In recent years, scientists have been working towards electronics that come in flexible and ultra-thin packages. Back in 2011, this bore fruit as researchers from the University of Illinois unveiled the world’s first health monitoring patch, an ultra-thin device which looked like a temporary tattoo, but packed enough sensors in its flesh to monitor a person’s vitals. As a testament to the rate at which technological developments happen these days, improvements are already being made on the concept and design.
For example, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of California recently announced the creation of what they are calling the “smart tattoo”. This device is a step up from the previous one, as it contains “ion-selective electrodes” which go beyond monitoring just your vitals. According to the collaborative team, this patch is made up of “sensors that detect the pH or salt levels of the skin, as well minerals like potassium, and even blood oxidation.”
In other words, this patch can monitor athletic performance at a granular level, but without any of the bulk or wiring of older sensors. It also means that for the first time, detailed athletic response testing would no longer be limited to the walls of a sports clinic, but could be done daily by the athlete herself. What’s more, the nature of the design and relative cost are in keeping with a mass production model and mass market appeal.
This last aspect is an important indicator since one of the hallmarks of technological progress is the ability to create devices which go beyond matters of life and death and are able to address our daily concerns. In addition to proving that the technology is becoming more commonplace, it’s also a sign of growing affordability and availability. With this latest development, it seems that smart tattoos are doing just that.
Another example comes from Sano intelligence, a 2012 health startup that announced that they are in the testing phase of a smart tattoo that reads a wearer’s blood markers. This patch would be especially useful to diabetics, for whom blood monitoring is a constant hassle and often required invasive measures, such as needles. If the patch proves successful, diabetics everywhere would not only be able to forgo finger pricking and needles, but would also be freed of the burden of having to carry around bulky devices.
Finally, there was the news from Cambridge Massachusetts, where another startup company named MC10 announced early in 2012 that they had created a “stretchable electronics” patch that was applicable not only to skin, but to human clothing and even organs. By mounting nanoscale electronics to a flexible, stretchable patch, the company hopes to be able to produce sensors that can monitor any number of health functions, from the more mundane things like heart-rate and hydration, to brain, heart, tissue, and organ function.
What is especially exciting about all of this is not so much the technology involved, but the fact that it is leading to an era where patients will have a far greater degree of control over their own health and monitoring. No longer will we be dependent on clinics and doctors for every single matter relating to our health, from checkups to surgery. Now we can take care of the former ourselves, making our information available to our doctor or specialist as needed, and going in for only serious or life-threatening procedures. This, in addition to leading to a more health-conscious public, could also bode well for medical costs.