A research team from Northwestern University has developed a pair of soft, flexible, wireless sensors that monitor newborn baby’s vitals, allowing parents to cuddle their kids without all the cable clutter. This is good news, as those wires pose a barrier for cuddling and physical bonding, especially for parents with babies roomed in a hospital NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).
“We wanted to eliminate the rat’s nest of wires and aggressive adhesives associated with existing hardware systems and replace them with something safer, more patient-centric and more compatible with parent-child interaction. We were able to reproduce all of the functionality that current wire-based sensors provide with clinical-grade precision.” — Lead researcher John Rogers (Ph.D.)
The binodal sensors, each known as an epidermal electronic system (EES), feature an electronic layer that incorporates an SoC with integrated NFC chip and magnetic loop antenna. One EES packs a pair of ECG electrodes and attaches to the chest, while the other is outfitted with a red/IR photodetector and sticks to the foot.
The system captures and transmits data in real-time — including heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen, and blood pressure. The electronics are sandwiched between a top silicone elastomer layer and a microfluidic bottom layer that provides mechanical isolation between the components and the skin, allowing for measurements that are more accurate.
The sensors communicate through a transmitter placed beneath a crib’s mattress, which in turn, is sent to a nurse’s station where the data can be monitored and stored. The sensors can be sterilized if needed; however since each costs roughly $10, new ones can be used every 24 hours, which helps limit any risk of infection. The EES sensors have already undergone a series of successful testing on premature babies at Prentice Women’s Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Rogers expects them to be used in hospitals in America within two to three years.