Japanese researchers have developed a new ultrathin and elastic display that fits on the skin to show the moving waveform of an electrocardiogram recorded by a breathable, on-skin electrode sensor.
This integrated biomedical sensor system – called ‘skin electronics’ – heralds a step forward in wearable technologies with its enhanced accessibility features, making it suitable for the elderly who’re not accustomed to use of gadgets. The device can be worn on the skin continuously for a week without causing any inflammation.
A press statement issued by the research team led by Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering says that the device combines a flexible and deformable display, consisting of a 16×24 array of micro LEDs, with a lightweight sensor composed of a breathable nanomesh electrode, and wireless communication module.
The wireless communication module enables the sensor to transmit biometric data to the cloud.
“Thanks to advances in semiconductor technology, wearable devices can now monitor health by first measuring vital signs or taking an electrocardiogram, and then transmitting the data wirelessly to a smartphone. The readings or electrocardiogram waveforms can be displayed on the screen in real time, or sent to either the cloud or a memory device where the information is stored.
“The newly-developed skin electronics system aims to go a step further by enhancing information accessibility for people such as the elderly or the infirm, who tend to have difficulty operating and obtaining data from existing devices and interfaces. It promises to help ease the strain on home healthcare systems in aging societies through continuous, non-invasive health monitoring and self-care at home,” says the statement.
“Our skin display exhibits simple graphics with motion,” says Prof Someya in the statement, “because it is made from thin and soft materials, it can be deformed freely.”
The display is stretchable by as much as 45 percent of its original length.
Another feature of the device highlighted in the statement is its enhanced resistance to wear and tear compared to previous wearable displays. “It is built on a novel structure that minimizes stress resulting from stretching on the juncture of hard materials, such as the micro LEDs, and soft materials, like the elastic wiring. That kind of stress is a leading cause of damage for other models,” the statement notes.
It adds that the stretchable display of the device achieves superior durability and stability, such that not a single pixel fails in the matrix-type display while attached onto the skin and continuously subjected to the stretching and contracting motion of the body.
The research team is considering launching the device across the globe in three years. The statement notes that reliance on tried-and-true methods in the mass production of electronics is likely to keep production costs down. Before launching the device for personal use, however, the team wants to further improve the reliability of the device by optimizing its structure, enhancing production process, and overcoming technical challenges such as large-area coverage.
“The current aging society requires user-friendly wearable sensors for monitoring patient vitals in order to reduce the burden on patients and family members providing nursing care. Our system can serve as one of the long-awaited solutions to fulfill this need, which will ultimately lead to improving the quality of life for many,” says Prof Samoa in the statement.