N.C. State University researchers have developed a wearable, wireless sensor that monitors a person’s skin hydration and say it could benefit the military, first responders and athletes.
The device – which can be worn on the wrist or a chest patch – can detect dehydration before it poses a health problem, according to a news release from the university.
“Our sensor could be used to protect the health of people working in hot conditions, improve athletic performance and safety, and to track hydration in older adults or in medical patients suffering from various conditions,” said Yong Zhu, an association professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and one of the authors of a paper describing the work. “It can even be used to tell how effective skin moisturizers are for cosmetics.”
And it will be relatively inexpensive, researchers said.
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“The commercially available monitor we tested our system against costs more than $8,000,” said Shanshan Yao, a Ph.D. student at N.C. State and lead author of the paper. “Our sensor costs about one dollar, and the overall manufacturing cost of the wearable systems we developed would be no more than a common wearable device, such as a Fitbit.”
The sensor itself includes two electrodes made of an elastic polymer composite that contains conductive silver nanowires. The electrodes monitor electrical properties of skin, which change according to hydration level. The readings from the electrodes can then tell how hydrated the skin is.
Researchers incorporated the sensors into a wristwatch and an adhesive patch that can be worn on the chest. Both wirelessly transmit sensor data to a program that can be run on a computer, tablet or smartphone, which means the data can be monitored by the wearer or someone else – such as a doctor or a supervising officer in a military or law enforcement setting.
The paper, “A Wearable Hydration Monitor with Conformal Nanowire Electrodes,”was published in the journal “Advanced Healthcare Materials.” The paper was co-authored by Amanda Myers and Abhishek Malhotra, Ph.D. students at N.C. State; Feiyan Lin, a former graduate student; and Alper Bozkurt, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett