An innovative “electronic skin” offers similar benefits as other flexible patches; it’s less bulky than a smartwatch and potentially gives more accurate readings. But the electronic skin, designed by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, includes features that provide some extra benefits. Those features could help the device stand out as a cutting-edge new wearable in the near future.
The researchers wanted to create a biosensor with the look and characteristics of human skin, so they used a stretchy material called polyimine. The team used screen-printing technology to create a network of liquid wire circuits on this organic substrate (which is made of amino acids). To finish the design, they covered the circuits with another polyimine layer.
When moderate heat and pressure is applied to the device which is slightly thicker than a Band-aid, it adheres to the skin virtually anywhere on the body. Capable of omnidirectional stretch, it can perform its sensory tasks as the user moves without damaging the internal electronics or compromising the accuracy of its readings.
Like many skin sensors, the electronic skin measures body temperature, daily step counts, and other health metrics. But the new device has an advantage in replicating human skin with organic material; it is self-healing. Sustained pressure can repair cuts and scratches in less than 15 minutes.
Furthermore, the electronic skin is fully recyclable, which reduces the environmental burden that comes with most electronic devices. A chemical solution can separate the polyimine films from the printed wires, freeing both up for reuse. That’s a considerable advantage over hard-cased wearables that often end up in landfills.
The electronic skin currently requires an external power source, meaning it’s not yet ready for use as an actual health-tracking sensor. But the new device appears promising as a precursor to developing a sensitive artificial skin for human or robotic applications.