Wearables have massive potential in the medical world, and could be used to monitor a wide range of health conditions. Even now, that kind of monitoring is prevalent in the form of devices like Fitbits and smart watches. But, those devices are designed to count steps, check your heart rate, and collect other data that is relevant to a large portion of the general population. Some conditions require more tailored monitoring, which is why IBM Research has developed these grip strength sensors that are worn on a fingernail.
These wearable sensors were created specifically for testing grip strength, which can be a strong indicator in the progression of diseases like Parkinson’s, in the health of the elderly, and even in cognitive function related to schizophrenia. The IBM Research team found that they could reliably measure grip strength by checking how a person’s fingernail bends and moves as they grasp something. With that data, doctors can gain valuable insight into how well a medication is working, or the effectiveness of physical therapy.
The fingernail sensor itself utilizes strain gauges, and the data is collected by a tiny computer worn like a ring. That computer processes the data, gathers additional accelerometer data, and communicates with a smart watch. An app on the smart watch uses purpose-built artificial intelligence algorithms to make sense of all the data, and identifies patterns that are relevant to the wearer’s condition. The fingernail wearable is a move towards a future when granular medical data can be collected passively and constantly, which could dramatically improve treatments.