Tech In Plain Sight: Glucose Meters

If you happen to or somebody is diabetic, it’s a good wager {that a} glucose meter is a daily fixture in your life. They’re low-cost and plentiful, however they’re really fairly excessive tech — nicely, not less than elements of them are.

The meters themselves don’t seem to be a lot, however that’s deceptive. A battery, a number of elements, a show, and sufficient of a controller to do issues like keep in mind readings seems to cowl all of it. You wouldn’t be stunned, after all, you could get the entire affair “on a chip.” But it surely seems, the actual magic is within the take a look at strip and getting studying from a strip requires extra metrology than you’d assume. A standard meter requires a exact present measurement all the way down to 10nA. The studying needs to be adjusted for temperature, too. The system is surprisingly complicated for one thing that appears like a near-disposable piece of shopper gear.

In fact, there are bulletins on a regular basis about new know-how that received’t require a needle stick. Up to now, none of these have actually caught on for one motive or one other, however that, after all, might change. GlucoWatch G2, for instance, was a watch that might learn blood glucose, however — apparently — was unable to deal with perspiration.

Even the meters that constantly monitor nonetheless work in roughly the identical method as a budget meters. As Hackaday’s Dan Maloney detailed a number of years again, steady glucose displays go away a tiny sensor beneath your pores and skin and measure fluid in your physique, not essentially blood. However the best way the sensor works is often the identical.

For the needs of this text, I’m solely going to speak in regards to the conventional meter: you insert a take a look at strip, prick your finger, and let the take a look at strip absorb somewhat little bit of blood.

Two Completely different Sorts

Glucose meterTypical cheap glucose meter

Nevertheless you slice it, the actual magic is within the take a look at strips. Nevertheless, the way you measure the strip can range. By far the commonest method is to make use of an amplifier to learn the very small currents. Nevertheless, you can even use exact LEDs and a photodiode — this additionally requires a really exact present studying, an additional chemical, and exact timing, so that you don’t see optical-based meters fairly often right now. The exception is that there are take a look at strips you could learn by merely wanting on the coloration of the strip. This isn’t very correct, however it’s cheap and handy. For most individuals, the precise blood sugar studying isn’t essentially as essential as figuring out whether it is regular, excessive, or very excessive, for instance, so eyeballing the colour off a strip is usually ample.

The standard take a look at strip makes use of a chemical to react to the blood pattern. Every strip sort could be totally different, utilizing a unique chemical response or a unique variety of electrodes. Nevertheless, there are a number of frequent components.

First, the strip will use some form of enzyme that can react with the glucose within the pattern and produce one thing you may detect electronically. Glucose oxidase is the commonest alternative, though there are different comparable enzymes like glucose dehydrogenase nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or glucose dehydrogenase flavin adenine dinucleotide.

The image beneath reveals two totally different manufacturers of strips with and with out the covers that conceal all of the workings. Blood enters on the left and the suitable facet has contacts that connect with the meter.

Test stripsThe highest and backside take a look at strips have had their inside construction uncovered.

If it’s important to stick your finger with a needle a number of occasions a day, you get fairly sensitized to how huge that needle is. Over time, blood glucose meters have turn into increasingly more delicate in order that they require much less blood. Much less blood means you should utilize a thinner needle and possibly not set it to go so deep. Something that may scale back the quantity of blood required per take a look at goes to assist promote meters to sufferers. A state-of-the-art meter right now would possibly use as little as 300 picoliters of blood. A hungry mosquito will take about 10 microliters, so 300 picoliters is a really tiny quantity certainly. Normally, capillary motion attracts a recognized quantity of blood into the strip after you stick your finger.


A strip could have a couple of cell for various functions. For instance, one cell could merely detect that blood arrived on the location, implying that the earlier cell ought to supply a sound studying. Every cell can have not less than a pair of electrodes. In some instances, a cell can have greater than two electrodes and, in that case, the meter will apply a bias present to at least one electrode. This will increase complexity however can present a greater consequence.

Some meters elect to measure the whole electrical cost produced by the chemical response. Others measure the cost at a specific time within the response and use that to infer the whole.

The take a look at strips, by the best way, are the place all the cash is made since they’re disposable. Similar to Radio Shack used to present away flashlights to promote batteries, glucose meters are sometimes given away free or offered at very low costs, figuring out that you’ll then want to purchase a gradual provide of strips to make the meter helpful.


Most meters right now don’t require coding, however this was frequent previously. Completely different batches of take a look at strips would have totally different traits, so that you’d must enter a code from the strips into the meter to get correct readings. If you’re hardcore, you can even get calibration options to check the accuracy of the meter.

Some meters will use take a look at strips that talk their code to the meter routinely. This is likely to be by way of some mechanism on the strip or within the container used for a container of strips. Whereas some take a look at strips could have a cell devoted to calibration, most strips are actually merely produced to a decent tolerance in order that the coding could be simply automated by both utilizing a single calibration fixed or by detecting one of some constants utilizing a easy connection on the strip.

Excessive Tech In every single place

The know-how behind these sensors is comparatively current. The unique work dates again to the late Nineteen Fifties with sensible sensors just like what you see right now exhibiting up within the early Nineteen Sixties. Nevertheless, the quantity of blood required, the accuracy, and — after all — all of the microcontroller whiz-bang options have improved over the past half a dozen many years. It’s superb, although, that even after this a few years, there hasn’t been a greater method discovered to noninvasively measure blood glucose.

If I requested you to go to the pharmacy and choose up a nanoammeter, you in all probability wouldn’t have guessed to go to the diabetic testing part. I’m considerably stunned we don’t see extra of those meters — or the chips made to drive them — hacked into different devices though we now have seen not less than one repurpose a number of the electrochemical circuitry. In the meantime, we’re nonetheless ready for the noninvasive glucose monitoring system we preserve listening to about.