Engineers develop tricorder biosensor that is worn on your chest

24 May 2016

Engineers working on developing an advanced sensor capable of monitoring the body’s electrical and biochemical signals have come up with a design that acts like the tricorder device seen in Star Trek.

The tricorder device in Star Trek is one of those gadgets from cult science-fiction that has been touted as having been well before its time, given that it was able to gather readings of its surroundings, and vitals from the human body.

Engineers from the University of California San Diego have spent some time trying to crack such a concept in real life, and may have done just that, with a little help from a smartphone.

According to the engineers, they have developed a flexible wearable device capable of monitoring both biochemical and electric signals in the human body, which is a first in the field of wearable sensors.

Detailing the concept in a paper in Nature Communications, the researchers explain that the patch, dubbed Chem-Phys, is designed to record electrocardiogram (ECG) heart signals and track levels of lactate, a biochemical that is produced during physical exertion.


The Chem-Phys patch. Image via Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

Already interesting Olympic athletes

Once it has gathered the signal, it can transmit both sets of data wirelessly via Bluetooth, which surpasses other monitors typically worn by athletes, which can only measure one signal at a time, such as steps or heart rate.

“One of the overarching goals of our research is to build a wearable tricorder-like device that can measure simultaneously a whole suite of chemical, physical and electrophysiological signals continuously throughout the day,” said the project leader, Patrick Mercier.

“This research represents an important first step to show this may be possible.”

Could also manage cardiovascular disease

Mercier went on to say that this technology has already piqued the interest of sports scientists and even Olympic athletes, who want to look into using it.

But it’s not just athletes that it could benefit, he said: “The ability to concurrently assess EKG and lactate could also open up some interesting possibilities in preventing and/or managing individuals with cardiovascular disease.”

This marks yet another recent achievement in the field of sensor technology as, only yesterday, a team from Brazil announced it had developed a biosensor capable of detecting molecules associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and some types of cancer.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic