Academic institutions develop baby movement suit, smart diaper

Innovators are focusing in on baby tech, as researchers from the University of Helsinki display a new movement tracking outfit and a team from MIT rolls out a smart diaper.
By Laura Lovett
11:56 am
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Photo credit: Sampsa Vanhatalo

Researchers are focusing on new health tech for some of the youngest patients. Recently two academic institutions published experimental design reports around baby tech. One focuses on a smart suit for tracking a babies movement, and the second revolves around the concept of a smart diaper from MIT. 

Researchers from the University of Helsinki have developed a new smart jumpsuit aimed at keeping track of babies with possible neurological abnormalities, such as cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders. 

The new suit, which is designed like a swim outfit, includes multiple sensors that collect mobile accelerometer and gyroscope data during movement, according to a recent concept of use report published in Scientific Reports. 

"The smart jumpsuit provides us with the first opportunity to quantify infants' spontaneous and voluntary movements outside the laboratory. The child can be sent back home with the suit for the rest of the day. The next day, it will be returned to the hospital where the results will then be processed," Sampsa Vanhatalo, professor of clinical neurophysiology at the University of Helsinki and one of the paper’s authors, said in a statement. 

The results are processed by a “machine learning algorithm, based on deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs),” which was trained to detect certain movement and posture biomarkers.  

Meanwhile researchers at MIT have been working on a new smart diaper. The latest tech includes a sensor that detects dampness in the diaper. This can then prompt a message to be sent to a caregiver's smartphone or computer. 

The new sensor is comprised of a passive radio frequency identification tag that is triggered by a super absorbant polymer, and was designed to be reusable. While the tech could be used to monitor babies in the NICU, the researchers also note that it can be used for bedridden and elderly patients in the hospital as well. 

"This could prevent rashes and some infections like urinary tract infections, in both aging and infant populations," Sai Nithin R. Kantareddy, a collaborator on the project and a graduate student in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, said in a statement. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

Both of these tools focus on remotely monitoring babies for better care. 

The smart suit specifically focuses on identifying a baby’s long term needs and care to provide support. 

"The early identification of developmental disorders and support for infants' everyday functional capacity in interaction with the family and the growth environment constitute a significant factor on the level of individuals, families and society," Leena Haataja, author of the paper and professor of pediatric neurology, said in a statement. 

THE LARGER TREND 

This isn’t the first smart diaper to be developed, or even commercialized. Over the summer Purdue University researchers have developed a disposable, urinary tract infection-detecting sensor that is self-powered and can be embedded into diaper. The autonomous sensor activates upon exposure to urine, checks for compounds often associated with the infection and then wirelessly transmits the results to a smartphone if positive.

Big tech has also been working on this challenge. In May of 2018 Verily Life Sciences filed a patent application for a “smart diaper” carrying a sensor for detecting and differentiating between feces and urine. The diaper would contain a transmitter capable of wirelessly communicating whether waste is present to a separate device via Bluetooth, WiFi or other means. The product was shown off by Verily and diaper maker Pampers at this year's CES.

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