March 30, 2022 — Imagine a tiny, stretchable, glowing Band-Aid on your finger or arm, and you’re imagining the latest advances in wearable technology from Stanford University researchers.
Faculty of engineering there have created a new type of polymer or synthetic plastic material that can emit light. They used it to build a flexible color display similar to what you’d see on any digital screen. But unlike your phone, it holds up when stretched or bent.
The discovery is the latest in the making of “skin-like” wearable electronics — thin, flexible devices that offer greater comfort and accuracy than today’s tougher, bulkier wearables.
Unlike previous attempts at flexible displays, this model doesn’t lose brightness when stretched. You can stick it on your arms or fingers and it won’t tear when you bend or bend.
Engineers say this bright, resilient technology could one day unlock many new ways to improve health and fitness.
More futuristic: Imagine telehealth appointments where doctors can not only see and hear you, but also check your skin texture for problems with a flexible patch.
“Getting closer to the human body will allow us to get more information,” says chemical engineer Bao Zhenan, Ph.D., one of the Stanford researchers who developed the new material. Skin-like wearables are a way to get closer to a variety of measurements.
What can we learn from light near the skin?
Flip over any fitness watch that tracks your heart rate and you’ll see a green flashing light on its lower abdomen.
These LEDs pass light through the skin and reflect it back to the watch. The watch then uses the wavelengths of the reflected light to measure things like the pulse or oxygen in the blood (aka pulse cow).
For accurate readings, the brighter the light, the better. Researchers have long sought to create an LED that is softer and more flexible than today’s technology, but they faced three main challenges:
- Create a material that is flexible enough to stretch without breaking
- Produces light bright enough to capture accurate readings
- Achieving lower risk voltage levels to power lights (shocks for wearables are not ideal.)
this new Stanford Research Have been working for 3 years. In it, Bao and her research team detail how they overcame these obstacles and developed a flexible film that produces strong light at low voltages. The material produces at least twice as much light as a typical phone display, she said.
Potential future health applications
As future versions of this luminescent material become more flexible and durable, devices made with it could measure things that today’s wearables cannot, Bao said.For example, the sound of a person’s breath or levels of stress hormones cortisol Can provide context for common measurements such as heart rate variability and help people understand what they mean.
“Adding cortisol makes [a reading] More accurately determine if what you’re seeing is real stress or just a heart rate fluctuation,” Bao said.
Skin-like displays and sensors could also change the way we use electronics, Bao said.exist telemedicineFor example, a person can stick the wearable film on the body part that needs to be examined. The wearable device can then generate a three-dimensional interface that allows doctors to examine the area from a distance.
Meanwhile, more research is already underway. Bao predicts that within five years, medical and commercial use will be possible.
“The future of this resilient technology will drive advances in telemedicine because it can provide real-time information displays,” Bao said. “If we can make them truly skin-like, the possibilities are really limited by one’s imagination. That’s what we’re aiming for.”