Monitoring medical vital signs requires expensive, bulky equipment, but this could soon change thanks to a sensor being developed for the market that is so small it could be embedded in bandage. The microchip was created by electrical engineers at Oregon State University and is ready for clinical trials while a patent is currently being processed.

The reason the system-on-a-chip device is so small and thin, roughly the same as a postage stamp, is the absence of a battery. Here is the most impressive aspect of the sensor: it draws power from the radio-frequency energy emitted by a cell phone. It can harvest that type of energy within 15 feet (4.5 meters), and also from other radio-emitting devices. Even body heat and movement could theoretically power the sensor, the researchers say.

"For FDA-approved applications, similar start-ups would be Corventis and iRhythm. Each of these previous patches are five times larger in size, and much heavier due to the battery size," said Dr. Patrick Chiang, an associate professor at OSU's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "For the consumer market, similar products would be Fitbit (activity) or Polar tech straps (heart rate)," he added.

Consumer monitoring devices can cost around US$100 or even more, while the new chip, which would be disposable, is projected to cost around $0.25, Oregon Live reports.

There are other fields where the device could be applied, and these include clinics that care for patients with dementia, where it could be used to measure electroencephalographic brain signals.

“By being able to dramatically reduce the size, weight and cost of these devices, it opens new possibilities in medical treatment, health care, disease prevention, weight management and other fields,” said Dr. Chiang.

The research was recently presented at the Custom Integrated Circuits Conference in San Jose, California. OSU said it will further develop the solution with private partners.