Care for an extra skin?

Study setup on participants’ forearm, back of the hand, and finger. Two straps of Velcro allowed for fast, easy attachment. Credit: Martin Weigel et al./CHI ’15

Think about using your skin as an interface for your devices. Your phone starts vibrating in your pocket or purse during a meeting and you decide to stop the incoming call by clicking on ... your finger!

This is what researchers at Saarland University are proposing by developing an electronic skin that can be overlaid on your own skin. Curious? Look at the video clip.

They called their invention iSkin. It is made of flexible stretchable silicon that looks like a sticker. It consists of three layers that provide the sensing capability. It can actually distinguish between a light touch and a stronger one, thus coding potentially 2 messages. Several sensors can be placed on a single sticker and one can even choose the shape and the look of the stickers so that they resemble sort of tattoo. They stick on the skin using a biocompatible medical-grade adhesive.

According to researchers you will be able to interact with a variety of devices, including your mobile phone but also with your television set, it will be like having a remote control on your arm, hand, fingers.

There is a catch though. So far you need a wire to connect the sensor(s) to a device that will radio transmit the signals. This is not handy at all. However the researchers are working to embed a transmission chip in the sticker so that you don't need anything extra. It won't come soon, at least this is my bet. Once you have a chip embedded (not difficult) you'll need a battery to operate it. This is not convenient. A few years down the lane we might be able to harvest energy locally (by scavenging the temperature differential between your skin and the surrounding air, as an example) but this will take time. The power needed to operate the sensors and the chip is not that much but the one needed for radio transmitting the signal is beyond currently scavenging technology.

So for the time being I don't see this iSkin making an in-road on our skin. Possibly it can be used as an add on to our ski-jacket where it won't be inconvenient to have a battery somewhere ....

Author - Roberto Saracco

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