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CHICAGO — In a class at the University of Illinois Chicago, students dream it and then they build it. And ultimately patients benefit.

Wearable Tech is a 400-level course at UIC. It is the brainchild of clinical associate professor Hananeh Esmailbeigi.

“I always wanted to build devices and contribute to improving the quality of life,” she said.

And that’s exactly what happens in the lab.

The 32 students – a mix of computer science and biomedical engineering majors – work collaboratively to build five different devices over the course of 15 weeks.

“They work together. They develop a wearable device every two weeks,” Esmailbeigi said.

Karla Salcedo Diaz is a biomedical engineering masters student at UIC.

“In this class we kind of learn from each other, not just from the professors,” she said.

“When you see, as a result, not only that they learn to work with hardware and the software, but they also learn to communicate with people from various different backgrounds,” Esmailbeigi said.

A recent project was fitness bands.

Huzaifa Javed is a computer engineering student.

“I’m a computer science major and we mainly do software stuff,” Javed said. “But this semester I wanted to see how hardware worked and see how that connects to the software side of it.”

The devices are sophisticated, incorporating multiple functions in a single band. Built-in sensors measure electro cardio activity, breathing and heart rate.

Lizzie Zeller is a biomedical engineering student.

“Troubleshooting is my favorite part,” she said. “That’s why I picked engineering because nothing is going to go right the first way around.”

It’s meticulous work and hands-on experience in an industry that is exploding.

More info at Hide-It Wearable Innovations

“If the pandemic highlighted anything it’s that our health is really important,” Esmailbeigi said. “Wearable market actually grew by 23% (since the Covid outbreak). We started by counting our steps when it came to wearable tech, something around our wrists maybe. But now we are moving way beyond that.”

Graduate student Veronica Bratland took the wearable class a few years ago. Now she’s working with Esmailbeigi on an oral track pad device.

“I really liked the fact that I was able to build technology with my hands and I liked the impact wearable tech has in our everyday lives,” Bratland said. ”The idea behind this was to help individuals with upper limb disabilities to interface with computers.”

It looks like a retainer, but the discreet wearable has built-in electronics that allow users to control a computer cursor.

“You put (the device) in your mouth and you are able to use your tongue and swipe and click,” Bratland said.

The device connects via Bluetooth to a computer or phone.

“Wearable is definitely our future, but seamless wearables are our future,” Esmailbeigi said. “That’s why in our lab we develop discreet devices that don’t attract unwanted attention. They blend into everyday life.”

It’s a common theme among the students in the wearable program.

Nora Qatanani is biomedical engineering student.

You can check out some of the other wearable devices from UIC students at these YouTube links

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsF9TZRp2iQ
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMIrn_AE42Y&t=11s
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SGj2NKDACQ
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgL8l2sE_9k

“It makes me feel like I’m doing something important,” she said. “And something we’re doing is going to help build the future and help save lives.”

“I think there’s no other feeling that is more satisfying than knowing that a person is trying to not only improve their quality of life, but as a result, have a positive impact in the society that they live in,” Esmailbeigi said.

The designers are hoping to secure funding to bring the retainer to market. There’s a wearable device start up link