At the University of Tokyo in Japan researchers have developed a new method of producing stretchable electronics that are breathable, don’t irritate the skin, and weigh next to nothing. The development may lead to ubiquitous use of on-skin electronic sensors to monitor the body continuously in a variety of places and ways.
The research team tested the technology by having volunteers wear an electronic single lead ECG sensor on their finger, demonstrating that even a week of use did not lead to discomfort and the participants even forgot they had a device attached to their skin. Moreover, the signal quality received were similar to existing conventional ECG electrodes.
The technology relies on building nanoscale meshes, made of polyvinyl alcohol, that when applied dissolve and allow air to pass through, something that was often lacking in film based electronics.
This helps to allow the electronics to be used for long periods of time since a lack of air circulation can lead to irritation, inflammation, and even infection. A thin layer of gold nanofibers is used to transmit electric current through the device, which remains on the skin following the lamination of the device onto the skin.
In a laboratory study, the researchers demonstrated the long term integrity of electronics produced this way, bending and pulling on the devices repeatedly more than 10,000 times.