Wearable Devices That Could Heal Themselves When They Break #WearableWednesday

Via The New York Times.

A sports bra that monitors your workout. A suit that lets you swap business cards digitally. A beanie hat that tracks your newborn’s vitals. Smart garments like these hint at a future coming up fast, with wearable electronics integrated into our clothing or even our skin, capable of constantly monitoring our biology and tracking our social interactions.

Endless though the possibilities seem, most wearable electronics today are expensive and complicated to make, with multiple moving parts. One option for making cheaper components en masse is to print electronic devices, using a process that looks much like conventional printing, but with special, electrically functional inks. The promise of printed electronics is low-cost, flexible devices — including batteries and sensors, and wearable circuits that can be incorporated into smart clothing. But the multibillion-dollar industry has a major downfall: Printed electronics are fragile.

Joseph Wang’s nanoengineering lab at the University of California, San Diego, is now developing a solution: ink that includes magnetic particles. If a fabric or device printed with this magnetic ink breaks, the particles attract one another and close the gap. In a paper published today in Science Advances, Dr. Wang’s team reports that their self-healing ink can repair multiple cuts up to three millimeters long in just 50 milliseconds.

The smart clothes we hear about today, like shirts and shorts that monitor your health while you run, typically include sensors that have been woven into or clipped onto fabrics. For the most part, these sensors aren’t printed, which can make them more costly and more rigid. “We wanted to make wearable devices that were more skinlike,” said Amay Bandodkar, who studied in Dr. Wang’s lab and is an author of the study. “Just like the human skin is stretchable and self-healing, we wanted to impart a self-healing ability to printed electronics.”

Read more.

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