Wearable, ‘Skin-Like’ Electronics Support Wireless Functionality

As we blast through the early part of the 2020s a few trends in technology rapidly continue to grow more apparent. One such trend is toward wearable electronics. Now, in another wearables breakthrough—that’s characteristically cool and creepy—a team of engineers says it’s created “intrinsically stretchable” semiconductor circuits. Ones that are “skin like” and can support wireless functionality for “advanced, personal” healthcare.

The team of engineers, from Stanford University and Keio University in Tokyo, outlined their wearable circuits in a paper published in the journal Nature. The team notes in its paper that the goal for their project was to build on already available wearable tech; specifically by looking for a way to allow wearable electronics to support wireless applications.

A person showing off an intrinsically stretchable, wirelessly controllable electronic circuit that is mechanically similar to skin.
nature video

In the video above project lead Naoji Matsuhisa describes the stretchy electronics he and his colleagues created. He notes that how well wearables integrate into people’s lives is a function of how comfortable they are. To that end, the team’s wearables use polymers that are incredibly soft and stretchy; ones that allow the electronics to behave, mechanically, in a very similar way to skin.

Critically, the engineers’ stretchy wearable electronics are capable of an operating frequency high enough to allow for wireless operation. As the IT Law Wiki notes operating frequency is essentially the speed at which a processor operates. By drastically increasing the operating frequency of their wearables, Matsuhisa and his colleagues were able to increase the amount of data they can send and receive, allowing them to work wirelessly. And even charge wirelessly.

An engineer twists an intrinsically stretchable electronic circuit in his hand, showing how easily the wirelessly connected device can twist and expand.
nature video

As for exact uses, in the video Matsuhisa et al. show off a simple wireless tag with a stretchable sensor, display, and antenna. And while the idea of “tagging” people with electronics is probably not the best way to frame this technology, it’s easy enough to imagine these wearables, say, remotely sending health data to doctors. Or whomever else may be on the receiving end of all of your intimate physical stats.

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