No one likes having to have their phone in their hand or pocket them at all times. This habit can not only be inconvenient but can lead to the loss or damage of this day-to-day device as well. Helping to create a solution to this, shall we say “first world problem,” a new form of technology may be able to someday turn a person’s skin into an actual touch screen.
The concept is known as artificial electronic skin (e-skin), and it encompasses the development of flexible, bendable and stretchable electronic circuits that are applied to the skin. Comparable to an electronic tattoo, this technology works through consisting of a matrix of different electronic components including flexible transistors, organic LEDs, sensors and organic photovoltaic (solar) cells. These elements then connect to one another through a series of stretchable or flexible conductive wires.
“The application of e-skin should not be limited just to robots,” told Takao Someya, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Tokyo who has been developing bionic skin since 2003, to Tech Insider. “We’ve started to apply e-skin for clinical use and health monitoring…and other similar applications in healthcare, welfare, and sports.”
Confirming his comments, according to Business Insider, in 2004, researchers in the US and Japan unveiled a pressure sensor circuit made from pre-stretched thinned silicon strips that could be applied to the forearm. But inorganic materials such as silicon are rigid and the skin is flexible and stretchy. So researchers are now looking to electronic circuits made from organic materials (usually special plastics or forms of carbon such as graphene that conduct electricity) as the basis of e-skin.
While e-skin devices are currently able to detect approaching objects and to measure temperature and applied pressure, there is still much work to be done before this technology can be applied to establish topical touch screen e-skin devices. For example, just as in the case of real skin, e-skin has been shown to develop wrinkles, impacting performance.
Plus, also according to Business Insider, atoms in these organic materials are more chaotically organized than the inorganic materials used to make traditional electronics. This typically results in the electrons moving 1,000 times slower in organic materials, simultaneously meaning that devices made from these electrons will go on to operate much more slowly and will not function normally given the heat that the circuits generate.
Another fear of scientists and researchers is that the body will reject the use of this technology, resulting in tumors. This technology would incorporate the use of carbon-based organic materials—things the humor body is already comprised of. However, because carbon cells have the capacity to move through the cells that make up the human body there is concern that the passing will cause inflammation and immune responses, making tumors possible.
Although no one wants to increase their chances of acquiring a tumor or other health concerns, the idea behind e-skin would be appealing to so many tech users. From mainframe computers to mobile devices and now smartphones, it seems as though the future has endless possibilities, and that e-skin might just be the next best medium for information sharing.