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Wearable sensors market expanding into healthcare monitoring

Thu, 13th Oct 2022
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The market for wearable sensors is expanding, according to new research from IDTechEx.

More people than ever before are turning to wearable sensors to monitor their activity levels. However, despite its origin in simple step counting, the market for wearable sensors is expanding into the more complex arena of health monitoring. 

According to the analyst firm, innovations in wearable sensor technology are expanding the envelope of biometrics accessible through watches and skin patches. This not only seeks to address the growing demand for remote patient monitoring and decentralised clinical trials but also the rising expectations of the general consumer. This includes easier access to health data but extends further to sensor integration into headsets and accessories for immersive experiences in the metaverse.

Not all wearable sensor technology is made equal and distinguishing between hype and reality is an increasing challenge for stakeholders. The latest wearable sensors report from IDTechEx, Wearable Sensors 2023-2033, breaks down the complex landscape of sensor types, biometrics, and form factors. 

This includes inertial measurement units, optical sensors, and chemical sensors for vital signs, stress, sleep, and even brain activity. IDTechEx highlights the key opportunities and challenges for each sensor type to achieve commercial success across the next ten years.

Motion Sensors Finding Applications Beyond Step Counting

According to the report, motion sensing hardware is well established, with accelerometers integrated into almost every wearable. Therefore, as profit margins for manufacturers diminish with commoditisation, expanding the application space is crucial to maintain growth.

Emerging use cases include health insurance rewards, clinical trials, and professional athlete monitoring. Key MEMs manufacturers are battling semiconductor shortages and regulatory approval to maximise entry into these sectors. 

Optical Sensors Seeking to Go Further Than Heart-Rate Detection

Smart-watch wearers are familiar with the red and green lights on the back of their devices, used to obtain heart-rate data or blood oxygen and further analysed for insights into calorie burn, VO2 max, and sleep quality.

The report says sensor developers are interested in pushing the boundaries of what can be measured non-invasively with light whether it be through new software to analyse photoplethysmography signals or new hardware for spectroscopy. Multiple companies are competing to lead in the commercialisation of wearable blood pressure, with others setting their sights on ambitious clinic on the wrist devices to replace common hospital tests and even glucose monitoring.

Electrodes Enable Monitoring of the Heart, Muscle, and Brain

Incorporating conductive materials into wearable technology is a simple concept. However, the report says it has led to a vast variety of wearables sensors including wet electrodes stuck on the skin to measure the heart, dry electrodes in headphones to analyse brain signals, and microneedles within skin patches to quantify muscle movements. 

As such, this also creates a broad application space for electrodes ranging from vital sign monitoring and sleep analysis for healthcare to emotional response and stress monitoring for marketing and productivity.

Chemical Sensors Offer an Alternative to Finger Pricks

Chemical sensors are increasingly enabling diabetics to monitor their glucose levels without finger pricks. However, commercial devices still require a needle to be inserted below the surface of the skin. As such, the quest for less invasive wearable sensors continues, according to the report. 

Overall, IDTechEx provides insight into how wearable sensors could be integrated into society long term the technology underpinning value within the trend towards the quantified self. The main drivers for growth identified are digital health and remote patient monitoring, extended reality, and the metaverse and performance analytics of athletes and sports people. 

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