Engineers 3D-print personalized, wireless wearable sensors that never need a charge

·4-min read
Engineers 3D-print personalized, wireless wearable sensors that never need a charge
Engineers 3D-print personalized, wireless wearable sensors that never need a charge

Wearable sensors that track everything from step count to heart rate are becoming increasingly common. Medical-grade gadgets, on the other hand, are useful to measure the beginning of frailty in older persons. Thereby, diagnose lethal diseases quickly, evaluate the efficacy of new medications, and follow the performance of professional sports.

Engineers at the University of Arizona have created a “biosymbiotic device,” a form of wearable with various novel features. The devices are custom 3D-printed. They are based on wearer body scans. But they can also work indefinitely thanks to a mix of wireless power transfer and small energy storage. The discoveries were published today in the journal Science Advances by a team lead by Philipp Gutruf. He is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and Craig M. Berge Faculty Fellow at the College of Engineering.

“There’s nothing like this out there,” said Gutruf, a member of the university’s BIO5 Institute. “We introduce a completely new concept of tailoring a device directly to a person and using wireless power casting to allow the device to operate 24/7 without ever needing to recharge.”

Custom Fit enables precise monitoring

Wearable sensors now have several drawbacks. Smartwatches, for example, require charging and can only collect a limited amount of data due to their wrist placement. Gutruf and his team can 3D-print custom-fitted devices that wrap around various body parts utilizing 3D scans of a wearer’s body. It may be obtained by methods such as MRIs, CT scans, and even carefully mixed smartphone photos. Consider a nearly invisible, lightweight, breathable mesh cuff tailored to your bicep, calf, or torso. Researchers can now assess physiological markers that they couldn’t before because of the capacity to customize sensor placement.

“If you want something close to core body temperature continuously, for example, you’d want to place the sensor in the armpit. Or, if you want to measure the way your bicep deforms during exercise, we can place a sensor in the devices that can accomplish that,” said Tucker Stuart, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering and first author on the paper. “Because of the way we fabricate the device and attach it to the body, we’re able to use it to gather data a traditional, wrist-mounted wearable device wouldn’t be able to collect.”

These biosymbiotic devices are extremely sensitive since they precisely match the wearer. Gutruf’s team examined the device’s ability to measure characteristics such as temperature and strain when a person jumped, walked on a treadmill, and utilized a rowing machine. Subjects in the rowing machine study wore various gadgets that tracked workout intensity and muscle deformation in great detail. The devices were precise enough to identify variations in body temperature caused by a single flight of stairs.

Continuous, Wireless and Effortless wearable sensors

Gutruf and his colleagues aren’t the first to use wearables to monitor health and function. Current wearables, on the other hand, cannot track parameters in real-time or with sufficient precision to draw medically significant conclusions.

Patches that stick to the skin but come off as the skin sheds or when a patient sweats are some of the wearables researchers employ. These concerns affect even the most advanced wearables used in healthcare settings, such as ECG monitors. They’re also not wireless, which drastically restricts mobility. Patients who tie to large external gadgets are unable to go about their everyday routines.

The biosymbiotic device developed by Gutruf’s team does not require any adhesive. Also, it is a wireless system with a range of several meters power it. The device also has a small energy storage unit that allows it to work even if the wearer leaves the system’s range, such as outside the house.

“These devices are designed to require no interaction with the wearer,” Gutruf said. “It’s as simple as putting the device on. Then you forget about it, and it does its job.”

The Flinn Foundation Translational Bioscience Seed Grants Pilot Program provided funding for this study. In addition, the team has been collaborating with Tech Develop Arizona, the university’s commercialization arm, to protect intellectual property and launch a firm to bring the technology to market.

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