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Lo-res_45633792-SAs we have discussed previously, the latest version of the Apple Watch offers novel and cutting-edge capabilities for measuring various indicators of people’s health and exercise. But new product options are going even further, using the sweat that people exude to gather even more detailed information about how they are doing, which in turn can inform their need for and access to health-related services.

Although not yet available on the market, the new sensors will rely on soft, flexible patches that stick directly to the user’s skin. Tiny holes on the side against the wearer’s skin allow sweat to flow into a small reservoir, which is also equipped with a miniscule sensor. The sensors then gauge the chemicals contained in the sampling of sweat, such as glucose, lactate, and chloride, as well as the rate of sweating and the pH balance.

From this analysis, the goal is to determine, for example, if a diabetic person has too much or too little glucose in his system, if a child is a risk for cystic fibrosis according to high levels of chloride in her sweat, or if an athlete’s electrolytes have fallen too low. Some of these functionalities appear well supported already by the existing technology associated with the novel sensors, but others have yet to be perfected. Still, the promise is clear, and scientists predict they will be able to gauge all of these health conditions, and more, within a couple of years.

Once they are functional, the sensors could change the way services in various sectors, such as health care and exercise, get delivered. By tracking and collecting the lactate levels of marathon runners for example, trainers could determine when in the race their clients are likely to get tired and need infusions of nutrients. By keeping nearly constant track of patients’ glucose levels, endocrinologists could improve the service they provide to people diagnosed with diabetes and help them avoid critical or emergency incidents. Even less serious service providers might benefit; if an aesthetician can assess the level of hydration in a client’s skin, the service, such as a facial, can be customized precisely to the needs of that person at that very moment.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some other ways service providers might use the information that these sensors provide, obtained from people’s sweat?
  2. Are there any ethical concerns about the gathering of such data?


Source: Apoorva Mandavilli, “Your Sweat Will See You Now,” The New York Times, January 18, 2019