New Wearable Sensor Detects Stress Hormone in Sweat

Cortisol is key to tracking stress, but it's tough to measure in an instant; Stanford researchers say they've figured out how

3 min read
Cortisol detecting sweat sensor on a runner's arm.
Photo: Stanford University/Science Advances

Stress. We all know it can be bad for us. It affects blood pressure, metabolism, immune response, and memory. Over time, it can contribute to the development of chronic diseases. So scientists and health professionals are putting a lot of effort into finding ways to measure and help patients cope with it.

Wearables that use sweat to detect stress typically track temperature, heart rate, and perspiration levels as markers for stress. But all of those markers can be affected by non-stress factors.

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Illustration showing an astronaut performing mechanical repairs to a satellite uses two extra mechanical arms that project from a backpack.

Extra limbs, controlled by wearable electrode patches that read and interpret neural signals from the user, could have innumerable uses, such as assisting on spacewalk missions to repair satellites.

Chris Philpot

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spiderman’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.

Such scenarios may seem like science fiction, but recent progress in robotics and neuroscience makes extra robotic limbs conceivable with today’s technology. Our research groups at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg, in Germany, together with partners in the European project NIMA, are now working to figure out whether such augmentation can be realized in practice to extend human abilities. The main questions we’re tackling involve both neuroscience and neurotechnology: Is the human brain capable of controlling additional body parts as effectively as it controls biological parts? And if so, what neural signals can be used for this control?

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