There is a new electronic skin microsystem that will change the way you monitor your health. The electronic skin microsystem tracks heart rate, respiration, muscle movement and other health data and wirelessly transmits the data to a smartphone. The electronic skin offers several improvements over existing trackers, such as greater flexibility, smaller size, and the fact that it can stick to a self-adhesive patch—which is a soft silicone that is about four centimeters (1.5 inches) in diameter—anywhere on the body.
The microsystem was developed by Kyun-In Jang, a professor of robotics engineering at South Korea’s Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, and John A. Rogers, the director of Northwestern University’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics.
The electronic skin contains around 50 components that are connected by a network of 250 small wire coils embedded in protective silicone. The soft material enables the device to conform to the body. It wirelessly transmits data on movement and respiration as well as electrical activity in the heart, muscles, eyes and brain to a smartphone app.
Unlike flat sensors, the tiny wire coils in the device are 3D, which maximizes flexibility. The coils can stretch and contract like a spring without breaking. The coil and sensor components are configured in an unusual spider web pattern that ensures “uniform and extreme levels of stretchability and bendability in any direction.” It enables tighter packaging of components, which minimizes size. The researchers compare the design to winding, curling vine, connecting sensors, circuits and radios like individual leaves on a vine.
The key to creating the microsystem is stretching the elastic silicone base while the tiny wire arcs, made of gold, chromium and phosphate, are laid flat onto it. The arcs are connected to the base only at one end of each arc. When the base is allowed to contract, the arcs pop up, forming 3D coils.
The entire system is powered wirelessly and is not charged with a battery. The researchers considered key electrical and mechanical issues to optimize the system’s physical layout, such as sensor placement or wire length, to minimize signal interference and noise.
Professor Jang says, “Combining big data and artificial intelligence technologies, the wireless biosensors can be developed into an entire medical system, which allows portable access to the collection, storage, and analysis of health signals and information. We will continue further studies to develop electronic skins, which can support interactive telemedicine and treatment systems for patients in blind areas for medical services such as rural houses in mountain villages.”
The electronic skin could be used in many applications, including continuous health monitoring and disease treatment. The microsystem could be used in other areas of emerging interest like soft robotics or autonomous navigation, which the team is investigating. A paper on this research was published in Nature Communications.