tattoo electronics

17 Aug

in a device platform that spans communications, human-machine interfaces and gaming, and medical diagnostics,
ultrathin electronics can be worn as simply and unobtrusively as a temporary tattoo with the system developed by a research team
led by todd coleman and john rogers of the university of illinois at urbana-champaign and yonggang huang of northwestern university.
sensors and communication electronics are embedded into flexible transparent sheets that stick to skin. the unobtrusive quality
of the device opens the potential for a host of measurements and control systems that could offer more accurate day-to-day data
than laboratory figures (when patients are in unnatural conditions), while the use of other kinds of electronic modules
permits covert communications and physiological-directed gaming.

the tested electronics feature electrophysiological and physical sensors as well as wireless communication modules.
recordings for EEG, EKG/ECG, and EMG sensors (measuring electrical activity in the brain, heart,
and skeletal muscles respectively) were comparable to data obtained via bulky commercial devices.

the team also demonstrated the system’s potential for use in human-machine interfaces of other kinds.
when mounted to a user’s throat, simple spoken commands can be translated into electrical controls–
here, for example, the device wirelessly controlled movement in the video game sokoban
in response to a user’s vocalization of the commands ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘left’, and ‘right’.


the challenge of the project was overcoming the rigidity of electronic systems, which the team accomplished
by fabricating the circuitry as snakelike nanoribbons of wires mounted onto a lightweight, stretchable membrane.
with this geometry, called ‘filamentary serpentine’ by the research team, the wires can bend, twist, and stretch
while maintaining functionality.

the device adheres to the stick via the electrostatic phenomenon of van der waals force,
requiring neither tape nor glue nor bulky wires, and thus easily removable.

coleman notes:
if we want to understand brain function in a natural environment, that’s completely incompatible
with EEG studies in a laboratory. the best way to do this is to record neural signals in natural settings,
with devices that are invisible to the user.

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