In the near future, your doctor will be able to track your vital signs via electronic skin worn on your body. Researchers in Japan say they have developed a new ultrathin, lightweight e-skin that’s worn on the chest area utilizing water spray and may be worn for every week at a time.
This research was led by Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering.
Wearable electronics that monitor heart rate and other vital health signals have made headway in recent years, with next-generation gadgets employing lightweight, highly elastic materials attached directly onto the skin for more sensitive, precise measurements. However, although the ultrathin films and rubber sheets used in these devices adhere and conform well to the skin, their lack of breathability is deemed unsafe for long-term use: dermatological tests show the fine, stretchable materials prevent sweating and block airflow around the skin, causing irritation and inflammation, which ultimately could lead to lasting physiological and psychological effects.
"We learned that devices that can be worn for a week or longer for continuous monitoring were needed for practical use in medical and sports applications," says Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering whose research group had previously developed an on-skin patch that measured oxygen in the blood.
Made from a flexible material — polyvinyl alcohol — with a layer of gold, the e-skin is a wearable sensor that can pick up signals such as heartbeat and electrical impulses from muscle movement.
A small wireless transmitter strapped to the chest will send heartbeat data to a nearby smartphone or laptop, or to the cloud, allowing a doctor to monitor it remotely, reports CNN.
"E-skin is the next generation of wearables," Someya tells CNN Business. "Today's mainstream wearables are in the form of smartwatches and glasses, which are bulky. In contrast, e-skin is thin, lightweight, stretchable, and durable."
Someya said he designed his e-skin with Japan's rapidly aging population in mind. For remote health care to be most effective, Someya says it is important to monitor older people's health for long periods with high precision.
Someya is also developing an LED display, in partnership with Dai Nippon Printing (DNPCF), to be worn on the back of the user's hand. This is designed for older people or those with who have difficulty using a smartphone. The device will show heartbeat data transmitted by it in the form of large and easily understood graphics. It can also display simple emojis — including a heart and a rainbow — sent by friends and relatives from a smartphone, to help older people feel connected to their loved ones, according to the CNN report.