Wearable radar and AI technologies would eliminate traditional finger sticks. (Credit: University of Waterloo)

Researchers are developing new technology that would free people with diabetes from painful finger sticks typically used to monitor their blood sugar. A team has combined radar and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect changes in glucose levels without the need to draw blood several times a day.

The research involves collaboration with Google and German hardware company Infineon, which jointly developed a small radar device and sought input from select teams around the world on potential applications. The system under development uses the radar device to send high-frequency radio waves into liquids containing various levels of glucose and receive radio waves that are reflected back to it. Information on the reflected waves is then converted into digital data for analysis by machine-learning AI algorithms developed by the researchers.

The software is capable of detecting glucose changes based on more than 500 wave features or characteristics, including how long it takes for them to bounce back to the device. Initial tests with volunteers at the Research Institute for Aging in Waterloo achieved results that were 85 percent as accurate as traditional, invasive blood analysis. Next steps include refining the system to precisely quantify glucose levels and obtain results through the skin, which complicates the process.

The research team is also working with Infineon to shrink the radar device so that it is both low-cost and low-power. The data analyzed by AI algorithms is now sent wirelessly to computers, but the ultimate aim is self-contained technology similar to the smartwatches that monitor heart rate.