Hackaday Prize Entry: The World’s First Tampon Monitor

[Amanda], [Jacob], [Katherine], and [vyshaalij] had a class project for their ‘Critical Making’ class at UC Berkeley. The task was to design a ‘Neo-Wearable’ that would fulfill an unmet need. Realizing women make up about 50% of the population and experience monthly periods for about half of their lives, they decided to make what can only be described as a tampon monitor. It’s a small device that monitors the… uh… ‘fullness’ of a tampon. Yes, it’s wearable technology that is actually useful, and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The my.Flow, as the team are calling it, uses mechanical means to measure the saturation level of a tampon. Why would anyone want to do this? Because of leakage, anxiety, and risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

A ‘smart’ tampon needs some electronics, and the team’s solution to this is rather ingenious. They’re using a small, flat, wearable clip that attaches to the user’s undergarments and is connected to the tampon by an elongated tail.

Already the team is seeing a lot of success – the market research for this product showed a whopping 82% of women are ready to buy a product that would help prevent TSS. This fledgling startup was picked up by the HAX accelerator and moved to China to bring this product to life. It’s a great idea, and also a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

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45 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: The World’s First Tampon Monitor

  1. it’s one of those ideas, where in hindsight it easily seems so evident… could its previous non-existence be explained simply by engineers being mostly male, especially in the past? good project!

      1. Yeah. When I had read the title it seemed like a joke, but when I got to the part what it actually does – simply ingenious.
        It seems this “male perspective” really is a thing…

  2. I hope they can get the funding to run the medical trials needed to prove the TSS prevention claim. Perhaps they can partner with an existing company that has the people and infrastructure in place to run such trials? I’m sure they can demonstrate there is a profit in doing so.

    It is the same problem all of these medical related start-ups face, validation of their product claims in an industry dominated my huge multinationals and ridged certification or approval programs. It operates at a scale the not even sites like Kick-starter can touch.

    1. Isn’t TSS caused by the length of time it is present within the body, i.e. the content has gone bad, rather than how full it is? Surely this would be easier to monitor with just a reminder on your phone, rather than loads of long wires attached to a device under your clothes?

      1. Whatever solution you sell if it is touted as a medical cure of anything you have to be able to prove it and that costs a lot of time and money.

        You’d probably have better results adding probiotics and or bacteriophages to the product, better for the environment too, less plastic and batteries to throw away. Either way the biggest barrier is certification.

          1. Normally an FDA classification II is easy to get per FDA 801.430, but in this case, the design results in an interesting problem. The sensor being physically connected to the alarm device presents some sterilization and classification issues.

      1. Would likely be better to say “… can help prevent TSS….” than to say it outright prevents TSS.

        The only things that can really claim that are not using tampons or changing them frequently, as in several times per day, and night. The compromise between those two is using pads. Or so says my wife.

  3. My thoughts during reading in order:
    1. Hoax
    2. Clickbaiting
    3. It seems to me that the following is a contradiction in principle: Mathematically/electronically highly skilled people develop new products that meet the needs of the many.

  4. TSS is the least problem for women as it occurs very rarely and can easily be prevented by changing tampons frequently (say, 3 times a day) and keep them clean before and during inserting. The manufacturer should write this on the packaging, rather than letting this device monitor the “fullness”.
    Besides that, the fullness doesn’t relate directly to the risk of TSS and also depends on the material the tampon is made of. The infection by staphylococcus aureus could easily take place on a non-full but old tampon. The rest of the grossy details can ben imagined.
    I simply don’t believe that 82% of the women would buy something like this to prevent a non-existent problem, let alone having a wire haning out.
    However, I am interested in how they detect the fullness as I can imagine there are better fields in which this device or measurement would be interesting, like underneath bandages over wounds, military wounds or for monitoring patients in situations where there is less care available.
    So not a bad invention/idea, only the field of application is a bit… odd.

    1. I’m with you on the cup fullness. That’s a thing my girlfriend would enjoy knowing.

      Tampons are so archaic and bad for the evironment, I’m amazed they are still a thing.

      1. that depends on what you make them out of and how, tampons arent inherently bad for the environment, though most made today probably have quite a heavy footprint (i dont know, havent seen any data on tampon production)

        1. Cotton. You can get unbleached ones for people who care like that. And I can’t really see the point of bleaching them in the first place, not like people are gonna see them. I imagine they’ll decompose quick as most organic matter in the drains. Especially when they’re used and very, erm, biologically active.

