Friday, August 12, 2011

Skintight monitoring

A research article in the August 12, 2011 issue of Science, "Epidermal Electronics," describes a bandage-like "electronic skin" (as it's called in a commentary, "An Electronic Second Skin," in the same issue). According to the abstract of the research article, the material can incorporate "electrophysiological, temperature, and strain sensors, as well as transistors, light-emitting diodes, photodetectors, radio frequency inductors, capacitors, oscillators, and rectifying diodes."

The potential uses in medical applications alone are impressive. Zhenqiang Ma, author of the commentary, describes one current technology that this material may replace one day: "a patient who may have heart disease is usually required to wear a bulky monitor for a prolonged period (typically a month) in order to capture the abnormal yet rare cardiac events." Skintight monitors would eliminate the bulk and weight and have other benefits.

In addition to "physiological status monitoring," the authors of the research article say that the material could be used for "wound measurement/treatment, biological/chemical sensing, human-machine interfaces, covert communications, and others."

Naturally it's the last two examples that catch my attention. Human-machine interfaces? A cool and no doubt really useful application, but vaguely scary, too. And of course covert communications always seem nefarious.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

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