VTT TECHNICAL RESEARCH CENTRE OF FINLAND HAS SPEARHEADED THE DEVELOPMENT OF A SMART PATCH WITH LIGHTWEIGHT WIRELESS SENSORS CAPABLE OF MEASURING HEART RATE, BODY TEMPERATURE, OXYGEN SATURATION AND RESPIRATION RATE, AS WELL AS TAKING AN ELECTROCARDIOGRAM.
Developed with partners including GE Healthcare, the smart patch reduces the risk of medical complications by ensuring hospital staff are able to monitor the status of patients remotely and continuously for any warning signs. The ability to detect changes in vital functions early and resource efficiently is critical in, for example, treating coronavirus-induced respiratory difficulties especially due to the strain the pandemic has put on hospitals worldwide.
Teemu Alajoki, the research team leader at VTT, explained that the patch sends the measurements to a system that analyses them to produce follow-up information and issue alarms to healthcare professionals.
“For example, a patient recovering from surgery could move about freely while measurements are taken, instead of lying in bed surrounded by wires,” he said.
VTT indicated that the patch has the potential to replace inconvenient wearable devices, such as activity bracelets and heart-rate monitors, because it is virtually unnoticeable, comfortable to use and affordable to produce – with a unit price of only a few euros.
The structure of the patch is founded on printed electronics developed by the research centre for various clients in the past two decades. The base material is pliable and stretchable, while the circuitry is printed with conductive ink and any separate components are attached with conductive adhesive.
Even the single largest component, the button-cell battery, should be replaced by a flexible battery in the coming years.
VTT is also developing data analytics capable of evaluating changes in the measurements and comparing them to other patient data, thus paving the way for automatic alarms about cardiac events, blood poisoning and other changes in health. The right kind of analysis, it believes, would enable people to use the smart patch to monitor their health and fitness not dissimilarly to smart rings and watches – only more accurately.
The patch could be introduced to market in two or three years. Researchers at VTT have already taken the next step toward epidermal electronics to provide a wider range of measurements in an even more discreet package.