Wi-Fi Babies: Is Electronic Skin the Answer to SIDS Prevention?
The day my infant son was brought home was the day the most horrible thought any parent can conjure occurred to me—what if he stops breathing? Watching him lying there in his crib asleep; his little chest rising up and down scant millimeters with each breath powered by a pumping heart not much larger than a ping pong ball; wondering how the heck something so small can continue to keep running.
To a guy size means power. And if my infant son were an engine I would immediately want to outfit him with a four-barrel Holly carburetor, connect him to an engine monitor and tweak his fuel and air mixture until I was satisfied that his breathing had the purr of a souped-up Chevy Nova. Oh, and I would also do something about those fluid and gas leaks as well while at it.
New parent paranoia is something all parents go through. The unfortunate part, however, is when paranoia becomes a reality, and there is no reality more heart-wrenching than a family who has lost an infant to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Fortunately, this may change. In the August issue of Science, researchers announce the invention of an electronic skin that has limitless potential for monitoring vital signs via a thin patch as innocuous as a child’s rub-on tattoo.
Materials Science researcher John Rogers and his colleagues at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have recently reported their invention of an electronic skin that can be applied to a patient to monitor heartbeats, muscle contractions, brain activity and voice. This “electronic skin” is a flexible latticework of electronic circuits sandwiched between sheets of polyester that sticks to human skin without the use of adhesives. It can be applied and removed easily and remain on the skin up to days at a time until the skin cells beneath the patch begin to naturally slough off.
The electronics of the skin includes sensors, antennas, light emitting diodes, and solar cells or magnetic inductive coils to power the skin. The circuits connecting the components are S-shaped filaments that allow the skin to be stretched without breaking the circuits. Also included is a wireless transmitter that can send data remotely to a computer for analysis by a physician.
Rogers states, “Our main focus from a research standpoint is on healthcare related applications because I think that's the most impactful class of use of this kind of device. So we're spending our time mostly in that arena, physiological status monitoring, human-machine interfaces, devices to assist with physical rehabilitation.”