monitoring Coronavirus Low power sensor developed for COVID-19 monitoring
University of California San Diego engineers are developing low-cost, low-power wearable sensors that can be used to measure key vital signs for monitoring COVID-19.
Coronavirus has taken the world by surprise, with many parts of it now under lockdown. Although some countries are reportedly over the worst of the virus and are emerging on the other side, there is still a long way to go. One challenge that governments and health authorities must face going forward is successfully monitoring the virus so that they can see the spread of the virus, control it, and ultimately improve survival rates.
Now, a key technological development by researchers in California could help us fight back against the this and future crises and come out on top sooner.
The effort has been led by Patrick Mercier, a professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He and his team have been working on wearable sensors that can transmit data wirelessly to a smartphone and could be used to monitor patients in real-time for viral infections that affect temperature and respiration. By early-to-mid next year, the research team plans to have finished developing a device and a viable manufacturing process.
“We desperately need a way to quantitatively triage individuals who are at high risk of carrying COVID-19, based on more than just their self-reported symptoms,” Mercier said. “In addition, those who are infected and are quarantining at home have no way of knowing how they are progressing in their recovery and/or if their symptoms are sufficient to warrant hospitalization before it may be too late.” Although some may think that next year will be too late for such a development to make any real difference, it is important to remember that this is not true for COVID-19 alone but for future viral infections that may disrupt the world to a similar or more severe extent.
Mercier’s research group specializes in low power sensor and Mercier himself is the current holder of a world record for the lowest-power temperature sensor ever developed, 100,000 times lower than basic digital watches. Since the power level is so miniscule, Mercier’s research group will be looking at many novel types of energy harvesting to power such devices without the use of a battery—for example, by harvesting body heat.
Current temperature sensors are invariably bulky, use a lot of power, and infrequently measure temperatures. Additionally, measuring things like respiration and lung function is carried out via manual spot processes that rely on bulky devices which cannot easily be miniaturised. Mercier’s research team proposes to combine their temperature sensing work along with a way to electrically monitor respiration function in a convenient manner without a person having to breathe into a device. This will facilitate continuous, real-time monitoring of key symptoms.
As for the device’s low power capacity, Mercier says that this could be achieved through various technologies such as WiFi, custom Bluetooth, and magnetic fields. “This is actually a revolutionary idea that can help enable entirely new classes of wearable devices that do not require batteries, and thus has broader impacts beyond just this project,” Mercier said.