A coming medical revolution?

If you have been reading technology news recently, you probably noticed that there is a lot of interest in the development of the Star Trek tricorder. There is a $10 million US prize being offered by xprize.org [1] with 10 finalists having been identified. While this “device” is gathering attention, there are other developments that are occurring. In IEEE’s Spectrum magazine there is a number of articles on health technology [2]. There are some developments that provide some significant promise.

From among the IEEE articles, a temporary tattoo, the Biostamp [3], will stretch with skin movement. It can be powered wirelessly and include flexible circuitry. Three examples show one sensor that reacts to solar radiation, another that is a chemical monitor to sweat, and a third that electrically monitors blood pressure. The object of these monitors is to provide information in near real time. The question is what do we do with the information?

There has been significant publicity about the Apple watch with additional capabilities. Professional athletes are applying devices similar to these to improve their performance. These biometric “gadgets” can provide many different insights to a person’s performance [4]. The article mentions a number of devices. The “Readiband” is an electronic wristband that measures the quality of sleep, which can be used as a predictor of the following day’s performance. There are compression sensors for both arms and legs that can provide information about an athlete’s favoring one limb over the other, which may indicate a probability of upcoming injury. Some can also be used to modify harmful behavior. As the devices are further developed, the transfer to widespread application is only a matter of time.

A third area that is developing in nano-fluidics. This interest is driven by the expectation that this technology will provide portable chemical and biological analysis systems that can be applied for point of care diagnostics devices. A more detailed review is available [5]. There are many applications for both analysis and treatment. One example of treatment is a drug delivery system [6].

So what do these devices mean for the future? There is an ongoing effort to create a comprehensive medial patient record. The addition of sensors that are worn most of the time can provide a more comprehensive picture of the individual’s health situation as opposed to data obtained during an office or emergency room visit. This topic will be addressed in a future blog.


  1. http://tricorder.xprize.org
  2. http://spectrum.ieee.org/static/hacking-the-human-os
  3. http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/devices/a-temporary-tattoo-that-senses-through-your-skin
  4. http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/devices/the-quantified-olympian-wearables-for-elite-athletes
  5. http://www.langtoninfo.com/web_content/9780521860253_frontmatter.pdf
  6. http://www.nanomedsys.com/

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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