The world of health & wellness sensing is undergoing major changes, enabled by the growing consumerism in healthcare, high performance smartphone platforms, and the presence of major consumer technology companies dipping their toes in the wellness waters. In particular the rise of activity monitoring devices, many of which we have reviewed here at Medgadget, are indicative of the growing appetite for a data driven life.
If wearable health tracking has blazed a trail in the world of consumer electronics, graphene has done the same in the underlying world of materials science. Since its creation in a University of Manchester lab in 2004, graphene has rapidly found applications in the fields of medical sensing, imaging, and a variety of other non-medical fields due to its versatility and unique structural and electrical characteristics. Now, thanks to researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Surrey in the UK it looks like these two giant themes of technology have collided on a humble household rubber band.
Graphene exhibits exceptional strength and provides an electromechanical response to movement when deformed. The researchers used these properties to convert a cheap but highly elastic material, a rubber band, into a high performance strain sensor, called the G-band. Strain sensors have existed and been used for physiological measurement for decades. However, the G-band strain sensor is unique in that it is the most extensible strain sensor ever demonstrated. This property facilitates the monitoring of dynamic strain, which is key to the rubber bands’ use as alternative velocity or acceleration sensors. The G-band sensors also performed well at frequencies of 160Hz which is more than sufficient for common body sensing application
According to study co-author, Professor Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College, Dublin:
“This stretchy material senses motion such as breathing, pulse and joint movement and could be used to create lightweight sensor suits for vulnerable patients such as premature babies, making it possible to remotely monitor their subtle movements and alert a doctor to any worrying behaviours”
The G-band sensors are also well suited to existing rubber manufacturing processes, making them a cheap and scalable solution. The researchers published their findings in the journal ACS Nano where they discuss the sensor characteristics and provide heart rate, respiratory rate, and muscle activation data recorded using the sensor.
In the world of activity monitoring, where hard electronic technologies are struggling to adhere and conform to the often rotund human form, a flexible sensor like this opens up very interesting product design possibilities.