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Fast, 'Stretchy Circuits' May Redefine Internet Of Things: Wearable Tech For Your Skin Coming Soon?

30 May 2016, 10:57 am EDT By Anu Passary Tech Times
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Fabricated in interlocking segments like a 3D puzzle, the new integrated circuits could be used in wearable electronics that adheres to the skin like temporary tattoos. The circuits increase wireless speed and could allow health care staff to monitor patients remotely, minus cables and cord.  ( Yei Hwan Jung and Juhwan Lee | University of Wisconsin-Madison )

Even as the popularity of fitness trackers and smartwatches continues to grow, researchers are devising new ways that could redefine the wearable market and potentially the Internet of Things (IoT).

A team of engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have now developed the world's fastest flexible wearable that has integrated circuits to boot! Thanks to the technology, wearables will soon be able to keep track of one's health wirelessly negating the need for cables.

The team of researchers led by UW-Madison professor Zhenqiang Jack Ma published the details of the extremely efficient integrated circuits in the Advanced Functional Materials journal on May 27.

"We've found a way to integrate high-frequency active transistors into a useful circuit that can be wireless. This is a platform. This opens the door to lots of new capabilities," says Ma.

The integrated circuits could potentially be deployed on wearables by placing them on human skin, akin to temporary tattoos.

While traditional transmission lines measure nearly 0.64 millimeter, the solution from the engineers at UW-Madison is only 0.25-millimeter thick. This makes it small enough to be extremely effective in the epidermal electronic systems.

The platform also has a serpentine shape and supports frequencies that range between 0.3 GHz to 300 GHz. This range is basically what will be the 5G standard in the near future.

What makes the stretchable integrated circuit so powerful is its novel structure, which is inspired by a pair of telephone cables that get twisted together. The intertwining transmission lines basically repeat an S-curve. The snake-like shape is what endows it with the ability to stretch while the performance does not get affected.

Additionally, the shape not only aids in safeguarding the transmission lines from any interference, but also helps in containing the electromagnetic waves that flow through. In this manner, it is effective in successfully preventing any loss of current.

Currently, these new circuits are able to operate at frequency levels of a maximum 40 GHz. The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which hints that the potential wearable tech breakthrough could aid pilots as well in the near future.

Will we skin wearables for the skin coming soon? By the look of things, possibly yes!

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