A new method of printing electrical circuits on to a paper base looks set to make connected health even more widely accessible.
Since 2013 the idea of using paper as an electronic component has been gaining ground. In Potsdam, Germany, a team of researchers showed how paper could be transformed into an electrically conductive material. Their aim was to replace the rigid chips currently in use so as to be able to create slimmer, more supple electronic devices.
More recently, Assistant Professor Anming Hu and his team at the University of Tennessee have moved this area of research away from bendy screens and slimline wearable electronics and focused on developing uses for application in the field of connected health. They have come up with a fast, low-cost method of making flexible electronic sensors by directly printing conductive ink on to paper. Their programmable system prints a pattern of silver nanowire ink on to paper within a few minutes and then fixes it by means of photonic sintering, using the light of a camera flash to harden the printed ‘nanowires’.
Anming Hu believes that this invention will be especially valuable in the field of medicine, as the material he and his team are creating will be practically waterproof. One application would for example be to manufacture low-cost implants that can measure the glucose levels of a diabetes sufferer in real time. In fact, in the longer term all medical conditions which require monitoring on a regular basis could benefit from this type of inexpensive implant.
The technology is still currently a long way from being ready for practical use: “Specific applications of our work will need long-term development,” underlines Professor Hu. However, if his research is proved to work well in the clinical sphere, it will help to extend connected health technology to preventive care, along similar lines to smart watches designed to alert their wearers to imminent epileptic seizures.