The Internet of Tampons

At the 2016 Hackaday Superconference, Amanda Brief and Jacob McEntire gave a talk on what they’ve been working on for the past few years. It’s My.Flow, the world’s first tampon monitor capable of tracking saturation, and eliminating anxiety, leakage, and infection. It’s better than a traditional tampon, and it’s one of the rare Internet of Things things that actually makes sense.

There’s a long history of technological innovation to deal with menstruation. What began with simply sending women out of the village for a week turned into a ‘sanitary belt’ after a few thousand years. This astonishing technological advance of treating women as people led to the pad, the cup, and eventually, the disposable tampon. Now My.Flow is applying modern electrochemical technology to move the state of the art forward.

There are three parts of My.Flow — the smartphone app, a tampon monitor, and the slightly modified tampons themselves. These modified tampons are just dumb sensors and are attached to the small, clip-on tampon monitor to provide a Bluetooth connection to the phone.

As with any Internet of Things thing, one question must be asked: why on earth would you do this? No one will ever watch YouTube videos on their fridge, and a smart toaster oven is useful if and only if it can be hacked into a solder paste reflow oven. Here, My.Flow succeeds in building something useful. My.Flow will track and predict a menstrual flow, predict ovulation, when a period will start, and the amount of time left until a tampon should be removed.

In the talk, Amanda and Jacob compared the My.Flow to the ubiquitous Fitbit. In our opinion, it’s an apt description — half the population deals with menstruation and the My.Flow is a fantastically innovative piece of technology we might be seeing everywhere soon.

119 thoughts on “The Internet of Tampons

    1. He’s really good at bringing the e-rage at commenters though, even though the commenters actually do bring a great deal of value to the site.

      Seriously though, first automatic astronaut waste disposal, now IoTampons. These are areas that actually do need innovation. Though why are we improving tampons to begin with (and why is making them e-tampons the proposed solution)? They sell right now because they are cheap and provide an improvement to the status quo.

      But that said, is there seriously no better method to deal with the issue of monthly menstrual flow than a chunk of cotton as a mechanical barrier? Many women have found success by simply “turning off” their period, through either hormonal birth control methods or menopause.

      That said, many IUD’s cost over $1000 in most every state in the US. That buys a lot of tampons. What would the cost be of these devices?

        1. Years of working at a health food store that sold cups, plus two ladies in my life that gave 8 years of input on this subject, cups provide low cost, already existing solutions to many of the concerns listed in the project. This is just a much more consumable variant. And more expensive. Cups haven’t caught on as much due to a lack of marketing wank (why would any business look to sell a once every 5 year purchase of $50 vs a once a month purchase of $10-20?) and lack of education on options other than tampons or pads.

          Based on that and the article here on Hackaday about smart wear being underutilized and only accepted by a small subset of the market, I wish the team developing this the best of luck and also hope that they look into other solutions as well.

          1. I’ve heard totally opposite of cups. My wife used one for a while, and she is the queen of hygiene and cleanliness and she thinks they are terrible. A lot of messy fuss for an infection, no matter how well you clean them in your own home, let alone the places women end up having to deal with them, like gas station restrooms….

      1. Hormonal birth control doesn’t stop periods – it prevents implantation after fertilisation. Of course, sufficient quantities of the right type of hormones *will* stop menstruation – but that brings some unpleasant side-effects. Fighting the body’s natural processes will always bring side-effects. Sometimes (depending almost entirely on the indvidual) those side-effects are negligible, and sometimes they’re significant.

        And IUDs don’t stop menstruation, either – they also interfere with implantation.

        Cool fact – high-intensity athletes tend to stop menstruating when their body fat percentage drops below a certain level.

          1. IUDs aren’t supposed to stop menstruation. A woman I knew quite well carried on having periods with an IUD in.

            AIUI, The Pill stops you releasing ova because the body thinks it’s already pregnant. So periods stop too. Sometimes if a woman’s going on holiday at the wrong time of the month, and wants to spend time in the swimming pool, she can keep taking (or start taking) the pill just for that purpose.

