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New sensor technology at hand (or in the jaw) amazingly measures what we pass through our lips. Some believe it could curtail drink driving.
In 2018, to date, 93 Australians have lost their lives on NSW roads. 30% of these fatalities involved alcohol. However, by leveraging a newly developed “miniature tooth-mounted sensor” which can monitor alcohol, salt and glucose intake levels, these deadly trends might finally start to fall in the next few years.
Postulated and created by the Tufts University School of Engineering (Massachusetts, USA), the mountable mini-sensors can wirelessly transmit their data via radiofrequency signals, thus connecting directly to mobile devices. Picture using an app that has real-time data on your exact alcohol intake – eliminating the need for “standard drink” guesswork – which then sends a warning or recommends an Uber if you exceed 0.05 BAC. It’s no surprise that this technology has scientists and government officials buzzing.
Previous wearable devices that monitor dietary intake have never taken off. Requiring bulky wiring, a mouthguard and frequent sensor repair, this is quite understandable. The Tuft tooth-mount model, contrarily, has a 2mmx2mm footprint that can flexibly conform and bond to the irregular tooth surface.
The sensors are comprised of three sandwiched layers:
- A central “bioresponsive” layer: which absorbs the nutrient/chemicals to be detected;
- two outer layers: square-shaped gold rings.
Together, these layers act are a micro antenna, transmitting and receiving radio waves. The technology works as follows:
- Blue plant appear blue to the human eye as it absorbs “redder” EM wavelengths and reflects the blue back to our eyes;
- In the same way, as an incoming radio wave hits the mini sensor, some of it is cancelled out and the rest is transmitted to the receiver (the antenna in the mobile device);
- The microsensor can also “change its colour”, i.e., “measure other nutrients and analytes”;
- For example, if the bioresponsive layer is to monitor salt, its electrical properties will shift (salt is an ionic substance made up of positive charges – Sodium (cation) – and negative charges – Chloride (anion). As radiowaves are self-propagating electric and magnetic waves superimposed, a change in electrical properties means a shift in frequency and/or intensity.
“We are really limited only by our creativity,” says Fiorenzo Omenetto, PhD, the author of the Tufts project. “We have extended common RFID (radiofrequency ID) technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface.”