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July 7, 2020

Wrist Factors

UCLA engineers funded by the National Science Foundation have designed a thin adhesive film that could upgrade a consumer smartwatch into a powerful health monitoring system.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Sweatin' the details.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: 1800s music) (Sound effect: ticking) You know what's odd? That long ago when timepieces could first be worn on a wrist, they called them a "watch." Why? Nobody watches a watch, and watches keep time but don't watch anything. Ironically, today the word 'watch' makes more sense, because the device on our wrists does watch things. Like (Sound effect: heartbeat) heartrate, (Sound effect: treadmill) steps, even blood pressure. As smart as our smartwatches are, they still can't monitor your body's chemistry.

"Not on our watch!", say researchers at UCLA. The team has developed a way to interface a smartwatch to track specific chemical biomarkers in sweat -- like amount of glucose or lactates.

It's done using a two-sided film that's adhered to the skin underneath the body of a smartwatch -- for now, a custom-built one. The side closest to the skin detects tiny amounts of metabolites and nutrients in droplets of sweat (Sound effect: drip!). The side closest to the watch converts the chemical signals to electrical ones (Sound effect: tiny cartoon arc) and through the app the team developed, you get real-time numbers. The sticky film worked when tested at different activity levels, from couch potato (Sound effect: remote changing channels) to (Sound effect: boxing workout) boxers doing a full workout.

The technology to turn a smartwatch into a health monitor opens up a whole range of possibilities. In the near future if someone says, "How are you doing?”, I'll be like, "let me check my watch."

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