Wearables have found a niche in healthcare. It seems that every day, a new device or monitor is announced that has a health application. They are becoming thinner, lighter, and easier to use as well as more accurate with their readings.
One of the latest announcement in this area is from Cockrell School of Engineering at University of Texas, Austin. Researchers have come up with a very efficient and economic way of manufacturing wearable patches that can monitor health and performance by monitoring key vital signs. Assistant professor Nanshu Lu led the group to develop tattoo-like health monitoring electronic patches. The manufacturing process is similar to roll-to-roll manufacturing using a roll of flexible plastic and a processing machine. These thin wearable devices are disposable and stick to the skin to gather and transmit information on vitals such has hydration levels, heart rate, muscle movement, brain activity, and temperature. The patches will have to have a low-cost in order to be widely adopted, and this process may be the answer. The production method does not require a clean room environment, wafers, or other expensive materials. First, inexpensive pre-fabricated, industrial-quality metal is deposited on polymer sheets. An electronic mechanical cutter forms patterns on the metal-polymer sheets and excess material is removed. The electronics then are printed on any polymer adhesives including temporary tattoo films. These sheets can be cut to the desired shape and size by a programmable cutter. Roll-to-roll manufacturing could further reduce costs of these patches.
The patches are highly sensitive and conform to the wearer’s skin, which reduces false signals from movement. In addition to monitoring a patient’s vital signs and other biometrics, it is possible that these patches could be used as muscle sensors to help control a prosthetic hand. The researchers are also looking for ways to incorporate sensors for blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, to make them even more useful.