Wearable Sensors
Nanoengineering graduate student Itthipon Jeerapan holds a printed biofuel cell designed to generate electricity from sweat.

Wearable Sensors

A Lifesaving Fashion Statement

Today's passenger car is loaded with sensors that constantly monitor its “health.” Wearable sensors have the potential to do for human health what automobile sensors have already done for car owners: make unobtrusive health monitoring the norm.

At the new Center for Wearable Sensors at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, researchers are developing advanced wearable sensor systems for a wide range of preventive-health, security, and fitness applications. Launched in 2014, the center harnesses expertise in sensors, low-power circuits, materials, electrochemistry, bioengineering, wireless network technologies, preventive medicine, and the life sciences.

Most of today’s wearable health-sensing technology is invasive, time consuming to use, and captures data from a single moment in time, such as when someone with diabetes pricks a finger to draw blood for a glucose test. Pregnant mothers are often wired up to hulking machines to monitor fetal heart rate or contractions.

A researchers performs electrochemical characterization of a screen-printed sensor.
A researcher performs electrochemical characterization of a screen-printed sensor.

A preferable solution would be small, wearable sensors that continuously monitor important health data and wirelessly transmit it to the cloud for analysis and review by a physician on a computer or smartphone. Continuous monitoring would provide a richer data set for assessing a patient’s health, and the ability to move about freely would improve the patient’s quality of life.

This technology could also be a boon to researchers studying the origins of disease and how disease progresses in the body. Over the long term, such monitoring could serve as an alert system for an individual’s impending illness, or be used to identify public health issues and epidemics by mapping indicators of infectious disease collected from individual wearable sensors.

As a global leader in wireless technologies and digital health, San Diego aims to carve out a generous slice of the emerging market for wearable electronics. It is a market that is expected to grow from $14 billion in 2014 to more than $70 billion in 2024, according to the technology consulting firm IDTechEx. Engineering faculty affiliated with the Center for Wearable Sensors have close working partnerships with the UC San Diego School of Medicine, and a number of clinical trials and studies that focus on mobile devices are already underway. Collaborations between the center, industry partners, and neighboring research institutions offer unrivaled potential for research partnerships and innovation that will improve the lives of people everywhere.