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3D-Printed Personalized, Wireless Wearables That Never Need a Charge

Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed a method for 3D printing medical-grade wearable devices like these, based on the wearer’s body scan.Credits: Gutruf Lab / University of Arizona

New personalized devices can mean significant improvements in the ability to monitor and treat illness, test new drugs, and track an individual’s health.

Wearable sensors that monitor everything from steps to heart rate are almost everywhere. However, scenarios such as measuring the onset of frailty in the elderly, rapid diagnosis of fatal illnesses, testing the effectiveness of new drugs, and tracking the performance of professional athletes require medical grade devices.

Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed a type of wearable called a “biological symbiotic device.” This has several unprecedented benefits. The device is custom 3D printed and based on the wearer’s body scan, as well as being able to operate continuously using a combination of wireless power transfer and compact energy storage. Philipp Gutruf, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Craig M of the Faculty of Engineering. The team, led by Berge Faculty Fellow, published the findings in Science Advances today.

“There is nothing else like this,” said Gutruf, a member of the university’s BIO5 Institute. “We have introduced a whole new concept of fitting the device directly to the person and using wireless power casting to allow the device to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without charging.”


Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed a new type of wearable device that is 3D printed for a custom fit to the wearer. The device operates continuously using a combination of wireless power transfer and compact energy storage.Credits: Gutruf Lab / University of Arizona

Custom fit allows for accurate monitoring

Today’s wearable sensors face a variety of limitations. For example, smartwatches need to be recharged and are located on the wrist, so they can only collect a limited amount of data. Gutruf and his team have created a custom-fit device that wraps different body parts by using 3D scans of the wearer’s body that can be collected by methods such as MRI, CT scans, and even carefully combined smartphone images. You can print in 3D. Consider a lightweight, breathable mesh cuff that is barely noticeable, specially designed for the biceps, calves, and torso. The ability to specialize in sensor placement allows researchers to measure physiological parameters that could not be measured otherwise.

Run on biosymbiotic device

Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed a method for 3D printing such medical-grade wearable devices based on the wearer’s body scan.Credits: Gutruf Lab / University of Arizona

“For example, if you continuously need something close to core body temperature, you need to place the sensor under your armpit, or if you want to measure how your biceps deform during exercise. You can place the sensor on a device that can do that, “says Tucker Stuart, PhD student in biomedical engineering and lead author of the paper. “By manufacturing the device and attaching it to the body, it can be used to collect data that traditional wrist-mounted wearable devices could not.”

These biosymbiotic devices are also custom-fitted to the wearer for increased sensitivity. Gutruf’s team tested the ability of the device to monitor parameters such as temperature and strain as a person jumps, walks on a treadmill, or uses a rowing machine. In the rowing machine test, subjects wore multiple devices to closely track exercise intensity and how muscles deformed. The device was accurate enough to detect changes in body temperature caused by climbing a single staircase.

Continuous, wireless, and effortless

Gutruf and his team are not the first to adapt wearables to track health and physical function. However, current wearables do not have the ability to continuously track metrics or track them with sufficient accuracy to draw medically meaningful conclusions.

Some wearables used by researchers have patches that adhere to the skin, but they come off when the skin undergoes a normal shedding process or when the subject sweats. Even highly sophisticated wearables used in clinical settings, such as ECG monitors, face these problems. Also, because it is not wireless, mobility is severely limited. When connected to a bulky external device, the patient is unable to lead a normal daily life.

The biosymbiotic device introduced by Gutruf’s team is glue-free and receives power from a wireless system within a range of several meters. The device also includes a small energy storage unit that works even if the wearer goes out of range of the system, including outside the home.

“These devices are designed so that they don’t require dialogue with the wearer,” Gutruf said. “It’s as easy as putting on a device. Then you forget it, and it does the job.”

Reference: “Biosymbiotic, personalized, and digitally manufactured wireless devices for indefinite collection of high-fidelity biosignals,” October 8, 2021. Science Advances..
DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abj3269

This study was funded by the Flynn Foundation Translational Bioscience Seed Grants Pilot Program. The team also worked with the university’s commercialization arm, Tech Launch Arizona, to launch a startup to protect intellectual property and bring technology to market.



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