If you thought wearable devices were limited to smartwatches and AR glasses, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a few years we could be all covered from head to toe in smart stickers, starting with a new patch from Gatorade that can let you know if you’re staying properly hydrated.
Developed by a startup called Epicore Biosystems working with PepsiCo’s Gatorade subsidiary, the new Gx Sweat Patch (featuring Gatorade’s recognizable branding) is designed to be stuck to the inner left arm of an athlete during a workout. An accompanying app generates a “sweat profile” that lets the wearer know how much to drink to replenish their hydration levels.
But unlike glowing tattoos that could one day let an athlete know when it’s time to stop and rehydrate, the one-time-use Gx Sweat Patch doesn’t feature any electronics. Instead, it’s made from layers of thin polymers etched with microfluidic channels.
During a workout, sweat emanating from the wearer’s skin makes its way into one of the channels and slowly fills it up while it’s dyed orange (using non-toxic food dyes) in the process to make its progress more visible. In a separate channel, chemicals react with chlorine in the sweat and turn purple, indicating the concentration of sodium detected, which is then used to determine the wearer’s electrolyte balance. The low-tech approach is probably why a two-pack of these smart patches sells for $25 and not hundreds of dollars.
The colorful, sweat-filled channels won’t mean much to the athlete wearing the patch. After a 30-minute workout (or whenever the patch’s microfluid channels are full), the athlete uses the app to take a picture of the results. The scan uses basic image recognition to generate a report—alongside metrics like the user’s age, sex, weight, type of workout, and even the weather—on how much fluid was lost during the physical activity, and how much should be consumed to adequately rehydrate.
The app doesn’t appear to specifically recommend rehydrating using beverages like Gatorade, a sports drink that includes sodium amongst its other ingredients to help replenish an athlete’s electrolytes, but it’s hard to imagine users reaching for an alternative given the suggestive branding on the product. The Gx Sweat Patch is first and foremost a tool to sell a sports drink, but it’s also an interesting demonstration of where wearable technologies could be headed in the near future. And while the patch works like a sticker, there’s no reason to think that one day our clothes could let us know when we’ve sweated too much—and not just based on how they smell.