LED-studded ‘electronic skin’ monitors your health, makes you look like a cyborg

In many ways, the future of healthcare will depend on “self care,” or patients caring for their own health using all technologies at their disposal. That might mean scouring the internet for nutrition facts about a meal, strapping a fitness tracker to your wrist before a jog, or reviewing a doctor’s recommendations based on a DNA test. Either way, people who take hold of their health will tend to live healthier lives.

Around the world, researchers are developing wearables to put power in patients’ hands and help them monitor physiological conditions, from heart rate to blood alcohol level.

This “electronic skin” display uses nanomesh electrodes to pick up on electrical signals from the heart.

Now, a team of engineers from the University of Tokyo has developed an ultrathin, breathable, and stretchable display that can be worn directly on the skin. This “electronic skin” display uses nanomesh electrodes to pick up on electrical signals from the heart, allowing it to monitor cardiovascular health and display data for the patient to view in real time via micro LEDs. The data can also be transferred wirelessly to a smartphone.

“Global aging is widely perceived as one of the most significant risks to global prosperity,” Takao Someya, an engineer and head of the University of Tokyo’s Someya Research Group, who developed the display, told Digital Trends. “In order to find the possible solutions to this pressing issue, home healthcare system in which people are responsible for their own health is getting more and more important. To build a home healthcare system, we need to foster age-friendly accessibility to information.”

Many of these wearable sensors are either relatively narrow in their ability to collect biometric data or else a bit bulky to wear, but the goal is to develop these wearable sensors to be broad in scope and practically unnoticeable to wear. The displays developed by the Someya Research Group fits into the “narrow but not bulky” category, in that it serves as an electrocardiogram but attaches unobtrusively to the skin.

“Our skin display can be nicely fitted on the skin due to its stretchability,” Someya said. “It exhibits simple graphics with motion including an electrocardiogram waveform measured with our skin sensors. It is the first stretchable display to achieve superior durability and stability in air. We have combined skin sensors with skin displays. Skin sensors realize comfortable, accurate, and safe data collections, [while] skin displays achieve natural, intuitive, and safe feedback.”

Moving forward, the researchers will work to refine the performance and reliability of their wearable, including increasing its resolution and aiming to make it full color. But, with these challenges complete, Someya sees devices like his ushering in more accessible and empowering healthcare.

Researchers want devices like these
to usher in a more accessible and empowering healthcare.

“Skin electronics will enhance information accessibility for the elderly people or people with disabilities, who tend to have difficulty operating and obtaining data from existing devices,” he said. “The current aging society requires user-friendly wearable sensors for monitoring patient vitals in order to reduce the burden on patients and family members providing nursing care. Our system could serve as one of the long-awaited solutions to fulfill this need, which will ultimately lead to improving the quality of life.”

Someday presented his findings last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.