The wearable device that detects dehydration in children

I’ve written a few times about wearable devices that analyze the wearers sweat for signs of dehydration.  For instance, a sweatband developed by researchers from UC Berkeley comes with a number of capabilities, including telling the wearer whether they’re dehydrated.  Or you’ve got the fabric that’s designed to tell you how hydrated you are.  The textile goes under the brand name SOAK, and the magic occurs via a coating that can be applied to clothing to give the wearer visual cues that they are becoming dehydrated.

Now, a Swiss team have developed a mobile device that can monitor for dehydration in children.  The cuffs attach to the hands and feet, and each contain electrodes that are connected by a cable.  A current flows through these cables and the resistance is calculated.  It’s a similar approach to that used by scales that are popular around the world.

More dangerous than we think

Whilst dehydration is perhaps one of those conditions that slips under the radar a bit, it is in fact the second most frequent cause of death among children under five.  In 2013, for instance, 1.3 million people died of dehydration.

“Many of these fatalities could be avoided by proper prevention and early treatment,” the team say.

The problem is particularly pronounced in rural communities, especially in developing countries where access to clinics is incredibly patchy, and summer can be a real threat to health.

“If a doctor suspects a child is suffering from dehydration, they will check the moisture of the child’s eyes and the elasticity of their skin with purely visual methods. They also examine the inside of the child’s mouth to determine if the mucous membranes are dry,” the team say.

It is however, a rather subjective procedure that requires a lot of experience.  The team wanted to develop an objective way of measuring dehydration over time.  Their system, known as AMBICA (Accurate Model for Bio-Composition Analysis), aims to do just that.

The monitoring takes place in real time, and therefore removes the need for any medical intervention.  This can help laypeople, such as parents, track the hydration levels of their children, both relieving the strain on medical personnel and also increasing the survival chances of the child.

Low cost intervention

The system is designed specifically for developing countries and aims to be as intuitive as possible.  Whilst the contacts in the electrodes need to be replaced after each use (for hygienic reasons), the rest of the device is reusable.  This helps to keep the costs down, and the team believe they could be mass-produced for around $100.

The sensors also open up the possibility of doing some interesting things with the data, including visualization and evaluation of the data from afar via an app or other device.  If this data was aggregated, it would allow for population level monitoring to help medical teams understand dehydration peaks and troughs across entire regions, and target their interventions more effectively.

Suffice to say, the device is at a very early stage, and will be tested more extensively before a hunt is underway for a manufacturer to help deliver the device to the market.  As it isn’t an especially lucrative market, it is likely that a wealthy foundation or NGO might assist in getting the product onto the wrists of end users.