It seems like every week somebody finds a new way to use sensors. This week is no exception; so we wanted to point out some interesting health-based sensors being developed for the medical field and for consumers. Three devices caught our attention, two from universities, and one from a startup. Get to know the devices that could be changing medicine forever, and the people designing them.
Wearable sweat sensors for body monitoring
The first device is a wearable sweat sensor being developed by UC Berkeley, who has been in the news a lot lately for developing some interesting devices. The sweat sensor can be embedded in a wristband or headband. The device consists of a flexible PCB with 5 sensors; one for skin temperature, lactic acid in muscles, glucose, sodium, and potassium. The data collected from the sensors is sent to an app where it can be viewed by users.
The project is being led by UC Berkeley's Professor Ali Javey, a professor of both electrical engineering and computer science. Professor Javey said the goal of the project is to make medical reading devices less intrusive by taking samples of sweat instead of blood. Professor Javey and his co-author for the study, Professor George Brooks elaborated on this in an interview with Berkeley News:
"With this non-invasive technology, someday it may be possible to know what’s going on physiologically without needle sticks or attaching little, disposable cups on you"
The team even looks to expand the technology by shrinking the design and integrating the circuits' functionalities into a single chip, which will make room for even more sensors to measure even more biochemicals. This technology could do wonders for the medical field by reducing the need for tedious procedures like blood testing, as well as reducing the waste that comes as a by-product of invasive medical testing.
Portable Sensor for Food Testing
6SensorLabs, a startup founded by MIT graduates Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor, recently received more funding for their first product, a portable gluten sensor called Nima, after winning the TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield 2016. 6SensorLabs has been raising funds for Nima since 2014 and is currently taking pre-orders on their website. Nima will allow people with gluten allergies to test their food when they eat out, something that can be stressful for those who have gluten allergies. 6SensorLabs plans to expand Nima to other common food allergies such as shellfish, peanuts, and dairy.
Smiley face = No Gluten. Frowny face = Gluten. Talk about user-friendly!
If Nima is widespread, eventually all of the food testing data will integrate with IoT, allowing users access to an immense database of primary source information about their local food supplies. Nima only takes 2 minutes to test a sample using a disposable pod that mimics lab conditions. Nima itself costs about $250, and each disposable pod costs $3.99, which seems awfully familiar to a Keurig. For those with food allergies, this can greatly improve their quality of life.
Stretchable pressure sensors for medical exams
Takao Someya and his team at the University of Tokyo are developing stretchable pressure sensors that work even when the sensor itself has pressure. In the past, adding a pressure sensor to a glove was thought impossible because the act of touching in itself causes pressure. Thanks to the discovery of graphene, a carbon composite that can be made into sheets just one atom thick, the team was able to form a sensor that might just be up for the challenge.
This infographic made by Aerogel Graphene shows a few of graphene's advantages
There are a lot of possible applications for this new technology, but according to an interview with Fox News, one of the things Someya is most excited for is the possibility of reducing the need for X-rays for procedures like mammograms.
"the new sensors may offer easy and painless monitoring of tumors without exposure to radiation"
The prototype has a long way to go before it can replace X-ray procedures, and it may never get there, but that won't deter Someya and his team from trying.
By collecting data from these sensors into the cloud, doctors and medical researchers will have access to more information than ever; and hopefully, reduce a lot of medical waste while improving the lives of everyone affected. These devices should be thought of as the beginning of a new technological field of data collection, instead of just one-dimensional devices. Cynics may be right to label them as more unfinished science projects, but the pursuit of safer medical technologies will always be a worthwhile pursuit.