Engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have created an electronic tattoo that can operate as a heart monitor. The graphene-based device can be placed directly against the skin to monitor an assortment of electrical and biochemical signals sent from the body. It is the scientist’s hope that this lightweight, stretchy device could help doctors to monitor their patient’s hearts with far greater ease and accuracy in the future.
The wearable electronic tattoo measures cardiac health in two distinct ways, to maximize accuracy. It simultaneously records seismocardiograph signals, which use chest vibrations associated with the heartbeat, as well as electrocardiograph signals, which track the electrical activity produced by a heartbeat.
The electronic tattoo is powered remotely by a smartphone, meaning it does not have to rely on cumbersome or uncomfortable batteries to function. It is constructed out of a piezoelectric polymer known as polyvinylidene fluoride. This material has the ability to generate is own electrical charge in response to mechanical stress. Additionally, the wearable device uses 3D digital image correlation technology. This allows it to map chest vibrations, giving scientists the ability to determine the best spot to place the tattoo on the patient.
“We can get much greater insight into heart health by the synchronous collection of data from both sources.”
The device can be worn for days at a time to provide a patient with constant monitoring — and medical experts with a wealth of information on the user’s health. The smartphone app that works in conjunction with the device not only powers it, it remotely stores the data for later perusal. Additionally, doctors can actually observe the heartbeat of their patient in real time on their smartphone screen — even when the user is far from a doctor’s office.
While far more research and testing is needed before this electronic tattoo can be used by medical professionals, the engineers behind the device are confident that this new technology could prove a big step forward in cardiovascular health. For now, the scientists are working on improving the data collection and storage techniques, as well as a way to better charge the device wirelessly for long periods of time.