A disposable medical vital sign monitoring system has emerged in academia so small it can fit onto a bandage, be manufactured in high volume and cost less than a postage stamp.

The tiny system gathers pulse rate, as well as some components of an EKG, and can detect atrial fibrillation, making heart monitoring one obvious application.

The Oregon State University device eventually could serve dementia patients by measuring EEG signals in the brain. The device also measures physical activity, like a pedometer, which could improve such things as weight-loss programs. Measurements of perspiration and temperature might also provide indication of infection or disease onset.

Current vital sign monitoring technologies tend to be bulky and costly, which limits their usefulness. Current monitors also require batteries. The new disposable device runs off energy harvested from mobile phones in the vicinity. The development team, led by Patrick Chiang, associate professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, says the new system-on-a-chip cuts size, weight, power consumption and cost by a factor of 10.

The goal, says OSU colleague and researcher Lingli Xia, is to build a real-time health monitoring system that can help providers transition to personalized health care and "meet the demands of an aging population" without increasing cost.