Tiny wearable device changes color to indicate UV light exposure

Wearable devices are getting smarter, and have already ventured beyond recording just the steps we take to tackle other metrics, like heart rate and hydration levels. A new health-focused piece of research coming out of the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering represents another step forward in that progression.

Researchers Andrea Armani and doctoral candidate Michele Lee have created a color-changing wearable device that notifies users when they have had enough sun exposure for one day.

“We made a flexible, waterproof plastic patch that changes color when exposed to UV light, which is the harmful or cancer-causing part of sunlight,” Professor Armani told Digital Trends. “It has a sandwich structure. The middle layer is the color-changing UV-responsive smart material, and the transparent top and bottom layers provide mechanical support, as well as waterproofing. The patch is initially clear, and the longer that the patch is in the sun, the more the color changes. After about 15 minutes, it begins to turn orange, and after an hour, it is dark orange.”


By making users more aware of sun exposure, the “smart band aid” has the potential to help cut down on the approximately 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers diagnosed each year. Unlike other wearable tech like the Apple Watch, it also doesn’t need to be connected, or even charged, for it to work.

“Additionally, having a simple read-out [in the form of a] color-change will make the technology much more accessible to a broader user group,” Armani continued. “From a broad adoption perspective, it is hard to remember numbers like maximum recommended UV dose per day, but it is easy to remember a color.”

At present, the technology is still a research project. However, with such positive upsides, hopefully it won’t be too long before one of these sensors is integrated into a next-gen wearable.