A team of US scientists led by John A. Rogers, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois, has developed an “electronic tattoo” that could make a huge difference in monitoring patients’ heart and brain. The tiny electronic sensor can be attached to skin like a temporary tattoo; it can bend, stretch and wrinkle without breaking, says the BBC. The skin-like circuits could replace bulky equipment like wires, cables, monitors, pads coated with sticky gel, are much more comfortable to wear and “give the wearer complete freedom of movement,” says Science Daily.
Electrical and computer engineering professor Todd Coleman notes that these “wearable electronics” can connect a person “to the physical world and the cyberworld in a very natural way that feels very comfortable”:
The patches are initially mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic, then laminated to the skin with water — just like applying a temporary tattoo. Alternately, the electronic components can be applied directly to a temporary tattoo itself, providing concealment for the electronics….
Skin-mounted electronics have many biomedical applications, including EEG and EMG sensors to monitor nerve and muscle activity.
One major advantage of skin-like circuits is that they don’t require conductive gel, tape, skin-penetrating pins or bulky wires, which can be uncomfortable for the user and limit coupling efficiency. They are much more comfortable and less cumbersome than traditional electrodes and give the wearers complete freedom of movement.
“If we want to understand brain function in a natural environment, that’s completely incompatible with EEG studies in a laboratory,” said Coleman, now a professor at the University of California at San Diego. “The best way to do this is to record neural signals in natural settings, with devices that are invisible to the user.”
What’s more, the tiny electronic sensors can be placed on the throat and are able to recognize differences in words such as up, down, left, right, go and stop. Researchers were able to use them to control a simple computer game but someone with muscular or neurological disorders, such as ALS, could potentially wear one of them circuits and use them to interface with computers.
At less than 50 micrometers thick, the circuits are thinner than a human hair. They can be worn up to 24 hours and still work, while not irritating the skin. But because our skin constantly produces new cells and those on the surface die and “are brushed off,” the sensors can’t be used for extended periods of time.
Photo by Creativity 103
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