Wearable "Flash Sensor" to Measure Heat/Humidity Inside Protective Suits
Wearable “Flash Sensor” to Measure Heat/Humidity Inside Protective Suits

Attention sensor fans! The protective suits worn by Ebola caregivers in West Africa get HOT! The heat and moisture buildup reduce work time to a paltry 40 to 60 minutes per shift. Maker solutions such as this Flash Sensor, prototyped by Kailey Shara, are helping.

Caregivers on the front line of the Ebola crisis are torn between two competing priorities. On the one hand they want to help the sick as long as possible; on the other hand they need to limit their time inside the protective suit. With the buildup of their internal body temperature they get fatigued, their judgement becomes impaired, and eventually they can suffer from heat stroke. The impulse to keep working can lead to bad consequences and the results can be tragic. Mistakes will be made.

Rather than the caregiver managing this for themselves why not reveal their thermal conditions to the people around them? By making this information visible to others, the caregiver community can watch out for one another and keep each other safe. That was the idea at the core of the project.

Nicole Daphne Tricoukes and Kailey Shara
Nicole Daphne Tricoukes and Kailey Shara

The starting point for this project was Carbon Origins’ Apollo micro controller board with eleven sensors, wireless (BLE and WiFi) and a little OLED screen. Since Kailey designed this board she was quite proficient with it. Using Apollo’s temperature and humidity sensors she wrote code to display these metrics on the little 128 x 64 pixel screen. The idea was to slip this into an inside pocket in the suit behind a transparent window so it could be seen outside but still detect conditions inside the suit.

When the caregiver puts on their protective suit is when they would activate the sensor. Under safe heat and humidity conditions the Sensor Flasher would display numbers as seen above while pulsing an audible tone. As conditions worsen in the suit the pulse rate would increase in pitch and frequency. When conditions become dangerous the display would begin to flash alerting the people around them that action needs to be taken. With the Flasher Sensor the caregiver community is empowered to take care of their own.

This is just one wonderful example of what could be done with sensors, actuators and micro controllers to help Fighting Ebola. More could be done to improve conditions with protective suits. More could be done to provide care while reducing direct exposure to the sick. More could be done to remotely measure, collect and analyze patient data. A wide range of problems could be addressed by those with ideas and electronic prototyping skills.

We have less than a week to go in the Grand Challenge against Ebola.

This is a rare opportunity for makers to have significant impact.

Let’s show the world how we can help! #FightingEbola

0 thoughts on “Makers Against Ebola – Flash Sensor

  1. Why don’t the medical workers just wear icepacks?
    Ice pack vests are already available for mascot costumes and can be easily found online.

  2. It’s great to make it easier to respond to overheating, but it would be even better to prevent it in the first place. I suggest giving them CoreControl units or similar, which take heat directly out of the user’s blood. Those might impede use of the hands, but they could be put on the feet or something, or they could be external to the suit—I expect the suit is not particularly thermally insulating but just prevents convection and radiation.

    Also, didn’t this very blog have a project a couple of months ago involving a fan and thermoelectric cooler mounted on the wrist? That could easily be adapted, I think. Instead of putting the TEC in contact with the skin, put it in contact with the inside of the suit (possibly a metallic section of the suit for better thermal conductance) and use it with a fan to cool the air inside the suit.

    Or get some of this cooling towel material , put it on the outside of the suits, and soak it with water periodically. That might be a bad idea given that they’re working with a virus, but they presumably already have biohazard mitigation procedures for the suits, so I think it could be manageable.

    Also, I just looked at the Apollo, and it looks really cool.

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