U.S. News: The new device tracking muscle and nerves is the latest attempt to read people using their skin.
Electronic tattoos developed by Tel Aviv University that can measure emotions by tracking muscle and nerve activity are the latest attempt to revolutionize medicine with devices that turn skin into a digital platform, reducing the need for painful needles or cumbersome equipment.
Electrical engineering professor Yael Hanein says the biometric device she designed has uses for muscle therapy and consumer research and is part of “a huge effort” among researchers to develop convenient electrode devices that can help machines interface with the brain and nervous system over long periods. Hanein on Monday unveiled the new prototype electrode that sticks to a person skin and sends biometric data through a wireless signal. She says this device is part of a growing field of research into wireless sensors that can monitor a person’s activity.
“It is likely that it will become a trend at least in some domains,” says Hanein, who is the head of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. “To be accepted among medical devices, the data obtained has to be validated statistically.”
Researchers have used the skin electrode to monitor the muscles of patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, and she hopes it could one day be used in various forms of psychological and physical therapy, and to perform early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
The convenience of a wireless digital tattoo enables people to put the skin sensor on and go on with their day, and could become more affordable than some more cumbersome medical electrodes depending on commercial interests, Hanein says. The ability for her device to monitor people’s emotions and facial expressions using wireless sensors could also make it a boon for marketers seeking more accurate reviews than focus group surveys. Don’t expect to see electronic tattoos in hospitals for at least a couple of years, however.
“We hope that with our first project we will be able within two years to collect enough supporting data to proceed into the next stages required to allow use in hospitals,” Hanein says, adding that would likely take another one or two years.
Skin biochemical sensors developed by the University of California—San Diego, were “a major inspiration” for her research, as she says they “adopted some of the techniques and optimized them for electrical recording rather than the original use of chemical sensing.”
Research published in April by the University of Tokyo about a smart adhesive that can measure vitals through the skin are another example of electronic tattoo research.
Wireless skin sensors are a new but fast-growing area of research for engineers aiming to create the next major wearable phenomenon, says Chad Darbyshire, spokesman for electronic tattoo developer Chaotic Moon, which is owned by Fjord and Accenture Interactive. Austin, Texas-based Chaotic Moon last year unveiled its prototype TechTats project, which showed its engineers how the skin is “a large canvas we could explore,” he says, adding that “the market showed a lot of interest so we knew we were on to something.”