If wearable Health Tech devices are truly going to “disappear” then they will have to become like a second skin. And that’s exactly what a group of scientists from the University of Tokyo are working on, as presented in a session at the IDTechEx conference last week in Santa Clara, California. They are working at creating printed circuitry on flexible plastic substrates that are unbelievably thin. They are working with 1 micron thick films; that’s about one-tenth the thickness of an average human hair. That’s so thin that a sheet a couple inches square is so light that it falls much slower than a feather.
The researchers have created flexible circuits on this material that not only survive bending, but they can be crumpled up and still work. One of the advantages of these ultrathin films is that there is much less strain between the top and bottom sides when it is bent, because the difference in the radius of the two sides is much smaller than it would be with a thicker substrate. As a result, they can build flexible devices — even with multiple layers as shown above — that can be adhered directly to the skin of a subject.
The potential for this flexible and durable technology is endless. Not only can the sensors be fabricated in this way, but the signals can be processed using printed circuitry on ultrathin substrates as well. With low-power components and thin film batteries or energy harvesting power, it could lead to sensors that are as easy to apply as a bandage and that communicate their data wirelessly to a controller for processing and forwarding. They could be “set it and forget it” products that deliver on the promise of making wearable Health Tech devices “disappear” into our daily lives.