A University of Sydney researcher is developing wearable technology that could be used to control devices, receive information and even register sensation.
According to a recent report, the researcher from the University’s School of Computer Science is looking for solutions on electronic skin, or technology that can be worn without being noticed.
Working with colleagues, the researcher is developing a super-thin, hyper-flexible sticky tape that can have electronic circuits printed onto it.
Once applied, people could use it to control devices, receive information and importantly, register sensations through mobile phone-like vibrations.
This could have benefits in robotics, education, game-playing and for people with disabilities.
An added advantage of tactile information is that it does not distract people in the same way that visual or auditory information might.
To that end, the researcher worked with a team in Germany to develop what is effectively a printable electronic fake tattoo called the Tacttoo, which can be personalised to specific needs.
The Tacttoo is screen-printed with a circuit made from polymer-based conductive inks that can stretch and move with the skin, while all connections between the skin and the electronics are printed in skin-safe silver ink.
The ‘feel through interface’, as in the sticky tape element, is only half the thickness of a human hair, making it the thinnest wearable tactile device to date, and so thin that it does not interfere with the normal sense of touch.
Tacttoos are also inexpensive. When mass produced, the material content would cost less than 1c each.
This device can be worn by people today and removed the next day. Plus, people will be able to create it themselves.
A broader user goal is to allow people with vision impairment to explore graphical information and more fully comprehend objects in museums and parks.
This is something that the team is looking at with a team from Monash University.
A not-so-distant future
Growing up in Sri Lanka, the researcher went to Japan to pursue further studies.
While there, he saw how technology could help people improve their quality of life. He also saw that only a fraction of tech advances is accessible to all people.
According to him, “Everybody is unique, and if you are challenged in some way, those challenges are also unique. So, I began looking at how technology can be personalised.”
In a not-too-distant future, someone with a robotic hand will be able to sense heat from a cup, or gauge how much pressure to apply to an object.
A stroke patient might have a personalised interface with sensors that measure their progress and give them feedback.
A surgeon doing surgery remotely could get the same sense of pressure or dexterity that they would have if they were there in person.
Additionally, these wearable technologies will be connected to smart watches to control music or take calls.
In twenty years from now, an entire smart device, which would include energy harvesting batteries, may be printable and worn on the skin.
The capabilities of these devices were once science fiction. Now they’re science in action.