Scientists have discovered a multi-functional ultra-thin wearable electronic device that is less noticeable than wearing a Band-Aid. Wearable human-machine interfaces (HMI) can collect and store important health information about the wearer, among other uses, said Cunjiang Yu, an Associate Professor at the University of Houston in the US.
However, current models still can be bulky and uncomfortable, and they can't always handle multiple functions at one time. The new device, described in the journal Science Advances, allows the wearer to move naturally and is less noticeable than wearing a Band-Aid.
"Everything is very thin, just a few microns thick. You will not be able to feel it," said Yu.
It has the potential to work as a prosthetic skin for a robotic hand or other robotic devices, with a robust human-machine interface that allows it to automatically collect information and relay it back to the wearer.
That has applications for health care as well as for situations such as chemical spills, which are risky for humans but require human decision-making based on physical inspection, researchers said.
While current devices are gaining in popularity, they can be bulky to wear, offer slow response times and suffer a drop in performance over time.
More flexible versions are unable to provide multiple functions at once -- sensing, switching, stimulation and data storage, for example -- and are generally expensive and complicated to manufacture.
The device, a metal oxide semiconductor on a polymer base, offers manufacturing advantages and can be processed at temperatures lower than 300 degrees Celsius.
"We report an ultrathin, mechanically imperceptible, and stretchable HMI device, which is worn on human skin to capture multiple physical data and also on a robot to offer intelligent feedback, forming a closed-loop HMI," the researchers said.
"The multifunctional soft stretchy HMI device is based on a one-step formed, sol-gel-on-polymer-processed indium zinc oxide semiconductor nanomembrane electronics," they said.