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Japan’s scientists develop superthin nano sensors that may be the next big advance in wearable tech

by

Staff Writer

A team of scientists has developed a superthin electronic sensor that can attach directly to human skin — technology that could be used in the fields of medicine, nursing and sports science.

The technology takes the form of a layer of fine mesh coated with gold. It is stretchable and light, allowing it to remain on the body comfortably without impeding the wearer’s physical movement.

“Using this sensor, we tested measuring electromyogram, which is important in the field of sports,” Takao Someya, a University of Tokyo professor who led the research team, told The Japan Times last week.

Conventional electromyography sensors are too bulky to be worn continuously, he said.

“It’s uncomfortable to put such a device on the skin,” Someya said, referring to the conventional probes. “On the other hand, the obvious merit (of the new device) is it records data naturally without interfering with the body’s motions.”

The new sensors can attach to the skin with the application of a little water. When wet, a nanofiber film of biocompatible polyvinyl alcohol dissolves and only the conductor, which is about 100 nanometers thick, attaches to the skin.

The new sensor is an improvement over the team’s 2013 prototype, which had a film 1 micrometer thick. While that is only about one-tenth the thickness of kitchen wrap, it still feels uncomfortable and blocks the skin from breathing, Someya said.

By contrast, the new device is breathable, he said. No rashes or other skin reactions were detected among 20 people who tested the device on their forearms for a week.

When attached to the fingers, the nanomesh maintained functionality even after bending and straightening about 10,000 times, he said.

The device can also measure body temperature and heart rate.

In the future, Someya said the team will work on increasing the durability of the technology and reducing its cost.

“We invented (the device) with an eye toward mass production,” Someya said, adding that all technical issues will hopefully be resolved in the next three or four years.

The team involved other researchers, including Masayuki Amagai of Keio University.

The research was published in Nature Nanotechnology on July 17.