Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed a flexible sensor thinner than plastic wrap and lighter than a feather.
Recently, we have seen a rapid expansion in the field of wearable health devices. Many of these devices can help users lead healthier and more productive lives; however, they may be cumbersome or unrealistic to use on a daily basis. Imagine if devices could be designed to mold seamlessly with the human body, such that they almost disappear entirely. A new technology may make this possible, in the form of an ‘imperceptible’ electronic skin that can monitor the body, or help people to communicate through touch.
Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed a flexible sensor thinner than plastic wrap and lighter than a feather. The scientists refer to their breakthrough as ‘imperceptible electronics,’ which is in fact a type of ‘e-skin’. When a patch of the material is fastened to the human body, researchers claim it is all but impossible to notice.
The sensor itself is manufactured in huge plastic sheets, similar in appearance to plastic wrap, by putting a thin layer of aluminum oxide over an equally thin polymer foil. Circuitry is then added using carbon-based organic components, which can be tailored to use in a similar method as more standard electronics. Although organic electronics don’t yet process information as quickly as their silicon brethren, they perform well enough for sensor duties.
The material is nearly indestructible, as it is bendable, crushable and immune to wet conditions. Along with providing a touch sensor-like system, imperceptible electronics could be used to monitor the health of a patient, embedded as part of a prosthetic to provide feedback, and possibly form the basis for an entirely robotic skin in the future. Despite the cyborg connotations, this thin and flexible e-skin could greatly improve the application and wearability of personal health devices.
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