NC State Unveils Wearable, Stretchable Bi-directional Antenna


Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a new bi-directional antenna that they have embedded into a rugged, wearable patch. The antenna was designed to help bring broader communication solutions to the quickly growing health sensor market, and in particular the transdermal health sensor niche.

The antenna is constructed by laying silver nanowires in a specific pattern, and then pouring liquid polymer over them. Once the polymer dries, the resulting patch is stretchable, resilient, and, when bonded with a small chip, is capable of transmitting and receiving RF signals. The antenna’s are cheap, simple in design, and ideal for embedding in emerging transdermal health sensors to enable patches to not only monitor for certain conditions, but then transmit information back to another device.

Transdermal sensors are a fairly new segment, falling at the cross road between the booming health sensors and wearables markets. In 2011, researchers with Northeastern University unveiled a nano-sensor tattoo that, once applied, could monitor sodium, glucose, and alcohol levels in the blood. The technology was groundbreaking, but the data, like the sensor, was stuck under the skin. At the time, researchers resolved this by creating an iPhone app that could take a picture of the patch through the skin and interpret its results. A solution to a problem, but not exactly elegant.

In 2012, Rock Health welcomed transdermal sensor startup Sano Intelligence to its offices. Sano has since gone on to develop a small transdermal patch that is capable of non-invasively monitoring hundreds of blood measurements simultaneously. Sano also worked on, and eventually discovered, a way of exporting its data wirelessly, and now calls its patch the “API for the bloodstream.”

MC10, a Cambridge, MA-based transdermal sensor company has also developed a number of different transdermal sensor products that are capable of monitoring hydration or temperature, or capture an ECG or EEG. MC10, like Sano, is using nanotechnology and RF communications protocols to push its data from the patch to a smartphone.

As the transdermal sensor market matures, its becoming clear that the work done at North Carolina State is representative of how a number of other research firms have solved communications problems, and that consensus is forming within this space around how to extract and share data.

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