McCormick professor develops ‘world’s smallest wearable device’

Alan Perez, Assistant Campus Editor

Ultraviolet light detection may soon be at — or in — our fingertips.

In collaboration with L’Oréal, McCormick Prof. John Rogers has developed what he says is the world’s smallest wearable device. The gadget, which will allow users to track their exposure to UV radiation, has the diameter of an M&M, the thickness of a credit card and weighs about two-tenths of a gram, he said.

Rogers’ “UV Sense” runs off solar energy, making it the first battery-free device of its kind. It can be placed anywhere on the body, but Rogers is focused on the thumbnail because he said it is a great location to measure radiation exposure. He added that the low-cost device is different from other comparable gadgets because it operates continuously, while being more accurate and less bulky.

“We’re less interested in a new consumer widget and much more interested into a technology that can be adopted and used in a way that reduces skin cancer,” Rogers said.

Rogers teamed up with the beauty giant to develop the wearable device. He said the company is the “best partner” because they provide the marketing experience and manufacturing capacity to offer the device on a large scale.

The device will connect to a smartphone app, which will track users’ exposure over time and suggest changes to how long they spend in the sun, Rogers said.

The gadget is the latest fusion of the technology and health care industries as new tools aim to transform how consumers track and manage their health. Rogers said he hopes the invention will reduce skin cancer by advising consumers to limit unhealthy exposure to the sun.

“It moves beyond the realm of consumer gadgetry into a device technology that can have an important role in human health,” he said. “(The device) can provide information to help individuals modulate their exposure to the sun … to minimize risks of skin cancer.”

L’Oréal will launch the product in a limited release this summer and a full release next year, Rogers said.

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, was the cause of 9,730 deaths in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. Frequent and extensive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can trigger the disease, causing irreparable DNA damage to skin cells.

“This tiny device could have an impact on those numbers, and we’d be very happy about that,” Rogers said.

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