Advances in material science could mean wearable electronics

Material science advances are making possible the reality of wearable electronics — is it just a matter of time?

Electronics may soon cross the silicon and plastic realm into clothing, as advances in material science are making possible the creation of more efficient, quite flexible materials.

Berkeley electrical engineering and computer science Professor Ana Claudia Arias is researching and working on a new type of electronic device that can twist and fold like a piece of paper. The adoption of electronics in clothing perhaps is something never before thought possible. But more advanced materials such as flexible displays and disposable RFID tags are changing the way we live.

Professor Arias has long been developing materials known as organic printed electronics, which can be printed on a number of flexible substrates. The printing is akin to normal paper printing using typical printers. She has now embarked on an initiative to create wearable electronics.

According to Professor Arias, flexible electronics are thin, lightweight and can be adapted into hitherto unavailable new form factors. The printed electronics are meant for wider uses such as flexible displays, wearable memory and thin sensors. Organic electronics boast a number of favorable properties. They generally have low power requirements and entail low-cost processing techniques.

Professor Aria’s new materials could enable direct intricate pattern printing and bring about reduced costs. That basically eliminates the tedious process in conventional circuits that deposits thin layers uniformly and then removes them selectively to form patterns. Whereas currently all signs are that we may be far from wearable electronics, other just as important applications could be made available.

The technology could be used to develop displays woven right into our shirts, embedded mechanical and ambient atmospheric sensors for various purposes. One function could be to obtain and store data about human movement and biological signals.

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