Emerging developments in sensors are providing patients with the ability to monitor their own health better than ever before. From adhesive patches to smart-bras, wearable technology provides real-time data to aid patient and doctor alike.
Engineers at Stanford University have developed an adhesive rubber patch, capable of detecting subtle physiological changes in the body. The patch itself is no more intrusive than a band-aid; it sticks directly to the skin and sends readings to a nearby receiver on the subjects’ clothing. Researchers hope that this cyber-sticker system - dubbed BodyNet - could be used as a non-invasive monitoring system for patients with heart conditions or sleep disorders.
The patch and receiver work in tandem, utilizing the principles of RFID to beam information back-and-forth. The antenna, delicately screen-printed onto the patch in metallic ink, uses a portion of the RFID energy from the receiver to power its physiological sensors, before transmitting the data back. The receiver then uploads this data periodically to a smartphone or other storage device.
The system is highly sophisticated in its simplicity. To overcome transmission issues when the antenna are bent or stretched; the Stanford researchers had to develop a novel type of antenna still capable of beaming accurate signals, despite any fluctuations. There are still kinks to iron out: One hurdle they now face is maintaining strong communication between the two devices, so that one receiver can harvest signals from patches located anywhere on the body. Although the system is still in its nascence, the team hope that this technology could pave the way to a full-body skin-sensor array.
The platform offers a powerful tool for analyzing relevant human activities and physiological signals, and could potentially be used for real-time physiological studies.
The Research Lab state in Nature Electronics
Another nifty skin-sensor from L’Oreal – UV Sense – can be worn on a person’s thumbnails for up to two weeks, collecting data on the user’s sun habits. At only 9 mm in diameter, this tiny sensor is barely noticeable, but could actively aid in the prevention of skin cancers, an estimated 90% of which are caused by sun exposure.
Skin sensors aren’t the only type of wearable technology that stand to improve quality of life. There are a multitude of devices – connected by the ever-expanding Internet of Things – that enable real-time monitoring of health, sensory expansion and more. More common sensors, such as Continuous Glucose Monitors for patients with diabetes, have been around for over a decade; but clever engineering is bringing about a wave of subtle technology with huge potential.
One such example is the iTBra: A wearable mammogram created by Cyrcadia Health. Using dual patches embedded in a bra, the system monitors certain circadian and metabolic changes which correlate to augmented cell activity in breast cancers. Women can download this data themselves and discuss with a physician, enabling them to monitor their own breast health and eliminate lengthy waiting times for scans.
Wearable heart monitors have been in use since the 1970s, but AliveCor have taken the concept a step further with their KardiaBand and KardiaMobile system. By simply placing two fingers on the sensors, the system can provide a medical-grade ECG in one single 30-second reading. In a study by the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular disease represented 31% of all global deaths in 2016. Enabling patients to monitor their own cardiovascular health and detect rhythmic irregularities could stand to significantly reduce CVD-related fatalities.
In 2015, Aira Tech Corp took inspiration from Google Glass technology to create “Aira” – a wearable glasses service to aid the blind. The user is guided by an Aira Tech representative on the other end, watching through their “eyes” and warning them of any dangers, or aiding them in difficult tasks. Some users may be uncomfortable at the thought of another human being talking in their ear while they go about daily life; and Aira Tech Corp hopes to integrate AI to the system to combat this.
As new sensors continue to be smaller, quieter and less-invasive; wearable technology will almost certainly become more commonplace, offering a multitude of health and medical benefits worldwide.