Advertisement

Blog

Stretchable & Conformal Electronics for Peace of Mind

We are all aware of how important stretching is before and after exercising, but who would have thought that stretching would ever be important to electronics? After all, up until recently, electronics have been made of rigid hard materials. New advances in stretchable and conformal electronics (think of a transparent Band-Aid-like material with integrated electronics) will enable new surgical procedures and the development of biomedical devices that can interface directly with organs such as the skin, heart, and brain.

A startup called MC10 in Cambridge, Mass., is developing high-performance electronics such as skin patches and inflatable balloon catheters that can stretch. MC10's technology incorporates silicon devices the width of a human hair, combined with stretchable metallic interconnects and elastic rubberlike polymers, to form a complete powered system capable of sensing, measuring, analyzing, and communicating information.

Reebok embedded MC10's electronics into a soft skullcap, the Reebok Checklight, to measure the impacts an athlete sustains during contact sports. It is not surprising that Reebok's Checklight is MC10's first commercial application of its technology, since the company's founder is former Seattle Seahawks linebacker and Harvard graduate Isaiah Kacyvenski. And this stuff isn't just aimed at Olympic athletes; one of the company's goals is to make the technology available and affordable to everyone.

Virtually invisible and conformal electronic skin patch.(Source: MC10)

Virtually invisible and conformal electronic skin patch.
(Source: MC10)

MC10 has other plans in mind for its technology, as well. Since the skin patches will be able to monitor and measure people's vital signs, it can be used on infants to monitor their breathing while they sleep and to give parents some peace of mind.

This reminds me of when my own kids were babies (they are teenagers now). I remember being so worried about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) each night as I laid them down to sleep that I bought one of those monitor pads that is placed under the mattress of the crib. I slept so much better knowing that I had the wireless remote monitor next to me each night that would ring an alarm if the baby stopped breathing. In general, it worked quite well, except for the couple of nights that I awoke to the piercing sound of the alarm and ran to the baby's room to find he had simply moved off of the mattress pad sensor. That won't be an issue with MC10's new stretchable electronic skin patch, which conforms to the baby's body.

Wearable sensors capable of monitoring human vital signs.(Source: MC10)

Wearable sensors capable of monitoring human vital signs.
(Source: MC10)

And of personal interest to me are MC10's stretchable, skin-friendly cosmetic stickers that can alert you by phone when it is time to reapply sunscreen or recommend personalized skincare products by measuring your skin's properties while you sleep.

MC10 also plans to use its stretchable electronic technology to create balloon catheters for use in cardiology and eventually in implantable devices that can conform to brain tissue to sense and prevent seizures. Since medical applications such as these must adhere to stringent requirements and standards, it might be a few years before we see them in practical use. One thing is for sure; stretchable electronics have changed the way we view basic PCB technology, whose rigid structure has limited its use in the past for biomedical applications.

What do you think? Will stretchable electronics reshape the future?

This article originally appeared on EBN's sister publication EDN .

13 comments on “Stretchable & Conformal Electronics for Peace of Mind

  1. Susan Fourtané
    March 2, 2014

    This is certainly an interesting application for wearable technology. Medical applications are the ones that interest me the most. 

    For example, the silicon-based nanomaterials configured in flexible and stretchable formats, and their potential to rapidly transform the medical landscape discussed in this article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136970211300148X

    -Susan 

     

  2. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 3, 2014

    I have started to strech my imagination , to see what applications can easily become more adaptable by strecheable electronics.

     

    How about the following for starters?

    . the socks using strechable elctronics to wotk as Pedometers?

    .  The scarf around your neck monitors your temperature and BP?

     

     

  3. Iconoclast Engineer
    March 3, 2014

    For those with interest, the topic of strectchable circuits is given an entire chapter in Flexible Circuit Technology 4th edition.  Available for free download at http://www.flexiblecircuittechnology.com

  4. Susan Fourtané
    March 4, 2014

    Prabhakar, 

    Anything you do with your imagination is always a good thing. 😀

    I like your ideas for the strechable electronics' applications. They are both useful. They certainly could find a good place in the market. The scarf could be useful especially for those patients who need to monitor their BP daily.

    It could be wirelessly connected to a central where a nurse could be notified in case of the BP going to high. The patient could receive immediate attention. (or I am dreaming too much here?) 

    The socks could be useful in sports, or anyone who would like to keep track of the distance in their daily walks. 

    Great ideas, Prabhakar. 🙂 

    -Susan

     

  5. Susan Fourtané
    March 4, 2014

    Iconoclast Engineer, 

    Flexible circuit technology is certainly an interesting and timely topic. Thanks for the link to this ebook. 🙂

    -Susan  

  6. Daniel
    March 4, 2014

    “We are all aware of how important stretching is before and after exercising, but who would have thought that stretching would ever be important to electronics?”

    Nichole, out body is stretchable because of the elastic property of the skin and muscles. But that may not be the case with electronic devices and components; they are solid devices which won't have any elastic property.

  7. Daniel
    March 4, 2014

    “For those with interest, the topic of strectchable circuits is given an entire chapter in Flexible Circuit Technology 4th edition.  Available for free download at http://www.flexiblecircuittechnology.com

    Iconoclast, thanks for the link and details.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 9, 2014

    Thanks for the link, Susan. This is one of those technologies that really captures the imagination.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 9, 2014

    @Iconoclast, welcome to the discussion and thanks for the link. Do you have experience with designing with these types of circuits? What's the next step in innovation for these do you think? 

  10. Susan Fourtané
    March 24, 2014

    Hailey, 

    Yes. 🙂 This is why electronics design is so exciting. 

    -Susan

  11. kdawson
    March 28, 2014

    cosmetic stickers that can alert you by phone when it is time to reapply sunscreen

    Hmm, I've already got Starbucks and Apple sending me random SMS messages. Not sure I want to add my skin to that list.

  12. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    March 28, 2014

    @kdawson, im right there with you! and i'm sure my kids would say that they are tired of me stalking them over the sunscreen issue but i'm not convinced they'd react better to a message from their skin!

  13. kdawson
    March 29, 2014

    OK, yeah, when you put it that way, for a kid it could be it's kind of cool.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.