Seems just like yesterday that Prof.Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading, UK took that bold step to implant a BrainGate device onto his median nerve in his forearm to be able to control electronic devices.
The road further down has revealed a fascinating bunch of technological features. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana have developed what is called an "Epidermal Electronic System" (EES) which is a bendable electronic device that uses the molecular force on skin cells for adhesion. It even boasts of a power source small enough to power it. Interestingly, these could quite soon replace identification tags or become alternatives for Biometric systems. Hmmm, come to think of it, party goers could now be given a fancy tatoo with a hidden electronic circuit in their arms. Healthcare monitoring is just the begining.Read more here : Breakthrough: Electronic circuits that are integrated with your skin. A video of the electronic tatoo is as shown here :
While the Epidermal Electronic system does have it's own bendable power source which can be built into it, other parallel efforts at powering such devices are also on the way to fruition. This is especially true in the case of development of an inner ear battery by MIT's Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and Harvard's MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) to make self powered implantable devices. This device for the first time has tapped into the naturally present region with electric potential for it's power requirements. Read more about it here
There are some emergent ethical issues stemming from these technologies. I can already guess the EES system being potentially used to tag artificial organs and corporate patients in hospitals. Even now few of us would refuse if a hospital insisted on using an epidermal electronic tatoo patch on us for their patient inventory system. Informed consent has just taken on a whole new different set of meaning. However, the advantages far outweigh the fears of social discrimination and eugenic nightmares. Systems such as Epidermal Electronic devices could eventually help in timely drug delivery especially during medical emergencies.
These technologies are the offshoot of continued innovations in materials research. For example, it was the work on enabling electronic circuit printing on flexible substrates that eventually led to the EES. Wonder what comes next ?
V.R. Manoj has a Ph.D in Environmental Biotechnology/Sciences from Anna University, Chennai, India. He has worked in the Renewable energy industry and currently teaches Environmental Sciences and Engineering to Engineering grad students in India. Dr. Manoj was an IEET Affiliate Scholar for 2010-2012.