Wearables hold a lot of promise but most come in the form of uncomfortable gadgets or intrusive implants. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Morphing Matter and Soft Machines Labs have joined forces to create a new type of wearable tech that can be applied to the skin like a band-aid, and used for a variety of medical, fitness, or lifestyle purposes. "We envision a future where electronics can be temporarily attached to the body, but in functional and aesthetically pleasing ways," the team explains in a report that was presented at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
"We took real-world inspiration from medical bandages—easy to attach, small enough to be unobtrusive, and customized to fit other parts of the body," they explain. "The ultimate objective of the ElectroDermis fabrication system is to provide a design tool and fabrication method to support a process where wearable electronics can be applied to the body from a single, peel-off step, just like a bandage. This method would allow electronics to easily access locations on the body that were previously difficult to access, time-consuming to design for, or even not possible using existing methods."
The challenge has been finding a way to make wearables—which contain a range of electronic components—flexible. The Electrodermis team made the wiring from copper sheets cut in a wavy form to make them bend more easily. "Specifically, we achieve high functionality by discretizing rigid print circuit boards into individual islands," the report explains. "The islands are then assembled on a spandex-blend fabric to increase robustness and reusability." They also devised a multilayered fabrication method—fabric over TPU film, copper trace, z-tape, electrical components, and skin adhesive—which affords the wearer full mobility and makes it possible for the piece to be reusable, as the adhesive layer can simply be replaced.
As part of their report, the researchers outlined a series of potential use cases, which they hope designers and practitioners can expand upon: a temperature-sensing mask that can be placed on the forehead; a patch you can wear on your ear that detects your pulse; a "necklace" patch that covers your neck and detects all the food you consume; a motion-tracking knee wrap; and a bandage that tracks how the wound is healing and lets you know via color-coded LED lights that change from red to yellow, to green.