The healthcare sector is under increasing pressure globally, and we need new and efficient means for diagnostics, care, and monitoring health outside hospitals. Printed electronics and sensor technology offer us solutions.
VTT has been developing sensor technology and printed electronics for more than 20 years. Some of the latest achievements in this field have great potential for applications in healthcare. Sensors are getting smaller and smaller and they can now be printed on thin and flexible materials, or even on stretchable surfaces. These sensors can be attached anywhere on our skin without disturbance, just like a bandage. They are also less vulnerable to interference than traditional solutions attached with rubber bands.
Cost-efficient mass production and new applications on fast schedule
These small sensors can be used to measure different bio signals, such as heart rate, body liquids or our movements. To be used in healthcare, they must meet high hygiene standards. To avoid sterilization between usages they should be disposable when their price per unit should be low.
–Recent development in roll-to-roll process enables cost-efficient mass production of these kind of wearable devices, says solution research professor Jussi Hiltunen from VTT.
– Now that we have reached this point, new applications relying on this technology can be developed fast. Finland has strong companies specialising in medical technology and we have also startups that have a growing position for growth in this sector.
Successful demo on monitoring big audience
One recent application of printable electronics is VTT’s applause demo, presented at the PrintoCent’s PRINSE’20 seminar earlier this year. A small accelerometer was used to gather movement data from 200 people in the seminar audience. This data was brought to cloud through Bluetooth and analysed using an algorithm, providing real time information on the reaction of the audience.
– Our small sensor included a tiny battery, so we had to achieve low power consumption. We used sleep mode and kept Bluetooth off until the sensor detected movement and recognised applause. Only relevant data was sent through Bluetooth, which reduced consumption, explains VTT’s researcher Samuli Heinonen.
Though the demonstration in PRINSE’20 seminar was for entertainment purposes detecting movement could be used in activity monitoring in wellness and healthcare applications.
– You could gather data on movements and use it to monitor activity, learn techniques or analyse performance. We could also add memory to the sensor and save the data for later analysis. Other application areas could be diagnostics and rehabilitation. We could analyse walking style to discover certain neurological conditions or diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, and use sensors to learn right and pure movements. These sensors could also be used for work ergonomics to eliminate harmful movements at work.