        1. Another less fun fact it is frequent for athletes who have stopped menstruating to shortly thereafter start breaking their embrittled bones from high stress activity, the body is working far outside of spec when fat becomes too low and menstruation stops, that menopause is a symptom not a feature.

      2. Big problems for some women when it comes to hormone based birth control: weight gain, lethargy, little to no libido, and an increased chance of having a stroke. Not to mention it tends to present a false sense of security for pregnancy prevention, especially since any disruption of the dosing schedule drastically decreases the effectiveness.
        While it is a good solution for many, special care must be taken, as with any long term treatment.

    1. Cue identity politics nuts not missing an opportunity to politicise and sew division.

      P.S. Just for clarity, any joke/critique of a gendered product does not equate to hatred of a whole gender. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Because you’re bright, aren’t you? And you don’t make knee jerk dumb assertions, do you?

    2. I wish the same filters that detect spam could inform someone posting like dave they have just embarrassed themselves more than they’ve offended anyone else at the time of hitting “post comment”.

      “I’m sorry dave. You’ve embarrassed yourself. For reasons that can only be attributed to human error.”

  1. “There are three parts of My.Flow — the smartphone app, a tampon monitor, and the slightly modified tampons themselves. These modified tampons are just dumb sensors and are attached to the small, clip-on tampon monitor to provide a Bluetooth connection to the phone.”

    I suppose no crazier an idea than Depends™ with an “accident” detector.

    1. My guess would be a perceived mandate to bring forth a PC level of overcompensation in an effort to avoid being labeled a misogynist but instead comes across completely differently?

    2. Probably because 1) most IOT devices don’t make sense (as called out in the article) and 2) this actually does make sense. I know a lot of women that don’t sleep well on their periods due to fear of a midnight leak. They also tend to have a lot of avoidable bathroom trips just to check saturation level of their tampon. As I understand it, this would be awesome.

      Why did this have to digress so quickly into a conversation about gender politics? The phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind.

      1. I don’t agree with Brian’s choice of words or actions sometimes however your comment was completely unnecessary at this point in time. You didn’t even have a valid reason to point at Brian. Please think twice before you try to push someone down to satiate your superiority complex. You now look smaller to everyone reading your comment and have added toxicity to hackaday.

    3. Because the word “internet” is in fact really lame here. It has nothing to do with interest to women. The reason is that this is a very personal type of device and there is no need to have the internet involved; this should be done entirely over a PAN or LAN between the device and the app, there is no need to upload it to [somebody else’s computer].

      I can definitely see the utility in a tracker though. Recent conversation:
      Doctor: When was your last period?
      Wife: I don’t know… [looks at me]
      Me: [consulting tablet] [says date]
      Doctor: What did people do before technology?
      Me: Wrote it on a calendar at home and didn’t know when you asked.

      I personally am happy to collect medical information about myself and my family. If it is isn’t needed, great. If it is a hassle to record, it won’t happen. If it required uploading to the internet, I probably wouldn’t unless I already had a direct health concern at the time that I needed to track.

      Now, a toaster oven, people want that on the internet so that they can make sure it is turned off when they’re away from the house. That makes sense. I have in fact left home on an extended trip and wondered after leaving, “did I leave the coffee maker on?” That was in the dark ages when only fancy coffeemakers had an auto-off function. It turned out, I did not leave it on, and I worried needlessly. I would have enjoyed the first 2 days of my trip more if I had a way to resolve the anxiety directly simply by checking if it was on. So “internet of appliances” makes total sense. But tampons? When is a woman going to be away from herself, and also needing to check her tampon saturation? It seems unlikely that she would ever need to have the sensor reading, and have the app, but not be near enough to the sensor to do it without the internet. So it is naturally going to get laughed at if it is referred to in that way.

      IMO the lesson is that tacking hype/fad names to the end of everything does not always benefit all those things. The product type is here to stay, but likely without the internet-talk.

