Tissue paper-based wearable sensor holds immense promise

Wearable technology has advanced by leaps and bounds and one of the strongest evidence is how their size and scale have breached traditional barriers and moved to nanoscale.

While this particular news piece isn’t about size and scale, it is about the material used. Researchers at University of Washington have turned tissue paper in a new kind of wearable capable of detecting pulse, a blink of an eye and other human movement. The study describing the technology has been published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies

The flexible and inexpensive wearable sensor paves way for huge number of applications in health care, entertainment and robotics. Scientists have created the sensor by loading the sensor with nanocomposites and breaking the paper’s fibers.

In their research, the scientists used paper similar to toilet tissue. The paper – nothing more than conventional paper towels – is then doused with carbon nanotube-laced water. Carbon nanotubes are tiny materials that create electrical conductivity. Each piece of tissue paper has both horizontal and vertical fibers, so when the paper is torn, the direction of the tear informs the sensor of what’s happened. To trace eye movement, they’re attached to a person’s reading glasses.

The tissue paper-based sensor is able to detect heartbeat, finger force, finger movement, eyeball movement and more.

The sensors created from the tissue paper have been made the size of small band aid and can be used in a number of applications. The sensor can be used to measure a person’s gait or the movement of their eyes can be used to inspect brain function or a game player’s actions. The sensor could track how a special-needs child walks in a home test, sparing the child the need for hospital visits. Or the sensors could be used in occupational therapy for seniors.

For now, the work has been contained to a laboratory, and researchers are hoping to find a suitable commercial use. A provisional patent was filed in December 2017.

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