Researchers are now working on wireless flexible electronics as thin as human hair, that can read brain activity. Such devices, they claim, will enable humans to control machines and communicates just by thoughts. By using award-winning technology epidermal electronics, which was in news in 2011 for revolutionizing patient monitoring, scientists have created these 100 micron thick devices - brain machine interfaces - barely visible on skin and hence pretty easy to conceal from others.
We have seen patients controlling robotics body parts through brain implants, but that is an invasive technology - suitable for those who need them medically. Epidermal electronics are expected to eliminate need of such invasive technologies and of conventional devices being used to measure neural signals, which rely on rigid or mildly flexible construction and bulky cables for signal conduction.
Two teams of researchers, one led by Todd Coleman and another by John Rogers at UIUC, are developing foldable, stretchable electrode arrays that can non-invasively measure neural signals (i.e. EEG) without the need for gel. These can be used as epidermal electronics and like the temporary tattoos, devices built can be applied on the forehead for reading brain activity. And they're stretchable, bendable and can be wrinkled as the circuitry is embedded in a layer or rubbery polyester.
Capable of detecting electrical signals linked with brain waves, these devices also incorporate solar cells for power and antennas that allow them to communicate wireless-ly or receive energy. Additionally, thermal sensors can be added to monitor skin temperature and light detectors to analyze blood oxygen levels. Coleman and team found they can detect brain signals reflective of mental states like recognition of familiar images with the help of these electronic tattoos. This technology is already being used to monitor premature babies to detect the onset of seizures that can lead to epilepsy or brain development problems.
Startup named MC10 is now building devices based on this technology for consumer products, digital health, medical devices, industrial and defense purposes. CEO of the company, Dave Icke interviewed by Reuters (YT video).
Previously, Coleman and team had found that volunteers could remotely control airplanes by using caps studded with electrodes. They flew an unmanned aerial vehicle over cornfields in Illinois. Though practicability of the electronic tattoos is not proven for piloting planes, Coleman says his team is actively working on that. Findings of the research were revealed by Coleman at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Boston on February 17, 2013.
Sources: UCSD, Txchnologist
Featured image: John A. Rogers/UCSD. Epidermal electronics device stuck to forehead to monitor cognitive impairment.