Sunlight is crucial for maintaining healthy vitamin D levels. But too much UV radiation can be very unhealthy, causing sunburn or, in extreme cases, leading to skin cancer. As always, the right amount is key. But how does one know what the correct level for a particular skin type is? A small device is here to help – UV-Bodyguard from the DLR spin-off ‘ajuma’ is a UV measurement assistant developed based on DLR know-how.
The UV-Bodyguard sensor is connected to a smartphone app and continuously measures UV radiation in real time. It sends the data to the smartphone and warns the user about high radiation levels and the risk of sunburn. At the same time, it also indicates how long the user should stay in the sun to top up their vitamin D levels. In this interview, ajuma founders Annette Barth and Julian Meyer-Arnek explain how the device works.
How did you come up with the idea for UV-Bodyguard?
Barth: I have very sensitive skin and have often suffered from sunburn. When our daughter was born three years ago, we became particularly concerned about the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and particularly its effect on children. Young children are particularly at risk if they are exposed to sunlight for too long. Without solar protection, they can only stay in bright sunlight on the beach at midday for 10 minutes. Even with sunscreen the time that they should be spending in the sun is very limited. We thought it was important to protect our daughter against too much UV radiation, no matter what the situation.
Meyer-Arnek: I have been working on the UV-Check project of the Association of German Dermatologists since I joined DLR in 2004, so I have been heavily involved in UV research. As UV is highly dependent on local conditions, it makes sense to measure radiation directly on the body itself. The type of UV sensor that we had in mind did not yet exist, so we decided to develop UV-Bodyguard and then start our own company.
How does UV-Bodyguard work?
Barth: UV-Bodyguard is a wearable device equipped with special UV-measurement technology. The user can connect it to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, select the appropriate profile for their skin type and the protection factor of the sunscreen that they are using, and then initiate the measurement process. The built-in sensor continuously monitors local UV radiation in real time and transmits these data to the smartphone. Local UV measurement is important because numerous factors such as the ground surface – snow, sand or water – and cloud cover, the time of day or year, and altitude all have an influence on the intensity of the UV that actually reaches the user’s body. The app shows the length of time that a person can stay out in the sun and warns the user when their skin is at 50 percent of its protection capacity.
“Knowledge is the best sunscreen.”
This is the recommended dose for vitamin D synthesis. Once 95 percent has been reached, the device issues a second warning ahead of the body being exposed to too much sunlight and there is a risk of sunburn. An important point with regard to privacy is that all of the data are stored locally on the smartphone, not in the cloud.
Meyer-Arnek: The app also provides a UV forecast for the user’s location, allowing them to plan their outdoor activities accordingly. The system combines satellite data from the European Union Copernicus Programme with UV data from UV-Bodyguard. This is a very important advantage of our innovation, as it measures the actual radiation experienced by the wearer while also using information from Earth observation satellites to generate an accurate radiation forecast. Knowledge is the best sunscreen.
You were awarded the DLR Copernicus Masters prize at the end of 2019. What does that mean for you?
Meyer-Arnek: We were delighted to have been selected by an independent jury of experts as the best application idea in the field of Earth observation. It is a prestigious prize for us and an important confirmation that we are not the only ones who believe in this approach. It was deemed scientifically sound by the jury as well. It has been one of our greatest successes so far and has given us a real lift, especially during project phases when things have not gone quite so smoothly.
What has happened since then, and where do you plan to take things in future?
Barth: At first we thought that our UV-Bodyguard would be of more interest to families with children, so we designed the casing in the shape of a turtle. During our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, we received many enquiries from adults, athletes and people who spend a lot of time outdoors, so we are now also offering a watch-style design for adults. We are currently in the final stages of producing the casing, so UV-Bodyguard should be on the market in the summer. In addition, we are planning more product lines and working on other exciting Sun-related projects.
ajuma stands for Annette, Julian and Maya. The company, a spin-off from DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen, was founded by Annette Barth and Julian Meyer- Arnek in 2019 on the basis of long-term research into UV radiation conducted at DLR. The couple has developed a wearable device that comes in various designs. It indicates what a healthy dose of sunlight is and informs the user of the time that remains before it is reached. It also gives a timely warning of the risk of sunburn. UV-Bodyguard is particularly suitable for children but is also helpful for people who spend a lot of time outdoors. ajuma has
been based at the ESA Business Incubation Centre since November 2019. This is a start-up incubator at the Application Center Oberpfaffenhofen (Anwendungszentrum Oberpfaffenhofen; AZO), which receives funding from the European Space Agency (ESA).