The Band-Aid like Sensors That Can Monitor COVID-19 Symptoms

Published on December 5, 2020

Northwestern University partnered up with Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to develop Band-Aid like sensors meant to assess a person’s chest congestion; monitoring a person’s cough and sensing if they have developed any breathing problems that may be linked to COVID-19. 

What is this COVID-19 monitoring patch?

The sensor, announced on Monday by Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, is meant to adhere to the skin where the neck and throat meet–this way the sensor can pick up on airflow and any potential obstruction of breathing. It can both assess a person’s likelihood of contracting COVID-19 and monitor the progression of the symptoms in diagnosed patients. While it may sound a bit uncomfortable, a similar patch has been used to monitor recovering stroke patients’ speech and swallowing. The patch can also read a person’s heart rate and temperature and is easy to sanitize since it isn’t built with any external ports.

With phone tracking already in the works, there’s a lot of concern of invasive monitoring during this pandemic. Many are worried that these tracking methods, while they may prove effective, are disrupting rights of privacy. With the arrival of this patch, Professor John Rogers, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Bio-Integrated Electronics, assures that microphones aren’t embedded in these Band-Aid like sensors. “We use a high-bandwidth, tri-axis accelerometer to measure movement of the surface of the skin,” he says. 

How does it work?

After peeling off the patch, the device charges on a wireless charger. As it charges, the patch then syncs data to an iPad within close proximity, uploading the data to a HIPAA cloud where an AI-based algorithm, curated to identify COVID-19 related symptoms, inspects the delivered results. 

Since this procedure is still in its early stages, the data is still being reviewed by human eyes before being sent to medical providers. Cnet reports that “twenty-five test subjects have been wearing the device for two weeks so far, generating about 1,500 hours of history and one terabyte of data.” 

What can we expect from this patch?

Mass production isn’t in place yet, but these sensors are being produced by the dozens at a lab at Northwestern’s campus in Chicago each week. As the sensor begins to leave the beginning stages and prove its validity, we may see hundreds of sensors being produced per week.

But this device goes beyond COVID-19. If it proves successful, this sensory device will be significant in our daily lives; as we use glucose monitors, heart rate trackers and blood-pressure sensors, we can add this Band-Aid like sensor to the mix. This collection of accessible medical monitors will be the key to catching any potential health issues before they develop beyond our control.

Kristen Sallaberry is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in New York, she covers the realm of consumer tech and how these ever-progressing gadgets affect our lives. A creative writer and music-head, she also writes for online music publication, Sound of Boston, where she reviews and premieres new music, and co-writes a hip-hop focused column.

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