Saturday, February 29

Wearable technology gets more wearable

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Wearable technology is associated with fitness trackers and smartwatches, both of which are fairly niche products and haven’t quite delivered on the promise of more integrated, mobile technology.

Health sensors are getting slimmer but they’re still too bulky to be truly efficient, however thanks to new technology we now have a super-thin wearable that can record data through your skin. This wearable – which looks like a gold tattoo – ideal for long-term medical monitoring.  — it’s already so comfortable that people forgot they were wearing it.

Skin-based interfaces already exist but they usually consist of a range of electronics which are embedded in plastic – or the like – and then stuck onto the skin, This might sound like a great solution on paper but in reality plastic is usually too rigid and it doesn’t let your skin breathe or move properly.

In a recently published paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists have used a material that dissolves under water, thereby leaving the electronic part directly on the skin. It’s also able to bend and so comfortable to wear that people had forgotten they were wearing it. Twenty participants wore it on their skin for a week without any problems – no itchiness or irritation.

There’s been an increase in the interest in skin-based interfaces, however they’re gimmicky and focus on things like turning your skin into a touchscreen for smartwatches. The priority with this type of technology should be health monitoring.

If you think about any type of medical monitoring, electrodes being placed on your skin are usually involved. This has worked in labs or at the doctor’s office but the reality is that it’s not practical for continuous at home monitoring.

The new technology uses a material called polyvinyl alcohol – which is currently being used in contact lenses. The scientists used electrospinning (using an electrical force to create charged threads of material) and then coated the threads in gold which serves to make them more conducive.

This is then places on the skin and sprayed with some water which dissolves the polyvinyl alcohol but leaves behind the gold threads.

The only unknown is just how durable and long-lasting this technology will be.

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