Wireless real-time monitoring through this wearable could add precision to the linkage between diet and health.

recent breakthrough in miniaturized sensor technology could end up taking a bite out of personal privacy. Researchers developed a wearable small enough to stick on a human tooth virtually unnoticed. It’s capable of carrying out wireless transmission of data on any chemicals it comes in contact with.

The team, researchers from Tufts University School of Engineering, set out to create a better solution for monitoring dietary intake. Their work could prove invaluable to medical researchers and has the potential to save innumerable lives.

The device could give doctors real-time alerts on patients based on actual chemical intake. This means that rather than wait for an emergency, when it’s often too late, they could respond before there’s a problem.

Imagine what a difference this could make for people who need to monitor glucose or sodium levels – this wearable could be revolutionary in the field of preventative medicine. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, in 2018, there’s also an ugly side to any thing that collects personal data, as evidenced by the currently unfolding Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal.

The sensor, however, can change its “color.” For example, if the central layer takes on salt, or ethanol, its electrical properties will shift, causing the sensor to absorb and transmit a different spectrum of radiofrequency waves, with varying intensity. That is how nutrients and other analytes can be detected and measured.

Omenetto, in a Tufts University post, said:

“In theory we can modify the BIO-RESPONSIVE layer in these sensors to target other chemicals – we are really limited only by our creativity. We have extended common RFID 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.”

You’d probably notice if someone put a shiny square on your front tooth while you were sleeping (unless you never smile), but you may not notice one behind your ear or affixed to your scalp right away. And if that bothers you, perhaps you should avoid considering the “any other surface” bit, because without some sort of James Bond spy equipment or advanced training you’d have almost no chance of noticing a dozen of these stuck behind your walls, inside your toilet, or under the bumper of your car.

Make no mistake, this is important research that will almost certainly save lives – but, once this wearable is out in the wild, it’s pretty likely to be another tool for gathering our personal data. It’s not up to the researchers to ensure bad actors don’t missaporopriate their work, it’s up to our regulators and lawmakers to ensure that those who do are held accountable.

For now, it’s worth applauding the amazing work this team has done. While, it’s important to point out the potential dangers of any new technology we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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