Japanese breakthrough takes us closer to ‘e-skin’

18 Apr 2016

A team of researchers from the University of Tokyo (UT) has developed an ultra-thin and ultra-flexible, wearable display, which, when further developed, could be used as ‘e-skin’ with diagnostic properties.

The gap between human and machine is ever-narrowing, particularly when it comes to developments in the field of micropower, or generation of energy from within the human body.

A team of UT researchers has made a breakthrough to develop a very malleable, comfortable OLED display capable of being placed on a person’s skin; it measures just two micrometres in thickness using a layering of organic and inorganic material, specifically parylene and silicon oxynitrite, respectively.

Publishing the team’s findings in Science Advances, the researchers said that the protective film they have created is completely airtight, both from oxygen and water vapour, with the screen coming to fruition thanks to the attaching of transparent indium tin oxide electrodes.

Compared with previous ultra-thin wearable attempts, the energy storage capabilities have increased from holding charge only for a matter of hours, to several days.

What would the world be like with wearable displays?


The ultra-thin display examples. Image via Someya Laboratory

Using polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) capable of being crumpled from movement and six times more efficient than previous designs, the reduced heat and power consumption made it ideal for being placed on human skin.

In particular, the display developed by UT has a number of medical applications for testing via the skin, such as displaying blood oxygen concentration or an athlete or patient’s pulse rate.

Pondering the future applications of the technology, one of those leading the project, Prof Takao Someya, said: “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.”

Earlier this week, a similar venture was announced by PCH, which forged a partnership to commercialise MC10’s Wearable Interactive Stamp Platform (WISP), which will enable brands to develop a variety of consumer applications for the skin-worn and disposable stamp.

Skin image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic