They’re heralding it as the “world’s first mesh (nanomesh) structured electronic skin device.” And its makers, researchers at South Korea’s Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST), say the device represents a leap forward in electronic skin technology and the ability of skin-worn wearables to continuously measure and track biosignals. This new nanomesh organic field-effect transistor (OFET) from the DGIST research team is breathable, ultra-thin, and flexible, lending itself well to integration with a range of different devices with sensors that collect data on the skin’s surface.
So what exactly is electronic skin? The term refers to a class of electronics that are stretchable and flexible, with the ability to function similarly to human skin, often with sensing capabilities that allow them to respond to factors such as pressure and heat similar to how the skin does. When paired with additional sensors, electronic skin (or e-skin) can assist in measuring biosignals such as blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, and then transfer that data to other devices. Standing up to mechanical strain has long been a challenge for e-skin, and thus electronic skin is often made out of durable plastic and rubber. One problem is that these materials with low permeability for water or gases, which make them less than ideal for prolonged contact with human skin where they can cause allergic reactions and other issues.
Enter nanomesh and its high permeability, offering greater breathability which delivers more comfort and safety for the wearer compared to e-skin made of plastic or rubber. All without sacrificing durability. The research team says their OFET can stand up to being folded and curved, surviving significant deformations and harsh environmental factors such as high humidity without losing its functionality. DGIST researcher Professor Lee Sungwon says, “We have successfully developed a nanomesh organic field-effect transistor for the first time and demonstrated an integrated active-matrix tactile sensor. The development of transistors was essential for building a complex circuit, and now with the nanomesh electronic skin device, long-term measurement and processing of physiological data in real time is possible.”
While a considerable advancement in e-skin technology, the research team’s OFET still faces a significant hurdle: power. The new e-skin still needs an external power source, while a nanomesh energy storage device remains elusive. And that’s the team’s focus going forward, looking to create an integrated telemedicine system that can diagnose a patient without needing external power, relying on self-sufficient wearables that can measure and transmit biosignal data using just the device’s stored energy.