Singapore and MIT have built a new sensor that can help nurses monitor intravenous (IV) drips remotely.

The tiny sensors can be placed in the IV tube to monitor how fast drugs are flowing through it. This will be connected to a unit that automatically re-adjusts the speed of flow. It can also set off an alarm to alert nurses if there is too much or too little medicine flowing through it.

The sensors were developed by researchers at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART).

They can help nurses becomes 30% more productive, SMART said. Nurses now have to check patients’ IV about once every hour or whenever the patient changes position, tweaking the rate of flow with a roller clamp. Inaccurate flow of IV drugs could be fatal.

Each sensor is the size of a speck on a Singapore 5 cents coin
Each sensor is the size of a speck on a Singapore 5 cents coin

The researchers were inspired by blind cave fish which have hundreds of tiny organs on their body to detect movement and pressure changes in the water.

The sensors cost less than S$1 per IV tube, and have to be disposed after every use. The researchers are now developing the speed adjusting unit, which will cost no more than S$120. The alarm would cost even less at S$30.

These are much cheaper than the tools used by Intensive Care Units in hospitals which can cost a few thousands of dollars, SMART said.