This tiny chip is used in a tooth-mounted sensor that can read your saliva

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Miniaturizing technology is an ongoing challenge for wearable device makers. The smaller the device, the better it is for portability. The thing is, that usually comes at the expense of battery life. However, Silicon Labs hopes its latest xG27 chipset is small and power-efficient enough to spark big ideas in the medical technology space — like a saliva reader so small it can be mounted on a tooth.

According to Silicon Labs, the xG27 family of SoCs consists of the BG27 and the MG27. Both are built around the ARM Cortex M33 processor, but the BG27 focuses on Bluetooth, while the MG27 supports Zigbee and other protocols. As for how small these chips are, the xG27 SoCs range from 2mm squared to 5mm squared – about the width of the tip of a No. 2 pencil to the width of the pencil itself. It’s not the world’s smallest Bluetooth chip, says Silicon Labs spokesman Sam Ponedal The edge that is only with “fractions of a millimeter”.

Pencil for scale.
Image: Silicon Labs

This is technically neat, but what’s cooler is that the BG27 is currently being used to develop an actual product – the aforementioned tooth-mounted wearable sensor. Lura Health, a medical device maker, says it uses the chip for its “saliva diagnostic sensor.” The sensor is small enough to be glued to a tooth (or placed in a ‘smart holder’) with the intention of constantly monitoring a patient’s saliva. That, in turn, would allow dentists and clinicians to potentially test for more than 1,000 health conditions.

This wouldn’t be the first time a company has promoted this kind of futuristic health tech. But while most attempts are thwarted by the FDA regulatory process, Lura Health claims it has just completed clinical trials for the sensor with UConn Orthodontics and is currently preparing to undergo the FDA regulatory process. If all goes well, the product could hit the market within 12-18 months.

As for other use cases, Silicon Labs says its chips are good candidates for medical patches, continuous glucose monitors and portable EKGs. That’s because they can operate on as little as 0.8 volts and switch to a “shelf mode” that reduces energy consumption during transportation and shelf storage. These features aren’t as appealing in consumer wearables, but it opens the door to more wearables in hospitals and clinical settings.

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