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Blockchain Startup, Vanderbilt University Test Biometric Suit

A partnership between the university and Beyond Protocol is working with alt rock band Cage the Elephant to test a “biometric suit” that monitors brain waves, heart rate and other vitals, hoping to study mental health.

Matt Shultz wears Beyond Protocol's biometric suit prototype during a recent tour date.
(Beyond Protocol)
Blockchain startup Beyond Protocol and Vanderbilt University, with help from alternative rock band Cage the Elephant, are collaborating to develop and test new biometric tools for mental health use cases, according to a news release from the company last month.

Jonathan Manzi, founder and CEO of Beyond Protocol, said the research and development partnership will build upon the company’s 3D-printed biometric suit outfitted with sensors that can measure brain waves, heart rate and other metrics related to a patient’s emotional state.

Manzi said the prototype suit has been tested by Cage the Elephant front man Matt Shultz, who performed in it during the band’s ongoing tour, as well as during a show organized in November that marked the beginning of the partnership with Vanderbilt to test the technology in intense settings.

Manzi said the technology is still in early development, and was originally built to monitor health vitals and prevent physical problems in musicians and athletes until researchers realized its biometrics might also be used to study mental health.

“We decided to reach out to Vanderbilt with this concept, where Shultz on stage could wear a suit with devices that track his biometrics and allow analysis of this information for cues to what’s going on with his mental health as he’s performing,” he said, noting the partnership with Vanderbilt will enable interdisciplinary research geared toward further development.

The information could then be sent through Beyond Protocol’s blockchain to authorized third parties such as health-care professionals for treatment options if needed, according to Manzi. He said blockchain technology allows authorized health-care professionals to access and send the information while preventing unauthorized access that could violate patient privacy.

“The data that’s collected from devices inside the suit can be put on the blockchain, and the communication between those devices and other devices outside of the suit is all secure,” he said. “When it comes to this topic of privacy, there is no more private information than biometrics. Blockchain is able to provide a framework for there to be custody of that information.”

According to Manzi, the partnership with Vanderbilt will allow the company to develop a road map for new products that integrate blockchain with new biometric tech tools.

“We’re looking forward to there being this tipping point, where developers come together and start developing applications on many different devices and many different data sets,” he said. “We see it like when the ‘app store’ [concept] came out of its beta phase and into the mainstream, and there were new apps that completely changed industries and provided value not thought of before.”

The research partnership will facilitate additional testing and development opportunities through Vanderbilt’s Wond’ry Innovation Center, described on the university’s website as a space that encourages entrepreneurship for “creating new processes, building new technologies and forming fresh insights.”

“[The center] is pleased to be part of the Cage the Elephant tour through the development of adaptive clothing that soon will allow biometric data such as Matt Shultz’s brainwaves to be regularly monitored and part of the performance,” said Alexandra Sargent Capps, director of the Wond’ry Fiber Arts Lab, in a public statement. “To see Beyond Protocol embracing apparel and its associated data while drawing attention to overall mental health and inclusivity promises to be an amazingly positive and productive collaboration.”

Capps declined to give further details from the university about the partnership. She said in an email that the initiative remains in its infancy and that more information might be available in a matter of weeks.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.