Tech companies are always hoping to clear out the competition with their latest wearable. But Alphabet’s life sciences division, Verily, is likely expecting a blow-out with this one.
The company, formerly known as Google Life Sciences, has a patent-pending plan for a wirelessly connected “smart diaper” that would not only alert a caregiver when there’s a new “event” but also analyze and identify the fresh download—i.e.
, is it a number one or number two? The connected, absorbent gadget will sound the alarm via a connected device and potentially an app, which can catalogue and keep a record of events.
Verily is not the first to try to plumb the potential of derrière devices for babies. Many companies have come before with simple to high-tech moisture sensors—from color-changing strips to wireless alarms. But, Verily argues in its patent application, the market is lacking a convenient, affordable, all-in-one design that can differentiate between a wee squirt and a code brown. While both require attention and a change, a festering or explosive diaper bomb often requires more urgency, particularly if a baby is dealing with diaper rash.
In all, when it comes to smart diapers “there is much room for significant advancement in the technology in order to lower the cost and enhance the convenience and functionality thus making them a more affordable and reliable option,” the company writes in its patent application. It filed the application in October of 2016, but it was just published recently by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Verily did not respond to Ars’ request for comment on the design.
To squeeze out a winning design that would flush the competition, Verily pushed for an ultra high-tech diaper. The company envisions the diaper will have conductive and sensing elements embedded in the absorbent areas of the nappy, possibly in an array. These elements could include conductive fibers, such as carbon fibers, and/or microelectrodes made out of materials such as gold, copper, platinum, and conductive polymers. The diaper could use these elements to measure the conductivity and impedance between various areas of the diaper that are in the potential blast zone. Change in conductivity and impedance would signal that a relieving event had occurred, and exact measurements of either could reveal if it’s feces or urine that’s present. How the diaper might handle particularly soggy deuces is unclear, though.
The integrated diaper sensors can link up to a reusable, attachable electronic module hooked to the front of the diaper. This could house a power source, control circuit, and transmitter that relays the soil signal to a connected device via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or other communications protocol. Once transmitted, the call of doody could be picked up by an app on a device such as a smart phone or smart watch, which could alert a caregiver and log each time the baby drops a log.
Verily also considered including moisture and temperature sensors, as well as an accelerometer to better assess diaper status. The temperature readings could initiate the diaper’s sensing capabilities, basically determining through body heat that a diaper has been put on a baby (or taken off). Moisture sensors could ping a clean signal periodically, then initially sense an event and trigger the conductive elements to assess what exactly the diaper is packing. And the accelerometer could help detect the diaper’s position on a baby, essentially revealing if it’s riding low from a heavy load.
Verily hopes its design will drop a load off of caregivers, who have the “perpetual task” of monitoring diapers for pee or poo. Though the company focused on babies for most of the patent application, it notes that such a wearable could be used for the elderly, sick, disabled, or even animals. For now, it’s simply a patent-pending idea, though. If or when Verily will bring its smart diaper to the market is unclear—and so is the cost.