Wearable health sensor tracks pets through their fur coats

Researchers at Imperial College in London have invented a new health tracking sensor for pets and people that monitors vital signs through fur or clothing.
Researchers at Imperial College in London have invented a new health tracking sensor for pets and people that monitors vital signs through fur or clothing. (Imperial College)

Wearable sensors to monitor health in humans are nothing new, but now there’s a wearable sensor that can monitor vital signs in pets as well.

Researchers at Imperial College in London have invented a new health tracking sensor for pets and people that monitors vital signs through fur or clothing. The sensor can detect vital signs like heart and breathing rates through fur and up to four layers of clothing, making it possible for owners and vets to monitor their pet’s health and perhaps enable farm owners to monitor livestock.

Lead author Dr. Firat Guder, of Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said, “Wearables are expected to play a major role in monitoring health and detecting diseases early. Our stretchy, flexible invention heralds a whole new type of sensor that can track the health of animals and humans alike over fur or clothing.” The research was published in Advanced Functional Materials.

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According to the researchers, wearable sensors for animals are scarce, partially because current biotrackers cannot monitor vital signs through fur.

The sensor developed by the Imperial scientists comprise a silicone-water composite material which houses a microphone that picks up sound waves, like a watery, squishy stethoscope. It is flexible and stretchy enough that it tightly molds to the fur’s shape, clothing, or body part it is placed on, squeezing out any sound-sucking air bubbles and preventing them from re-forming.

First author Yasin Cotur, also of Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said: “The sensor works like a watery, squishy stethoscope, filling any gaps between it and its subject, so no air bubbles are present to dampen the sound.”

The sound is converted to a digital signal which is then transmitted to a nearby portable computer so that people can track an animal’s physiology in real-time.

When tested on five humans and one dog, the researchers found the sensor works through up to four layers of clothes, and works best when the clothing or fur sits right up against the skin.

Besides health tracking, the researchers believe the sensors could help turn findings from sniffer dogs into measurable data. Sniffer dogs are trained to exhibit behaviors, like sitting or barking when they detect a target object such as an explosive device or person stuck inside rubble following an earthquake.

According to the scientists, the sensor could establish baselines of normal heart and breathing rates from which to quantify the level of excitement for each dog. This would be measured by how much their vital signs diverge from the norm. By measuring how excited the dogs are, an inbuilt algorithm might even be able to tell the strength of the dog’s reaction to the smell it detects and determine the certainty of the dog finding the desired object.

The sensors have been tested only on dogs and humans so far, but the researchers will next try to adapt them for use on other types of pets, as well as horses and livestock.

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