Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are developing electronic skin, a device that sticks onto human skin and monitors health conditions, to replace wearable devices such as Fitbits and smartwatches.
The circuit board can be applied to any part of the body and can heal itself when damaged, much like real skin. It can perform tasks such as tracking body temperature and daily step counts.
The team, led by Jianliang Xiao and Wei Zhang, published its research Friday in the journal Science Advances.
“Smartwatches are functionally nice, but they’re always a big chunk of metal on a band,” said Zhang, a chemistry professor at CU. “If we want a truly wearable device, ideally it will be a thin film that can comfortably fit onto your body.”
The team said the fully recyclable electric skin could one day allow people to collect accurate data about their bodies while cutting down on electronic waste.
To make the skins, the team uses screen printing tools to create a network of liquid metal wires, which they then put in between two thin films of the flexible and self-healing material polyimine.
The device, barely thicker than a Band-Aid, can be applied to real skin with heat and can stretch by 60% in any direction without disruption.
If cut, the electronic skin can heal itself in a matter of minutes if the wearer pinches the broken areas together.
Right now, the skins need to be hooked up to an external power source to work. However, CU assistant professor Xiao said electronic skins could be the future’s next fashion trend.
Other co-authors include former visiting scholar Chuanqian Shi, former graduate student Zhanan Zou, graduate student Zepeng Lei and visiting scholar Pengcheng Zhu.
The full published paper is available at advances.sciencemag.org.