    2. Just to point out….

      In a high security environment this might not fly well (excuse any pun you might find). My cash earner works in a building where there are metal detectors, X-rays, pat downs, whatever. I’ve heard hilarious stories of women (visitors and employees alike) trying to sneak in vibrating eggs and dildos inside their body. Besides being intensely gross, I’m sure the officer doing the search really appreciates it. The most hilarious was a a leather and steel cock ring with leash someone tried to hide in their underwear.

      Can you imagine having this thing riding around next to a bloody pad in 82% of the women out there? TSA can’t find shit, but you can bank they’ll find a device like this in the 82% out there.

  5. TSS warnings have been on tampon packages since as long as I can remember, I doubt anyone who uses tampons doesn’t know the risk and how to mitigate the risk.
    I don’t know a single woman who would pay for something like this maybe if they were very cheap or given away with packages of tampons. However, if it monitored mooncup fullness, maybe it would be useful.
    I think this fails in the whole “fulfill an unmet need” part of the project.

  6. Being a dork I would try this were I plumbed differently. I respect the surveys done though it would be interesting to see exactly how the questions were phrased. In my experience what I would like is not mainstream, and not everyone or even a few think everything needs a monitor, IMHO few would even want a monitor past a single novelty use, but that is marketing’s problem. More importantly I think there would be resistance on the price point that would kill it being profitable. The data(most data) is just not interesting enough to most people, while it might prevent a leak so would taking the time to switch out.
    It set me to wondering though if anyone has studied the health benefits vs overconfidence of adding silver, copper, or probiotics to tampons to reduce the risk of TSS. Vaginal mucous being a pretty finely tuned biochemistry of pH and other factors is not something to mess with though so perhaps especially the metal ions would leave a sterilized wasteland ready to be colonized by the first yeast which comes along.
    Another thought is that the tampon have chemo sensors to detect and aleart/alarm certian toxins which are produced by bacteria and which induce toxic shock, or even transmit blood sugar for diabetics wearing a insulin pump.
    Tampons are kind of a kludgy body hack, like condoms, bras, jock straps, contact lenses, maxi pads, etc; they make life easier but especially like contacts require regular maintenance, they are wide open to improvement, the hurdle is public adoption of the improvement.

  7. This sounds fascinating and a great application of technology. I am however a little skeptical of the market research mentioned: “Already the team is seeing a lot of success – the market research for this product showed a whopping 82% of women are ready to buy a product that would help prevent TSS. ”

    82% is huge. If it’s really that big, why haven’t all the big manufacturers (Tampax, Playtex, etc) already built similar products?

    1. “A product that would help prevent TSS” and “some weird plastic thing you actually shove up your fanny” are not necessarily the same thing. Looks more than a bit intrusive, and who’s gonna want wires dangling out their mooie? Any actual women, there must be one or two, wanna comment on this?

      For the men, imagine it’s something you stick up your bum, all day long, for days, every month, and it reduces your chance of getting an inflamed prostate. You have wires coming out of it to a box in your pants. Would you?

      1. Oh yes… wouldn’t many plastics, leaching into the vagina, increase the chances of cancer in somewhere already quite susceptible to it? Wouldn’t it cause mechanical damage as well? That can cause cancer, and certainly soreness and pain, the wires as well.

        This seems like a terrible idea from someone who knows more about microcontrollers than owning a vagina.

        Wait, I just asked my female friend. First reaction, she laughed. “Maybe if you’re paranoid. But you just have to remember to change your tampon.”

  8. 82% could be as few as nine out of eleven (rounded). The other percentage, 77%, could be as few as seven out of nine (truncated). I would be interested in knowing the actual sample sizes used to produce both statistics.

  9. Is there anything that mentions what the device actually senses? (I don’t see it in the linked material)

    Is it just plain old DC resistance between two wires (eeeewww…)? Galvanic cell (double eeewww)? AC impedance? Dielectric constant?

    Since water at body temperature has a dielectric constant of >70 times that of air, or 20-40 times that of cellulose, measurement of dielectric constant would be a excellent way to do quantify liquid load, but the (meagre) description of the instrumentation makes me think they didn’t do it that way.

    1. Actually I must comment my own post :) This is kinda inventing how to install motor and internet to spinning wheel(that thing what you use to make string). It is great idea to improve spinning wheel. But then you realize that spinning wheel it self is obsolete. So what is point to improve something what is so obsolete and impractical compared to modern technology that even with internet it is still just sad blast from the past?

      1. It could be that you are blending multiple contexts and if you looked at all of the different use-case scenarios separately you may find one where the “best” solution is not superior, such as when access to clean water is limited?

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