.

COMPETITION: Garmin, Polar. Both need to be strapped to a body part (chest or wrist).

ON THEIR MARKET: "We are not trying to make a medical device, our market is primarily, or we had envisioned was going to be hackers and designers who want to incorporate heart rates into a project or a game controller that uses a heartbeat, music, or to be used in some sort of art installation or meditation," says Joel. Athletes and quantified-self nuts are their secondary market. A science center in New Zealand may use the sensor in a heartbeat exhibit.

CUSTOMERS/GROWTH: Will ship at least 500 sensors when the Kickstarter project officially closes; 368 backers on Kickstarter at press time.

PHILOSOPHY: Joel and Yury are open-source proponents with the greater goal of generating interest in the physical computing field and inspiring others to take the time to learn more about it. 

WHAT THE RUNKEEPER CEO THINKS: "We think this project, and any project that makes it easier to collect relevant health information, is really cool," says Jason Jacobs. RunKeeper is expanding beyond its app and building a Health Graph so that all your health data can be kept in one place [ see our article ]. Jason would definitely want the Pulse Sensor to tie into the Health Graph.

INVESTORS: They're not looking for them: "Investors are not very interesting to Yury and I," says Joel.

RAISING: Nearly $14K on Kickstarter to date.


Joel Murphy (left) and Yury Gitman (right) are the creators of the Pulse Sensor.


The Pulse Sensor kit includes an ear clip, velcro dots and a 24-inch color coded cable with standard connector end. Also included are two pieces of software, one which instructs the Arduino how to process the data from the Pulse Sensor and a second which provides a graphical readout of the sensor's readings.

This is the type of graph you get with the Pulse Sensor software.

Joel demonstrates and explains how the Pulse Sensor works.


1. "Pulse Sensor Monitors Heart Rate Even as You Run" (Gizmo Watch, Aug. 8, 2011)

2. "Heart Rate Measurement From Fingertip" (Embedded Lab, Feb. 5, 2011)


Joel Murphy
Email:  joel at joelmurphy dot net
Twitter: @Safe_For_Robots

Yury Gitman
Email: Yury dot Gitman at gmail dot com
Twitter: @yuryg

Pulse Sensor

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