Breathable electronic skin patch developed for continuous long-term use

Scientists have developed an electronic sensor that is hypoallergenic, breathable and can be worn constantly for a week, enabling continuous, unobtrusive health monitoring.

The patch, developed by scientists at the University of Tokyo, is, according to its creators, so thin and light that the majority of users will forget they are even wearing it – a far cry from many of the weighty or uncomfortable health monitoring solutions currently available.

Designed to withstand repeated and continuous bending and stretching, the patch can be worn during a host of day-to-day activities, including sports. As a result its creators believe it could be used not only in healthcare settings, but also to monitor professional athletes.

“It will become possible to monitor patients’ vital signs without causing any stress or discomfort,” said Professor Takao Someya, from the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering.

The patch, which is detailed in research published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, is a step forward due to its breathable properties, allowing it to be worn for far longer than other ultrathin patches, which are made of rubber and other similarly non-breathable materials.

It consists of an electrode made up of several nanoscale meshes, which contain a water-soluble polymer, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and a thin layer of gold.

The patch is applied to the skin by spraying it with a thin layer of water, which dissolves the PVA and leaves the patch able to stick to the skin. It is even designed to adhere to the minute bumps in the skin, including sweat pores and the ridges that form human fingerprints, allowing a snug fit and good long-term attachment.

Currently it has been tested on 20 study participants, who wore the patch for a week. Not one experienced any inflammation, suggesting the patch should be suitable for wide-scale medical use.

It was also successfully bent and stretched over 10,000 times without damage, and was successfully used as an electrode to record electromyogram readings, which measure the electrical activity muscles, at similar levels to standard gel electrodes.

A diagram showing how the patch adheres to the skin. Images courtesy of Someya Laboratory, 2017.

The scientists have previously developed a patch that measures blood oxygen, and decided to create this variant upon realising the significant medical need for comfortable patches that can be worn constantly for significant periods.

“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,” said Someya.

While the headline use for the patch will undoubtedly be in medical settings, it is also likely to attract considerable interest in the world of professional sports, where monitoring athletes is becoming increasingly commonplace.

 

At present, most of the wearables used to monitor athletes are housed in plastic units that are temporarily attached to the skin using harnesses or pockets in sports equipment, however such a patch could enable a less obtrusive approach to monitoring.

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The plan to make every surface inside the car of the future smart

Yanfeng Automotive Interiors (YFAI) has revealed a vision for the future of cars where every surface inside the vehicle can become a smart surface.

Launched at the International Auto Show, YFAI’s activeSkin concept will turn the largely decorative surfaces inside cars, including the door trim, floor console and instrument panel, into smart interior surfaces, which YFAI says will be “fully interactive” and could be ready by 2022.

“The future generation of surfaces will be smarter than ever. Just by passing your hand over a upholstered surface of the car will appear an interactive surface or dynamic decorative ambient light. Surfaces interact with us, “says Han Hendriks , YFAI’s chief technology officer.

“This technology is impressive.”

Images courtesy of YFAI

YFAI says its customisable 3D glass surfaces could benefit drivers by replacing some of the current operating elements in traditional cars.

However, If no information is called up by the driver, integrated screens and operating surfaces would remain invisible as purely decorative glass surfaces, so drivers would not be distracted by unnecessary information popping up.

“We offer on-demand functionality, so it will only be visible when you need it. In this way we will be able to customise features on interior surfaces,” said Hendriks. “With activeSkin we can achieve a 3D effect that gives a feeling of amazing depth.”

This isn’t the first time YFAI has tried to predict what cars of the future will be like.

The company’s XiM17 concept car was designed with autonomous driving in mind and helped answer the question, “What will people do in their vehicle, if they no longer have to drive?”

YFAI’s XiM17 allows passengers to switch between a number of different modes to allow passengers a number of different ways of engaging.

For example, in family mode all four seats in the car are positioned facing each other, whereas in meeting mode the rear seats are folded away. so that the driver and passenger seats face each other. and a floor console rises to form a desk.