Scientists Celebrate 'Serpentine Circuits' That Will Be Integrated With The Skin On Your Forehead And/Or On Your Hand
A team of engineers today announced a discovery that could change the world of electronics forever. Called an "epidermal electronic system" (EES), it's basically an electronic circuit mounted on your skin, designed to stretch, flex, and twist — and to take input from the movements of your body.
EES is a leap forward for wearable technologies, and has potential applications ranging from medical diagnostics to video game control and accelerated wound-healing. Engineers John Rogers and Todd Coleman, who worked on the discovery, tell io9 it's a huge step towards erasing the divide that separates machine and human.
Coleman and Rogers say they developed EES to forego the hard and rigid electronic "wafer" format of traditional electronics in favor of a softer, more dynamic platform. To accomplish this, their team brought together scientists from several labs to develop "filamentary serpentine" (threadlike and squiggly) circuitry. When this circuitry is mounted on a thin, rubber substrate with elastic properties similar to skin, the result is a flexible patch that can bend and twist, or expand and contract, all without affecting electronic performance.
This video demonstrates the resilience of the EES patch, and how easily it can be applied. The patch (comprised of the circuitry and rubber substrate) is first mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic, then applied to the skin with water like a temporary tattoo.
How Will We Wear Our Second Skin?
So what can an EES really do for us? The short answer is: a lot. In the paper describing their new technology, published in this week's issue of Science, the researchers illustrated the adaptability of their concept by demonstrating functionality in a wide array of electronic components, including biometric sensors, LEDs, transistors, radio frequency capacitors, wireless antennas, and even conductive coils and solar cells for power.
Breakthrough: Electronic circuits that are integrated with your skinWe asked Rogers what he thought were the most promising applications for the new technology. He said medicine was the most compelling:
Our paper demonstrates our ability to monitor ECG (as a monitor of heart disease and metabolism), EMG (as a measure of, among other things, gait during walking) and EEG (as a measure of cognitive state and awareness). (translation; get out of line against the nwo; you're dead amigo)
We have also shown that these same devices can stimulate muscle tissue to induce contractions. When combined with sensing/monitoring, such modes of use could be valuable in physical rehabilitation. We also have interest in sleep monitoring (for sleep apnea), and neo-natal care (monitoring premature babies, in particular).
According to Rogers, the electronic skin has already been shown to monitor patients' health measurements as effectively as conventional state-of-the-art electrodes that require bulky pads, straps, and irritating adhesive gels. "The fidelity of the measurement is equal to the best existing technology that is out there today, but in a very unique skin-like form," he explained.
Breakthrough: Electronic circuits that are integrated with your skinWhat's more, the electronic skin's unique properties allow it to do things that existing biometric sensors simply can't touch. Todd Coleman, who co-led the project with Rogers, told io9 how an EES could be applied to a person's throat to serve as a communication aid:
Within the realm of biomedical applications, one can imagine providing benefits to patients with muscular or neurological disorders like ALS. For example, in the Science article, our research group used the device…to control a computer strategy game with muscles in the throat by speaking the commands.
In principle, the same function could have been achieved by simply mouthing commands rather than speaking them out loud. As such, this capability could be provided to ALS patients so that they could "speak" through an epidermal electronics system that is un-noticeable to them, and invisible to other observers.
Breakthrough: Electronic circuits that are integrated with your skin Eroding the Distinction Between Machine and Human
Outside the context of biomedicine, the EES's inconspicuous nature opens up a whole world of possibilities. The patches are already barely noticeable, but when mounted directly onto a temporary tattoo, for example, any evidence of electronic circuitry disappears.
[This technology] provides a huge conceptual advance in wedding the biological world to the cyber world in a manner that is very natural. In some sense, the boundary between the electronics world and the biological world is becoming increasingly amorphous. The ramifications of this are mind-blowing, to say the least.
I envision endless applications that extend beyond biomedical applications. For example, we could use the exact same technology – and specifically its discrete tattoo-like appearance – to perform covert military operations where an agent could communicate to the command station with these electric signals without ever speaking a word.
Coleman's statement touches on what is perhaps this most important thing about today's announcement, namely the precedent it sets for future technologies that aim to combine the organismal with the synthetic.
"The blurring of electronics and biology is really the key point here," said Northwestern University's Yonggang Huang, with whom Rogers and Coleman collaborated. "All established forms of electronics are hard, rigid. Biology is soft, elastic. It's two different worlds. This is a way to truly integrate them."
Looking to the future, Rogers echoes his colleague's sentiments. Describing what he envisions for his research group in the coming years, he said:
We would like to expand the functionality such that the devices not only seamlessly integrate with the human body in a mechanical sense, but that they also communicate and interact with the tissue in modes that go beyond electrons and photons (the ‘currency' of semiconductor device technologies), to the level of fluids and biomolecules (i.e. the ‘currency' of biology). We are hoping, in this way, to blur the distinction between electronics and the human body, in ways that can advance human health.
August 15, 2012 -
Biometrics4ALL was selected by the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS) to supply the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) with portable “live scan” biometric-based booking units.
Biometrics4ALL’s “LiveScan” booking solution includes 30 fingerprint and palm print scanners that will be used for various criminal-booking applications and for data submission to the Los Angeles County Fingerprint Identification System or LAFIS, along with data transfers to the California Department of Justice (Cal-DOJ), and the FBI.
