A research team from the University of Tokyo on Monday has unveiled the world’s first flexible and disposable organic sensor – one that can be placed inside a diaper and will send an alert wirelessly to a specific person if it needs changing. The flexible integrated circuit is printed on a plastic film and transmits information – and even receives its power – wirelessly, and could potentially be manufactured for a few yen (US cents).
The team, headed by University of Tokyo professors Takao Someya and Takayasu Sakurai, said that the system uses organic materials and can be printed with inkjet technology. And while this is relevant for use in infants’ diapers, the technology can will most likely be a breakthrough in adult diapers, given Japan’s rapidly aging society. Regular diapers change color to indicate if they are wet, but a care-giver still needs to take off the wearer’s clothes to see if it needs changing. “If sensing is done electronically, you can tell simply by coming close to the wearer — without unclothing him or her,” professor Someya said. The prototype system currently being tested has been developed for monitoring wetness, pressure, temperature and other phenomena that cause a change in electrical resistance. But Someya said that the team would still like to improve, reducing its power consumption before it goes into the market.
Aside from diapers, the new flexible technology could also be put directly on the skin like a plaster. This can take the place of the ring-shaped devices currently used in hospitals to monitor pulse and blood oxygen levels, Someya added. Healthcare sensors are traditionally made of silicon and other rigid materials which often cause discomfort for the users. The flexibility of this new technology on plastic film reduces discomfort for wearers. It also means that it can be applied more places in the human body, offering doctors and healthcare workers greater potential to monitor well-being.