San Jose, CA – The Road to Flexible, Wearable Electronics for Biometrics and Medicine, a workshop organized by the FlexTech Alliance on April 11, 2012, focused on how flexible and wearable electronics will create more effective, safer and less expensive methods for many applications. From sports to medical diagnostics to military, the experts agreed that the potential markets for wearable devices are extensive and will provide many opportunities for growth in the flexible electronics sector.
Dr. Malcolm J. Thompson, Chief Technical Advisor for FlexTech Alliance, noted, “this new industry we are creating will have a very broad impact on society by providing low cost distributed manufacturing and fast deployment of products by printing products closer to the user. The workshop was a great opportunity to build industry consensus and lay out some action items for continuing the forward momentum.”
Product development and manufacturing challenges were the primary topics of the one day workshop, which brought together subject matter experts from around the U.S. who are developing solutions and enabling technologies. The workshop was attended by a diverse group of companies from different sectors, including, research groups from PARC and GE; large companies in the printing business like Avery Dennison; creative start-ups making flexible electronic products; large defense contractors like Lockheed Martin; consumer companies like Nike and Reebok; and, government organizations including the US Air Force.
Following are some of the highlights of the day:
- Joshua Hagen of the Air Force Research Laboratory and Jeffrey Stuart from Lockheed Martin opened the workshop and discussed the pressing need for physiological monitoring of warfighters and airmen. A primary point was that aircraft and other modes of transportation contain abundant numbers of sensors to track vital conditions. However, the people operating this equipment need to be given the same consideration.
- Organizations such as PARC, Body Media, and Physical Optics Corporation are working on solutions. PARC has been an early pioneer for body sensors, especially when it comes to monitoring the impact of head trauma. In the future, we’ll be able to keep an eye on grandmother’s health or monitor weightloss directly on our mobile phones. These are some of the potential applications Body Media is working to make a reality.
- Physical Optics Corporation, with funding from the FlexTech Alliance is working on a soldier triage project that will gauge vital signs, including heart rate (derived from ECG), respiration rate (derived from ECG), and skin/ambient temperature. Dr. Thompson notes, “This project was funded by the FlexTech Alliance, as we believe it is extremely important that prototype demonstrations should be available to demonstrate the power of flexible, printed electronics to reduce health care costs for all and provide efficient treatment and monitoring of the elderly, infant, accident victim and soldier in the field.”
- Underlying technologies are needed to bring these products to market. Zhenan Bao, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, illustrated a clever use of organic and carbon nano materials for electronic skin. Fabricating this skin in an array structure is the key to its elasticity. Dr. Bao presented the super skin and robotic jelly fish project underway at Stanford. Gabe Cortina of Avery Dennison pointed out the complexity and effort needed to have sensors adhere to the skin. He shared the practical challenges in adhesives and materials selection faced by Avery Dennison through the development of a 7-day vitals skin-patch.
- Moving to manufacturing is critical. Jeffrey Ashe of GE Global Research highlighted recent developments in systems through manufacturing and discussed continuing fabrication considerations and challenges. Benjamin Schlatka, VP Business Development, MC10 shared an overview of their proprietary process for manufacturing bio stamps on elastomer surfaces. MC10 is currently focusing on monitoring hydration to ensure peak performance, and body temperature variation, which can prevent injury.
- For practical commercial applications, it was generally agreed that data aquisition quality, attractiveness and conformability to the body, and ability to function in “hostile“ environments are crucial charateristics for flexible, wearable electronics for biometrics and medicine.
- From a conceptual viewpoint, Paul Litchfield of Reebok and Ben Kuris of Shimmer Research, gave very informative presentations on the importance of collaboration in getting a product from concept to delivery. Litchfield mentioned the importance of competitors to validate concepts, while workshop attendees from Nike agreed that competition validates concepts and spurs the market forward.
- Complete wearable systems and subsystems that incorporate sensors, data collection, flexible displays, wireless transmission, memory, solar cells and thin batteries have the ability to monitor vital health signs and give immediate feedback into performance and physiological well-being. Integrating all these components will be challenging.
# # #
About the FlexTech Alliance
The FlexTech Alliance is the only organization headquartered in North America exclusively devoted to fostering the growth of the electronic display and the flexible, printed electronics supply chain. FlexTech Alliance offers expanded collaboration between and among industry, academia, government, and research organizations for advancing displays and flexible, printed electronics from R&D to commercialization. To this end, the FlexTech Alliance, based in San Jose, Calif., will help foster development of the supply chain required to support a world-class, manufacturing capability for displays and flexible, printed electronics. More information about the FlexTech Alliance can be found at the industry portal: www.flextech.org