Graphene-based wearable may revolutionize infant health monitoring

Brittany A. Roston - Jan 9, 2018, 6:21 pm CST
Graphene-based wearable may revolutionize infant health monitoring

Monitoring infant health metrics, such as pulse and breathing rate, is tricky and existing devices are cumbersome. A newly developed technology could change that, though, using conducting liquid emulsions. The liquid has been detailed in paper published today in the Nanoscale journal from the Royal Society of Chemistry; inspiration for it came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s plea for cheap wearable tech that can track babies’ health.

The research comes from University of Sussex School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences Professor Alan Dalton, as well as a team of physicists from the same university. The paper describes a liquid emulsion made of graphene, oil, and water.

The image above shows a tube containing the liquid, which itself experiences a conductivity change when the tube is stretched even a slight amount. This ultra-sensitivity makes the liquid a key component for a potential wearable that could track certain health metrics, including a baby’s pulse and respiration. The wearable could send the data to a mobile device running a companion app.

The tracking technology could be built into infant sleepwear, making it possible to track the baby’s pulse and breathing without using the big devices currently used; these are attached to the hands and/or feet and are less than ideal. Because the liquid is so capable of picking up small signals, it could also be used in other movement-based health tracking, including sleep apnea monitoring.

A wearable that uses wireless, rather than wired, data transfers is ideal as it doesn’t restrict movement or interfere with the baby’s sleep. “The devices will be comfortable, non-invasive and can provide intuitive diagnostics of breathing and heart rate,” Professor Dalton explained.

The team is developing this technology with the goal of producing a commercial product; the hope, Dalton says, is to see such a product produced in the next 2 to 4 years. The technology could have uses beyond this sort of health monitoring, other potential applications including exercising and general activity tracking.

“Graphene is very affordable as it can be produced using naturally-occurring graphite,” Dalton explained, “so this could be rolled out on a big scale … the new technology will not be expensive to make and buy.”

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