Skin-like electronics could monitor your health continuously

New wearable electronics paired with artificial intelligence could transform screening for health problems.

Flexible, wearable electronics are making their way into everyday use, and their full potential is still to be realized. Soon, this technology could be used for precision medical sensors attached to the skin, designed to perform health monitoring and diagnosis. It would be like having a high-tech medical center at your instant beck and call.

Such a skin-like device is being developed in a project between the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME). Leading the project is Sihong Wang, assistant professor in UChicago PME with a joint appointment in Argonne’s Nanoscience and Technology division.

Worn routinely, future wearable electronics could potentially detect possible emerging health problems — such as heart disease, cancer or multiple sclerosis — even before obvious symptoms appear. The device could also do a personalized analysis of the tracked health data while minimizing the need for its wireless transmission. “The diagnosis for the same health measurements could differ depending on the person’s age, medical history and other factors,” Wang said. “Such a diagnosis, with health information being continuously gathered over an extended period, is very data intensive.”

Such a device would need to collect and process a vast amount of data, well above what even the best smartwatches can do today. And it would have to do this data crunching with very low power consumption in a very tiny space.

To address that need, the team called upon neuromorphic computing. This AI technology mimics operation of the brain by training on past data sets and learning from experience. Its advantages include compatibility with stretchable material, lower energy consumption and faster speed than other types of AI.

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