National / Science & Health

Japanese team's bandage-like health monitor and messaging display could revolutionize medical care


Palm reading could take on a whole new meaning thanks to a new invention from Japan: an ultra-thin display and monitor that can stick directly to the body.

The Band-Aid-like device is just 1 millimeter thick and can monitor important health data as well as send and receive messages, including emojis.

Takao Someya, the University of Tokyo professor who developed the device, envisions it as a boon for medical professionals with bed-ridden or far-flung patients, as well as for families living far from their relatives.

“With this, even in home-care settings, you can achieve seamless sharing of medical data with your home doctors, who then would be able to communicate back to their patients,” he said.

Slapped onto the palm or back of a hand, it could flash reminders to patients to take their medicine, or even allow far-away grandchildren to communicate with their grandparents.

“Place displays on your skin, and you would feel as if it is part of your body. When you have messages sent to your hand, you would feel emotional closeness to the sender,” Someya said.

“I think a grandfather who receives a message saying ‘I love you’ from his grandchild would feel the warmth, too.”

The invention could prove particularly useful in rapidly graying Japan by replacing the need for in-person checkups with continuous, noninvasive monitoring of the sick and frail, Someya said.

The display consists of a 16-by-24 array of tiny light-emitting diodes and stretchable wiring mounted on a rubber sheet.

It also incorporates a lightweight sensor composed of a breathable “nanomesh” electrode, and a wireless communication module.

“Because this device can stretch, we now can paste a display on things with complex shapes, like skin,” Someya said.

It can be placed on the human body for a week without causing skin inflammation, and is light enough that people might even forget they are wearing it.

Along with medical applications, Someya hopes the device will eventually lead to wearable displays for joggers so they can monitor their pulse and running routes. He also imagines laborers using the displays to consult manuals on their arms while working.

The device will be showcased at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Texas over the weekend.

Someya created the device in partnership with Japanese printing giant Dai Nippon Printing, which hopes to put it on the market within three years.