An Inkjet Printer and Simple Lab Equipment Create "PhysioSkin" Conformal Sensors in Minutes

Capable of conforming to skin as temporary tattoos or being worn in textiles, the sensors can be created in less than half an hour.

A team of researchers from Saarland University and the INM-Leibniz Institute for New Materials have published details of a low-cost rapidly-fabricated skin-conformal sensor system for physiological interfacing — including "arousal monitoring" during immersive virtual reality use.

"Advances in rapid prototyping platforms have made physiological sensing accessible to a wide audience. However, off-the-shelf electrodes commonly used for capturing biosignals are typically thick, non-conformal and do not support customisation," the team writes in the paper's abstract. "We present PhysioSkin, a rapid, do-it-yourself prototyping method for fabricating custom multi-modal physiological sensors, using commercial materials and a commodity desktop inkjet printer."

Not to be confused with the products of the Physioskin company, which creates hardware for thermosclerosis treatment of veins, the PhsyioSkin system "realizes ultra-thin skin-conformal patches (∼1 μm) and interactive textiles that capture sEMG [surface electromyography], EDA [electrodermal activity], and ECG [electrocardiogram] signals. It further supports fabricating devices with custom levels of thickness and stretchability."

While the sensors are smart, they're also easy to make and use: The sensors themselves are created in just 5-20 minutes using a desktop inkjet printer and simple lab equipment, and can be used with commercial off-the-shelf physiological sensing tool kits — meaning there's no need to construct complex custom electronics or write any code.

"Evaluation results show that the sensor patches achieve a high signal-to-noise ratio," the researchers claim. "Example applications demonstrate the functionality and versatility of our approach for prototyping a next generation of physiological devices that intimately couple with the human body."

Those applications proved the sensors' worth in three areas: A fitness-tracking textile vest, which can be worn during exercise and removed afterwards; a temporary tattoo designed to monitor the subject's heart rate; and, somewhat cheekily, a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) patch "used for arousal logging in virtual reality environments."

More information is available in the team's paper.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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