New Ultra-thin e-skin that can Turn your Skin into a Digital Display

April 15, 2016

There is a large demand for wearable devices for medical uses such as prosthetic limbs and pacemakers to recreational uses like electronic glasses (Google glass). E-skin takes technology to a whole new level by providing a flexible, and now stretchable electronic display. Takao Someya and his team at the University of Tokyo developed an ultra-flexible organic photonic-electronic skin that can turn anything into a digital display.

PLED[Image Source: Science Advances]

At just 3 micrometers thick, this stretchable device looks just like plastic cling wrap. The “e-skin” can be placed over real skin anywhere on the body. The device uses  highly efficient polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) and organic photodetectors (OPDs) that provide a digital display which can be integrated with multiple electronic functions, including sensory and monitoring options. The e-skin is also impervious to water, and when made with a rubber substrate it can become incredibly stretchy without ruining the functionality. The device can be used directly on human body parts because of its ability to conform to creases and movement. The device will likely be used in healthcare sectors to display critical information like pulse, oxygen and glucose levels, as well temperature which can be placed directly on a patient’s skin. The device could also see use in construction zones to display information to construction workers without carrying bulky equipment, reducing potential hazards.

“The advent of mobile phones has changed the way we communicate. While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us,” said Someya, a researcher that helped develop the skin. He continues,

“What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease? In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate.”

Wearable electronic skin[Image Source: New Scientist]

Human and technology interactions occur on an hourly basis between cars, cell phones, computers, and many many other devices. We carry around miniature computers in our pockets to communicate, while although small, can still be obstructive or become a nuisance with battery limitations and susceptibility to damage. The new ultra-flexible organic photonic-electronic skin promises great advancements in reliability with water resistance and the ability to safely deform, able to conform to almost any surface and be bent or crumpled. The device will have indispensable values in healthcare by displaying critical information right on a patient, without the need for bulky equipment. The device will also make great recreational device as a smartphone or weable device- because who doesn’t want a flexible, stretchable, wearable screen? 

Journal article/Conference paper

Tomoyuki Yokota, Peter Zalar, Martin Kaltenbrunner, Hiroaki Jinno, Naoji Matsuhisa, Hiroki Kitanosako, Yutaro Tachibana, Wakako Yukita, Mari Koizumi, Takao Someya, “Ultraflexible organic photonic skin,”Science Advances 2:e1501856, 15 April 2016. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501856