Wearable devices can do many things from checking your heart rate to taking your blood pressure. But in order to become commonplace, they need to first be comfortable and durable.
Now, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a wearable electronic device that mimics and sticks to human skin. The new invention is self-healing, stretchy, fully-recyclable, and can perform a variety of tasks from measuring body temperature to tracking daily step counts.
The team, led by Jianliang Xiao and Wei Zhang, also reveals that their new device is reconfigurable.
“If you want to wear this like a watch, you can put it around your wrist,” said Xiao, an associate professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU Boulder. “If you want to wear this like a necklace, you can put it on your neck.”
The researchers are hoping their invention will help revolutionize wearables.
“Smart watches are functionally nice, but they’re always a big chunk of metal on a band,” said Zhang, a professor in the Department of Chemistry. “If we want a truly wearable device, ideally it will be a thin film that can comfortably fit onto your body.”
Xiao and Zhang were actually inspired by the movie Terminator to invent their new wearable and although the technology is not at that level yet, that is definitely where they are heading. “Our research is kind of going in that direction, but we still have a long way to go,” Zhang said.
That does not mean their device is not impressive. Currently, it can be applied to the skin with heat and can stretch by 60% in any direction without disrupting the electronics inside.
“It’s really stretchy, which enables a lot of possibilities that weren’t an option before,” Xiao said.
But perhaps by far, its most impressive feature is its ability to self heal. If you break or slice a piece of the electronic skin, you simply pinch the broken areas together and the damage will be almost gone within minutes.
“Those bonds help to form a network across the cut. They then begin to grow together,” Zhang said. “It’s similar to skin healing, but we’re talking about covalent chemical bonds here.” Well, color us impressed!