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Electronic Tattoos to Monitor the Bodies’ Activities

By Lito Carasig - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You wouldn’t normally equate tattoos with technology, but science has always found new and sometimes unusual ways of merging polar opposites into one timesaving and lifesaving revolution.

Monitoring body activities such as EEG, ECG and EMG require electrical signals to measure small changes in our brain, heart and muscles but the machines used for such purposes are oftentimes bulky and unweilding in nature to be of any use to our mobile lifestyle. These may all change soon because of a new science which actually marries tattoos and technology.

In a recent research published in Science Magazine, scientists described a new technology whereby electrical measurements can be taken using ultra-thin polymers embedded within electronic circuit elements.  The research also mentioned that these minute devices can be connected to the skin without the use of adhesive, are almost invisible to the naked eye and can be applied to patients like temporary tattoos.

To do this the scientist designed a way to miniaturize all electronic circuits needed, such as sensors, electrodes, RF communication components and power supplies so that they may be fitted into a very thin (30 microns) elastic polyester sheet which is very flexible and virtually has no mass, making it a very lightweight and pliable material. Other circuit elements like transistors, diodes and resistors are manufactured using common materials (silicon and gallium arsenide) and they are connected using nanoribbon and mirco elements which facilitate minute but flexible forms.

The researchers have tagged their technology as Epidermal Electronic System (EES) due to the fact that their device duplicates the properties of the human skin including its nuances such as thickness, stiffness, wrinkles and creases.  Because of this unique property, the device does not need any adhesive to attach to the skin thus making it unnoticeable when worn.

Power is supplied to the device via silicon photovoltaic cells which generate electricity but since the wattage produced by this method is extremely small researchers are exploring new avenues to generate more useful power using induction method similar to those used in wireless charging devices.

According to the researchers, possible uses for this technology include “remote medical monitoring, biological/chemical sensing, human-machine interface, and covert communication”. Though the new system shows very promising potential, the researchers are quick to add that there are still some issues to be resolved, for instances, fluctuating RF frequencies and dead skin and sweat which may affect the results of the tests using the new technology.

So far, all the trials conducted have been very successful and we could be seeing this medical innovation being used just a few years from now (or perhaps even sooner).




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