Federally funded research at the University of Illinois has produced a microchip that can be put on skin like a temporary tattoo and is successful in linking the physical world and the cyberworld in stunning new ways, according to a university announcement.
“We think this could be an important conceptual advance in wearable electronics, to achieve something that is almost unnoticeable to the wearer,” said university electrical and computer engineering professor Todd Coleman.
Coleman helped lead the multi-disciplinary team that worked on the project that is being touted for its uses in medical monitoring as well as treatment of disorders that require links to computers.
“The researchers found that, when applied to the skin of the throat, the sensors could distinguish muscle movement for simple speech,” the university report said. “The researchers have even used the electronic patches to control a video game, demonstrating the potential for human-computer interfacing.”
Coleman said the technology “can connect you to the physical world and the cyberworld in a very natural way that feels very comfortable.”
Basically, it’s a sort of regenesis, altering human bodies – genetically, mechanically or both – to make them better than they’ve been for thousands of years, affording them Superman-style abilities in both brains and brawn.
Futurists describe it as being “posthuman,” the next step in what they believe to be the evolutionary process.
According to the University of Illinois, “Skin-mounted electronics have many biomedical applications, including EEG and EMG sensors to monitor nerve and muscle activity. One major advantage of skin-like circuits is that they don’t require conductive gel, tape, skin-penetrating pins or bulky wires, which can be uncomfortable for the user and limit coupling efficiency. They are much more comfortable and less cumbersome than traditional electrodes and give the wearers complete freedom of movement.”
The report said the technology will allow a more accurate understanding of how the human brain functions.
“If we want to understand brain function in a natural environment, that’s completely incompatible with EEG studies in a laboratory,” said Coleman, who has since moved to the University of California at San Diego. “The best way to do this is to record neural signals in natural settings, with devices that are invisible to the user.”
The report said the skin-mounted electronics also could be used for patients with neurological disorders, connecting them to computers.
The research was discussed in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Science.
The new product is a circuit that bends, wrinkles and stretches with the skin, yet maintains the full functions of the sensors, LEDs, transistors, radio frequency capacitors, antennas and other components.
“We threw everything in our bag of tricks onto that platform, and then added a few other new ideas on top of those, to show that we could make it work,” Rogers said in the university report.
The chips are applied in a method similar to affixing a temporary tattoo.
Rogers collaborated with Northwestern University engineering professor Yonggang Huang to develop what they call filamentary serpentine, in which circuits are made up of squiggled wires. The circuits are mounted on a flexible surface.
“The blurring of electronics and biology is really the key point here,” Huang said in the report. “All established forms of electronics are hard, rigid. Biology is soft, elastic. It’s two different worlds. This is a way to truly integrate them.”
The scientists’ next goals, they said, are to integrate various electronics into a system and add Wi-Fi capability.
“The vision is to exploit these concepts in systems that have self-contained, integrated functionality, perhaps ultimately working in a therapeutic fashion with closed feedback control based on integrated sensors, in a coordinated manner with the body itself,” Rogers said.
WND previously has reported on chips used in hospitals to identify newborns, VeriChip’s desire to embed chips in immigrants, a government health event showcasing the product and Wal-Mart’s use of chips to track customers.