A future in which your clothes tell you how healthy you are has just become a step closer to reality. Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a flexible, wearable device that is capable of recording both electrical signals from the heart and how much lactic acid is being produced.
The prototype, called the ChemPhys patch, is made of a small electronic board and series of sensors. It is worn on your chest and can communicate wirelessly with other devices that can analyze the data in real time. The team believes this device can be used both by athletes who want to improve their performances (lactic acid is a biochemical that is a marker of physical effort), as well as medical personnel to monitor patients with heart disease.
“One of the overarching goals of our research is to build a wearable tricorder-like device that can measure simultaneously a whole suite of chemical, physical and electrophysiological signals continuously throughout the day,” Patrick Mercier, senior author of the research, said in a statement. “This research represents an important first step to show this may be possible.”
The researchers positioned three sensors on a thin flexible polyester sheet, with two electrocardiogram (EKG) sensors on the sides and the lactate detector at the center. The latter uses a small voltage and measures the electric current passing through the body to measure the amount of lactate present in the muscles.
By coating the EKG sensors in silicon, the team was able to get the sensors to work without interference from each other at the same level as commercially available devices that measure only one signal. As reported in Nature Communications, this is the first device that can simultaneously measure physiochemistry and electrophysiology.
The team is planning several improvements for the next version of the device. The connection between board and sensors will be improved, and more sensors will be included to detect other chemicals such as magnesium and potassium. This could provide crucial data to find out how the different measurements correlate with each other and give us a better understanding of how our body works during intense workouts.