I have been thinking about the Pip Boy device from the Fallout series of videogames. It is a portable, wearable computer that can gather a lot of data about the user. It looks like this:

Pip Boy 3000 being worn

And gives out readings such as this:

Pip Boy 3000 interface

Its "home" screen shows the user's medical condition.

The Pip Boy's capabilities are meaningful for the context of the videogames where it exists, but are too handwaved for real life.


What I would like to know is which capabilities a realistic one could have. I know some wearable devices can measure heartbeat, blood oxygenation, sugar levels etc. I want to know how many more parameter readings we can pack in a portable, wrist-worn device.


Technology level: current or near future - in thid case, what could be reasonably expected to be achieved in the next ten years.

The device should be no longer than 33 centimeters/1 foot, approximately. It is ok for it to be as small as a wristwatch if the technology allows for it, but it should still be able to read out as many parameters as possible.

The device needs to either have a screen with readouts of its own, or be capable of sending data to a smartphone or other smart device.

The device may be able to interface with other sensors, but must be able to work in complete standalone mode (except for the screen, as per the paragraph above this one).

Piercing the skin to collect blood is allowed.

Costs are not a constraint.


I read a book about a guy who built a rowboat and rowed from Africa to South America on his own in a couple months. I think that if adventurers like him are able to have their readouts while doing their adventuring, they can remotely contact a doctor for advice. I am going to use this in a story I am writing.

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    $\begingroup$ Triathlon watches can do almost everything you're asking and diabetics have devices to do the rest. You'll need to be more specific about what you want. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Oct 16 '18 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ The device already exists or is in the state of development, if you want to believe this article: medicaldesignbriefs.com/component/content/article/mdb/features/… $\endgroup$ – Alex2006 Oct 16 '18 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ The answer to this question changes on a daily basis in the modern world. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 16 '18 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas, the possibilities of sensor technology today were entirely describable 50 years ago. The band-gap theory of semiconductors is from 1938. This question isn't a matter of opinion, it's a cross-discipline research topic looking for the intersection of "things people want readouts for" and "things that can be checked with electronics and automation from the wrist". One list adds items and the other takes them away. Only so many analyses can take place on a limb, and I feel the list is short enough that it's not overbroad, either. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Oct 17 '18 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ Check out tricorderproject.org . If a hobbyist can assemble that at home, it could easily be fitted into the wrist package in your illustration, or something even smaller. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Oct 17 '18 at 20:27

A similar device already exists or is in the state of development, if you believe an article in medical design briefs. Some medical parameters are mentioned there already I want to repeat and add to that list. Possible candidates I can make out:

1) patient-related data

  • Cardio-vascular data (blood pressure, pulse etc. as sports devices already do)
  • body temperature
  • diabetes-related data (blood glucose level)
  • electrolyte levels
  • analysis of Na+, Ka+ etc. levels in sweat

if you actually penetrate the skin and collect blood samples a lot more like certain

  • disease markers (inflammation present),

  • pregnancy,

  • hormones,

  • allergy markers,

  • oncological markers

is possible

2) environment-related data

  • step-counting, analysis of movement-level
  • UV-measurement
  • radiation measurement
  • presence of breathable allergenes in the air
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    $\begingroup$ +1: Rather than have the device "penetrate the skin" you'd have a tiny subdermal implant in the arm near the device, the device powers it wirelessly and takes readings from it wirelessly. $\endgroup$ – Binary Worrier Oct 16 '18 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ Nice idea. That is imaginable within a 10 year time span. $\endgroup$ – Alex2006 Oct 16 '18 at 16:30

(partial frame-challenge) If you allowed for it to interface to implanted devices, plenty more could be detected.

An external device which collects blood provides a continuous source of discomfort for an active adventurer (particularly on a very mobile and exposed place like the arm), and risks infection or trauma if the device gets knocked whilst it's got it's needle in you. This isn't great for an adventurer away from medical supplies.

Realistically, it's more likely that if such a device were built, it'd work with implanted sensors. More likely is implanted sensors (good for many years), supplied with power / charged inductively from the arm-mounted device.

This is also how current devices such as implanted diabetes monitors work.

This would allow much more monitoring of stats from different parts of the body.

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I will add that, in addition to all the Western Medical readings you can have, you can also do ones from Traditional Chinese Medicine. The pulses provide a lot of information about the state of the body, though the diagnoses do not neatly map on to Western diagnoses. There are 3 positions on each wrist (with some variation of position I think) and each position can be classified in various terms, such as slippery or taut. Then there is speed, strength, depth, and measurements relative to the other pulses. All stuff a human can fairly easily be taught to read. Then you use a database to interpret the results.

Pulse isn't the only diagnostic tool in TCM, not by a long shot. But then vital signs and bloodwork aren't the only Western Medicine tools.

While there exist devices that can find acupuncture points on any given body (not sure what they're measuring but it's differences found by placing/moving the device on the skin), there is not—as far as I know—any sort of device for giving TCM pulses when placed on the wrist. But I can imagine it being done with technology either available today or within the next 10 years.

Just an idea for something a little different, if useful to you.

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  • $\begingroup$ What would the use be in finding multiple pulses and acupuncture points? Your answer isn't very clear about what useful information can be gleaned from those. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Oct 17 '18 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ It gives you a lot of information about the underlying state of your body and how (and it what direction) it is changing. As a practical example, I can predict my or my child having or losing a fever before the thermometer registers the change. A very skilled TCM practitioner can use pulses and other signs to predict the sorts of big diseases that take more time to show up on scans or bloodwork, even before there are symptoms that a Western MD would place with said big disease. I figured it would be interesting to include a system outside the mainstream. And yes, it's science-based. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Oct 17 '18 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ That's pretty interesting, you should add that to your answer. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Oct 17 '18 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ I am a TCM practicioner and I love this answer. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Oct 17 '18 at 20:07

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