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Japan team develops microthin electric circuit

AFP-JIJI

A flexible electrical circuit one-fifth the thickness of food wrap and weighing less than a feather could improve the movement of artificial limbs by tapping into signals from the brain, its Japanese developers say.

The team at the University of Tokyo said the device, embedded in an ultrathin film, is unique since it works even after it has been crumpled into a ball or stretched.

Researchers unveiling the circuit said it could be used to monitor all sorts of physical data, such as body temperature and blood pressure as well as electronic pulses from muscles or the heart.

For people who can only move their tongue, the sheet might be placed on the roof of the mouth and serve as a touchpad to operate a communications device, team members said.

“This can be attached to all sorts of surfaces and does not limit the movement of the person wearing it,” said professor Takao Someya of his research, which was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Health care sensors often use silicon and other relatively rigid materials that can cause their users some discomfort.

The new flexible circuits should reduce or even eliminate the stress, he said.

Superthin sensors could improve the lives of people who use artificial arms and legs, the research claims.

Wrapped around arms or other body parts, they would pick up nerve signals the wearer’s brain sends to the muscles when attempting to move, and pass the impulses to the limbs.

Their flexibility means that people could put on more sensors that would be able to pick up biosignals at a far greater number of places, resulting in smoother, improved movements of artificial limbs, researchers said.

The circuit could also be used as a shock-proof sensor for athletes, watching the body temperature and heartbeats during vigorous exercise.