In order to quantify our bodies and reap the many benefits that all this data can bring, first we need sensors that are easy to wear, durable, and low cost. Only then can we develop wearable Health Tech devices that will “disappear” into our lives and become an invisible part of the background in our daily lives.

The researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam, and Plasma Technology (FEP) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology (ISIT) in Germany have collaborated to create tiny sensors for wearable devices. It starts with plastic film that has been coated with a thin metal layer using high-speed roll-to-roll (R2R) production. Electrochemical sensors are fabricated directly onto this polymer film that is only about 0.1 mm thick (about the thickness of a human hair). The sensor elements are tiny; an array of sensors and their electrical connections (as shown in the photo above) fit on a piece of substrate just 8 by 10 mm (about one-third by three-eighths of an inch).

The device is flexible, and could easily be incorporated into a wristband to measure biomarkers on the wearer’s skin. The sensors could detect lactate levels, for example, to measure the wearer’s level of fatigue. They also could be used to detect infections or other conditions. There is still work to be done before the technology is ready for high-volume production, but it holds the promise of making tiny flexible sensors affordable and capable of addressing a range of applications.