    1. Good thinking, but as far as cheap sensors it is competing with two pieces of wire, a transistor and two resistors. It isn’t likely to provide a good signal anyways, because the tampon progressively saturates. You probably want the sensor to have a big jump in gain over a small range. A soil sensor the useful readings are all at a much lower saturation level, and you want a more linear reading.

      And it will be too small to change the components and tune it.

    1. Why don’t diapers do this? Because diapers are ALWAYS wet or full. You might think that’s a joke, but no. No joke. As any parent knows, diapers ALWAYS need to be changed. Another thing is when babies pee, they’re not always awake, and the last thing you want to do is wake a baby up because your phone is vibrating because they pissed in the diaper you JUST put on them not 10 minutes ago. You basically let them marinate in their pee until they wake up hungry, THEN you change them. Otherwise you will never sleep or eat and will yourself die in a few short weeks. It’s also super easy to spot a wet diaper, as they’re HUGE, and many of them, especially for newborns, have a nice “yellow turns blue” strip to indicate wetness. Babies, and especially toddlers have a convenient feature of stinking to high heaven when their diapers are full, which is wirelessly detectable by all caregivers, whether they have the app installed or not. What we really need in this world is a mini cablebot that wields a baby bottle full or warm milk at 2:30 AM.

  2. My only and only question is why does the data “need” to be uploaded to the Internet at all ? Keeping it local would make more sense, less chance of a global data leak (no pun intended).

    1. “half the population deals with menstruation”

      Pretty sure all female babies, toddlers, pregnant women, women on hormonal birth control and post menopausal women are not currently dealing with this issue, among others.

      It’s really tempting to use such puffery (to be polite) when you are marketing your products but it’s also just blatantly *wrong*.

      2016 world population data has 1,737,968,426 women under the age of 15 and over the age of 50. Out of a total of 3,634,090,148 women.

      So it would be far more fair and accurate to say a quarter of the population might have to deal with menstruation because that isn’t counting anybody who is not dealing with menstruation for any reason other than age.

      That is still a very large market but being off by 1.7ish billion people in your estimates isn’t exactly coming across as fair or reasonable.

          1. :) I guess he figured that if he wrote an article about tampons the only thing to do is walk away and don’t even try to moderate the comments on that one.
            …Or maybe he’s getting ready to launch his kickstarter for a PVC compressed air tampon applicator.

          2. As a funny foot note… I keep coming back every couple days to see if hurricane Brian finally made landfall and laid waste to the comments…. so far it’s still sunny skies..

      1. That doesn’t really fix the numbers. It is a start; but then you have to go the other way and add in a lot of the men.

        I find it funny that you recognized how easy it is to paint numbers broadly out of a hat, but instead of learning the right lesson, you engage in the same thing and start trying to count. But it was pretty easy to find a blatantly *wrong* number in your puffery. To be polite[sic].

        If you meditate on the breadth of the phrase “deals with,” you might even discover that your number is off by much more than theirs. The one advantage they have is that they only indicate a very very small degree of precision when they say “half the population.” I don’t really know for sure that their precision is anything more than a set of “none, half, all” or something. I mean, however broad the precision could be, it is. Whereas you use really large numbers that contain precision of less than one PPM! Wow. You might have tried to sound over-mathy.

    2. That is my question with ALL this IoT stuff. Have a small server at home, i.e. the size of a RaspberryPi (or other fruit Pi) which manages this and send it e.g. an email (or SSH connection) for a request. I do not want all this data in a cloud (or several different clouds). If you have dynamic IP Adresses then use a DynDNS like service, but that is it. No more data into foreign hands!

      1. Yus, wasn’t. “currently dealing” it was deals, as in at some time and place, though it could have been qualified with “at some time in their life.” for the people who can’t infer implications from context. Then we could have saved half the comment space for something more insightful.

