The Rise of Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) Sensors in Wearables

August 05, 2016 by Ebony Calloway

Maxim develops a platform for better measurement of static activities such as yoga using GSR sensors.

Maxim develops a wearable platform for better measurement of static activities such as yoga using GSR sensors.

The wearable Galvanic Skin Response skin system, MAXREFDES73#, is a wearable system recently released by Maxim. It's a mobile system that uses the MAX32600 wellness measurement microcontroller to measure impedance as well as temperature, making it an excellent fitness tracking device.


Understanding the Galvanic Skin Response

The galvanic skin response (GSR) is also known as electrodermal activity (EDA). These are terms that describe the continuous and systemic variation of electrical properties of human skin. As GSR is not fully understood, research into its causes and effects is ongoing.

In the past, GSR has been used to develop medical technology such as the electrocardiograph (EKG). It's also been used as a method for detecting psychological, emotional, and physiological arousal and agitation by tracking sweat gland activity connected to sympathetic activtity of the autonomic nervous system. In effect, GSR is capable of indicating when someone is under stress. Because of this, GSR is one of the metrics recorded in modern polygraph tests.


Sample of a GSR reading taken from a subject's middle and ring fingers. Image courtesy of Hugo Gamboa Dez via Wikimedia Commons.


Recently, more and more wearable devices have begun incorporating GSR technology. The Microsoft Band, for example, includes a GSR sensor

Another application of a wearable GSR sensor is the Moodmetric ring, which purports to track the wearer's emotional state using a GSR sensor.

Compared to this psychologically-focused approach, the MAXREFDES73# differs in that it's being touted as a way to measure physical activity. 


Specs and Capabilities

One of its selling points is that it's sensitive enough that it can detect the activity involved with yoga or other static exercises that the more common fitness bands cannot detect. 

How does it accomplish this? The GSR device uses an external negative temperature coefficient sensor so that it can directly be in contact with the skin for more precise measurements. The measurements are taken every second and the measurement and transmitting time is about 30 milliseconds. During the rest of the time, the microcontroller is put into a low power state to conserve power.

The wearable is battery powered and measures high-precision impedance measurements using an ARM Cortex M3 32-bit RISC PCU. Its design features the ARM microcontroller, Bluetooth for low power communication, 4 DACs, 1 ADC, embedded security, and multiple op amps.

The three LEDS (yellow, red, and green) give visual feedback about the current state of the system, such as charging or taking measurements.


System diagram of the MAXREFDES73#. Image courtesy of Maxim Integrated.


The MAXREFDES73# comes with an Android mobile application which requires Android version 4.3 or higher. It connects with the device and displays the temperature and impedance magnitude. Using the "Frequency Sweep" button on the application shows the Bode plot of the latest data:


Example readings from the MAXREFDES73#. Image courtesy of Maxim Integrated.


In addition to the GSR sensor, its features include the ability to measure oxygen saturation, air temperature, wrist temperature, heart rate, and position. It also gives more information about the overall health and wellness of a person’s body and can determine the type of exercise based on the measurements that it takes. 

It does not currently have a casing to it but does have a band that can be strapped to the wrist.


The MAXREFDES73# attached via wristband. Image courtesy of Maxim Integrated.


Made for Wearables Developers

The MAXREFDES73# would be a great starting point for a new wearable project.

Its various health-monitoring features can help developers make wearable devices quickly and with a relatively low amount of dollars invested in making prototypes.

In addition, the schematic, PCB layout, and other design files are included with the unit so implementing and combining other technologies is a bit easier.

The reference design is flexible so it can be used in different applications. Since it takes into account changes in temperature and impedance more exercises can be monitored that may be missing from the traditional heart rate and step monitors in most health wearables.

  • sensacell August 06, 2016

    Now I have seen everything.
    Silicon chips that make snake-oil!

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      cndg August 06, 2016
      ignoramus. go see what researchers are doing with GSR before advertising your own stupidity.
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      • sensacell August 06, 2016
        People have been mucking around with GSR for decades, no fancy chips required. Not much has come from this besides the pseudo-science of the "polygraph" lie-detector, or L.Ron Hubbard's E-meter. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for the design kickoff meeting at Maxim when marketing trotted out the idea for a "wellness Micro-controller", I can just imagine the looks on the faces of the engineering team.
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