Smart Skin Collects Healthcare Data
When you have ordered a sleep test, EEG or other study that requires your patients to go to a sterile, uncomfortable clinic or hospital, have you ever wondered how they can get accurate results? I usually think about the accuracy of sleep studies, considering that even if they sleep in their own bed at home, the patients are still hooked up to a bunch of electrodes and wires. The basic problem with sensors is that they represent the hard, inflexible world of electronics while patients' skin is soft and elastic. To compensate for this incongruity, we use gels, wires, and/or pins to marry the two worlds. This is uncomfortable and naturally alters the data. For those of you familiar with hard circuit boards (think of the circuit boards you see when you have accidently dropped and shattered your phone or other personal electronic device), imagine taking one of these and attaching it to your skin! What if you could take that hard, inflexible surface and make it as stretchable as skin and thinner than saran wrap. You could then easily apply it to the skin like a temporary tattoo. That is what a group of researchers have done at the University of Illinois, in China and in Europe. Smart Skin
looks more like a circuit tattoo than a sensor and applies with nothing more than a little water on the skin; almost exactly like a temporary tattoo. No more messy glues, Velcro straps or tape to attach critical sensors to patients. It is evidently comfortable, easily forgotten once applied and can last for up to 4 days (the usual time it takes for enough of the body's skin cells to slough off to make the sensor ineffective).
The technology is incredibly cool for a couple of reasons. Because computer circuits are electronic connections, they need a stable way of transmitting electrical impulses between points. Well on a surface as elastic as the skin, those connections are either broken or altered as movement occurs. Just imagine the way an ECG changes when patients move. What the researchers have done is essentially developed a circuit that maintains its connections as the circuit is contracted and stretched. For the first time, this technology really marries two entirely different worlds; biology and hardware. Secondly, the product is so thin and comfortable that patients forget they are even wearing the technology. You can even place it on a temporary tattoo and apply it to the skin!
The sensors also have the potential to generate their own power from solar cells or even stray electromagnetic radiation. Even considering the product's small size and flexibility, the data received is good enough to give high-quality electroencephalography data. For those of you interested in other applications, the sensors are so precise, there is the ability to interface with computer systems. Essentially, you might be able to control gaming without the need for a controller or electronic eye. Very cool stuff indeed!