An unusual consortium including drinks brand Gatorade, the US Air Force, and Northwestern University is collaborating to take the guesswork out of hydration. The end product, launched by startup Epicore Biosystems, is soon to hit the mass market.
Staying hydrated is a cornerstone of good health. But for those who take exercise seriously, hydration is key to performance too.
Alongside representatives from the military and professional sports, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and Northwestern University have been working on a wearable that reads sweat to provide feedback in real time on hydration levels.
The microfluidic device – essentially a patch that sits comfortably on the arm – measures sweat biomarkers to accurately calculate electrolyte loss.
The wearable works by having separate compartments that indicate different electrolytes. During exercise, sweat winds its way through the device’s microscopic channels and into these compartments. Reactions with chemical reagents result in visible colour changes that relate to the wearers’ electrolyte concentrations.
The result is an instant hydration reading that can be understood. For a more detailed overview, users can send a picture off for software analysis.
“Most people want to know if they are losing a lot of chloride, a little bit, or almost none,” said Northwestern University professor John A. Rogers. “They can just eyeball the device and determine if their electrolyte levels are high, medium, or low.”
Sweating the asset
The devices are now being sent off to be put to the test by Rogers’ Epicore Biosystems and the CBIE and Northwestern University’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics.
Participants in these early trials include the Seattle Mariners baseball team, which is using hundreds of the devices to track players during spring training.
“These thin, flexible microfluidic networks allow us to quantitatively track sweat loss and sweat chemistry across players in our organisation,” said Lorena Martin, a medical doctor and the Mariners’ director of high performance.
“These data can provide us with unique, detailed, player-specific information on electrolyte balance and body chemistry at any point during a game or practice.”
The military is interested, too. Air Force teams in Ohio are currently testing the devices.
“Sweat is rich in biochemical information that is relevant to physiological health and cognitive state,” said Jennifer Martin, a research chemist at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
“The ability to monitor sweat loss and sweat chemistry in situ on the skin is of interest because the data may allow us to more effectively manage military readiness under gruelling conditions in training or on the battlefield.”
The Northwestern University’s own swimming team has also been testing the wearable, which works underwater and can offer hydration information in an environment where it’s usually difficult to acquire.
Internet of Business says
It’s easy to see the mass-market potential of a device that takes the guesswork out of hydration. Anyone partaking in sport could potentially reap the benefits of a device that is expected to retail at around $3. There are also potential use cases in clinical medicine and rehabilitation.
Healthtech wearables and even e-skin have been one of the big stories so far in 2018, alongside the booming market for connected cars, and multiple reports on IoT security (or the lack of it).
However, the presence of Gatorade in a hydration and health programme is interesting. In 2017, the PepsiCo brand, which markets itself as a sports performance drink, was sued for making misleading statements in its ‘Bolt’ video game.
The game appeared to suggest to children that drinking Gatorade was better than drinking water, using an animated figure of sprinter Usain Bolt. An opening message within the game said, “Keep your performance level high by avoiding water”, adding, “Grab Gatorade to fill your fuel meter.”
A later marketing presentation added, “We came up with an entertaining and competitive way to reinforce to teens that consuming Gatorade would help them perform better on the field and that water was the enemy of performance.”
A settlement reached between the state of California and Gatorade forbids the brand from making disparaging comments about water in future, and obliged the company to pay $300,000 to the state’s Attorney General’s Office, with no admission of wrongdoing or liability.