Imagine wearable technology that isn’t boxy or hard like the electronics we’re used to. Picture technology that bends with your movements, stretches as you move, and adds to your daily wardrobe, too. When Professor John Rogers of the University of Illinois developed stretchable circuits in 2008, truly wearable technology seemed like the technology of the future. But now, a Cambridge, Mass. company called MC10 is making products that integrate the human body and the natural world.
“As you can imagine with our technology, there’s an array of product design that occurs with all engineering disciplines,” says Melissa Ceruolo, MC10’s design process manager. MC10’s products require electrical, mechanical, materials, software, human factors, and industrial designs, Ceruolo says – it’s a complicated building process with big results.
When we think about consumer electronic devices, we think of hard, rigid materials like the iPhone or a laptop computer. These work well in most cases, but not when we try to put an electronic device on the body. The body is soft, flexible and bendable, and these electronics are not. But in a new effort towards innovation, companies like MC10 are packaging electronics to preserve high performance and low cost within a soft and flexible material. Now electronics can be put on the skin like a bandage or a temporary tattoo, or they can be embedded onto clothing or garments.
MC10’s designers challenge every convention of consumer electronics, rewriting the rules when it comes to testing their designs. They think about products that are worn 24/7 and are comfortable – ultra-thin, soft, and conforming to the human body.
“We design our products from the inside out, considering body and skin compatibility at every layer,” says Ceruolo. “Our technology compliments the functional beauty and elegance of the human body.”
Aesthetics are also key in design decisions. MC10 designers think about personal style and fashion, creating devices that appeal to the consumer. Most importantly, the designs are also durable, created as waterproof materials that can stretch and take the wear and tear of human body movements, while still maintaining performance and reliability.
MC10 is the only company in the U.S. so far to produce stretchable, flexible technology that forms to fit the bio-mechanics of the human body. Their latest product is the Reebok CHECKLIGHT, an innovative head impact indicator. The design incorporates multiple sensors into a skullcap, which is placed easily underneath a helmet. The smart skullcap senses head impact to assess injuries in athletes, especially concussions.
The Reebok CHECKLIGHT’s sensors measures and reports significant impacts to the head. When an athlete experiences an impact above a programmed threshold, lights in the back of the skullcap blink yellow to signal moderate impact, or red to signal a more severe impact. This helps coaches or other players to notice the strength of a hit to the head, allowing them to pull players off the field to avoid further injury.
The CHECKLIGHT skullcap represents a breakthrough in gathering data around head injuries, a big topic of conversation for young athletes. Previously, there were devices with sensors that were placed in helmets and on chinstraps, but with sensors placed directly where measurements are most accurate, consistent data streaming is possible. The skullcap is also comfortable and form-fitting, so it doesn’t distract the athlete from a game or practice.
MC10 is also developing a hydration sensor, a patch that’s as unobtrusive as a band-aid, and sends smartphone alerts telling you when (and how much) to drink.
Healthcare and Beyond
MC10 recently partnered with biopharmaceutical company UCB, hoping to make a positive difference in the lives of people with neurological disorders. Most patients who participate in clinical trials self-report data; they make subjective calls about their feelings and progress. MC10 wants to turn that self-reported data into objective data directly from the body, which will lead to more efficient clinical trials and stronger data collection.
Beyond that, medical professionals could participate in remote patient monitoring with MC10 products like the Biostamp. The Biostamp is a soft, small sensing system designed to adhere comfortably to any location on the body. It was designed to eliminate the social stigma associated with wearing a health monitoring device. If patients receive an MC10 Biostamp with a prescription, they can be monitored through the stamp to see how they respond to therapy and how that therapy might be adjusted – all in real time.
Where is MC10 headed? The opportunities are endless. “We’re exploring deploying our technology for movement and studying neurological diseases like MS, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy,” says Elyse Winer, Senior Manager of Marketing and Brand. With symptoms like tremors, wearable technology could track range of motion and provide insights into those diseases.
Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.
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