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Researchers develop stickers similar to skin for monitoring health

Some health devices are on the edge of merging smoothly with our skin as wearable technology grows ever tinier and more sensitive. A flexible digital sticker has been developed by the Researchers at Stanford University that can track a person’s pulse, respiration and muscle activity simultaneously. The work appears in the Nature Electronics journal. 

Bodynet which is the explanation of the working of this novel device asserts that the delicate and lightweight sensors fuse easily with the skin, stretching and bending gradually with each motion, heartbeat or breath. These accurate wireless measurements are then transported from the sticker to a close-by flexible receiver which is cropped somewhere onto a person’s clothing. The device has only been experimented on one individual so far and the receiver of this device is still a bit clumsy and requires further development.

The researchers have planned to improve their model even after 3 years of work in the near future. They expect the device to be used for tracking sleep disorders and heart conditions in real-time by the physicians.

The chemical engineer Zhenan Bao said that they think that in the future they can develop a full-body skin-sensor array device that can assemble physiological information without intervening with a person’s normal behavior.

There is a long way to go, researchers are moving rapidly on wearable technologies. Recently, researchers worldwide have been building new methods to hold medical devices onto the skin or implant medical sensors in the tattoo ink. Recent reports on wearable devices predict that as the industry prospers, the market could rise from US$8.9 billion in 2018 to US$29.9 billion by 2023.

The new design from Stanford uses a magnificent new wireless system including an antenna made from metallic ink, screen-printed onto a rubber sticker that can bend and stretch like human skin, unlike the sensors that stick on the skin. The electric current flowing through this metallic ink is varied as it goes through the motions giving precise measurements of a person’s physicality. The very close contact motion with the skin in the flexible antennae can disturb the radio waves sent to the receiver.

The team of researchers had to develop a novel type of wireless communication based on radiofrequency identification (RFID) that would enable the antennae to transmit strong and reliable signals to the receiver without being stretched and contracted to fix this issue. The key-card generates an access code when placed near a receiver and then sends back to the receiver for access allowing for the battery-free key card to steal a little of the reader’s energy.

The authors concluded that in spite of the system with Bodynet stickers becoming insensitive to strain-induced antenna disruptions, it can still maintain full functionality even when subjected to 50 % strain. Moreover, they added that the device can potentially be used for real-time physiological and clinical findings in a modern personal health monitoring system by continuously analyzing critical human signals (pulse, respiration and body movement).

The researchers are planning to integrate sweat, temperature and other sensors into their sticker and also reducing the receiver’s size so it can one day be woven into clothing.

Journal Reference: Nature Electronics journal.