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Flexible Circuitry Bends and Folds Like a Second Skin

By Wesley Fenlon

We shall become cyborgs!

Skin computer, what is the temperature today? Skin computer, when does my movie start? Skin computer, how long will it take me to get home in current traffic conditions?

Scientist John Rogers of the University of Illinois has worked on flexible electronics before, which we've covered on Tested. Now some researchers at the University of Tokyo are working on a similar project, inspired by his work--flexible circuitry that can conform to the skin. It makes us think of a virtual personal assistant like Siri, minus the smartphone doing all the processing and vocalizing.

Constructing electronics flexible is a challenge already, but making them thin enough to bend around an arm or other area of skin is a step beyond. The Tokyo researchers have made printable circuitry a mere 2 microns (.0002 millimeters) thick, which can bend or crinkle up to five microns. It's thinner than plastic wrap.

You could put transistors on the circuitry, attach it to the roof of someone's mouth, and suddenly give someone who can't speak a way to communicate.

One of their proposed uses of flesh circuitry really puts in perspective how useful this technology could be. Researcher Martin Kaltenbrunner told io9 that you could put transistors on the circuitry, attach it to the roof of someone's mouth, and suddenly give someone who can't speak (but still have control of their tongue) a way to communicate. Healthcare possibilities spring to mind--testing body temperature, monitoring skin healing.

It's not a stretch to think those same kinds of sensors could be used externally, to read the external temperature or humidity. Dreaming a little bigger, a wireless transmitter and the processing to function like a smartphone would add far too much bulk to the skin circuitry right now, but we'll give it a few years.

Watch the video below for more on the flexible circuitry.