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Biological Symbiotic Devices: No-Charge Personalized Wireless Wearables

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More people are concerned about their health, including the elderly and people engaging in various physical activities. Responding to the need to monitor their heart rate, pulse, and steps, among others, manufacturers are coming up with different kinds of wearable sensors for health monitoring. 

But there are other scenarios where health monitoring is needed, like measuring the oncoming frailty in the elderly, tracking a professional athlete’s performance, testing new drugs’ effectiveness, or immediate identification of fatal illnesses. You need medical grade devices for such scenarios.

Biological symbiotic device

University of Arizona engineers recently developed a novel type of wearable. They call it a biological symbiotic device. The engineers say that the device will have benefits that are unheard of so far. The device is 3D printed and custom-created according to the body scan of the wearer. Another novel concept is the continuous operation of the device using a combination of compact energy storage and wireless power transfer. 

According to Philipp Gutrut, a BIO5 Institute member and assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona, the device is unique. Their research led them to develop a device that fits the person directly. In addition, with its wireless power casting, it can run 24/7 without needing a charge. 

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Accurate monitoring through custom fitting

Most wearable sensors available today have some limitations. For example, the smartwatches must be worn on the wrist and need a regular recharge. In addition, the wearables can only collect limited data. The Arizona University research team have built a custom-fit device. They use 3D scans of the different parts of a person’s body through high-resolution smartphone images, CT scans, and MRI. With the actual measurement of a body part, they can create the device by 3D printing. They make a breathable, lightweight mesh cuff that can be worn on the torso, calves, and biceps. The nearly invisible device has specific sensor placements that allow the research engineers to monitor some difficult-to-measure physiological parameters.

The lead author of the research, biomedical engineering PhD student Tucker Stuart, clarifies that they can attach the biological symbiotic device they created to collect data on parts of the body where a wearable device worn on the wrist cannot monitor.

Custom-fitting makes the biosymbiotic device fit the wearer closely to heightened its sensitivity to provide precise monitoring. For example, they can attach the device to the upper arm and leg of a person or athlete to monitor the user’s temperature and the strain exerted on the muscles as the person uses a rowing machine, walks on a treadmill, or jumps. In one such test for a person using a rowing machine, they attached several devices to track the intensity of the exercise and monitor how strenuous activities deform the muscles.

Continuous performance

Tracking health and physical functions through wearables is not a new idea. However, most wearables cannot track continuously because the battery life is limited. Some wearables with patches that stick to the skin come off when the user sweats. Even the patches of a sophisticated wearable like an ECG will not adhere if the skin is moist or wet. Moreover, an ECG is not wireless, which hampers its mobility. A person cannot lead an everyday life if they are connected to a bulky monitoring machine.

The construction of the biosymbiotic device is like a cuff. Thus, it is worn like a sleeve, making it free from glue or any adhesive. The wireless system receives power from a source with several meter-range. Moreover, it has a small power storage unit to continue functioning even if the wearer is out of the system’s range, such as going out of the house.

The device does not need any setting, voice command, or programming. Instead, the user wears the cuff device and leave it on so it can do its job.

The Flinn Foundation Translational Bioscience Seed Grants Pilot Program provided the funding for the study. In addition, the engineering team worked with Tech Launch Arizona, the commercialization arm of the University of Arizona, which will launch a startup to commercialize the device and other technology products while protecting their intellectual property.