Just as consumers begin to adopt wearable devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, technology developers are working on offerings that take the wearable concept even further by introducing electronic skin. Also known as e-skin, the new technology takes the form of flexible, ultra-thin-film electronic devices placed directly on the skin that can serve as screens and user/network interfaces.
Healthcare services providers are leading adopters of e-skin technology, which could provide immense benefits for that industry and other vertical industry sectors, according to Frost & Sullivan’s “Electronic Skin – Advancements and Further Opportunities,” part of its TechVision (Sensors & Control) Growth Partnership Service program.
E-Skin capitalizes on the convergence of advances across several areas: microelectronics, sensors, applied materials, Internet of Things (IoT) technology and information and communications technology (ICT), Frost & Sullivan highlights. Healthcare industry participants are already putting e-skin to beneficial use for patient monitoring and applications that measure various anatomical activities.
Frost & Sullivan expects that in just a few years e-skin will:
- Replace all bulky testing and medical diagnostic devices
- Power new applications like smart lighting and smart touch displays
- Allow robots to be deployed in hazardous areas where humans cannot reach, and gather analytical data
Furthermore, embedding and integration of multiple sensors in e-skin substrates will open up opportunities in safety and security, robotics and consumer electronics, the market research provider highlights. In robotics, for example, e-skin could give robots a sense of touch that enables them to perform surgical operations without interaction with a human surgeon.
“Emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, near-field communication, advanced materials and fabrication will energize the e-skin market,” noted Frost & Sullivan TechVision Research Analyst Varun Babu in a press release. “This technology is expected to mature rapidly in the next five years, and achieve mass-scale manufacturing and deployment in various application areas.”
Numerous challenges lie ahead before these visions can be realized, however – those associated with integration of sensors into the human body prominent among them, Frost & Sullivan points out. The norms of medical practice and regulations, as well as issues related to technological complexity, also need to be surmounted.
E-skin manufacturers, for their part, are focusing on coming up with innovations that address issues of material degradation, length of life-cycle, complex circuitry and skin irritation.
“Once the e-skin technology matures, human intervention in industrial machines, healthcare management and many more applications will be greatly reduced,” Babu observed. “E-skin has received both federal and venture capital funding, which is expediting research activities and the commercialization processes. The global rise in the number of patents filed will further encourage investors and set the stage for large-scale implementation of this technology.”