Bandages are simple wearable Health Tech devices. They protect the skin during healing, and reduce the chances of infection. The first adhesive bandage appeared in 1920. We now have the sensors and other components that can make bandages intelligent, reporting on the body’s condition and even delivering therapeutic treatment as needed. To do this, we need materials that stretch and conform to the shape of human skin, and can also conduct electricity. Unfortunately, these two sets of requirements tend to be mutually exclusive. Metals are good conductors of electricity, and can be flexible when made thin enough, but they do not have good stretching characteristics, and typically fail as a result of cracking.

Researchers at Purdue University may have the solution to the problem. They have created conductors fabricated from nanowires in a mesh pattern. These wires are embedded in a plastic that is only 1.5 microns thick. (By comparison, a human hair is 40 to 50 microns thick, about 30 times thicker.) The result is an artificial skin that can conduct electricity. The plastic is biocompatible, so it can be worn for long periods of time.

The researchers demonstrated its abilities by sensing electrical fields in the muscles. It would be easy to embed tiny sensors in the patch to gather other sorts of biometric data, such as temperature, blood flow, or biomarker chemicals that could detect infection. The researchers also plan to develop versions that can contain medications that can be administered through the skin, with the dose and rate controlled by smart sensors incorporated into the patch.

As we add intelligence to wearable Health Tech devices, they have the potential to be more effective at gathering useful data and in providing treatment automatically as needed.