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The "biosymbiotic devices" created at the University of Arizona are custom-made and 3D-printed based on body scans. The devices can even operate without needing a charging cable thanks to a combination of wireless power transfer and compact energy storage.

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science, medical and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

 

Smartwatch of the Future. Engineers at the University of Arizona are developing wireless 3D-printed devices that may be able to monitor diseases, track personal health data, and test the effectiveness of new drugs—all without needing to charge. Wearable sensors like Fitbits are very common these days, but devices being made in the UA College of Engineering go a bit further. The "biosymbiotic devices," created by a research team led by assistant professor of biomedical engineering Philipp Gutruf, are custom-made and 3D-printed based on body scans. The devices can even operate without needing a charging cable thanks to a combination of wireless power transfer and compact energy storage.

"There's nothing like this out there," said Gutruf in an interview with UA. "We introduce a completely new concept of tailoring a device directly to a person and using wireless power casting to allow the device to operate 24/7 without ever needing to recharge."

According to UA, 3D scans of a wearer's body can be gathered by MRIs, CT scans and normal photos. These custom-made devices mean no adhesive is required. Because these biosymbiotic devices are custom-fitted to the wearer, they are highly sensitive. Gutruf's team tested the device's ability to monitor parameters including “temperature and strain while a person jumped, walked on a treadmill and used a rowing machine. In the rowing machine test, subjects wore multiple devices, tracking exercise intensity and the way muscles performed with fine detail.” The devices are so accurate, they even detected an increase in a user’s body temperature after walking up a single flight of stairs.

"If you want something close to core body temperature continuously, for example, you'd want to place the sensor in the armpit. Or, if you want to measure the way your bicep deforms during exercise, we can place a sensor in the devices that can accomplish that," said Tucker Stuart, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering who works with Gutruf. "Because of the way we fabricate the device and attach it to the body, we're able to use it to gather data that a traditional, wrist-mounted wearable device wouldn't be able to collect."

 

Tourism afloat.

Tucson-based aerospace engineering company World View has announced plans to offer public space tourism via passenger balloons. For years, World View has developed high-tech balloons that can rise high into the atmosphere and travel multiple miles, but on Oct. 4, they announced their “Explorer Stratospheric Capsule.” The passenger capsules are expected to carry people into the stratosphere (more than 15 miles up) for flights lasting from six to 12 hours. While this altitude isn’t quite what NASA considers “space,” World View promises “space-like” views from this high. Eight passengers are expected to fit into each capsule. 

According to Space News, World View chief executive Ryan Hartman said this new service is driven by four principles: place, time, affordability and accessibility. The flights are expected to begin in Page near the Grand Canyon. However, the company says they will eventually offer services around the world, from near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, to the pyramids in Egypt, to Norway to see the northern lights. 

The passenger capsules will be fitted with on-board video cameras and telescopes for a better view of the world below and stars above. In addition, the flights will have dining options and a full bar. Of course, this balloon-ride-of-the-future comes with an equally soaring price, estimated near $50,000. The flights are expected to begin in 2024.  

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