In the trenchesUnderwear sensors to monitor soldiers' health

Published 12 April 2010

Biomedical health sensors may soon be embedded in soldiers’ underpants; researchers find that printing sensors directly on the elastic waist of underwear offered the necessary tight direct contact with the skin, allowing for continuous monitoring of soldiers’ vital signs

The future well-being of soldiers may be improved thanks to biomedical health sensors in their pants, according to scientists. Researchers integrated chemical sensors into two brands of briefs, which will allow the constant monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate. They found that printing sensors directly on the elastic waist of underwear offered the necessary tight direct contact with the skin and said the design will be of great benefit not just to the military but also to the healthcare and sport industries.

The Engineer reports that to create the sensors, Joseph Wang and colleagues at the University of California San Diego screen-printed carbon electrode arrays directly onto the elastic bands of men’s underwear. The tight contact and direct exposure to the skin allowed hydrogen peroxide and NADH, which are both associated with numerous biomedical processes, to be monitored. The researchers tested the special pants for their durability and found stresses associated with everyday wear, such as the folding or stretching of the clothing, did not affect the performance of the sensors.

Their work has been published in the Analyst, the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Wang said that the specially designed briefs will also be a big help in easing hospital expenses as the focus on healthcare shifts from centralized hospital-based treatment to home-based management (see “Aussie Company Creates the World’s First Electronic Underpants,” 29 March 2010 HSNW). “There are growing needs for developing reliable wearable healthcare monitoring systems,” added Wang.

Professor Richard Compton, lecturer in physical and theoretical chemistry at Oxford University, said: “Electrochemical sensors are widely used in niche applications and it is timely for a greater diversity of sensors to emerge, given the sensitivity and low cost of electrochemical measurements. I have full confidence in this idea coming to fruition.”

Wang said that in the future he hoped to develop enzyme sensors for ethanol and lactate that could be used to monitor alcohol levels in drivers or stress levels in soldiers or athletes.