A new wearable senses skin temperature to monitor heart health

We just shared ten ways medical wearables are changing medicine for the better, and now here’s another innovative example. It’s a small (around 5cm square) ultra-thin patch that sits on the skin and is usually worn on the wrist.

It was developed by scientists at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Each little device is made up of 3600 liquid crystals, each of which is half a millimetre in size. When a crystal senses a change in temperature, it changes colour. Based on the number of crystals that change colour and their location, an algorithm can translate the data into a picture of the wearer’s health in less than a minute.

It’s ideal for people at risk of cardiovascular problems as changes in the skin’s temperature are linked to changes in blood flow, which can indicate a heart problem. Skin changes can also be a good way to measure dehydration. Because the crystals are layered onto a flexible polymer, the device moves with the skin, and is unobtrusive enough to be worn all the time. The level of analysis is comparable to what hospitals are able to achieve, but their technology is bulky and expensive, making this a convenient and cost-effective diagnostic tool.

John A. Rogers, a co-author of the research, said, ‘This technology significantly expands the range of functionality in skin-mounted devices beyond that possible with electronics alone.’ The researchers say it could even have applications in the beauty industry – allowing practitioners to gauge exactly how dry or oily someone’s skin is, so they can recommend a personalised skincare routine.

Want to read more? If you’re looking to buy a wearable or activity tracker, we’ve found the best wearables to keep you safe, but, if they’re too expensive, here are the best budget wearables and activity trackers for under £70.

If you’re not bothered by wearables at all, but still want help with keeping fit, check out our feature on 10 kitchen gadgets, tools and utensils for healthy living.

Diane Shipley