Remote health monitors: Now for your underwear

You knew it was coming, and now it's here: Remote monitoring sensors in your underwear.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have integrated wearable, nanosensor-powered textiles into a sports bra--called the E-bra--for women, and an undershirt for men.

The sensor itself is actually a small unit that snaps into the bra or t-shirt, and collects data on blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate and oxygen consumption. Most interesting: It even tracks some brain activity, including readings you normally would get from an ECG that can identify an incipient heart attack.

The dime-sized sensors are made from gold nanowires and flexible, conducting textile nanosensors, according to researchers. Right now, the rest of the unit is a small plastic box that houses an amplifier, antenna, circuit board, microprocessor, Bluetooth module and a battery. Researchers say they are working to replace the rigid box with a smaller, more flexible housing for the components.

The data streams from the sensors to the user's cell phone or smartphone, where apps help the user track and trend the various vital signs. When the app detects out-of-the-norm results, it texts the user an emergency alert.

This of course isn't the first wearable sensor to debut recently. Several were displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Most involved small sensors threaded into shirts or armbands or other vehicles. Another we told you about last fall came from Ohio University--a "wearable antenna" sewn into regular clothing that collects biometric data and transmits it via smartphone to clinicians.

What makes the Arkansas offering so interesting is its integration into undergarments, making the sensors virtually invisible, and possibly more likely for users to wear for longer periods of time.

Unfortunately, the case for wearable sensors is by no means closed. A recent study of seniors being remotely monitored at home found readmission rates (for exacerbations) weren't any better for the monitored group than the unmonitored group. We'll have to see if further studies suss out the true value of remote, sensor-based monitoring.

To learn more:
- here's the University of Arkansas statement
- check out the Daily Mail coverage

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