  3. I assume that “modified tampons” will be made by one factory, will have proprietary connectors and will be expensive.
    It would be cheaper, simpler and would make a lot more sense to use two needle-shaped electrodes inserted into normal tampon and connected to conductivity meter with beeper to signal, when tampon is full. I’d call it “Stab-a-Tampon menstrual monitoring system”…

    1. If you done some research on the family and the back story of clock boy, I don’t think you would be making this comment. I suppose the media has a knack for giving people snippets of stories to fit a narrative and I mean both sides of the news left and right wing media when I say this.

      1. Are you a tad autistic? I’m just asking because you seem to have difficulty with the more subtle aspects of English language usage. I don’t mean that as an insult either, I’m just wondering if that is the cause of your inability to understand my snarky observation.

        1. Are you a bit of a [pejorative]? I’m just asking because using the name of a medical condition to insult people on the internet shows a shocking level of ignorance about the subtleties of the words you choose. I don’t mean it as an insult either, I mean, some people are born [pejorative]s. I’m just wondering if that is the cause of your [pejorative] behavior.

        2. @[Dan]

          In the current DSM, Autism is considered a difference of skills rather than deficiency of skill.

          An example [Dan] would be – If we put you beside a person who is more displaced on the autistic scale, for a maths test then you will look like the grade 2 student that didn’t learn their times tables.

          In any case there are a lot of people here that have a different language as their primary language.

          1. Er, no. Autistics generally have lower IQs. For every Rain Man there’s a dozen sat in the corner hitting themselves.

            Sure most autistics don’t have extremely low IQs, just a bit below the normal average. But it’s no kind of blessing. And it’s certainly a deficiency, in skills to do with understanding and communicating with people, skills most of us have innately. Missing those skills can have a strong negative effect on someone’s life, though special education can mediate that. It’s very definitely an affliction, not “just different”.

          2. Yes, but the headline you’d need is “Autistics more likely to be scientists and mathematicians”, not “Mathematicians and scientists more likely to be autistic”. You’d also have to control for lots of confounding factors, one being the environment scientists and mathematicians work in, where precision and correctness are more important than getting along with people. This difference in social environment might mean people with autism are less likely to fail and get into trouble in those jobs. IE, their deficiencies aren’t as important as they would be, say, in a job where personal interaction is important.

            If you’re born with autism, on average you do worse than normal people, not better. The statistical outliers don’t change that.

          3. Quote: [Greenaum] “If you’re born with autism, on average you do worse than normal people, not better. The statistical outliers don’t change that.”

            Oh-so-true. But it is it because of the Autism/Asperger or is it because of the uneducated and misguided beliefs held by other people about these conditions?

            Most of the rest of your last comment was just a deficit model based on the pretense being the same as the outcome by suggesting that those who have these conditions are not “normal” and are failures even if they are *successful* scientists.

  4. Neat. This is an area where there is a ton of room for innovation. Women’s basic struggles are not given nearly enough attention.

    Also to the idiots claiming only 20% or 30% of people deal with this, that’s like saying only 1% with 2% deal with dying. Sure you’re right if you are only counting today, but we’re talking about the facts of life! Think more broadly. Better yet, shut your yap.

    1. “…Also to the idiots claiming only 20% or 30% of people deal with this…”

      Are you responding to my post when I said it wasn’t half the country like the article said but more like 30% based on age (and that 30% of women who do menstruate don’t use a tampon)? I was correcting the article because it claimed half the country would use this.

      And I didn’t say it was ONLY a few women… on the contrary approximately 32 million women could potentially use this. That’s a pretty big market.

      Next time you tell someone to shut their yap learn to read what they are actually saying and don’t become a knee jerk reactionary.

    2. There is tons of room for innovation. I am not convinced that taking an existing idea (tampon) and adding the IoT tag to it is truly innovative or novel enough to be touted as a truly novel upgrade to things though.

      Only about 20% to as much as 25% of the current population deals with this as an active “problem” right now, true. That’s not downplaying that it is an issue for many of those women or that there are or should be better approaches to addressing it but it is also being accurate as to the scope of the issue. Half of the population isn’t dealing with this now. It’s not an issue for them and for many, it never will be again.

