Jan 2, 2015 | By Simon

While we've become accustomed to hearing about our everyday tech products becoming 'smart', or 'connected', there are still a range of nontraditional products that aren't necessarily associated with technology that are also getting smarter. Included among them: bandages.

Earlier this year, research students at the National Taiwan University developed the BioScope, a "smart bandage" that brings wearable technology seen in products such as the Nike FUEL and FitBit to bandages worn by patients in the hospital. Rather than simply covering a wound, these new bandages will also directly communicate with health professionals to communicate vital signs in real time.

The design for the bandage was inspired by the goal of keeping patients more active, which up until now was difficult due to the need to monitor vital signs on more obstructive medical equipment.

"If a patient wanted to go outside to get a bit of exercise, traditional medical equipment couldn't be taken with them," says researcher and PhD student Cheng-Yuan Li. "We're hoping that this kind of wearable, flexible device can keep monitoring their body information even though they leave the ward."

Altogether, the 3D printed BioScope is able to track a hospital patient's temperature, heart rate, movement and internal bodily noises (using an on-board microphone), and then wirelessly transmit the collected data using Bluetooth to a nurse or doctor's computer.

Starting with a 3D model, the students used a 3D printer to create the final design for the BioScope using NinjaFlex filament; a specially formulated thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) 3D printing material known for its flexible and strong prints.

Using a 3D printer to create the housings for the bandages makes perfect sense, too. Because all medical products need to be disposed of or cleaned through vigourous methods from patient to patient, the use of 3D printing ensures a clean, on-demand product that can be customized for each patient. As for the more complicated sensors, the medical professionals are able to switch them out of old bandages and insert them into new ones with ease.

To test the validity of their 3D printed system, the research team of medical professionals, engineers and computer scientists scripted a sequence of activities to simulate conditions arising when a patient is hospitalized. Two volunteers were instructed to lay down on a bed, answer a phone, have a face-to-face conversation and go for a walk while wearing the 3D printed BioScope prototypes.

As for what the future of the BioScope holds, the team believes that the device is capable of being redesigned into a modular device in the case that specific sensors need to be used for unique cases for each patient. Additionally, they can see the device being used by doctors to monitor their patients remotely without the need to be at a hospital or other health care facility. Perhaps more importantly, this technology could also be used in areas where there are no hospitals readily available, such as developing countries with limited volunteer doctors on-staff and injured military personnel.

While there is certainly a lot of attention centered around what the future of 'smart' watches, washing machines and smoke detectors looks like, it is promising to see that something such as a 3D printed smart bandage just might singlehandedly be able to change how patients and doctors view the healthcare experience.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Jon S wrote at 1/3/2015 6:54:04 PM:

Smart band aids are not new and have been made without 3D printing. An old employer of mine, Irvine Sensors Corp, made smart band aids for a government R&D contract using their silicon thinning technology back in 2001. They were a lot thinner (and flexible) than this attempt.

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