Thin, soft stick-on patches that move with the skin demonstrate the potential benefits achievable with wireless health monitoring. The patches, developed by engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University, resemble a temporary tattoo. Their microfluidic construction allows the patches to flex without the constriction of electronic components. The engineers believe the patch could transform clinical monitoring and everyday health tracking with no bulk or wires.

The device does not interfere with a person’s daily activity. Data can be sent to a smartphone or computer for easy viewing. It was found to perform just as well as EKG and EEG monitors, including long-term monitoring. The wireless patch offers a good alternative to monitoring that requires people to go about their daily routines, as well as newborns with fragile skin.

Previously, University of Illinois professor John A. Rogers, co-leader of the engineering team, demonstrated skin electronics made from small, ultrathin, specially designed and printed components. According to Rogers, his new creation offers a better solution due to the incorporation of low-cost chip-based components.

The patch is a thin elastic envelope filled with fluid. Its soft microfluidic design provides the elastic base of the patch. Tiny, raised support points suspend the chip and are bonded to the patch, which enables stretching.

Perhaps the biggest engineering feat involved placement of the electronic components’ wire connections. The wires are needed for radios, power inductors, sensors, etc. In the patch, the serpentine-arranged wires are folded like origami, allowing them to be unfolded in any direction. The chip, therefore, can stay stable.

The chip opens the door to possibilities in other applications, such as fitness tracking. While monitoring health, a patch worn constantly could help identify medical problems before they occur in the patient. The design is published in the April 4 issue of Science