      Post menopausal women are unlikely to suddenly start having their periods again and it is also possible that many children ten or fifteen years from now don’t have to deal with it at all through hormonal birth control or other yet to be invented methods of only having periods when they are fertile and desire children and then turning them off after they give birth or decide to do so. That is entirely possible to do today using current medical technology at a somewhat low cost (a few thousand dollars) over the lifespan of the person, prior to them reaching menopause.

    1. I’m going to guess the answer is “yes,” because the phrase “no marketing bullshit” sure gets my barnyard manure detector going.

      If there wasn’t going to be marketing bullshit, there wouldn’t be marketing, so you could just say “no marketing.” It is one of those phrases that is always going to be untrue. Where I come from we call those ones “horseshit” though.

    1. http://hackaday.com/2016/07/13/hackaday-prize-entry-the-worlds-first-tampon-monitor/

      Here, you wrote it yourself for Christ’s sake. It was a Hackaday Prize entry. Was a terrible idea in July, still is.

      I imagine spending her whole post-puberty life menstruating, a woman would get a pretty good idea of when it’s time to change it. This might help you not forget to take the old tampon out, but only because you won’t be able to walk properly while it’s in.

      1. “I imagine spending her whole post-puberty life menstruating, a woman would get a pretty good idea of when it’s time to change it.”

        Here we are, a bunch of men sitting around discussing the intricacies of women’s menstruation. Could we get any ladies in the room to offer rebuttals to our mansplaining with real facts/experiences/reality-checks?

        1. (also, I’ve gleaned from all my discussions with Actual Live Women that you might get a fairly good sense of when to change, but periods love to be super random and ruin your day/panties/social-life. But what do I know. Would love some real perspective here.)

          1. “Mansplaining”? You can actually, y’know, talk to women. They don’t mind. No they’re not really random and are mostly just a pain because of cramps, though of course that varies from woman to woman. I have a friend with endometriosis and we’ve talked about that, that can be really bad. Though she still goes skiing in tight white pants of course.

            In my life I’ve been accused of “mansplaining” once, by a patronising guy. Well, twice, now.

        2. The wife says it’s unnecessary and no way she’s shoving one of those up herself.
          And that’s from someone who asked me to wire the plants with moisture sensors, so she’s not tech-adverse.
          Also, the IoT angle seems unnecessarily intrusive.

  5. So, this is just another excuse to add technology where it isn’t needed? To paraphrase the article “another useless IoT ‘innovation'”
    Of all the women I know, most don’t use tampons. The ones I showed this to who do, found the idea amusing and have no use for it. I don’t live in the US, so maybe there is an additional cultural element to this that I am unaware of.

  6. If your are not planning to have kids in the very near future (let’s say 3 months to start making them), it’s a very good option to just stop the whole menstruation cyclus. There is no reason to have your body prepare the womb every month when there is a snowball’s chance in hell that there will arrive a fertilized egg. Nowadays women simply plan their moment of having children and that’s it. In the mean time it is very uncomfortable to have the monthly stress of the whole process, making women quite inefficient (and annoying) during at least a weak per month.
    There is, however, a psycholocical ánd commercial reason for women to not do this.
    Women tend to believe that it is unhealthy to pause the menstruational cyclus. That’s not true. The body regulates the process by hormones and taking the pill every day of the month, thus not stopping, makes the womb believe everything is just fine. Only when the hormens stop flowing, it wakes up and prepares itself to refresh. There is nothing unhelathy since girls up to about 12 years old don’t menstruate either. And after about 50 years again stop menstruating.
    Commercial reasons are that the market of these sanitary products is gigantic; every woman between 12 and 50 has t buy them every month so there is a constant flow (unintended pun) of these products. Telling women to stop the menstruation by using the pill every day of the month or use another product under the skin that gives hormones every day, would cause an enormous drain (not again!) in the selling of sanitary products.
    In my opinion it would be best to advise women to start using a daily and constant dose of hormones to stop the monthly bussiness of menstruation and prevent them from taking pills against pain, toxic shocks and ofcourse ruining the well-being of us, men. But you won’t hear that on Hackaday, right?

