Temporary brain-reading tattoos are the future of wearable devices

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Outside of Soundcloud rappers and professional wrestlers like the late Bam Bam Bigelow, head tattoos aren’t something most of us come across on a regular basis. If researchers at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and a few other European research labs are successful, that could all be about to change. Head tattoos may become the norm – mind reading head tattoos and electrode sports. And, like the old joke about the waiter and the fly in the men’s soup, we’re going to want them all.

Before we go any further, no, tattoos are not permanent. “We use temporary tattoos like the ones for children; essentially the same one you would use to transfer a cartoon or drawing for creative purposes to your skin, ”Francesco Greco, assistant professor at the university’s Institute of Solid Physics, told Digital Trends. “We use the [standard tattoo] paper as the substrate, then print conductive polymer circuits on it, using an inkjet printer.

Greco / TU Graz

The recipient sticks one or more of these adhesive tattoo electrodes to their scalp. The tattoos can then be used to record high-quality electroencephalography (EEG) brain signals freshly taken from the scalp. Unlike gel electrodes, there is no need for a liquid interface and tattoos cannot dry out. Even the hairs that grow through their ultra-fine membrane do not prevent them from doing their job effectively.

While tattoo electrodes aren’t exactly invisible (anyone who is shaved and wearing a small circuit board stuck to their head has the odd habit of being visible), they don’t interfere with the wearer like a helmet. conventional EEG electrode could do this. One of their most exciting aspects is that they can be applied and then forgotten; which makes them ideally suited for long-term measurements. They stay in place until cleaned with soap and water to remove them.

The most high-tech tattoo studio in the world

Greco’s lab, the Applied Materials Laboratory for Printed and Soft Electronics (LAMPSe), developed the first tattoo electrodes in 2015. The first use case for these adhesive transfers was to measure heart rate and heart rate. muscle activity. Half a decade later, Greco and others optimized the technology so that it can be used to measure brain waves just as efficiently. The work was carried out alongside researchers in France, at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Étienne, and in Italy by Laura Ferrari at the BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.

Researchers at TU Graz present printer tattoo electrodes, which are of particular interest for long-term medical diagnostics.
Lung hammer – TU Graz

“EEG, or electroencephalography, has always been the most difficult step,” Esma Ismailova, head of the bioelectronic textiles group in the bioelectronics department of the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Etienne, told Digital Trends. “We have now reached the ultimate stage where we can [gather] low amplitude and high frequency brain waves. It’s very [difficult] to catch that kind of activity.

There are several reasons why brain data collection might be useful. One is for surveillance. Apple Watch’s EKG meter has already convincingly demonstrated why wearable devices that constantly monitor our vital signs can be helpful. In the case of the Apple Watch, conditions such as atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can cause strokes, can be detected by constantly monitoring the heart rate of the wearers. In the event of a problem, the connected watch can alert the user so that he can consult a doctor.

Currently, there is no regular monitoring of brain waves. Neurological disorders like epilepsy can be diagnosed using EEG technology, but patients are unlikely to have regular (or even irregular) brainwave monitoring subsequently. “With epilepsy, you can’t really predict a seizure; you have to be able to monitor the patient, ”Ismailova explained. “This type of electrode could be used to monitor the patient at home to help clinicians understand the origins [of the illness] and how it spreads. They can assess it over time.

A step towards brain-computer interfaces

There are other practical use cases as well. Greco believes that this non-invasive brainwave monitoring technology could prove to be a crucial step in building brain-computer interfaces.

“One of the wonderful things that could be possible, and which we are trying to study now, is capturing information from the brain [for use in different applications], “he said.” For example, you can capture this information, send it directly through a brain-computer interface, and use it to stimulate the muscles of a paralyzed patient. In a paralyzed patient, the brain is functioning perfectly, the muscles work fine, but neural communication is lost between these two points.We could try to recover the disconnection by means of a brain-computer interface.

These use cases only exist in sci-fi until they suddenly aren’t.

Then there are all the other potential applications of a brain-computer interface, such as monitoring mood or desires and retrieving the right information at the right time. It may even be possible to combine a brain monitoring tattoo electrode with temporary tattoos monitoring muscle activity in other parts of the body as an additional data source.

Does Greco think that in our lifetime waking up and slapping a cheap wearable tattoo sensor could be as trite as putting our watch on or slipping our smartphone in our pocket? “Yes, I think, because there are a lot of practical applications in everyday life [where this could be useful,]” he said.

The reliability and accuracy of tattoo electrodes have been successfully tested in real clinical conditions.
Greco / TU Graz

At present, this work is still a proof of concept demonstration rather than something ready to be marketed. Information processing still needs to be done by connecting the electrodes to an external device. However, Greco points out that other research groups are working on wearables that could help process this information about the body. It could also be transmitted wirelessly to a smartphone or smartwatch.

All this remains for the moment of speculation. But, like so much in modern wearable, these use cases only exist in sci-fi until they suddenly don’t.

An article describing the research was recently published in the journal npj Flexible Electronics.

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