This Stick-On Sensor Tracks Key Coronavirus Symptoms With Chest Vibrations

A new stick-on wearable sensor patch tracks and analyzes early and developing coronavirus symptoms, then sends them to better inform the doctor.
Brad Bergan

Researchers at Northwestern University and Shirley Tyan AbilityLab in Chicago have created a new wearable device and are developing a set of data algorithms designed to identify early signs of COVID-19 coronavirus, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.


Stick-on COVID-19 patch creates digital interface for doctors

The device is stamp-sized and made of a soft silicone material, which is then attached to the base of the throat. From here, it monitors breathing, coughs, heart rate, and body temperature. The totality of data is then collected and sent to a cloud where algorithms look for key identifying qualities of the COVID-19 disease.

The device's system then sends graphical summaries of all symptoms to a real-life physician who uses the device's digital insights to help inform decisions to intervene and track the effects of treatment.

At the end of every day, the user simply peels off the little patch and places it on a wireless charger. Since the little device has no wires, charge ports, electrodes, or removable batteries, it can be worn while showering, and sterilized with ease.

How and why the novel coronavirus patch works

The device itself was developed at Northwestern University, while the unique algorithms that run its functions were developed by scientists at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a Chicago-based research hospital.

Sensors within the patch detect minute vibrations created with movements of the chest wall. This means the patch can monitor bio-signs without picking up interference from background noise — generally a problem for acoustic measurements.

"Our device sits at the perfect location on the body — a suprasternal notch — to measure respiratory rate, sounds and activity because that's where airflow occurs near the surface of the skin," said John A. Rogers of Northwestern.

Tracking bad coronavirus vibes

As of writing, the stick-on sensor patch is undergoing tests on roughly 25 COVID-19 patients, among whom is Kelly McKenzie — research physical therapist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab — who decided to join the pilot study once a worrying cough and congestion developed.

"When you first put it on, you can feel it because it's new and different," she said, according to The Next Web. "But after you have worn it for a while, you don't even notice it."

The research team behind the sensor patch will use trial data to enhance their algorithms. They plan to add measurements of blood oxygen levels to subsequent iterations of the device, reports The Next Web.

Production is carried out in-house, which avoids relying on external vendors that may be vulnerable to shutdowns amid COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.