Social isolation and loneliness are major health concerns in young and older people. Traditional approaches to monitor the level of social interaction rely on self-reports. The goal of this study was to investigate if wearable textile-based sensors can be used to accurately detect if the user is talking as a future indicator of social interaction. In a laboratory study, fifteen healthy young participants were asked to talk while performing daily activities such as sitting, standing and walking. It is known that the breathing pattern differs significantly between normal and speech breathing (i.e., talking). We integrated resistive stretch sensors into wearable elastic bands, with a future integration into clothing in mind, to record the expansion and contraction of the chest and abdomen while breathing. We developed an algorithm incorporating machine learning and evaluated its performance in distinguishing between periods of talking and non-talking. In an intra-subject analysis, our algorithm detected talking with an average accuracy of 85%. The highest accuracy of 88% was achieved during sitting and the lowest accuracy of 80.6% during walking. Complete segments of talking were correctly identified with 96% accuracy. From the evaluated machine learning algorithms, the random forest classifier performed best on our dataset. We demonstrate that wearable textile-based sensors in combination with machine learning can be used to detect when the user is talking. In the future, this approach may be used as an indicator of social interaction to prevent social isolation and loneliness.
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