Researchers at the University Of Tokyo have developed a new type of LEDs that they hope will lead to wearable displays that can go directly onto your skin. Takao Someya and his team have developed the thinnest LEDs ever created. Measuring in at 3 micrometers (µm) thick, they are 1/20 the thickness of a sheet of paper and 1/3 the width of a single fiber of cotton! Perhaps even more important than size, the diodes are also flexible and stretchable. This means that they can be worn on your skin without risk of breaking from normal movement. The polymer based LEDs, which have a lifespan of several days, are attached to your skin via a thin skin, similar in appearance to cling wrap. From there it connects to other sensors and equipment. The current technology is fairly simple, using 7 segments to display information similar to how a calculator or alarm clock does, but the team has been able to use it to display a person’s pulse or blood oxygen concentration directly on their arm. They envision a day where runners will wear a similar skin on their hand to display important stats or medical staff to display a patient’s records and vitals. Eventually the technology behind this could help power a new generation of smart “watches” or even replace cell phones as we know them.
Even though an LED seems like a far cry from the crisp, vibrant screen you are reading this article on, it is the first step towards developing a multicolor display. The technologies used to make a functional light emitting diode could lead to something more closely resembling a display panel. While developments such as these LEDs won’t result in a new product any time soon, they do point to where wearable technology might be headed. If there is a team of people researching a technology it is because they believe there is a future for it. It might be a decade before we see any device that utilizes these thin, wearable LEDs, but they could lead to life saving medical tech or the next must have gadget.