- The U.S. Department of Energy has collaborated on the development of a wearable with skin-like stretchability to capture health signals.
- Writing in the journal Matter, researchers describe the creation of a flexible semiconductor that enables the electronic components of the device to work when it is stretched.
- An artificial intelligence-enabled prototype based on the stretchable technology was more than 95% effective at correctly identifying electrocardiogram signals.
The DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory teamed up with the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering to tackle two challenges associated with the development of stretchable devices for tracking health metrics.
First, such devices need to collect and process more data than today’s smartwatches, while the electronics must be small and energy efficient enough to fit into a thin wearable patch. The collaborators addressed that challenge using neuromorphic computing, an AI technology that mimics operation of the brain. The approach works on stretchable materials and has low energy consumption.
The second challenge relates to integrating electronics into a skin-like stretchable material. Typically, semiconductors are rigid silicon chips that cannot deform and still function, rendering them unsuitable for use in devices that are designed to stretch.
To address that challenge, the team combined a thin film of a plastic semiconductor with stretchable gold nanowire electrodes. The resulting electronics worked as planned, without the formation of cracks, when stretched to twice their normal size.
The researchers used X-ray beam technology at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) facility to show how the molecules reorganize after the device is stretched. A planned upgrade to the facility could yield further insights into the material, the researchers said.
“We look forward to studying the device material under its regular operating conditions, interacting with charged particles and changing electrical potential in its environment. Instead of a snapshot, we’ll have more of a movie of the structural response of the material at the molecular level,” Joe Strzalka, an Argonne physicist, said in a statement on Argonne’s website.