With aging populations all over the world, its no surprise that healthcare and health monitoring devices have become big business. Japan in particular boasts one of the lowest birth rates in the world and thusly one of the largest elderly populations. It is against this backdrop that the University of Tokyo's Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) research group led by Professor Takao Someya and Associate Professor Tsuyoshi Sekitani, in collaboration with Johannes Keplar University in Linz, Austria, have developed the world's lightest and thinnest circuit. In contrast to similar circuitry designed to come into direct contact with skin (the lick and stick circuits from UIUC come to mind), the ultra-thin electronics from U of Tokyo are incredibly robust for their discreet profile.
Professor Takao Someya commented on the design of the circuitry as having great potential in a number of different arenas.
The new flexible touch sensor is the world's thinnest, lightest and people cannot feel the existence of this device. I believe this development will open up a wide range of new applications, from health monitoring systems, wearable medical instruments, and even robotic skins in the future.
The prototypes of the feather-light circuits exist as a 12×12 array created by two thin layers, one a integrated circuit and the other a tactile sensor. Additionally, they boast a fairly incredible bend radius of 5 microns, ability to endure 233% tensile strain—impressive for electronics that are just one-fifth the thickness of your average saran wrap. While all of this may sound fine and dandy, its pretty incredible when compared to traditional IT device manufacturing that typically employs rigid silicon.
The circuit, as a shiny new technology, offers a wealth of possibility within the realm of wearables electronics. The most obvious approach (and intended purpose) in health monitoring is great, but as purely a thought experiment, I would love to see how they might be used in other designed objects or even in an artistic capacity. With the leap from the original arduino board to the Lilypads, Unos and Megas of today—maybe there will eventually be an open hardware future for the super-lightweight circuits? It's still a ways off, but a girl can dream...