Wireless Health Data

Epidermal electronics may be a relatively new innovation, but since these electronic skin patches are now cheap and easy to make, production seems to be rapidly growing. 

This week in Science Advances, John Rogers, materials scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his research group introduced a wearable electronic device that wirelessly transmits health data — like heart rate, blood oxygen level, skin temperature, ultraviolet exposure, and skin color changes —  and doesn’t have batteries. Instead, it is powered by near-field communication (NFC) transmissions from smartphones, tablet computers, and other consumer electronics, making it five to 10 times thinner than comparable gadgets.

The Next Generation of Wearables

Electronic patch applied to the forehead to measure brain activity. Photo courtesy: John Rogers

The health-monitoring skin patch consists of a variety of innovations, integrating LEDs, heat sensors, and ultraviolet-sensitive materials that allow the instrument to pick up vital signals of the human body and to transmit the data to an external device. 

Because these devices use radio signals in order to work and transmit information, the wearer must be at least within couple of centimeters of their phones or tablets, or within one meter of a long-range
NFC reader.

In an interview, Rogers says, “we believe that these systems represent the next generation of wearable technology, where thin, skin-like devices can interface with the body to provide clinically relevant data on health status.”

Rogers believe that battery-free designs may open up applications in hospitals and sleep monitoring.

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