University of Texas develops wearable health monitoring patches
Picture credit: Cockrell School of Engineering
A research team from the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas has published a paper on a new process to make health monitoring patches.
The patent-pending process aims to develop a tattoo-like disposable patch for epidermal electronics mass production. The team was led by Assistant Professor Nanshu Lu, who helped develop epidermal electronics technology in 2011.
The process involves a cut and paste method that reduces manufacturing time to 20 minutes, down from several days. According to the researchers, this method is compatible with roll-to-roll manufacturing, a method that creates devices with a flexible roll of plastic.
Epidermal electronics are ultrathin wearable devices that can stick to the skin in a manner similar to a tattoo. They can receive and transmit vital signs of the wearer, like hydration level, brain activity, temperature and heart rate. However, they have long had a costly and lengthy production process.
This new process is the first dry-and-portable method to produce epidermal electronics without requiring a clean room, wafers and other resources and equipment like the current manufacturing process. It uses freeform manufacturing, which is similar to 3D printing but with material being removed rather than added.
In the two-step method, industrial-quality and pre-fabricated metal is deposited onto polymer sheets and an electronic cutter is used to form patterns on it. Excessive areas are removed and the electronics are printed onto polymer adhesives. The cutter can be reprogrammed to match the pattern and size of the patch.
The patches were produced and tested by the researchers as part of the study. The patches were found to pick up body signals stronger than current medical devices, including ECG/EKG. In addition, the patch was found to conform to the skin almost flawlessly, with minimal errors and false signals.
Lu said: "One of the most attractive aspects of epidermal electronics is their ability to be disposable If you can make them inexpensively, say for $1, then more people will be able to use them more frequently. This will open the door for a number of mobile medical applications and beyond."
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