Scientists have developed a wearable tech system that can track vital signs of animals through fur — such as heart rate and breathing. The results may enhance sniffer dogs ‘ work, as well as enable pet owners to monitor the health of their pets in real time.
Globally, as healthcare costs are increasing and smartphone and wearable technology are decreasing, mobile phones and wearable health monitoring apps are becoming increasingly prevalent.
Moreover, the population of the world is aging at a rapid rate, and access to healthcare professionals remains scarce in some countries.
In this sense, wearable tech health monitoring is becoming increasingly popular— so much so that researchers have now looked into using health tracking devices not only for humans but also for their furry companions.
Firat Güder, from the Bioengineering department at Imperial College London, UK, and his research team have created a wearable sensor that can track and monitor vital signs through fur and clothing.
The authors published their findings in the Advanced Functional Materials journal.
How does the new device work?
In their paper, Güder and colleagues clarify that the current selection of wearable devices for pets is daunting, as existing technology requires direct skin contact or fails when the tissue is wet.
However, such devices tend to be expensive or disposable, and can cause irritation and allergic reactions.
Alternatively, the device designed by Güder and his team consists of a composite material that contains a stretchable silicone membrane that encapsulates water or hydrogels. Such media allow the propagation of acoustic waves, which makes the system function as a stethoscope.
The stretchy material can be neatly wrapped around the form of the skin, layer of clothing or part of the body to which a person applies it.
“The sensor acts like a watery stethoscope that fills any gaps between it and its subject, so that no air bubbles get in and dampen the signal,” explains the first author of the study, Yasin Cotur.
The sound waves, once transformed into a digital signal, can transmit information to a mobile device, potentially allowing a pet owner to monitor the physiology of their pet in real time.
Testing the device in humans and dogs
The researchers tested the ability of the system to track heart and respiration levels in five humans and one labrador retriever.
The experiments revealed that the tool works in humans through four layers of clothing, and that it even works through fur. Güder and his colleagues conclude:
“In general, wearable water–silicone composite transducers worked well with healthy human and animal subjects and permitted the continuous recording of [heart sounds] without the need for shaving or the use of conductive gels.”
Güder also commented on the importance of the findings, saying, “Wearables are expected to play a major role in tracking safety and detectin.
“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.”– Firat Güder
Help for sniffer dogs
“The next move,” Cotur says, “is to further validate our method with animals, focusing primarily on sniffer dogs and then later on on horses and livestock.”
Researchers hope their tool will help make sniffer dog data more accurate. Today the police use sniffer dogs for activities such as detecting bombs and finding people missing.
When a sniffer dog reaches its target, its heart rate and respiration escalate.
The new study authors say their system may help to set a more precise benchmark for what constitutes normal breathing and heart rate. It could then show how divergent from the norm are the vital signs of the dog.
This might make responses to the dog more accurate and quantifiable. Sure, feeding their heart rate and breathing into an algorithm could be possible to show how “sure” the dog is that they have met their goal.