Wearable Health Monitors Make Use of Flexible Graphene Photodetectors

Scientists from the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Catalonia, Spain have developed transparent, flexible, graphene-based wearable health-monitoring devices that measure heart rates, respiration rates, blood pulse oxygenation, and UV radiation exposure. The data collected can then be sent wirelessly to a smartphone or other mobile device where it can be analyzed. Current wearable technologies like smartwatches, Fitbit, and others tend to be bulky and have to be placed tightly against the skin to maintain a certain level of accuracy.

The transparent, flexible, graphene-based devices are capable of monitoring heart rates, respiration rates, blood pulse oxygenation, and UV radiation exposure. (📷: ICFO)

The ICFO researchers have come up with a better solution for monitoring health vitals by creating optical body sensors that integrate semiconducting quantum dots into flexible transparent graphene substrates. This allows the material to measure a wide range of light wavelengths while using low power. In fact, the devices require no onboard batteries but instead draw their power using near-field communication from nearby mobile devices.

The GQD UV sensor is shown integrated into a commercially available NFC patch, allowing it to communicate with nearby mobile devices. (📷: ICFO)

The team demonstrated the use of their technology by designing several wearable devices that monitor health vitals, including a transparent bracelet, which incorporates a flexible light sensor that optically measures changes in blood vessel volume. Through that data, it can then extract different vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, and so on. The scientists also designed a graphene health patch that’s placed on a smartphone display, which instantly measures the same vitals as the bracelet when a finger is placed on it.

“We are excited about the prospects for this technology, pointing to a scalable route for the integration of graphene-quantum-dots into fully flexible wearable circuits to enhance form, feel, durability, and performance. Such results show that this flexible wearable platform is compatible with scalable fabrication processes, proving mass-production of low-cost devices is within reach in the near future.” — Professor Frank Koppens, Quantum Nano-Optoelectronics Group at ICFO

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Author: Cabe Atwell

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