The University of Tokyo have stepped up to make science fiction a little closer to reality by making e-skin able to deliver a display of light with an ultra-flexible skin capable of lighting up despite its terrifically thin nature.

Researchers In Tokyo Develop LED E-Skin

Wearables get thinner

Wearables are here to stay, now it’s just a matter of making them in a fashion where they are less cumbersome and obtrusive. It appears based on findings recently published online in the journal Scientific Advances. And being Japan, it’s likely that it will become a fashion statement on the streets of Tokyo in no time flat.

“The advent of mobile phones has changed the way we communicate,” said Professor Takao Someya, one of the study’s authors, in a press release. “While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us.”

Dr. Someya, sees amazing potential in the newly developed e-skin, that could change both communication and health and fitness tracking. With a lager surface area than, say, an Apple Watch or a FitBit device, it’s likely that health tracking will become considerably more accurate.

“In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times,” said Someya, “they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate.”

While the technology remains a ways away from becoming practical in application, when it’s scalable expect to see it adopted left and right.

Construction of the e-skin

In a press release that accompanied their papers publication, Someya and his team used layers of silicon oxynitrite and parylenes to sandwich a 3 millimeter-thick bank of electronic devices called Polymer Light Emitting Diodes (PLEDs) and Organic Photodetectors (OPDs) to protect them from the elements, namely the air and water. The skin, as mentioned, it super thin and as a result quite flexible.

Importantly, especially if to be used in wearables, the researchers were able to keep the heat to a minimum and their paper says that they have dramatically reduced the e-skin’s power needs as well. Essentially, the PLEDs and OPDs are tiny diodes that represent one pixel. To display numbers and letters, the skin lights up multiple diodes at the same time to create the “message.”

Once again, given the surface area, doctors will embrace the new technology as it can be programmed to measure vital signs like pulse and blood pressure as well as oxygen levels, or saturation, in the bloodstream of their patients. This is simply not possible with more rigid materials.

While that is certainly a useful application, expect this new skin to become a fashion statement and be used in wearables as well. It’s flexibility and wherewithal is really quite impressive with the team claiming that the skin can be balled-up like a piece of paper you’re going to try to make a three pointer into the garbage can with and un-crumpled without causing any damage.

What’s also unique about the skin that the team developed is its ability to withstand air and moisture given the layering of inorganic and organic materials. The researchers call the overall effect the “passivation layer,” which keeps water and other corrosives away from the diodes.

“What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies,” asks Someya, “and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease?”