The idea of literal wearables, that is smart clothes, hasn’t exactly appealed even to tech-savvy consumers. There are cases, however, when embedding almost undetectable sensors and chips in clothing can have a significant advantage over traditional forms of monitoring. It turns out, diapers are a prime example of that and researchers at MIT are developing a sensor that not only can be put in a diaper to alert caretakers if it’s wet, it can also be disposed along with the dirty diaper.
Smart diapers aren’t exactly new, as surprising as it may sound. Most of the existing solutions, however, are less than ideal. One, for example, involves stickers that change color when wet, requiring parents or caregivers to visually confirm the state of the diaper and defeating its purpose. Another involves battery-powered Bluetooth or wireless devices that are meant to be reused, especially because of their price.
The MIT researchers’ solution, in contrast, might cost only 2 cents to make, is as thin as a sticker, and can be disposed of after use. In fact, it has to be disposed of anyway since the material that activates the sensor is the same hydrogel that soaks up the moister in wet diapers.
The sensor uses RFID technology which requires no battery to send signals. Instead, it uses the hydrogel’s surprising conductive property to make the sensor emit a signal when it gets wet, informing parents and guardians of the condition. The data collected by RFID readers may also be able to indicate health problems over time.
The implications of such a nonintrusive and low-cost smart diaper are rather significant. In addition to infants with different temperaments and reactions to wet underwear, adult users also tend to shy away from informing caregivers of their condition, which could then lead to medical complications in the long run.