Stretchable, Wearable Electronics Are a Thing Now

June 3, 2016

4:44 pm

Imagine you’re getting ready to run a marathon. You get dressed, you stretch, you slap on a temporary tattoo that monitors your heart-rate and signals an app in your phone if you hit your personal danger zone. Sound like the future? It could be, apparently. Wearable electronics just took a huge leap forward.

Wearable Electronics Might Get Wireless

According to a recent study in the Advanced Functional Materials May 27th issue, “electrical interconnects” previously harnessed low-frequency or direct current signals. Now, a similar transmitter has been designed that can deliver microwave signals — the kind needed for wireless devices.

The paper describes the invention in technical terms that reveal the transmitter’s “twisted-pair” structure:

“Detailed analysis, simulations, and experimental results show that the stretchable transmission line has negligible changes in performance when stretched and is operable on skin through suppressed radiated emission achieved with the twisted-pair geometry. Furthermore, stretchable microwave low-pass filter and band-stop filter are demonstrated using the twisted-pair structure to show the feasibility of the transmission lines as stretchable passive components. These concepts form the basic elements used in the design of stretchable microwave components, circuits, and subsystems performing important radio frequency functionalities, which can apply to many types of stretchable bioelectronics for radio transmitters and receivers.”

That last line is the one that points to the future of this invention. Early adapters might love a type of patch that stands in for their Apple Watch — though we might need more trends to take off before the “Apple Patch” can be a thing. Perfected voice-based interfaces, for one thing.

Good News for Healthcare and Tracking Tech

The healthcare industry in particular would love wireless broadband tech that adheres to a patient’s skin. It would allow anyone to remain monitored while out and about. Instant updates could signal a palpitation or heart attack, for instance. An automated panic button could save a lot more lives than the manual kind.

One potentially ground-breaking new use of this tech: Borderline-invisible tracking devices that actually work. Currently, any tracking device needs it’s own battery to power a transmitter. Implantable tracking devices are impossible. If they can become reality, a self-tracking devices could become popular among those paranoid of being kidnapped — after all, they were a trend among those afraid of abductions in 2011, and that was when tracking devices didn’t even work.

Image via Yei Hwan Jung / Juhwan Lee

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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