Sensors driving next-generation wearable devices

Inertial measurement units (IMUs) are dominating the wearable sensing market, according to a report by IDTechEx, and researchers are working on inserting sensors on a more permanent level.

04/21/2016


Growth rates summary for each sensor type. Courtesy: IDTechEx Research report Wearable Sensors 2016-2026: Market Forecasts, Technologies, Players.Sensor development is driving the next generation of wearable devices, and this development is now going further than simply attaching sensors to devices that can be stuck on the body. Professor Mark Allen of the University of Pennsylvania gave a presentation about development of advanced microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) for wearable devices at the 2016 Korea Summit for Smart Wearable Devices. MEMS remains the dominant force in wearable sensing, but examples are now becoming broader than the increasingly commoditized, off-the-shelf and near-ubiquitous inertial measurement unit (IMU). IDTechEx Research's report on the topic, "Wearable Sensors 2016-2026: Market Forecasts, Technologies, Players" also finds that IMUs continue to dominate the wearable sensing space, counting for almost half of the total wearable sensor shipments in 2016. 

The majority of wearable sensors today are found placed on the body within devices. One step further involves inserting sensors more permanently, whether via something like a skin patch that can be worn for weeks or months at a time, or to use Professor Allen's example, magnetometers to detect motion of a magnetic stud inserted as a tongue piercing. Here, the use case is to enable patients suffering significant paralysis to other areas of the body to control an electric wheelchair using the tongue. The next step is to ingest sensors; devices like pill cameras are also regularly used in the diagnostic and clinical trial settings. The next steps involve the full implantation of a sensor, either permanently or through a planned lifetime followed by degradation.

Professor Allen spoke of some of their recently FDA-approved work towards implantable sensors for intra cardiac pressure sensing. By fabricating a MEMS devices using ceramics, the researchers created a biologically stable sensor that can be inserted inside the heart in high-risk patients to enable predictive diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. With the group prolifically producing new work, one area is looking at using a core-shell structure to make biodegradable sensors that can maintain structure and communication for a useful lifetime before dissolving. Sensor development is constantly improving the value proposition in many wearable and implantable products, producing state-of-the-art products for the medical space in particular.

James Hayward, technology analyst, IDTechEx Research. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com. See more Control Engineering discrete sensor and vision stories.

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