Skin-applied electronics are the latest research craze, with most being pre-made and easily adhered to a user’s body. Now researchers at the University of Minnesota are taking a new approach by developing a technique to 3D print custom electronics directly onto skin.
The scientists, led by Prof. Michael McAlpine, adapted an inexpensive 3D printer that extrudes a special silver flakes conductive ink that cures at room temperature, unlike other inks that need to cure at high temperatures and would therefore burn skin.
Since holding a hand steady during the printing process is a problem, an array of temporary makers are placed on the skin and then scanned. The printer uses a computer vision system to keep an eye on those makers during the printing process an automatically makes adjustments.
The printed electronics could be powered wirelessly, and in the future, it should be possible to print batteries or solar cells as well. When no longer needed, users could simply peel or wash off the electronics. This technique could potentially have medical applications as well. By using a bioink, the team was able to print cells onto a mouse’s skin wound.
Not bad for a portable, lightweight printer costing less than $400.