Engineers from the University of California-San Diego developed a flexible electronic patch sophisticated enough to record brain signals, track eye movements or wirelessly operate a robotic arm.
The device, a stretchy collection of layered circuits roughly the size of a dollar coin, was able to monitor different vital signs depending on where it was worn on the body. UCSD officials also showcased how a person wearing the patch on the forearm could remotely control a nearby robotic limb.
“Our vision is to make 3D stretchable electronics that are as multifunctional and high-performing as today’s rigid electronics,” said UCSD professor and senior author of the study Sheng Xu.
Researchers connected electronic components with spring-shaped copper wires and attached them to a silicone elastomer substrate, which enabled the device to be stretched, bent or twisted.
The team was then able to connect the layers by using lasers to create tiny holes in the design and filling them with conductive material.
The study, published in the journal Nature Electronics, detailed a device with four layers, but Xu said he ultimately hopes to achieve to the same level of sophistication as conventional smart devices — which can have up to 50 densely packed, intricately connected circuit layers.
“This device is like a ‘master of all trades,’” added graduate student and co-first author Yang Li. “We picked high quality, robust subcomponents … and developed a clever way to integrate all these into one stretchable device.”
Officials said the research team plans to explore industry partnerships to further develop the technology and deploy it in clinical settings.