Wearable Electronics!

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Connected Liverpool is very much focused on driving and collaborating in projects that improve the health & wellbeing of our Liverpool City Region residents. We like to work with existing/adopted technology but also like to explore what is about to be ‘adopted’ as a result of innovative collaborations between engineers and professors all over the (increasingly connected) globe.

Today we like to explore a new type of wearable electronics that can stick to the skin like a “temporary tattoo” and is powerful enough to read brain signals. John A. Rogers, engineering professor at the University of Illinois, led the development of an ultra-thin device from silicon that can stick to the skin without the need for adhesive and without irritation. Usually, wearable electronics trade flexibility for computing power. But not in this case, as Rogers explains:

“Over the past several decades, most approaches to wearable electronics involved skinlike electronic platform creating points of contact, like electrodes, or focused on flexibility over computing capabilities. It throws away essentially all of the scientific knowledge and engineering know-how that’s already been built up around silicon”.

So he kept at it, taking silicon from a half-millimeter thick wafer to a nanomembrane. The new platform has silicon-based circuitry fabricated in a wavy structure that allows it to form a web of electronics. Those circuits are integrated into extremely thin rubber sheets that naturally stick to skin without the need for adhesive.

When placed on the forehead, the heart and the forearm, the device works as well as standard electrodes in measuring activity. On the throat it is sensitive enough to record throat muscle contractions during vocalisation, meaning it could help people with difficulty speaking.

The unobtrusive nature of the tattoo makes it an ideal device for the monitoring of people with sleep disorders without the need for uncomfortable electrodes and devices (brilliant!). Also, it has the power to stimulate (but not force) muscles giving it the potential to assist in physical rehabilitation.

The next step of the project will include the engineering and demonstrating of a fully-integrated wireless communication capability so the device can transmit information more easily.

The device is not perfect yet as Rogers explains that after about two weeks, naturally-occurring skin exfoliation would make it difficult for the electronics to stay in place. Anyhow, the arrival of a new device that tackles the issues of current comparable electronics that measure brain signals is a fact!