Ultra-thin screen tracks and displays medical information while attached to patient’s skin
An ultrathin, elastic display has been developed by Japanese scientists that can detect and display biometric information such as an electrocardiogram.
The newly developed skin electronics system is designed to enhance information accessibility for people such as the elderly who tend to have difficulty operating and obtaining data from existing devices and interfaces.
It also promises to help ease the strain on home healthcare systems in aging societies through continuous, non-invasive health monitoring and self-care at home.
The system combines a flexible, deformable display with a lightweight sensor composed of a breathable nanomesh electrode and wireless communication module.
Medical data measured by the sensor, such as an electrocardiogram, can either be sent wirelessly to a smartphone for viewing or to the cloud for storage.
The skin display was developed by a collaborative research group composed of researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering and Dai Nippon Printing (DNP).
The display consists of a 16 x 24 array of micro LEDs and stretchable wiring mounted on a rubber sheet.
“Our skin display exhibits simple graphics with motion,” said Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo, who led the project. “Because it is made from thin and soft materials, it can be deformed freely.”
The display is stretchable by as much as 45 per cent of its original length.
It is far more resistant to the wear and tear of stretching than previous wearable displays. It is built on a novel structure that minimises the stress resulting from stretching on the juncture of hard materials, such as the micro LEDs, and soft materials, like the elastic wiring - a leading cause of damage for other models.
The team claims it is the most durable and yet stretchable display in the market. In testing, it was shown that not a single pixel failed in the matrix-type display while attached snugly to the skin and continuously subjected to the stretching and contracting motion of the body.
The nanomesh skin sensor can be worn on the skin continuously for a week without causing any inflammation. Although this sensor, developed in an earlier study, was capable of measuring temperature, pressure and myoelectricity (the electrical properties of muscle), it successfully recorded an electrocardiogram for the first time in the latest research.
The researchers applied tried-and-true methods used in the mass production of electronics - specifically, screen printing the silver wiring and mounting the micro LEDs on the rubber sheet with a chip mounter and solder paste commonly used in manufacturing printed circuit boards. Applying these methods will likely accelerate the commercialisation of the display and help keep down future production costs.
DNP is looking to bring the integrated skin display to market within the next three years by improving the reliability of the stretchable devices through optimising its structure, enhancing the production process for high integration 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,” said Someya. “Our system could serve as one of the long-awaited solutions to fulfill this need, which will ultimately lead to improving the quality of life for many.”
Last week, scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA, demonstrated self-healing ‘electronic skin’ that mirrors many properties of human skin.