'Paper Watch' combines 3D printing and household materials in cheap alternative to Apple Watch

Researchers in Saudi Arabia have invented a cheap, easy alternative to the Apple Watch that could make fitness tracking affordable to consumers worldwide.
Meet the “paper watch,” a wearable device that combines common household items such as aluminum foil and sponges with silicon-based soft sensors. All materials are housed in a nifty 3D printed watch casing.
Although “paper watch” may be a bit of a misnomer – in its current stage, the device doesn’t tell time – the easily assemblage gadget comes equipped with all the health monitoring capabilities of designer smartwatches from Apple and Samsung, minus the thousand dollar price tag.
Body temperature, sweat levels, heart rate, and blood pressure can all be tracked from the simple paper watch, which allows wearers to replace soft-sensor components whenever they wear out.
And with prototypes costing only $25 USD, the new gizmo could give high-end brands like Apple a run for their money. The device’s inventors at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have even vowed to slash the already low cost over the next several years.
“I really would like to disrupt the technology world by making technologies available to everyone, especially those who cannot afford them,” says Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, an electrical engineer at KAUST. “My objective is to reduce the price [by] $5 per year in the next five years until it reaches to a point where literally everyone has one.”
The impressively low price is due to the device’s simple construction, which involves basic items found around the house. KAUST engineers create temperature and humidity sensors by using a silver ink pen on Post-It Notes. Pressure sensors are made using aluminum foil, double-sided tape, and microfiber cleaning wipes. These cheap, recyclable sensors are then arranged in a single, bottom layer.
A second layer consists of readout circuitry for the sensors, followed by a third layer that contains an ultra-thin silicon-based microprocessor chip. These layers are in turn covered by circuitry for the battery and power management. Finally, a top layer includes an RFID tag, made once again by drawing on a Post-It Note with silver ink pen and attaching a flexible radio chip. The whole thing gets housed within a basic 3D printed watch casing.
The paper watch has been subjected to rigorous testing, with results showing the prototype to nearly match the accuracy Apple and Samsung’s smartwatches.
Still, the KAUST team plans to continue improving the paper watch’s performance. The paper watch is currently undergoing software testing, with an eye towards pairing the device with users’ smartphones.
Next up, Hussain and his colleagues hope to start a spin-off venture focused on outfitting the elderly population with affordable health monitors. In the meantime, they’re considering adding timekeeping capabilities to the paper watch, as suggested by the name.
“Of course, ‘paper watch’ is a catch phrase, but adding clock capability is easy and we are on that,” says Hussein.
Check out the January issue of the “Advanced Materials Technologies” journal for all the details of the KAUST team’s work.