In laboratories at the University of Buffalo, Professor Albert Titus has designed, developed, and tested oxygen sensors, glucose sensors, and other wearable biochemical detectors.

The school’s chair of biomedical engineering has also worked on the creation of novel integrated circuits that measure the body’s very small electrical signals to improve biosignal measurements.

Given the professor’s background in biosensors, I wanted to ask Titus about UV Sense, a wearable device featured on Tech Briefs last week. The UV Sense technology, after being applied to a fingernail, tracks a wearer’s ultraviolet-radiation exposure with the swipe of a smartphone.

Below is an edited interview with Titus. In the Tech Briefs Q&A, the University of Buffalo professor reviews considerations that sensor manufacturers will need to make to keep wearers wearing wearables.

Tech Briefs: What characteristics of wearables are most important in encouraging adoption?

Albert Titus: In general, cost; ease of use; the ability for the user to “wear and forget” the device; and creating a need for the data/information the wearable provides are the key elements that lead to adoption.

Tech Briefs: What do you think of the UV Sense technology?

Titus: Certainly, it looks like it satisfies the “wear and forget” criteria. It is very small and does not need to be removed to be recharged.

Tech Briefs: How valuable is the kind of UV-exposure information being provided, do you think?

Titus: The “need” issue is uncertain. For wearers who want to be in the sun, this can allow them to track how much exposure they have had. But how to use that information is tricky; there aren’t clear guidelines on how much UV exposure is too much, or how much is good.

Ultimately, will it provide information that causes behavior change? What good is it to know how long you’ve been in the sun if you don’t use this to make a change in behavior, or if you can’t change your behavior? And, if it tells you that you’ve had X hours of exposure this week, how will this be used by you?

Albert Titus (in lab) in 2014, working on a wearable system that measures heart rate, brain activity, and other vital signs. (Image Credit: University of Buffalo)

Tech Briefs: What are the most valuable aspects of the technology?

Titus: I think the technology they developed is very interesting. The compactness and ability to use the near-field radiation to charge it (and get data from it) are very nice. I could see this being extended to beyond fingernails, to be used as monitoring devices for people who need to have this exposure tracked.

Tech Briefs: Generally speaking, how do wearable manufacturers have to build their devices to get customers on board?

Titus: I think it depends on price and functionality. If the device does only thing but has a high price, it will have a tougher time being adopted. If it does one thing but is simple and low cost, it has more of a chance of being adopted.

A consumer-oriented wearable device has to be very easy to use and require minimal to no maintenance – no special setup, or repeated calibration, for example. Commercial devices, like ones that monitor conditions in a factory or other workplace, can have a bit more complexity if there is someone to “maintain” the device.

Tech Briefs: What wearable sensors do you envision being the most adopted?

Titus: Gaming, sports (athletic training and fitness), and health tracking are the most likely areas. By gaming, I mean augmented-reality-type sensors for adding to video games and on-line interaction. Regarding health, ultimately, I’m referring to wearables that are accurate and reliable devices that monitor key biosignals.

Tech Briefs: What role do you see wearable sensors playing in the future?

Titus: For health monitoring, non-invasive sensors can become very important, if they can accurately measure what is needed, and be secure. Powering the devices is always an issue, especially for wearables that need to be small and lightweight, so energy harvesting devices that provide power from the surroundings (motion, heat, light, RF, etc.) will be important.

What do you think about the future of wearable sensors? Share your thoughts below.