While most of us have a pretty good sense of when we’re getting too stressed, people with certain mental health issues may benefit from being made aware of the situation, so they can take the appropriate action. A new palm-worn electronic tattoo could help in that regard.
The prototype device is being developed by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University.
It monitors the palm’s galvanic skin response (essentially how much the skin is sweating), which is a fairly reliable indicator of how much stress a person is currently experiencing. Although other experimental wearables have been created to serve that same purpose, many have been bulky, unreliable and/or very visible, the latter making the wearer feel self-conscious.
The e-tattoo reportedly addresses these shortcomings. It consists of two electrodes, which take the form of thin ribbons made of overlapping layers of graphene and gold. Those electrodes lead into a wrist-worn smartwatch, that continuously analyzes and records the galvanic skin response data.
Although the electrodes are only applied temporarily as needed, they still stay securely in place when performing everyday activities such as driving or grasping objects – they’re also very sweat-resistant. Because they’re so thin and mostly transparent, they’re additionally quite stealthy, so people other than the wearer aren’t likely to notice them.
In previous studies, other thin-film wearable sensors have tended to break as the underlying body part moves back and forth. The e-tattoo gets around this problem by giving the electrodes an undulating serpentine structure, which allows them to stretch and contract like springs instead of snapping.
It is hoped that along with helping people to monitor their own emotional state, the e-tattoo sensor could also relay data to caregivers such as psychologists, letting them know if the current therapy is working.
“You want to know whether people are responding to this treatment,” said the lead scientist, U Texas Austin’s Prof. Nanshu Lu. “Is it helping them? Right now, that’s hard to tell.”
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.