Electronic skins – the future for medical devices

A sample of the wearable sensor. 

The impregnation of tissue papers by ultrathin gold nanowire inks lead to highly-sensitive and wearable pressure sensors.

July 2014

Technologies are increasingly becoming smaller, lighter and smarter, and now they are becoming flexible and wearable too. Current rigid circuit board technologies are limited in their applications, particularly with regards to medical devices and bionics. MCN Technology Fellow, Professor Wenlong Cheng from Monash University, has been leading a team in the development of stretchable, elastomeric conductors for use in pressure sensing.

Electronics such as these which are soft, flexible, stretchable and wearable are enabling applications that are impossible to achieve with circuit board technologies. The focus of this project is the creation of pressure sensors which enable portable pulse and heart rate monitoring, as well as body movement sensing.

These sensors are not achievable with traditional organic or inorganic materials or conventional manufacturing methods. Utilising the facilities at MCN, Professor Cheng’s team have developed a simple yet efficient and low-cost nanotechnological approach to integrating ultrathin gold nanowires into tissue paper to create an ultra-flexible sensor. This can then be sandwiched between thin layers of PDMS and attached to wiring to create a wearable sensor that can provide readings of blood pressure, heart rate and movement. Such sensors are so sensitive that tiny forces from blood pulses and acoustic vibrational forces can be accurately detected.

This development of soft electronics holds huge potential for portable health monitoring devices. Professor Cheng will be looking at the commercial development of this project next.

Professor Cheng can be heard discussing these sensors on the BBC radio program, Click. The interview starts approximately 6 minutes into the show.

You can read more about this project in the Nature Communications Paper, A wearable and highly sensitive pressure sensor with ultrathin gold nano wires, published in February 2014.