Integrating electronic devices with the human body to enhance or restore body function for biomedical applications is the goal of researchers around the world. In particular, wearable electronics need to be thin and flexible to minimize impact where they attach to the body. However, most devices developed so far have required millimeter-scale thickness glass or plastic substrates with limited flexibility, while micrometer-scale thin flexible organic devices have not been stable enough to survive in air.
The research group of Professor Takao Someya and Dr. Tomoyuki Yokota at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering has developed a high-quality protective film less than two micrometers thick that enables the production of ultrathin, ultraflexible, high performance wearable electronic displays and other devices. The group developed the protective film by alternating layers of inorganic (Silicon Oxynitrite) and organic (Parylene) material. The protective film prevented passage of oxygen and water vapor in the air, extending device lifetimes from the few hours seen in prior research to several days. In addition, the research group were able to attach transparent indium tin oxide (ITO) electrodes to an ultrathin substrate without damaging it, making the e-skin display possible.
Smart e-skin system comprising health-monitoring sensors, displays, and ultraflexible PLEDs. (A) Schematic illustration of the optoelectronic skins (oe-skins) system. (B) Photograph of a finger with the ultraflexible organic optical sensor attached. (C) Photographs of a human face with a blue logo of the University of Tokyo and a two-color logo. The brightness can be changed by the operation voltage. (D) Photograph of a red seven-segment PLEDs displayed on a hand.
Science Advances - Ultraflexible organic photonic skin
Using the new protective layer and ITO electrodes, the research group created polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) and organic photodetectors (OPDs). These were thin enough to be attached to the skin and flexible enough to distort and crumple in response to body movement. The PLEDs were just three micrometers thick and over six times more efficient than previously reported ultrathin PLEDs. This reduced heat generation and power consumption, making them particularly suitable for direct attachment to the body for medical applications such as displays for blood oxygen concentration or pulse rate. The research group also combined red and green PLEDs with a photodetector to demonstrate a blood oxygen sensor.
"The advent of mobile phones has changed the way we communicate. While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us," says Someya. He continues, "What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease? In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate."
Abstract - Ultraflexible organic photonic skin
Thin-film electronics intimately laminated onto the skin imperceptibly equip the human body with electronic components for health-monitoring and information technologies. When electronic devices are worn, the mechanical flexibility and/or stretchability of thin-film devices helps to minimize the stress and discomfort associated with wear because of their conformability and softness. For industrial applications, it is important to fabricate wearable devices using processing methods that maximize throughput and minimize cost. We demonstrate ultraflexible and conformable three-color, highly efficient polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) and organic photodetectors (OPDs) to realize optoelectronic skins (oe-skins) that introduce multiple electronic functionalities such as sensing and displays on the surface of human skin. The total thickness of the devices, including the substrate and encapsulation layer, is only 3 μm, which is one order of magnitude thinner than the epidermal layer of human skin. By integrating green and red PLEDs with OPDs, we fabricate an ultraflexible reflective pulse oximeter. The device unobtrusively measures the oxygen concentration of blood when laminated on a finger. On-skin seven-segment digital displays and color indicators can visualize data directly on the body.
SOURCES - Science Advances, University of Tokyo, Eurekalert