Wearable health monitor

Korean researchers design flexible ‘electronic skin’

Image credit: Daegu Geyongbuk Institute of Science and Technology

A team of engineers from Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea and their collaborators at Northwestern University, USA, have designed a complex wearable patch which stretches to fit on any part of the body, collecting and transmitting a multitude of health data.

The patch is made from very soft silicone, and can be worn anywhere on the body. Unlike rigid medical monitors, it conforms to the shape of the body, making it far less irritating to wear.

The four centimetre patch contains approximately 50 components connected with 250 wires.

Unlike with flat, hard sensors, the wires in this device are coiled, allowing for greater flexibility as they stretch and contract without breaking, adjusting to bodily movements. The “spider web pattern” of the coils and other electronic components ensures that the patch has “uniform and extreme levels of stretchability and bendability in any direction”.

In their Nature Communications report on the new technology, the researchers compare the design to a curling vine connecting components like leaves.

The microsystem held to the skin can track heart rate, respiration, and electrical activity in the heart, muscles, eyes and brain. This data is wirelessly transmitted to a smartphone app, from which it can be shared with healthcare professionals. The entire system is powered wirelessly.

According to the researchers, the ‘electronic skin’ could be used in continuous health monitoring and disease treatment – meaning that patients do not have to undergo regular hospital visits in order to monitor their health during times of illness – but also in soft robotics and autonomous navigation applications.

“Combining big data and artificial intelligence technologies, the wireless biosensors can be developed into an entire medical system which allows portable access to collection, storage, and analysis of health signals and information,” said Professor Kyung-In Jang, the professor of robotics engineering at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology who led the study.

“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.”

Meanwhile, researchers at Tsinghua University in China have published a report suggesting that similar wearable health monitors could be made more flexible and comfortable with the integration of silk. These sensors, the researchers suggest, could be powered with nano-generators.


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