Oregon State University reports that they have developed a technology that allows them to integrate multiple sensors onto a single microchip. The sensors replace what are currently large components in devices such as body-worn pedometers and fitness trackers. Rather than large, expensive, power-hungry devices, the OSU technology could accomplish the same sensing function in a postage stamp-sized device that costs less than a quarter.

Although it’s miraculous that we can now provide this functionality in such a small size, what’s really exciting is that the system has no battery but instead harvests radio frequency energy from nearby devices such as cell phones.

The OSU technology is one of several advances that seek to harness external sources of energy. We’ve noted in recent posts that researchers are seeking to use the energy of the beating heart to power pacemakers. Others are looking at a biological battery that exists in the inner ear to power hearing aids and perhaps other body-worn devices.

These advancements portend where medical product design and development is headed. As of now, we are constrained by power requirements that necessitate using batteries that are often the heaviest and bulkiest part of the device. Imagine what it would be like if we were freed from that constraint.