In the future, tracking your health could be done via a drawing on your skin

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By STEM Caribbean | Posted on August 24, 2020

‘Draw on skin’ electronics developed by a team of researchers allows multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin | Image source: University of Houston

Wearable bioelectronics technology has recently experienced a breakthrough in precision and adaptability to the human skin and its characteristics. Cunjiang Yu, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston in the US, has led a team of researchers in developing a new technology known as “drawn-on-skin electronics.”   

As the name indicates, this technology literally involves drawing sensors on the skin with ink. The sensors can collect biological data from the wearer and monitor health and prevent and treat critical health conditions. According to the researchers, information such as muscle signals, heart rate, temperature, and skin hydration could be collected by the sensors.  

“It is applied like you would use a pen to write on a piece of paper,” said Yu in a news release by the University of Houston. “We prepare several electronic materials and then use pens to dispense them. Coming out, it is liquid. But like ink on paper, it dries very quickly.”  

In a research paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers describe the benefits and functions of this new technology. A modified ballpoint pen is filled with a solution containing elements like silver mixed with semiconducting inks. When used to draw on the skin, the tip of the pen does not need to touch the skin to create a shape.   

During the study, the researchers used stencils to create shapes with the ink representing different types of sensors, which are powered by a battery and receive and transmit data via Bluetooth. If mistakes are made while using the device to draw, they can be corrected by simply drawing a new shape over them.   

The researchers evaluated different properties of the draw on skin technology such as the ink drawing characteristics, skin compatibility, and electrical performances of the ink mixture. They also tested the technology on wireless electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring to detect heart rate.   

When compared to existing technologies, the draw on skin device performed consistently in the presence of sweat and motion and remained relatively intact on the skin during the test period. The researchers wrote that such characteristics of this new technology enable more precise biological data to be collected when the wearer moves compared to data collected by existing wearable bioelectronics, which are not as adhesive and are affected by movements.  

Due to its simplicity, the researchers believe that the draw on skin device is suitable for areas where resources or complex systems are not readily available, such as on the battlefield. They also reported that the technology could be customized and drawn to fit different wounds and have shown to accelerate the healing process of wounds.  

This technology could be quite useful in different applications, including rehabilitation, and disease detection and prevention.   

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