The Evolution of the Disposable Wearable

MC10 BioStampRC
The MC10 BioStampRC was showcased at CES 2016.

Digital health has been toying with the idea of wearable patches for years. The patch — as a digital health wearable — presents a potentially more economical and comfortable alternative to the glut of available activity trackers and armbands. In recent years, there has been extraordinary advancement in high-performing stretchable sensors to collect and monitor physiological data. This year’s 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas unveiled some appealing examples of disposable patches that could help users revolutionize the way they track health and wellness metrics, with the potential to soon outperform traditional monitoring tools.

What Happened with BodyMedia’s Vue Patch?

In 2013, there was a lot of excitement surrounding BodyMedia’s patch concept the Vue.  BodyMedia’s patch concept aimed to be the world’s first consumer-grade disposable, wearable monitoring device.  Since BodyMedia was one of the first on the block to specialize in consumer-grade wearables focused on improving health, the Vue Patch was designed with their clientele in mind. Marketed as a short-term monitoring device, the skin-friendly patch was able to track calories, activity levels and sleep patterns for up to 7 days. When presented at CES in 2013, it was suggested that the inexpensive Vue Patch would become available in the second half of 2013.

The launch, however, never happened. In April 2013, Jawbone acquired BodyMedia and it became unclear what happened to the proposed disposable adhesive sensor that was a joint venture between BodyMedia and Avery Dennison Corporation.

Gradually, BodyMedia’s range of products got discontinued, and this January, the company announced that all BodyMedia services will be ending on Jan. 31, 2016, including all mobile and web applications.

Mass Production of Health Monitoring Patches is Almost Here

Despite BodyMedia’s pioneer patch failing to reach the consumer market, innovation regarding adhesive-based wearables continues to thrive.

One of the longstanding issues is that flexible circuitry can be complex and expensive to manufacture. These concerns are being addressed so that disposable wearables can be made inexpensively and become universally available.

A team at the University of Texas at Austin invented a method that resembles applying a patch like a temporary tattoo. Led by Assistant Professor Nanshu Lu, researchers developed a simple method of producing disposable, epidermal electronics that has been described as a “cut and paste” method similar to 3D printing. Their ultrathin device can record and transmit the body’s vital signs and is able to pick up signals better than a conventional ECG/EKG device.

World’s First Stretchable UV Monitor

On Jan. 6, L’Oreal presented its first-ever skin sensor for UV exposure. Developed alongside MC10, Inc., a leading stretchable electronics company, as well as PCH, which designed engineered the sensor, the My UV Patch is a transparent adhesive that stretches over any skin area that one would like to monitor for sun exposure. The My UV Patch, unveiled at this year’s CES, contains photosensitive dyes that change color when exposed to potentially harmful UV rays. An accompanying mobile app can analyze a photo of the patch and then advise the user on their level of sun exposure.

The patch, which will become available later this year, is an alternative to the currently available sun monitors, which are sometime critiqued for their lack of comfort.

MC10, Inc. also announced the development of a wearable patch, called the BioStampRC. The MC10 patch is comfortable and flexible, and can bend and stretch to imitate the kinetic movements of the user’s body. The BioStampRC is a complete system that is able to gather data on an individual’s physiology in a reliable and comfortable way. Because it is a patch, the device can simultaneously record from various body locations. The hardware is combined with cloud-based software and has been successfully trialed in different scientific institutions across the world.

The product is expected to become available early this year and could benefit a wide range of research projects given its unique versatility.

“MC10’s mission is to create digital health-care products that can better our understanding of, and ultimately improve, human health. The BioStampRC system is a great example of this mission,” said Scott Pomerantz, MC10’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

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