An ultra-thin, stick-on tattoo that uses sensor technology could one day replace wires and cables connecting patients to machines to monitor heart rate and brain waves.
The epidermal electronic system (EES) contains tiny transmitters and receivers, miniature sensors, light-emitting diodes, and networks of carefully crafted wire filaments.
The new technology is being developed collectively from three universities in the US and two from Singapore and China.
John Rogers, Professor in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, described EES as “a technology that blurs the distinction between electronics and biology”.
The “electronic skin” is designed to be “mechanically and physiologically invisible to the user,” said Dr Rogers.
He claimed that the technology will also solve many problems with current systems using complicated wiring and cables, which can be inconvenient and distressing for patients and doctors.
The prototypes look like flat, stick-on, lacework tattoos and are about the size of a postage stamp.
At less than 50 microns, each tattoo is thinner than a human hair. They don't need glue to stick to the skin, as they use close-contact van der Waals forces that act at the molecular level.
During a study, the researchers found that the devices stayed in place for up to 24 hours, under ideal conditions.
The EES devices can take their power either from stray, or transmitted, electromagnetic radiation and partly from miniature solar panels.