Wearables are the future of sports. Athletes can use their smart watches and other wearables to monitor their heart rate, blood pressure, steps and much more. They are almost replacing regular doctor check ups with the smart watches and their capabilities. However, researchers have developed a new wearable which can measure sweating in extreme environments, helping to determine different sweating rates.
A team led by John Rogers at Northwestern University has developed a sweat sensor with a robust design which can measure hydration during exercising. The circular design measures only 30mm in width and can be used by athletes both in the water and in dry environments. People who exercise in the water, swimmers particularly, always had to look for special kinds of wearables to meet their needs. However, this new wearable which measures sweating in extreme environments can offer much more than mainstream “fit” style watches. The swimmers can monitor fluid loss during times of swimming.
Different people sweat at different times and rates, which makes it extremely challenging to track the fluid loss of one individual, especially through perspiration. Current innovations which can monitor swearing are an absorbent foam sticker, or the washdown technique. However, the flaw of these approaches is that none of them offer real-time monitoring during endurance sports.
The team already has some successful projects behind them. They developed wearable sensors like temporary tattoos which are capable of tracking metal in sweat. However, none of their previous projects were this innovative, meaning they couldn’t collect sweat in wet and arid environments.
The innovative approach was supposed to overcome various challenges; they made it thin and robust. It is equipped with a microfluidic channel which has a serpentine pattern. Additionally, it sports electronic modules, including a magnetic-loop antenna, a small wireless temperature sensor and near-field communication equipment.
“The sweat glands under the device act as a pump that push sweat into a microchannel,” team member Jonathan Reeder explained to Physicsworld. “A small amount of colour agent is placed at the beginning of the microchannel, which dyes the sweat a shade of purple that corresponds to chloride concentration. Sweat rate and sweat loss can be determined by visually observing the number of serpentines that are filled.”
Nevertheless, it’s not just the whole new wearable that is so innovative, but the way the team developed it using the components together. They used a flexible device structure as well as adhesive which is skin-safe. They also created a strong bond with a small hole for air to escape as the sweat builds up.
The researchers needed to see whether the device was effective, however. They attached the patches to a number of athletes which train in special environments, such as cyclists, swimmers and triathletes. Triathletes were at that time practicing for the IRONMAN Triathlon World Championship and wearing the new wearable which measures sweat in extreme environments yielded great results for the competitors which wore them. Even after two hours, the participants were satisfied with the performance. That said, their innovation may probably emerge on the market soon, according to the researchers.
“One of the unique features of these devices is the simplicity and low material cost,” Reeder said. “A startup from the lab, Epicore Biosystems, is working in this area to commercialize similar devices.”