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The “Wearable Skin” That Controls Your Phone

This just might be the ultimate in wearable technology.

If you thought this rapidly growing industry was all about fitness bands and awkward-looking headsets, think again.

At the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, researchers are working on the iSkin wearable patch. Equipped with touch sensors and worn on the skin, the silicone patches are thin, soft, and flexible, and allow a user to control devices in a unique way.

Cynics will suggest that this on-body mobile computing is nothing more than a flashy and unnecessary gimmick. But many new innovations are often scoffed at by… well, professional scoffers!

Max Planck doctoral researcher Martin Weigel explains the thinking behind iSkin: “Current [wearable] electronics mostly use rigid components, which are very uncomfortable to wear on the body and limit the locations to, for example, the wrist or on the head to be worn. But our sensor is flexible and stretchable, so it can cover many locations. For example, even the backside of the ear or the forearm. So we have a much larger input space than current electronics allow for.”

From Robot to Man

The technology is similar to the “electronic skin” that’s been developed for robots – such as this creation from Georgia Tech, as well as the Dexterous Hand from London’s Shadow Robot Company.

It begins with a simple tattoo-like design sketched on a computer. Using lasers, the shape is then cut from silicone and laced with carbonized black powder in order to give it conductive properties.

After being sandwiched between two other sheets of transparent biocompatible silicone, the patch is then fixed to the body with a regular cosmetic adhesive.


Right now, the prototype iSkin is hardwired to a computer, but the developers say upgrading to wireless technology should be pretty straightforward, as the relevant microprocessors already exist.

Eventually, there might not even be any need for a power source, as the body’s energy would do the job itself – “like, for example, from body temperature or from the blood flow directly,” according to Weigel.

Possibly due to financial constraints, the Max Planck team currently doesn’t have plans to further develop its iSkin prototype. But what it does do is lay the foundation for further research into e-skin technology, in addition to the existing iterations used on robots.


Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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