Know Sweat

Sweat Sensors Could Be the Next Hot Thing

Sweat_sensor_lAccelerometers, barometers, gyrometers, thermometers, heart-rate monitors. Cameras, mikes and lights. GPS, GSR, UV, EEG, 3G. Brainwaves, stress levels, fingerprints, moods and attitudes.

Device makers are stuffing an increasing amount of low-cost, low-power sensors in phones and wearables, capturing and analysing an amazing amount of detailed, contextual information about the user. However, in the world of big data and small components, there’s always room for more.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati developed a small, flexible, inexpensive sensor that analyses body perspiration in real time, potentially replacing some high-end equipment.

The developers say that the sensor can be used with a smartphone to run diagnostics on biomarkers found in sweat such as amino acids, electrolytes, metabolites and proteins. The resulting data could inform athletes about their training levels and dietary needs, potentially helping to avoid injuries and maximize performance. The team also said the wearable patch could be used to monitor conditions in premature babies and inform diabetics about their glucose levels. It seems that drop of sweat is worth a thousand words.

Developments like this indicate that wearables still have great potential in DIY diagnostics. They aren’t medical devices, but offer a fantastic level of detailed information for casual self-monitoring. Beyond heartbeats, wearables could track electrolytes and oxygen levels, alerting the user about potential imbalances. Low-cost gadgets could provide advice about nutritional needs, and the research group envisions the patches being used for early disease detection. Mobile devices are really becoming an important part of the medical ecosystem, though there’s a delicate line between healthcare and well-being.

There’s value in the data collected through such sensors. Information about body conditions could provide health officials with bird’s-eye level diagnostics for a particular region, potentially delivering early warning signs about environmental or nutritional issues. Collecting and aggregating the data anonymously would be a tricky procedure, but seems inevitable.

University lab projects are worth monitoring, and often make good investments. If this UC research becomes productised, device makers might want to run with it.