New Quick and Flexible Circuits Could Open a World of Unique Wearable Electronics

electronic circuit

Wearable electronics are growing in popularity every year, and they can do everything from monitoring your internals, keeping track of your overall health and even purify the air you’re breathing. All of this can be done wirelessly, and now thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we may soon have the quickest, most flexible, wearable integrated circuits in the world. This development could quickly lead to a much more connected high speed world, no cables required.

Zhenqiang “Jack” Ma, a Lynn H. Matthias Professor in Engineering at UW-Madison has published the latest creation in the May 27th issue of Advanced Functional Materials journal. In the study, their powerful and amazingly effective integrated circuits were discussed in detail.

The advancement has created a new platform for manufacturers who are looking for ways to expand their capabilities and applications for their wearable electronics. This is a very important step as companies are looking to develop devices that are able to be part of a whole new generation of wireless broadband technologies, which include 5G capabilities. By switching to 5G, networks will be able to accommodate the ever-growing number of cell phone users as well as provide faster data speeds and larger coverage areas.

Formulated in interlinking segments like a 3D puzzle, this integrated circuits could be used in wearable electronics and placed on to the skin like temporary tattoos. As these circuits increase wireless speed, these wearables could allow health care personnel to monitor patients remotely, with no cables and cords attached. (Image credits: Yei Hwan Jung / Juhwan Lee)

This technology is also something that can be used in the biomedical field, such as in an intensive care unit where epidermal electronic systems would allow health care providers to monitor their patients wirelessly. This could limit the need for patients to come into the doctor’s office, while also providing additional comfort with a limited amount of wires.

The new stretchy integrated circuits are more powerful than previous technologies due to their unique structure which contains two ultra-tiny intertwining power transmission lines that wrap in S-curves which are built together in a repeating pattern – a structure inspired by twisted-pair telephone cables. Their serpentine shape gives the lines the ability to stretch without losing their performance value, while also avoiding interference from the outside. This also completely removes the concern of current loss, maintaining a strong signal, which holds currents that are as of yet able to operate at a radio frequency of up to 40 gigahertz.

The new transmission lines are a lot smaller in width than their 640 micrometer counterparts, boasting a thickness of only 25 micrometers. Not only does this make them more effective in epidermal electronic systems but also a wide range of other applications as well. Ma’s team has been working on the development of transistor active devices for about 10 years now and these latest advancements provide the highest frequency and most flexible electronics created thus far.

Ma says the team has found a way to integrate high-frequency active transistors into a useful circuit that can be completely wireless, opening the door for a whole lot of new and exciting capabilities. The work was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.