If you’ve ever been a hospital patient, you’re likely familiar with the experience of being hooked up to a tangle of wires and sensors. Despite advances in technology, the basic setup hasn’t changed much in 50 years: Rigid sensors are held against the body with mechanical clamps or strong adhesives, and they’re connected by wires to an external box of electronics that processes the signals. The sensors are necessary to monitor your vital signs. But they restrict movement—you can’t get up from your bed without assistance—and they’re uncomfortable.

The problems are compounded for hospitalized newborns, especially those born prematurely. The skin of infants born at less than 32 weeks’ gestation can easily be traumatized by the harsh adhesives. More than 90% of children born prematurely bear scars later in life from their early hospitalization. Not all of those are from the sensors, but many are.

Wired sensors also get in...

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