Fur-friendly ‘wearable for pets’ and their humans

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health tracking sensor
Credit: Guder Research Group, Imperial College London

Researchers from the UK have invented a new health tracking sensor for pets and people that monitors vital signs through fur or clothing.

The new type of sensor, which can detect vital signs like heart and breathing rates through fur and up to four layers of clothing, could help make every-day wearables for pets and livestock a reality.

They could help owners keep track of their pets’ health, and help vets monitor animals during surgery without the need for shaving.

They could even help improve the work of sniffer dogs used to detect bombs and missing persons.

In people, they could provide a new way to measure vital signs that can provide measurements over clothing without direct contact with the skin.

Unlike in humans, for whom there are many fitness tracking devices, there aren’t currently many ‘wearable’ options for pets and other animals. One reason for this is that current trackers cannot monitor vital signs through fur.

The new device developed by a team from Imperial College London—and described in Advanced Functional Materials—is made of a silicone-water composite material which houses a microphone that picks up sound waves, like a watery, squishy stethoscope. 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.

The device is flexible and stretchy enough that it tightly moulds to the shape of the fur, clothing, or body part it is placed on, squeezing out any sound-sucking air bubbles and preventing them from re-forming.

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

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