The contract was awarded to Biometrics4ALL after it presented an extensive demonstration to the LASD evaluation team and after going through a rigorous weeklong analysis with Los Angeles County. The evaluation found that Biometric4ALL’s software had one of the smoothest booking workflows, which would benefit the County’s regional identification system upon implementation.
The software also has several other features such as an intuitive user interface, “face find” mug shot capture and rapid data capture capabilities. The software is backed up by equally impressive hardware such as the portable casing for the unit, fingerprint and palm print scanner, a photo camera, an electronic signature pad, a magnetic stripe reader, a driver license 2-D bar code reader and military-class batteries which have an eight hour life span.
Biometrics4ALL was offered a three-year contract to supply the LASD with their portable “LiveScan” booking solutions. The firm is a leading developer of biometrics-based technology for both the public and private sector. The company first introduced its LiveScan solutions for background checks for law enforcement agencies six years ago.
Will the majority of law enforcement agencies in the United States be using “live scan” biometric-based criminal-booking systems by the end of the decade?
Are biometric ID tools evil?
Fingerprint readers, iris scanners, palm vein scanners, facial recognition systems and more -- biometric ID tools are going mainstream. But will the mainstream go biometric?
August 18, 2012 (Computerworld)
Moss Bluff Elementary School in Lake Charles, La., wanted to speed up the cafeteria line and reduce errors in lunch accounting. So the school bought a Fujitsu PalmSecure biometric ID system, which has a scanner that reads the unique patterns of blood vessels in a human palm, enabling a positive ID, much like a fingerprint would.
When school officials sent out a letter announcing the program, some parents freaked out.
The parents had concerns centering around the belief that all forms of biometric ID constitute what the Christian Bible calls "the mark of the beast."
Here's what it says in Revelation 13:15-18: "And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, OR the name of the beast, or the number of his name ... and his number is six hundred threescore and six."
I was surprised to learn while researching this column that opposition to any sort of biometric ID systems for payment might be widespread among some Christian groups.
A Christian blogger named Elwood Sanders summed up the biblical case for rejection of biometric ID like this: "Let me state my position clear: NO BIOMETRIC ID CARD! PERIOD! Every evangelical Christian needs to say NO to this kind of thing."
The case of Moss Bluff Elementary highlights our current reality with biometric ID technology: It's becoming so mainstream that schools are using it in their cafeterias. But some people are rejecting it based on religious grounds.
So will pervasive biometric ID be adopted? Or rejected? The answer is less clear than you might think.
How evil is biometric ID?
Opposition to biometric ID is pretty widespread, and most of that opposition is based not on prophecy, but on concerns about privacy.
A Senate hearing last month revealed the U.S. government's own concerns about the use of facial-recognition technology, both by government law enforcement agencies and private companies like Facebook.
Europe is broadly resisting Facebook's facial recognition initiative, especially Germany.
A professor from Spain's Universidad Autonoma de Madrid told the Black Hat conference recently that researchers there have come up with a way to hack iris recognition systems that fools the systems into identifying one person as another, raising fears that the main benefit of biometrics -- certainty -- may not be as reliable as promised.
There are many privacy organizations and advocates with serious reservations about the use of biometric identification technology of any kind.
Moreover, many people associate fingerprinting with criminality, and they just don't like the idea of it.
In general, privacy advocates view biometric tools -- especially those that can operate from a distance, such as facial recognition systems -- as grease on the slippery slope toward an Orwellian future in which the government can track everyone at all times with perfect accuracy.
So we find ourselves in a strange position in which some religious conservatives and some secular liberal privacy advocates both agree that biometric identification is evil.
Both groups can be vocal and influential. I predict that general opposition to biometrics will grow strong over the next few years.
But so will support for the technology.
Your body is the credit card
The cashless society is coming. The first step is the use of smartphones to make wireless payments.
Google, Apple and others are pushing hard to move money out of your wallet and into your phone.
The idea is that you'll walk into a store, transfer money from your account to the store, then walk out. No wallet necessary.
But without your wallet, how do they know it's really you?
Apple is buying the fingerprint company AuthenTec. It's likely that Apple will use the acquisition to build fingerprint ID into its products so you can use your Apple ID to buy anything.
Android phones are expected to increasingly offer fingerprint ID systems and other biometric tools.
It's just a matter of time before a majority of Americans are carrying biometric ID scanners in their own pockets.
Florida schools are talking about using biometric ID technology not only in the cafeteria, but also in the library and on the bus.
Japan is looking at using facial-recognition systems and other tools to speed up immigration procedures at two major airports.
A day care center in Minnesota is using fingerprint ID to make sure people picking up children are authorized to do so.
Biometric technology is even being proposed as the solution for cloud-computing security.
The people who accept and approve of biometric ID technology do so because it adds security and convenience to our everyday lives.
So it appears we're headed for a clash. On the one hand, you have a huge push for biometrics to replace signatures, passwords and photo IDs.
On the other, you have a large number of people who consider biometrics an unparalleled evil, and they will refuse to participate.
Who's right and who's wrong? Is biometric technology the answer to our security problems? Or is it just plain evil?