Free Press Journal

Hi-tech wearable tattoos for health: Roozbeh Ghaffari, MC-10


Dr Roozbeh Ghaffari is co-founder and chief technology officer at MC10 Inc. In this role at MC10, Roozbeh has shaped the technology vision and is responsible for defining and developing emerging products. These efforts have led to the development and launch of the BioStamp and “tattoo-like” bio-electronics as the foundation of MC10’s epidermal electronics platform.

Q- What is your mission at MC-10?

My mission is to develop bio–engraved technology to improve health care. We are working in the areas of wearable consumer health and medical devices, bringing out a revolution in the field of bio-medical application and engineering.

Q- Tell us about your medical wearable technology

We take rigid high-performance electronics and reshape them into human-compatible form factors that stretch, bend and twist to move with the body. They look like small band-aid we commonly used when we are hurt. Even if it looks more like a band-aid than an investigation device, the tiny adhesive medical tattoo is stacked with miniaturized technologies. The company was founded by John Rogers in 2008 who introduced the idea of “epidermal electronics,” functioning circuitry which is nearly as thin and stretchy as skin.

This opened up whole new possibilities for integrating skin-mounted devices for all kinds of health-monitoring purposes. BioStamp is MC10’s first flexible computing prototype and WiSP system is the first cardiac monitor sensor are designed to capture real-time ECG data and logged heart rate and deliver superior analytics for clinical research and consumer applications.

Q- How do these sensors function? 

The flexible wearable sensors stick to the skin of its user. Once in place, they gather information about an array of health parameters. The tech is designed to assist researchers  in diagnosing problems concerning motor skills, movement and various neurodegenerative disorders. You have to tap a smartphone to it, and the app can report the same information as it would have done with the photo. I’ve worn it as long as four weeks.

Q- What is the difference between the  multiple types of sensors you mentioned?

 The first is crafted with research environments in mind, while the second one is targeted towards the general goods consumer. In the case of the second sensor, the idea is to inform people how long they were exposed to sunlight and how much damage their skin endured. Called My UV Patch, the sensor is a stretchable, ultra-thin sticker packed with dyes that modify their color depending on the duration of sun exposure.

Taking a picture of the patch with your smartphone and running the sidekick app allows you to see how your skin fares after staying under the sun. The app also offers advice about tanning in a healthy manner, but it’s likely that it will be common sense advice like “stay out of the sun during noon hours,” “hydrate properly” and “wear sunscreen.”

Q- Tell us about the thin cap wearable sensor for football players?

It is a  thin, flexible skull cap embedded with gyros and accelerometers designed to be worn under a sports helmet. In the event of a blow to the head during the course of a game, the device can provide an immediate readout of the force of the impact, giving coaches and parents some quantitative data to help them make a more accurate assessment of whether a concussion has occurred and the player should be taken out of the game.

Q- What are the challenges you faced while designing these sensors?

There are a lot of practical challenges remaining in engineering and in manufacturing as many of these materials, such as silicon are not inherently stretchable, we had to build these devices carefully. We spend a lot of time modeling where the mechanical stresses are concentrated within the layers of each new design to make sure they will hold together. Since we’re working with the biological interface, it’s a big time-saver to find materials that have already been tested.

Q- What is the long term benefit?

Wearables present an opportunity to continue learning from physiology in a much less obtrusive, and less expensive, way. For researchers, this means more compliance, more accuracy, more data, and ultimately, more insights.

These devices are transitioning from helping people learn about themselves, to helping us learn about humans as a whole, shedding light on a variety of study areas including human performance, aging, and mental health.

Q- Do you agree that future of electronics is flexible?

 These tattoo-style, transparent and flexible electronics have great potential to assist users, patients and researchers, so we might see them become a permanent part of the wearable industry.  In the coming years, our company will have consumer versions available for both fitness and health tracking.