Smart patches help us keep track


A new type of smart patches will soon be available on the market. The patches are made of a soft stretchable circuit board technology and can measure important body functions, and wirelessly transfer the information to a smartphone. The researchers hope that the patches can be useful in healthcare and sports.

Eight partners work together in this new European research project with the aim to develop a new technology for stretchable electronic patches. A group of researchers at the Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala University is leading the project.

Klas Hjorth

Klas Hjort, Professor of Material Science at Uppsala University, is the project coordinator. He explains how the patch is constructed.

– The smart patches are made by a circuit board technique where small modules of ordinary electronic components are put together in a soft rubber material and connected to conductive tracks of liquid alloy. The patches can measure important body functions and wirelessly transfer the information to a smartphone with a secure, fast and low power transmission via the fat in our body, he explains. Instead of sending signals into the air with an antenna, we direct it towards the body. In this way, the power needed for communication is reduced and it is not possible to bug the information without getting in direct contact with the person's skin.

The smart patches are soft and thin and therefore more comfortable than the wireless products available on the market today, and the manufacturers hope that the patches in the future will function as a comfortable, safe and discreet support system, which can be used all the time regardless of what you do, for example skiing, taking a sauna or having a shower.

– It is similar to today's technical aids. They are attached to the body (like a clock or a band around the chest) says Klas, but he emphasizes that the smart patch should be seen as a conformal and compliant complement of today's activity bracelets rather than a replacement.

– See this as the equivalent of choosing contact lenses or eyeglasses.

The researchers plan to pilot the smart patches with the Swedish Ski National team, and they hope that the patches will help the athletes improve their performance.

– The idea is that what you today only can test in physiological laboratories would also be possible to measure in normal outdoor training. You can already measure how effective one's skiing style is, but with more data that links movement, body pressure and effort to how fast one can ski, you can more easily improve your stride, says Klas. He also adds that it can help athletes who practise intensively to optimize their training and reduce the risk of injury. Another intended target group is patients with heart problems, or patient recovering from a bone fracture or surgery.

Klas hope that the smart patches also would help elderly to feel more secure since the patches can warn them if their health (heart, balance or different muscles) slowly get worse.

– In the future it is quite possible that the technology can offer a more inspiring and safer everyday life for active people, whether they are very well trained, recovering from an illness or are at old age.

A soft, compliant and very stretchable strain gauge manufactured in a Gallium based liquid alloy encapsulated in our novel heterogeneous silicone, which is 100 times more compliant than normal silicones and attach well against skin.

SINTEC (Soft Intelligence Epidermal Communication Platform) is a H2020 project that starts in January 2019. The project is four years long with a budget of just over 40 million SEK.
Partners: Academic parties, Technology Sciences at Uppsala University, Swedish National Winter Sports Center at Mid Sweden University, the research institute ISMB from Italy together with the companies Mycronic AB, ST Microelectronics and Warrant Hub from Italy, Evalan from the Netherlands and MySphera from Spain.

Some of the team members at Ångström Laboratory

Coordinator and contact person for the project: Klas Hjort, Professor of Materials Science, and responsible for the program in Microsystem Technology, at the Department of Engineering Sciences, Uppsala University.

Anna Ciabuschi Eriksson