Wearable technology has seen tremendous growth over the past few years. In 2015, 84 million wearables were sold worldwide and as per a forecast, the number is expected to reach 245 million by 2019.
Today, smartwatches and fitness trackers are the most commonly seen wearables. These gadgets, however, are made of hard components that are strapped onto the body. Wearable patches, on the other hand, are small ultra-thin electronic devices that stick onto the skin like a temporary tattoo.
What Can They Do?
These patches are made using thermoplastic materials and are flat, flexible, and non-invasive. Covestro, one of the world’s largest polymer companies, expects wearable patches to take off in the field of medical engineering. They will play a major role in making medical diagnostics and treatments easier.
A working prototype of this smart patch has sensors that measure humidity, skin temperature, geo-magnetics, acceleration, pressure, blood alcohol level, and UV-ray exposure. Moreover, it also has a heat-stroke alarm, environmental stress meter and an ambient light.
In the experiments conducted on a group of volunteers, scientist found out that they could use wearable patches to monitor signs of fitness like heart rate, blood oxygen level, and skin temperature. Moreover, change in skin colour can also be measured to detect diseases like jaundice.
How Do They Work?
These patches can send health data wirelessly to a laptop or smartphone using near-field communications (NFC) technology. Once powered up, the LED light in the patch lights up. Part of the light is absorbed and the rest is detected by a light sensor, which then transmits data to the connected device.
Currently, these patches can only be powered up by a smartphone within a range of two centimetres. But, with long-range readers, the range can be increased to up to 1 meter.
Scientists have been working on stretchable electronics for a while now. However, due to size and weight restrictions of their batteries, their fit isn’t as comfortable. Wearable patches are battery-free and powered wirelessly by smartphones to monitor health. Due to the absence of a battery, these patches are 5 to 10 times thinner, enhancing their fitting.
More sensors are expected to be added to these little devices, further increasing its applications in medicine in the future.