Monitoring your vital signs through a bandage, engineers develop tiny health sensors

Monitoring your vital signs through a bandage, engineers develop tiny health sensors

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News & Events - Engineering News

November 16, 2012

Healthcare professionals and doctors may soon be able to observe a patient's vital signs through the application of a band-aid, after electrical engineers at Oregon State University developed monitoring sensors that are no bigger than a postage stamp.

According to a statement released by the university, the tiny technology is part of an ongoing engineering research project to reduce the size of body monitoring sensors.

Sponsored by a combination of private investment and the National Science Foundation, preliminary testing of the small sensors has shown that they are the perfect size to fit onto a disposable medical aid, such as a bandage, with researchers believing that they could be manufactured in high volumes and cost less than 25 cents to produce.

A patent for the device is currently being processed and the team is now planning to move onto clinical trials. The size of the sensor opens the door to a number of potential medical applications, with heart monitoring and physical activity recording the obvious candidates for further study.

There has also been an interest in the technology from healthcare professionals involved in the care of patients with dementia, while the device is also able to measure perspiration rate and body temperature, a useful source of information in disease prevention, or even as a lie detector.

"Current technology allows you to measure these body signals using bulky, power-consuming, costly instruments," said Patrick Chiang, an associate professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "What we've enabled is the integration of these large components onto a single microchip, achieving significant improvements in power consumption. We can now make important biomedical measurements more portable, routine, convenient and affordable than ever before."

The tests conducted by the electrical engineering team have shown that the new technology cuts the cost of comparable technology by approximately ten times, with the device providing a similar degree of power consumption in a smaller sensor. The body monitor market is currently awash with products, some of which can cost up to $100, with smart phones increasingly pressed into service as de-facto pedometers, but Chiang believes that system-on-a-chip technology could be used in conjunction with these mobile devices.

"Part of what enables this small size is that the system doesn't have a battery," he said. "It harvests the sparse radio-frequency energy from a nearby device - in this case, a cell phone. By being able to dramatically reduce the size, weight and cost of these devices, it opens new possibilities in medical treatment, health care, disease prevention, weight management and other fields."

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