BodyNet is a band-aid like wireless sensor to track your health from your skin: Study

In order to overcome the challenge of having a stretchable antenna, the Stanford researchers developed a new type of RFID system

Fitness trackers are dime a dozen these days, but they all come in the form of bands or smartwatches which are packed with electronic components. Now a group of Standford engineers have developed a type of wearable tech prototype that can stick to your body like a band-aid and still monitor physiological signals coming from the skin to keep a track of your health.

The device called BodyNet comprises wireless sensors that stick to your skin and beam the readings. The researchers hope this technology can be used in a medical setting to take full-body readings. It has been developed by Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford University and took three years to make.

BodyNet prototype. Image: Bao Lab

BodyNet prototype. Image: Bao Lab

"We think one day it will be possible to create a full-body skin-sensor array to collect physiological data without interfering with a person's normal behaviour," said Bao.

One of the major challenges was to develop a stick-on product that would not have any circuitry, but at the same time was also resistant to the stretching with the skin. The final circuit looks like an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip and that is indeed the inspiration. RFID circuits which are used as a replacement for barcodes in many sectors, help in identification. A lot of our access cards have RFID chips which unlock doors. Products at a supermarket are tagged with RFID chips to help with easy inventory management and more.

An RFID card when held against an RFID receiver makes the antenna within ID card harvest the RFID energy from the receiver. This then causes the RFID card to generate a code that is beamed to the receiver (unlock code in the case of access cards, for instance).

The BodyNet stickers are meant to perform in this way, with the readings being beamed comprising physiological signals from the skin. The stickers are capable of generating respiration and pulse readings for now. The team hopes to integrate sweat, temperature and other sensors in their antenna system.

In order to overcome the challenge of having a stretchable antenna, the Stanford researchers developed a new type of RFID system. Generally, screen-printing metallic ink on a rubber sticker would make the signal weak when the antenna bent. The new RFID system beams strong and accurate signals to the receiver despite the bending and stretching.

"The battery-powered receiver then uses Bluetooth to periodically upload data from the stickers to a smartphone, computer or another permanent storage system," said Stanford's press release.

The complete study has been published in Nature Electronics. 

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