Flexible electronic skin technologies, with their ultra-thin form factor, microelectronic components, and varieties of sensors, are whipping up innovative solutions in industries such as health care, robotics, gaming and a host of others.
These technologies are modeled after the human skin, which serves up not only a self-regenerating elastic layer of protection against the elements but also multifunctional sensors that facilitate our ability to adapt to our environments. By mimicking the properties of the human skin, e-skins supercharge our tactile interactions with our environment. E-skins also help robots acquire the capabilities provided the human skin.
But given the proportion of our population in their twilight years and with chronic diseases, the adoption of e-skins is gaining greater traction in the health care industry than in any other industry. From health monitoring to prostheses, electronic smart skins for medical devices are becoming increasingly applicable to various aspects of health care.
The Key Areas Where the Use of Electronic Smart Skins for Medical Devices is Gaining the Most Momentum
Health Monitoring Systems
Most electronic smart skins for medical devices used for monitoring patients come with miniaturized semiconductor components like diodes, antennas, Nano-scale drug delivery systems, and power systems. They’re usually composed of a silicone-based substrate with polymers. These flexible electronic skin technologies usually come with sensors that detect stress, strain as well as temperature changes in the skin.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are developing an electronic skin analysis system to serve up a non-invasive alternative for the tactile and visual methods of monitoring wounds. The technology harnesses sensors and actuators to monitor and regulate the temperature around the site of an injury to prevent the temperature in that area from becoming conducive to infections.
Researchers at Stanford University in California have created a hypersensitive sensor that can imbue advance electronic skins for gadgets and prosthetics with highly sensitive pressure-detection capabilities. The skin can help a limb wearer detect the slightest pressure on the skin — even as light as a butterfly dropping on the limb.
In another similar development, researchers at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Material, South Korea, have created an e-skin for prosthetic hands that can detect the magnitude and direction of applied force and pressure, as well as the texture and shape of objects
Electronic skins for wearable health care devices are designed to measure body temperature and stress by measuring heart rate, hydration levels, and sweat contents. These devices, which come in form of stretchable tattoos, are now being adopted by the military to monitor soldiers.
In another similar health monitoring e-skin development, an e-skin coated with light-sensitive dyes, which change color when exposed to ultraviolet rays, allows wearers to track UV exposure via a mobile app which scans the wearable e-skin.
Drug Delivery Systems
A California based health care company Chrono Therapeutics have developed flexible electronic skin technologies that detect the surge of smoking craves in smokers and then dispatches nicotine into the bloodstream to abate the craving. The e-skin is designed to be worn overnight and preset to deliver nicotine before a set wake-up time. Studies show that the craving to smoke peaks 30 minutes after waking in 97% of smokers.
Key Features of Electronic Smart Skins for Medical Devices
Chief among the most common components of electronic smart skins for medical devices include the carbon nanotubes, graphene, and metallic nanowires, all of which imbue e-skins with excellent electrical properties.
Researchers are looking to imbue e-skins with self-regenerating properties by using polymers, gold nanoparticles, and nickel. When the synthetic tissue of the self-regenerating e-skin is torn, hydrogen bonds with the elastic polymer (such as polydimethylsiloxane) –which forms the substrate, the gold particles heal the damage, and the nickel particles reinforce the strength of the e-skin.
The fast-paced advancements in e-skin are also bringing about the integration of capabilities other than pressure and texture detection in e-skins, including the capacity to simultaneously decipher various types of stimuli like temperature, strain, humidity, as well as self-sustainable power systems.
There’s also been an increasing push for the integration of wireless connectivity in these devices. This is to enable remote real-time health monitoring and in vivo treatment that use drug delivery systems.
Nevertheless, a major challenge for manufacturers has been the etching of powerful microelectronics on an ultra-thin, flexible substrate. Mahmoud Tavakoli, Carmel Majidi and colleagues are developing a fast, cost-effective method for fabricating thin-film circuits with miniaturized components. The method involves coating a circuit template with a silver paste, and then topping the coating with gallium-indium liquid metal alloy for enhanced conductivity, before mounting electronic components using a conductive “glue” made from polyvinyl alcohol embedded with magnetic particles that are aligned vertically.
Electronic skins for wearable health care devices are products of complex engineering that replicate the multifunctionality of the human skin. Integrating e-skins into your set of technological inventory can be challenging. But we have the expertise and facilities to help you harness e-skin technologies efficiently.