“Drawn-on-Skin” Electronics Gather Data During Motion

August 14, 2020 by Luke James

A new type of so-called drawn-on-skin electronics reportedly allows precise biological data to be harvested while the wearer is in motion.

A new type of “drawn-on-skin” (DoS) electronic device is, according to researchers, able to collect precise biological data while the wearer is in motion.

The team behind the device, which can be drawn directly on the skin with an ink pen and consists of multifunctional sensors and circuits, was led by Cunjiang Yu, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston (UH). The UH researchers’ findings, supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Naval Research, were published in the journal Nature Communications.


Data Collection on the Go

The drawn-on-skin electronics are made up of three inks that are drawn on-demand to develop devices such as temperature sensors, transistors, and strain sensors. They also consist of semiconductors, conductors, and dielectrics.

According to the University of Houston, the electronics are capable of seamless data collection regardless of the nature and intensity of the wearer’s movements. They also offer advantages such as simple fabrication techniques that do not require expensive dedicated equipment. This makes them much more accessible and cost-effective.

Entire circuits can be drawn in this manner, including devices such as transistors, resistors, strain sensors, temperature sensors, heaters, skin hydration sensors, and electrophysiological sensors.


“Drawn-on-skin electronics”

The University of Houston’s electronic device known as “drawn-on-skin electronics” which allows sensors and circuits to be drawn directly on the skin with an ink pen. Image used courtesy of the University of Houston


“It is applied like you would use a pen to write on a piece of paper,” said Cunjiang Yu in a statement. “We prepare several electronic materials and then use pens to dispense them. Coming out, it is liquid. But like ink on paper, it dries very quickly.”


Similarities to Pencil-on-Paper Electronics

This research announcement from the University of Houston comes on the heels of a similar technological breakthrough out of the University of Missouri (MU). There, MU researchers led by Dr. Zheng Yan, demonstrated that the friction from 90% graphite pencils against paper could power the active and passive roles of a pencil trace.

While the MU research indicates that the pencil-on-paper electronics can be fastened to the skin with spray adhesive, the drawn-on-skin electronic device from UH can be applied directly to the skin.


Depiction on drawn-on-electronics

Depiction on drawn-on-electronics using a stencil as a guide along with a modified ballpoint pen. Image used courtesy of Nature Communications

In the published paper, the researchers explain that they create the DoS electronic device by applying a stencil to the skin, drawing the device with a modified ballpoint pen, removing the stencil, and allowing the ink to dry.


Customizable for Different Biometrics

Wearable bioelectronics, especially in the form of soft, flexible patches that can be easily attached to the skin, have become an important way to monitor patients and prevent and treat a plethora of injuries and illnesses. This is achieved when the device tracks physiological information collected from the wearer. However, even the most flexible wearables have their limitations, and it can be difficult to collect data where the technology doesn’t contort and move precisely with the skin.

According to Yu, drawn-on-skin electronics can be customized to collect different types of data. The lead researcher believes that the electronics could be highly useful in situations where it is not possible to access sophisticated equipment, citing a battlefield as an example.

The UH research team’s drawn-on-skin electronics track muscle signals, heart rate, temperature, and skin hydration, among other areas. The researchers also claim that their electronics have even demonstrated the ability to speed up the healing of wounds.