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Future tech

Wearable tech’s new frontier: China-made smart tampons with real-time data tracking

Created by a team of Americans in Shenzhen, my.Flow senses the saturation level of the women’s sanitary product and alerts users to prevent leaks and infections

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 8:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 2:06pm

When American engineer Amanda Brief told her colleagues she was leaving her job to join a hardware accelerator in China, she was experiencing one of the most embarrassing moments a woman can face, but luckily her invention is designed to solve exactly that problem.

Brief and her University of California, Berkeley classmates designed the my.Flow tampon monitor to alert a user when their tampon is full and to prevent any leaks onto their clothing.

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In late April, Brief became the first person to test the menstrual flow tracker, removing the risk of the type of accident that had forced her to tie a sweater around her waist as she spoke to co-workers in January.

“I let [men] know that whether you know it or not, every woman in your life has or knows someone personally who has a menstruation mortification tale,” Brief says. “We just don’t talk about it.”

She says social taboos and shyness have meant the tech industry has mostly ignored services and products for the menstrual cycle.

The team chose to create a wearable for tampons, as 70 per cent of women in the United States use these sanitary products every month, yet are unable to see or feel if the tampon needs to be changed.

Sanitary protection retail sales stood at US$3 billion in the United States in 2014, up 2 per cent on the previous year, according to Euromonitor International.

Tampons designed by the my.Flow team of four incorporate a conductive thread that connects to a Bluetooth-enabled waistband clip to transmit data to a user’s phone.

Users can track how full their tampons are through the my.Flow app and custom alerts tell them when saturation reaches a selected percentage, Brief explains.

Data collected by the app will allow users to better understand their bodies, like a fitness tracker or sleep monitor, Brief adds.

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To prevent embarrassment, users can write their own text used for the my.Flow alerts so others who see their phones will see a message saying “Pick up coffee” or “Collect car”.

The team graduated this month from the Shenzhen-based accelerator Hax (previously known as HAXLR8R), which helps inventors develop their ideas into market-ready products, with a focus on robotics and health caretechnology.

Benjamin Joffe, general partner at Hax, says the accelerator’s Shenzhen location gives the 15 companies in each batch access to the electrical components readily available in the Pearl River Delta.

“It increases the speed by an order of magnitude. To get a PCB shipped to an office in the United States takes two weeks, but in Shenzhen it takes two days,” Joffe says.

Hopes high for gadgets of tomorrow

My.Flow is also designed to reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome, which has been associated with wearing tampons for too long, by alerting users when they have worn a tampon for the maximum eight hours.

Brief says the start-up plans to launch the product on the market in 2017, first in the United States and then in Europe.

The waistband clip wearable will be sold for US$49 and the accompanying tampons will be sold at no more than US$3 more than a normal box, according to Brief.

She adds that the team plans to launch a subscription service for tampons and a second generation of the technology will be able to track yeast infection, STIs and bacterial infections.

Brief was so excited by her first test of my.Flow that she took a screenshot when the saturation hit 42 per cent.

“It was like making history. It was really exciting to finally be able to not have to worry if I was going to leak and know my.Flow was taking care of it for me.”