Engineers develop low-cost, disposable chip to monitor vital signs

Students and faculty in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at Oregon State University have developed an inexpensive microchip that monitors a person's vital signs at a fraction of the cost of commercially available solutions from Nike and Fitbit. While the technology is not yet patented, the tiny and disposable sensor-packed chip will cost less than $0.25, and is expected to be released to the consumer market by mid-2013, according to a university blog post. At that cost, the tool has the potential to price competing products like Nike's $150 FuelBand and Fitbit monitors, which can cost between $55 and $99, out of the marketplace.

The sensor is the size and thickness of a postage stamp. It boasts noninvasive sensors that adhere to the skin, and can monitor anything from atrial fibrillation in heart patients to brain signals in those with dementia to physical activity in those trying to lose weight. 

"We can now make important biomedical measurements more portable, routine, convenient and affordable than ever before," Patrick Chiang, an associate professor in OSU's School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, said in an announcement.

No batteries are required as power is provided by radio frequencies from nearby cell phones. A 2011 OSU study indicated the benefits of ultrawideband technology for advanced remote patient monitoring, resulting in quicker patient discharges and more preventive care. Ultrawideband works by sending super-fast bursts of signal over large swaths of radio spectrum, transmitting over short distances while not interfering with other frequencies and coexisting with other technologies like Bluetooth and Zigbee.

As for the latest development, OSU not only is seeking a patent for the chip technology, but also is pursuing approval of the system by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with the intention of marketing it as a healthcare app. The research team has partnered with OSU's Linus Pauling Institute and Oregon Health and Science University to conduct the clinical trials necessary for FDA approval. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Catalyst Foundation, which includes funding to develop an app and cloud monitoring for storing the data collected.

To learn more:
- read the blog