Health and Medicine Technology

E-Skin Display Heightened Thanks to Protective Layer Creation in Tokyo

electronic skin

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed something that is expected to greatly assist both athletes and individuals who need constant updates about the state of their internals. This new technology comes in the form of an extremely thin and flexible electronic display that will not only track the blood oxygen and pulse rates of the wearer, but conveniently display them on the top of the hand.

This OLED displaying device achieves a goal researchers around the world have been aiming towards for a very long time. Such wearable electronics have to be lightweight and flexible in order to be comfortable enough to be worn on a regular basis. Otherwise, tracking important data is limited to a much smaller timeframe. This is especially harmful for patients in need of round the clock care and health updates.

Top left: Overview of a blood oxygen level monitor. Top right: Red and green polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) are focused to gleam into the finger. Reflected light from inside the finger is captured by an ultraflexible organic photodetector. This reflected light gives a measure of blood oxygen and heart pulse rate. Bottom: The sensors output can be displayed on a PLED. Image Credit: Someya Laboratory

In the past similar devices required thick and bulky glass or plastic substrates with a very limited amount of mobility. While these solutions were far more stable, they posed too many problems to be leaned on for the long term use required in health tracking. Thankfully, the latest device offers a stability that is not damaged by air, which was a major issue in the past. This device is able to perform better than previous creations due to a protective layer built by University of Tokyo researchers.

Professor Takao Someya and Dr. Tomoyaki Yokota’s research group at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering developed this high quality protective film. The film is less than two micrometers thick and helps protect wearable electronic displays, as well as other devices. This new protective film was built by stacking alternating layers of Silicon Oxynitrite and Parylene. Because the film does not allow air or water to pass around the skin and into the device being warn, the lifetime of such lifesaving technologies have been greatly extended. Some that lasted a couple hours at best are now able to survive a handful of days. The display was created by attaching transparent indium tin oxide electrodes to a thin layer of substrate without causing damage as occurred in previous tests.

With the help of the protective layer and ITO electrodes, the research group was able to create polymer light emitting diodes, also known as PLEDs, as well as organic photodetectors, or OPDs. These are so small that they can easily be attached to skin while maintaining natural functioning. Meaning, they move with the body without being harmed. These new PLEDs are three micrometers thick and boast six times the efficiency of PLEDs used in the past. The great reduction both in power and heat consumption makes wearing these directly on the body possible and much more convenient than ever before.

It is Someya’s hope that such changes in technology will alter the way we communicate with one another. He compares these latest advancements to cellular devices, saying they are discreet and can be carried with us no matter where we go. He imagines a world where data such as our energy levels, emotions or discomfort could be readily displayed for not only ourselves but those around us to see. This could change how patients are cared for, giving medical professionals more data to go off of when patients may not be able to speak up for themselves. With more information at our regular disposal, treatment plans and actions can be more effective than ever before.