Based on these readings, the researchers were able to monitor a person's breathing and heart rate, as well as their arm and leg movements.
The researchers named their device "body area sensor network," or "BodyNET," and they define it as "a collection of networked sensors that can be used to monitor human physiological signals."
The researchers stuck the sensors to the wrist and abdomen of a participant to detect their pulse and breathing.
Placing the sensors on the participant's elbows and knees let the researchers know when the person moved, as the patch detected the stretching and contracting of the skin in the areas that corresponded to the muscles flexed.
The BodyNET works using radiofrequency identification (RFID) — a technology that is also used in keyless access systems and key cards. With key cards, an antenna in the card picks up RFID energy from the receiver and uses it to generate a passcode. The card then sends this passcode back to the receiver.
For the BodyNET, the researchers had to find a way to transmit RFID energy through an antenna that could expand, contract, and bend along with the skin.
The scientists used metallic ink to create this antenna, but they soon realized that the signal wasn't strong enough to keep up with the constant movements and fluctuations of the antenna and skin.
So, they designed a novel, stronger type of RFID system that would send more stable and accurate signals. This innovative system also uses Bluetooth technology to send the readings from the receiver to a smartphone or any other wireless device.
The researchers hope that healthcare professionals will use the device to monitor people with sleeping problems and heart conditions. For the team, the next steps are to figure out how the patch can also detect sweat and temperature.