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Diaper Detective smart pad senses dehydration, infection

Students at the University of California at Riverside have invented a cheap, easy and effective way to analyze urine in both infants and adults.

Diaper Detective team member Melissa Cruz expains how to read the smart pad. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

It seems like everything is getting smarter these days. Cars are driving themselves. Gadget bags are alerting us when we step away from them. Even toilet seats are getting embedded with smart tech. So it should come as no surprise that something that touches all of our lives at one point or another is also getting smart: diapers.

Unlike other smart diapers we've seen that use electronics or QR codes to communicate valuable biological information that can be gleaned from analyzing urine, a team of students at UC Riverside has come up with a much simpler method to do the same thing.

They've built a pad that goes in the bottom of the diaper and changes color when the wearer is dehydrated or suffering from a bacterial infection.

When urine hits the pad, it is funneled to two different sensors that work in a similar fashion to urine test strips. The first sensor is infused with a chemical known as Bromophenol Blue that turns yellow if the urine is acidic, an indicator of dehydration. The second sensor contains something known as a Griess reagent that turns pink if nitrites are present in the urine, which could indicate a bacterial infection.

Because the pad, which measures 2x5 inches, doesn't rely on electronics, is easy to interpret, and costs only 34 cents to make, the students who invented the Diaper Detective think it could have applications in developing countries. "The beauty of this is that it solves a huge problem with simplicity," Veronica Boulos, one of the team members, told UCR Today.

The creators also say that the indicators in the pad could be customized depending on the particular health needs of a region. "For example, if a region had a history of child mortality caused by kidney complications, the device can be modified to detect excess proteins in the urine," reads a paper about the invention sent to CNET. "This will result in a potential expansion of the diagnostic market available to developing countries." The pad can be used in diapers meant for both infants and adults.

The patent-pending Diaper Detective won a $10,000 third-place award in a competition hosted by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. "It would be great if we could see it commercialized and on shelves in stores," Boulos told the Los Angeles affiliate of CBS News.