Flexible electronics are being rapidly developed, led in a major part by researchers at John A. Rogers’ lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The team have in the past demonstrated custom made flexible devices that can be stuck to the skin to provide continuous health monitoring, but the technology required building the individual components from scratch. This was going to be a difficult challenge, since not everything is easily made flexible and as effective as original components. Now the same team, partnering with folks from Northwestern University, have incorporated off-the-shelf chips into their flexible electronic patches to allow for high quality ECG and EEG monitoring.
Since the patch would have rigid parts on its surface, the team modified it using microfluidic techniques to contain a liquid and be extra flexible and squishy. The rigid components stand on tiny posts that reach into the patch, like columns of a bridge over water. The wires connecting the chips with other parts of the patch are flexible in every direction, allowing the patch to be worn almost anywhere on the body. The patch is actually wirelessly powered, sending back a data signal that can be picked and displayed up on an external device, like a smartphone. The team tested the patch against comparable commercially available ECG and EEG devices and found that it “performed equally to conventional sensors, while being significantly more comfortable for patients,” according to the University of Illinois.
Here’s video from U of I demonstrating the flexibility of the new patch: