Smartwatches. Fitness trackers. Health monitors. Wearable technology is still in its infancy but is already becoming omnipresent. From a Fitbit to an Apple Watch, you either have one or knows someone that owns a piece of wearable tech.
For the industry to reach its potential, materials will have to be cheaper, lighter and more flexible. Researchers at the University of Manchester are pointing to graphene as the answer for smaller wearable devices that fit better, can be printed onto clothing or even our skin.
Published in Scientific Reports, the paper demonstrated using graphene offers a range of benefits. It is highly flexible and conductive. The research by the University of Manchester could give a path to battery free fitness trackers, phones incorporated into clothing and health monitors printed directly on a patient’s skin.
A Fitbit that fits and doesn’t require a battery? I’ll take it.
Graphene and Wearable Technology
How would the potential applications work? In the medical field, it would make for smarter patient tags. Currently, we all know the medical bracelet we get when admitted to a hospital.
The research suggests graphene could be used to create RFID tags for patients. The wearable, integrated with other 2D materials, could monitor vitals such as body temperature and heart rate. It would wirelessly transmit the data to the nurse’s station. Simplifying the process to gather patient data would streamline the healthcare.[divider]Understanding Graphene and Wearables[/divider]
The material is the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material. Getting it integrated into wearables would usher in a new world of devices. I’m not sure how Apple would spin it as an innovation, but I’m sure the marketing video would be over-the-top.
Graphene ink has the potential to be mass produced, and the research shows it can adhere to a variety of materials – clothing and more intriguing, skin.
Led by Dr. Zhirun Hu, the team used a mannequin to test graphene’s ability to transmit wirelessly. The team printed graphene to use as transmission lines and antennas to experiment with both mobile and WiFi connections.
With graphene-enable antennas attached to each arm of the mannequin; the devices were able to ‘talk’ to each other. What the team had created was a communication system that attaches to the body.
Dr. Hu summed up the possibilities unlocked by the research.
“This is a significant step forward – we can expect to see a truly all graphene-enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future.
“The potential applications of this research are huge – whether it be for health monitoring, mobile communications or applications attached to skin for monitoring or messaging.
“This work demonstrates that this revolutionary scientific material is bringing a real change into our daily lives.”
Hey, wearable phones? Fitness trackers embedded in our gym clothes? That’s a future I can get behind.