A new advanced flexible device is in the making that will measure glucose, vitamin C, or other health indicators. Researchers around the world are working on wearable sensors to measure anything from a runner’s acceleration to a diabetic’s glucose levels.
Considered to be the most efficient sweat-powered energy harvester yet, the new sensors, as described in a paper published in the journal Joule, soak up a compound present in human sweat called lactate with a patch of foam that contains an enzyme that oxidizes the lactate to generate electricity. A 10-hour night of sleep will provide 20 to 40 microwatts of power per finger pad. Researchers say they chose the fingertips as the location for their device because the fingertips actually boast the highest concentration of sweat glands on the human body—each one has more than 1,000 that are basically always sweating regardless of what we’re doing.
This device isn’t the first medical sensor to run on sweat, but, “Unlike other sweat-powered wearables, this one requires no exercise, no physical input from the wearer in order to be useful,” says Lu Yin, an engineer at the University of California, San Diego and lead author of the research. “This work is a step forward to making wearables more practical, convenient, and accessible for the everyday person.”
Though the sensors can subsist on sweat alone, they can also harvest energy from light pressure being applied through the fingertips in activities such as typing, texting or even tapping out a tune on a piano.
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