Cable TV is inundated with ads for glucose-monitoring devices, showing happy folks leading happy “no finger prick” lives. Offering convenience to people with diabetes, this non-invasive blood-sugar monitoring method is a lucrative niche that’s drawn the interest of biotech companies and other health-tech players. And blood pressure monitors are increasingly common tools found in smartwatches and fitness trackers. Targeting these two popular features of wearables, the California-based startup Movano has produced what it says is the smallest-ever system-on-a-chip (SoC) for glucose and cuffless blood pressure monitoring systems.

How small? Movano’s SoC measures just 4mm x 6.7mm. By comparison, Apple’s A15 Bionic SoC measures 8.58mm x 12.55mm. And Movano crammed quite a bit into this itty bitty package, saying their engineers have compressed the functionality of four integrated circuits (ICs) into one sensor with multi-chip architecture. While the small size lends itself well to wearables such as smartwatches, we could very well see the chip used in the Movano Ring, which made its debut at CES 2022. The health-tracking ring already measures heart rate, blood oxygen, respiration, and more.

Smaller, cheaper, and available to a wide range of users: these are the claims made by Movano CEO Dr. John Mastrototaro. He says, “Our solution is fabricated using the latest processes in semiconductor technology, meaning the size can be smaller and the materials more cost-effective — giving us greater flexibility in the design of future medical devices and in our ability to offer a solution that’s affordable, so we can reach a larger, more diverse segment of people.”

Although size and cost are notable factors, they aren’t the only things that set Movano’s mmWave sensor apart from comparable consumer-grade sensors. The latter group mostly relies on photoplethysmography (PPG) optical technology that employs a photodetector and a light source to measure variations on the skin’s surface to estimate many different biometric measures. Movano, however, uses radio frequency (RF) technology — with mini antennas and all — to measure biomarkers, quite possibly with a higher degree of accuracy. Mastrototaro explains, “RF offers the opportunity for increased accuracy in health monitoring across a broader population because it is not affected by different skin pigmentation, as can be the case with optical sensors.”