Over the course of the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear what a vital role technology plays in our ability to access health care. Things that used to seem sort of Jetsons now feel normal — like telehealth and smartphone COVID-19 tracking — and the new generation of wearable health monitors can do everything from check your temperature to call the doctor for you. But most of the watches and whatnot tend to be kind of bulky and imprecise, so now scientists are developing wearable electronic skin that can monitor your health stats.
This kinda creepy sounding — but really cool — new technology was created at the University of Tokyo. It’s called e-skin, and it’s made of polyvinyl alcohol combined with a layer of gold. Yes, gold. This combination of materials makes e-skin into a flexible, wearable sensor that can track your vitals and other important health information, CNN reported. Before you get too excited, e-skin hasn’t gone through clinical trials yet, but the developers have been testing it on volunteers and started talking to manufacturers about how to make e-skin available to the public.
One of the coolest things about e-skin is that it’s really sensitive. A lot of wearable devices can check your heart rate — and e-skin can, too — but it can also detect subtle electrical impulses from muscle movement. This, in theory, enables it to track even your smallest body movements and send the information to the cloud without being an impediment to movement, like so many bulky monitors, CNN reported. Developers are also working on giving e-skin an LCD display that shows up on the back of your hand, so that wearers can easily see their stats and loved ones can send emojis that show up on their skin. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
"The ultimate goal of e-skin is to monitor all the different types of human information easily, anywhere and anytime, without disturbing daily activities," Takao Someya, a professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering and developer of e-skin, told CNN. The wearability factor is key because it means that folks who need to have their stats monitored constantly can, and they don’t have to be in a hospital to do that.
E-skin was created to help monitor elderly people's health precisely and for long periods of time in order to check for early signs of illness and keep track of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart issues. But e-skin has a lot of other uses, too, some of which we probably can’t even imagine yet. During the pandemic, some athletes used e-skin to train from afar by wearing e-skin clothing that sent their data to their coaches, reported CNN, so truly, it could be a future version of a fitness tracker. That is some next level personal training.