Kyle Machulis Hacks Your Health Hardware

April 4, 2011

Here is a guest post from the awesome Kyle Machulis of

Hi, my name is Kyle Machulis, and I like numbers. A lot. One of my hobbies is staring for long periods of time at the numbers that computers and hardware send to each other to figure out what they mean. This is known as reverse engineering. It’s basically my own special, nerdy version of sudoku.

In the past, I’ve mainly worked with video game controllers, such as the Novint Falcon and the Microsoft Kinect. Along the way, I’ve picked up random biometrics hardware here and there. Earlier this year, I realized I’d ended up writing, maintaining, or contributing to drivers for several devices.

These include:
libomron – Data access library for omron pedometers and blood pressure monitors
liblightstone – Hardware access library for the Journey To Wild Divine Lightstone USB widget
libfitbit – Hardware access library for the Fitbit pedometer device
emokit – Raw data access library for the Emotiv EPOC EEG headset

I recently realized it’d be a good idea to create a central place for these kinds of projects, so I started the OpenYou project.

This project is a resource to developers, providing updates and lists of open source libraries for whatever health equipment I can get my hands on, from sports sensors to medical equipment to DIY gadgets. The project aims to get developers to write code that requires them to get out of their chairs to use, and to get non-developers talking to developers about shared needs and ways to refine data transfer and visualization.

So, out of all the hardware available to work on, why concentrate on reverse engineering health and biometrics equipment? The fun part about reversing this hardware is that the numbers you are staring at when figuring things out are yours. While reverse engineering a blood oxygen sensor, you can breathe deeply and watch the data change to map out what things mean. You end up learning about yourself while also learning the hardware.

Outside of the selfish fun of manipulating the data you’re taking apart via physical exertion, there’s the much more important issue of people that really, seriously need the data. Sure, there are those that want to increase their attention or to fine tune some portion of their diet. Then then there are the people that will quite literally die without this data — data that is sometimes locked into a device they can’t get to, a device that will only send it out to a remote company or a certain piece of software, that will send it to their doctor, who will then come back to them with it, when they have time.

That unhelpful practice needs to stop, and we’re here to make that happen. It’s your data, it’s your right to have complete access to it.

Right now, there are two resources outside of the website.
Google Groups Mailing List
– IRC Channel on Freenode – #openyou
– Twitter: @openyouorg

OpenYou is happy to take requests to work on hardware that people like access to. The project is also looking for anyone that’s doing sensor development or reverse engineering in an open source manner. There’s a blog to fill, and stories about interesting hardware uses, DIY projects, or other things relevant to open source health development are welcome.

Current projects include:
– Finishing an ANT/ANT+ library for Python (part of the libfitbit project)
– A BodyMedia/BodyBugg library
– DIY projects for the newly opened Zeo firmware
– Gathering information and code off of the Garmin forums to make a central resource for Garmin/Suunto/Polar sensor communication

Please feel free to email me at if you’re interested in anything I’ve mentioned, and I’ll also be at the QS Conference in May 2011.

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