    1. LOL: “There is nothing unhelathy since girls up to about 12 years old don’t menstruate either.”
      Is this sarcasm? Oh wait, it would seem a *huge* percentage of our population thinks like this…
      So, let’s clarify some things for them, since you’re clearly joking:
      Science, Medicine! Never wrong, never short-sighted… The list is darn-near infinite. Remember when formula was deemed healthier than breast-milk, and suddenly we had a generation of kids with incredible immune-systems? Remember how DDT brought back the Bald Eagles? Remember how BPH and Yellow-5 resulted in generations of uber-masculine men? Neither do I…
      So let’s continue with this little game… and the claim that it’s OK to mess with nature because nature does allegedly the same, with things like *not* giving menstrual cycles to prepubescents… So, if I get this straight, what you’re saying is… we’d have high rates of healthy children born of women 12years and 3months old? And no complications for those mothers?
      Do we need to look at this differently? What happens to a muscle that’s unused for some time… atrophy. It takes time and practice to revive an atrophied muscle, and most people never revive them to their pre-atrophy state. And what’s the most complicated muscle in our body? Our brain… And how much of our brain handles things completely subconsciously…? Things we mightn’t even notice were atrophied, nor know how to exercise if they were?
      And in-reverse, what happens to muscles which are developing? E.G. Children aren’t born-walkers, it takes time and practice to develop the skill and strength. Then why’s nature give ’em birth with legs in the first place, mightaswell sprout *after* birth, from the logic you’re using. So, three months is enough to develop the body’s birthing-skills/muscles/subconscious?
      And, for prospective mothers whose bodies have been, essentially, “addicted” to unnatural hormone-levels for years, no withdrawal-symptoms…? Alcoholics don’t have to go through 12-step programs that could take years, and struggle the remainder of their life, their bodies “bounce back” to full health in only three months? Smokers who quit after several years are no longer prone to cancer, after only 3 months?
      Yep, turn it off and on as-needed. Great idea. Humanity never ceases to amaze me.

      1. I think you’re a bit overly alarmed, but generally speaking it’s a good principle not to fuck with things if you don’t need to. This especially applies to your body. There’s always some unforeseen side effect that pops up to bite you on the arse. Nearly every drug has side effects, and there’s been plenty of cases where really nasty ones have slipped past medical testing, only showing up years later, when a drug’s used on the general population under real-world circumstances.

    2. Well… I assume you’ve never read the disclaimers on a pack of pills. There’s a long list of negative side effects, probably the big one is increased risk of cancer (can’t remember which type). I think osteoporosis is also a side effect of long-term use.
      Also, sorry for shouting, but THE PILL DOES NOT STOP PERIODS. It makes them lighter, and perhaps stops them for the odd person, but it generally does not stop them – I think you’re even supposed to check with your GP if they stop completely.

  7. HackaDay’s commenters maturity rating lost 15% on this one thread alone! No offense to [Benchoff] as it’s the comments here that are the issue. Looks like silly season is starting early this year. Well at least I optimistically want to believe that the beginning of the silly season is the cause because it that’s not the cause then it’s incredibly embarrassing to be male right now.

  8. I remember stumbling upon this a while back, admittedly at first glance it looked like a late April fools post. I’m not sure I’d want someone hacking them though. Imagine it you will, an addon for a dating app :D

  9. I’d be more interested in whether something with some similarities to this could be used to detect signs of say cervical cancer at an earlier date. If there’s no stigmata to wearing an internal sensor and the result is more risk cases getting a more reliable and proven method of test earlier than otherwise.

    That said though, if how data is recorded isn’t handled with absolute diligence this whole thing reads like an Encyclopedia Dramatica or Onion parody article waiting to happen. IoT is already more of a laughing stock than a buzzword.

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