Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering in collaboration with Dai Nippon Printing (DNP), a Japanese printing company, have developed a new ultrathin, elastic display that when stuck to a person’s skin can show the moving waveform of an electrocardiogram (ECG) recorded by a breathable, on-skin electrode sensor in real-time.

Led by Professor Takao Someya, the new integrated biomedical sensor system, which they refer to as skin electronics, was developed with the elderly in mind as a continuous, non-invasive health monitoring solution.

The majority of wearable devices on the market monitor health by first measuring vital signs or taking an ECG, and then transmitting the data wirelessly to a smartphone. The new skin electronics aims to provide the option of bypassing the smartphone to improve accessibility for people such as the elderly who tend to have difficulty operating and obtaining data from mobile devices.

However, to ensure remote monitoring, the medical data measured by the sensor, such as an ECG, can either be sent wirelessly to a smartphone for viewing or to the cloud for storage.

The integrated system combines a flexible, deformable display with a lightweight sensor composed of a breathable nanomesh electrode and wireless communication module. The skin display consists of a 16 x 24 array of micro LEDs and stretchable wiring mounted on a rubber sheet. The display is stretchable by as much as 45% of its original length.

“Our skin display exhibits simple graphics with motion. Because it is made from thin and soft materials, it can be deformed freely,” said Prof Someya.

The nanomesh skin sensor can be worn on the skin continuously for a week without causing any inflammation.

During the display’s development, the researchers applied tried-and-trusted methods used in the mass production of electronics to ensure the future commercialisation of the display will be cost effective.

According to the researchers, DNP intends to bring the integrated skin display to market within the next three years by improving the reliability of the stretchable devices through optimising its structure, enhancing the production process for high integration, and overcoming technical challenges such as large-area coverage.

“The current aging society requires user-friendly wearable sensors for monitoring patient vitals in order to reduce the burden on patients and family members providing nursing care, said Prof Someya.

“Our system could serve as one of the long-awaited solutions to fulfil this need, which will ultimately lead to improving the quality of life for many,” concluded Prof Someya.

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