Wearable electronics developers have for some time been attempting to tackle the problem of integrating electronic functionality into textile materials that are washable, durable and not too complex to produce in volume.
One approach that avoids many of these challenges is to eschew clothing altogether. Some developers are investigating the possibility of attaching electronics directly to the wearer's skin as a patch or 'tattoo.'
The concept is not a new one. UK start-up Bare Conductive has been developing inks that make printing circuitry simple on various substrates.
The start-up launched Bare Paint in Q3 2011, a conductive and non-toxic ink that allows the user to essentially paint a circuit. The company is now working on Bare Skin, a paint that is safe for use directly on the body. The product will be certified as a cosmetic in the EU once it is released, according to the company. Applications for the material range from wearable healthcare technologies to more artistic work.
US start-up mc10 has been developing wearable electronics since it was spun out in 2008 to commercialise research by John Rogers at the University of Illinois www.illinois.edu at Urbana-Champaign, and George Whitesides at Harvard University. www.harvard.edu
In December 2010 mc10 announced its collaboration with sportswear firm Reebok, www.rebok.com part of Adidas www.adidas.com. Reebok has since been working with mc10 on athletics apparel that can exploit conformal electronics
Whereas the medical sector requires more time to gain approval, non-invasive cosmetics products like a facial attachment for skincare purposes could be taken to market more quickly.
With a range of wearable electronics applications set to come to market in the near-term - some of which will exploit the advances made in on-skin technology - the commercial appeal of inks and materials from the likes of Bare Conductive will become more apparent.
This article appears in full in Volume 4, issue 6 of +Plastic Electronics magazine. To read this article, along with more high-value, exclusive content, subscribe to +Plastic Electronics magazine.
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