One important aspect in the evolution of electronics is the continued miniaturization of our devices: we now have devices that can be kept in one’s pocket that are more powerful than the massive supercomputers from a mere thirty years ago. While the mobility of our electronic abacuses have allowed them to become more and more convenient, researchers are working to find ways to make them even more unobtrusive, including finding new ways to wear them simply as another layer of our own skin.
The aim of this avenue of research is to make these electronics as thin as possible, so that when applied to the wearer, it would resemble an electronic tattoo, albeit a removable one. The range of potential applications for these "e-skins" is a broad, including wearable computer displays, medical monitors, and also for simple aesthetic purposes — imagine body art that is both animated and illuminated.
Medical uses for this technology could be a boon for the field: sensors for monitoring vital functions, including their readout displays, could simply be applied to the patient’s skin, eliminating the need to be hooked up to a bulky device that performs the same function. A team at the University of Tokyo has published a research paper titled "Ultraflexible organic photonic skin", detailing their development of a wearable oxy-sensor, constructed using "optoelectronic skins", reducing an otherwise cumbersome finger clip to a patch only 3 micrometers thick — less than the width of a strand of spiderweb silk.
"The advent of mobile phones has changed the way we communicate. While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us," says study author Takao Someya. "What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease? In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate."
One curious exercise in wearable electronics was a proof-of-concept demonstration made by associate professor of electrical engineering Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, where he constructed a smart-skin device with "simultaneous real-time sensing capability of pressure, temperature, humidity, proximity, pH, and flow." But rather than build his device with cutting-edge, high-tech materials, he MacGyvered this device using nothing more than common office supplies, such as post-it notes, aluminum foil, and adhesive tape.