Tattoo-like patch may be future of health monitoring

Scientists at the University of Illinois engineer a device that manages to squeeze sensing, medical diagnostics, and communications technology on an ultra-thin patch that mounts directly on the skin.

Engineers at the University of Illinois today unveiled novel, skin-mounted electronics this week whose circuitry bends, wrinkles, and even stretches with skin.

The device platform includes electronic components, medical diagnostics, communications, and human-machine interfacing on a patch so thin and durable it can be mounted to skin much like a temporary tattoo.

What's more, the team was able to demonstrate its invention across a wide range of components, including LEDs, transistors, wireless antennas, sensors, and conductive coils and solar cells for power.

"We threw everything in our bag of tricks onto that platform, and then added a few other new ideas on top of those to show that we could make it work," said engineering professor John A. Rogers in a news release. The research is described in detail in the journal Science

The range of medical applications includes EEG and EMG sensors to track nerves and muscles--something that tends to be limited to a lab given the number of electrodes and wires involved.

And the patch itself, mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic before being laminated to skin with water, can be applied not only like a temporary tattoo, but even on top of a temporary tattoo to help conceal it (see slideshow).

"The blurring of electronics and biology is really the key point here," said Northwestern University engineering professor Yonggang Huang, who has published work with Rogers before and whose group was charged with mechanics and materials questions. "All established forms of electronics are hard, rigid. Biology is soft, elastic. It's two different worlds. This is a way to truly integrate them."

Rogers and his device company mc10 are already trying to commercialize various aspects of this emerging tech, and the researchers hope to soon add Wi-Fi capability.

Hands-free indeed.

 

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