Graphene has long been mooted as a miracle futuristic material that's set to transform wearable devices, but a new device from the University of Pennsylvania could bring the tech to consumers sooner than you might think.
SweatSmart is a wearable sweat sensor from GraphWear, which uses a graphene sensor to monitor hydration during exercise. The replaceable membrane is placed on the lower back – the sweatiest place on the body – and links to a smartphone app to plot glucose and electrolyte levels in real time.
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At the Wearable Technologies Conference in San Francisco, founder Saurabh Radhakrishnan explained the biology behind SweatSmart:
"When you start exercising your liver pumps glucose into the blood stream to compensate for energy you're losing. You should never go below where you started, and we can tell an athlete whether that's happening," said Radhakrishnan.
"We're aiming to make sweat work for you and analyse your performance in real-time. You patch it on and sync with your smartphone."
But while the application is interesting, the technology behind it could be truly groundbreaking. Radhakrishnan says that SweatSmart uses graphene "the best sensor material in existence," to analyse glucose and electrolytes. And the way it's producing that graphene is the reason to sit up and take notice.
"How is this possible? The answer is graphene. It's the best sensor material in existence. It's been around over a decade but the problem is processing," he explained.
"Graphene has been around for over a decade, but right now it takes 23 steps to process a graphene sensor, that makes it difficult to manufacture, impossible to scale, and ridiculously expensive," Radhakrishnan said.
"I've worked in graphene processing and it's painful, but we've come up with a brand new way of making graphene devices in one step. We're getting sensitivity four times what's already out there and we can make it scaleable and cost effective.
"We have made a fully functioning alpha product for just $60,000. Down the line we are looking to get FDA approved for assisted living and patient monitoring. We want to get rid of the blood test."
It's still early days and there are a lot of claims to be verified, but if GraphWear has truly harnessed the power of graphene, it could well be the start of a sensor revolution.