Fitness trackers can tell you a lot about your body — your heart rate, your steps, even your REM cycles. Now, they can potentially track the environment around you, helping users understand the impact our surroundings have on their health.
Researchers at Rutgers have developed a wristband that tests the air around it for harmful particles. Users can access and analyze the data via a companion smartphone app, or even send the results to their doctor when they’re miles away from the office.
While the wristband looks more like a science experiment than an everyday wearable right now, its inventors believe the technology could be added onto existing smart watches, providing the person wearing it with valuable information that’s not currently at their fingertips.
“It's like a Fitbit but has a biosensor that can count particles, so that includes blood cells, bacteria and organic or inorganic particles in the air,” said Mehdi Javanmard, senior author of the study and assistant Rutgers professor, in a press release.
“This would be really important for settings with lots of air pollutants when people want to measure the amount of tiny particles or dust they’re exposed to day in and day out,” he continued. “Miners, for example, could sample the environment they’re in.”
The findings were published in Microsystems & Nanoengineering, an open access scientific journal, earlier this summer. According to the study, the wristband has potential applications for inspectors in the field, who could analyze “different particle counts, such as inorganic elements in mines, or bacteria and other [contaminants] in water samples.”
The Rutgers team argues this would be particularly useful in “difficult” locations where “dexterity is reduced,” such as in rivers or extremely cold environments. A wearable could collect the relevant data in seconds and send it back to a lab, reducing the time and effort for the inspector.
The wristband is also capable of collecting a number of biomarkers, including blood cell counts. Blood samples are obtained through a pin-prick and stored in piping on the wristband’s flexible circuit board. This piping is thinner than human hair.
Doctors could do a lot with rapid blood tests like these, catching internal bleeding through low red blood cell counts or cancer through abnormal white blood cell tallies.
"Current wearables can measure only a handful of physical parameters such as heart rate and exercise activity,” Abbas Furniturewalla, study lead author and former undergraduate researcher at Rutgers, said in the press release.
“The ability for a wearable device to monitor the counts of different cells in our bloodstream would take personal health monitoring to the next level.”
“There’s a whole range of diseases where blood cell counts are very important,” Javanmard added.
But it will take some more testing before the wristband is ready for market. The researchers still think the circuit board and biosensor need work, as does the blood collection, “which must be performed at intervals... as opposed to continuous and automated blood counting.”
This means version 2.0 may look and function a lot differently, but with any luck, it’ll help users seek healthier environments — or inspire them to clean up harmful ones.