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Researchers have developed thin, soft stick-on patches that stretch and move with the skin and feature commercial, off-the-shelf chip-based electronics for sophisticated wireless health monitoring.
The patches created by engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University stick to the skin like a temporary tattoo and incorporate a unique microfluidic construction with wires folded like origami to allow the patch to bend and flex without being constrained by the rigid electronics components.
The patches could be used for everyday health tracking - wirelessly sending updates to your cellphone or computer - and could revolutionize clinical monitoring such as EKG and EEG testing - no bulky wires, pads or tape needed.
The researchers did a side-by-side comparison with traditional EKG and EEG monitors and found the wireless patch performed equally to conventional sensors, while being significantly more comfortable for patients.
Such a distinction is crucial for long-term monitoring, situations such as stress tests or sleep studies when the outcome depends on the patient's ability to move and behave naturally, or for patients with fragile skin such as premature newborns.
One of the biggest engineering feats of the patch is the design of the tiny, squiggly wires connecting the electronics components - radios, power inductors, sensors and more. The serpentine-shaped wires are folded like origami, so that no matter which way the patch bends, twists or stretches, the wires can unfold in any direction to accommodate the motion. Since the wires stretch, the chips don't have to.
The team will publish its design in the journal Science.