Remotely control devices with magnetic skin

Thursday, 05 December, 2019

Remotely control devices with magnetic skin

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have developed a novel magnetic skin that can remotely control switches and keyboards with the wave of a hand or the blink of an eye. Described in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, the artificial skin is wearable, flexible, lightweight and magnetised, making it useful in a variety of applications without the need for a wired connection to other devices.

“Artificial electronic skins typically require a power supply and data storage or a communication network. This involves batteries, wires, electronic chips and antennas and makes the skins inconvenient to wear,” said electrical engineer Jurgen Kosel, who led the project. “Our magnetic skin does not require any of this. To the best of our knowledge, it is the first of its kind.”

The skin is made using an ultraflexible, biocompatible polymer matrix filled with magnetised microparticles. According to KAUST PhD student Abdullah Almansouri, “It can be customised into any shape and colour, making it imperceptible or even stylish.”

The fabrication process is also inexpensive and simple, with Almansouri claiming, “Anyone can start their own artificial skin project after a few minutes of training if they have the tools and materials.”

Image ©2019 KAUST.

The team tested their magnetic skin for tracking eye movements by attaching it to an eyelid with a multi-axis magnetic sensor located nearby. Eye movement changed the magnetic field detected by the sensor whether the eyelid was opened or closed.

The sensor could be incorporated into eyeglass frames or a sleeping mask or applied as an electronic tattoo on the forehead. The researchers believe it has potential for application as a human-computer interface for people with paralysis or for gaming; for analysing sleep patterns; or for monitoring eye conditions, such as drooping eyelids or driver alertness.

The team also attached the skin to a latex glove fingertip and placed a sensor inside a light switch. When the magnetic skin comes close to the sensor — a distance that can be modified — the light switches on or off. This application could be especially relevant in laboratories and medical practices, where contamination is a concern.

Kosel and his team are now extending the application so it can be used in a gesture-controlled wheelchair, in a contact-free human-computer interface and for non-invasive biomedical device localisation.

Top image: Liam Swanepole (left) and Abdullah Almansouri demonstrate the flexibility of their electronic skin. Image ©2019 KAUST.

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