Researchers Are Fighting Dehydration With Wearable Technology

A new prototype device is showing promise when it comes to monitoring hydration levels in children.

ETH Zurich professor Walter Karlen and his team of researchers have created a relatively inexpensive device that could be used by any kind of person, anywhere in the world to treat and recognize dehydration. That device is the AMBICA, short for Accurate Model for Bio-Composition Analysis.

The way it works is two blue cuffs attach to a child’s hand and foot, each with electrodes connected to a cable. From there, a very weak electric signal is sent through the body of the child, then overall resistance to the signal is calculated. That calculation will tell someone how much water is in the child’s body.

Dehydration is one of the most dangerous ailments a child can suffer. After pneumonia, dehydration is the second most prevalent killer of children under five years old—more fatal than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. Every year, 1.3 million people die from it, mostly children in impoverished areas. High death rates are due to these children ingesting something unhygienic then contracting diarrhea, which can dehydrate your body in a matter of hours.

“Many of these fatalities could be avoided by proper prevention and early treatment,” says Karlen.

Often times when someone suffers from dehydration or other ailments in an impoverished area, the closest clinic with trained doctors and be hundreds of kilometres away. Even when dehydrated patients visit a doctor, many of the checks done are subjective, such as testing skin elasticity.

“We were looking for a solution that could objectively measure dehydration over longer periods of time,” says Karlen.

AMBICA provides real tangible results. A red or green LED array means hydration is increasing or decreasing, and an alarm sounds if hydration levels are critical and an injection has to be applied. This means doctors do not need to be present to indicate levels, allowing them to treat other pressing needs.

The electrode skin contacts have to be replaced after every use, but the cuffs can be reused, meaning costs won’t’ be too high. In fact, AMBICA can be mass produced for just over $100 a piece.

It is still a prototype though, and has to undergo some tests before it can be produced. Karlen is hoping that some big NGOs or foundations realize the technology could save thousands of lives and hop on to fund it more.