Tissue paper sensors show promise for health care, entertainment, robotics

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Engineering  |  Health and medicine  |  Research  |  Science  |  Technology  |  UW Today blog

February 12, 2018

University of Washington graduate student, Jinyuan Zhang, demonstrates how wearable sensors can track eye movement.Dennis R. Wise/University of Washington

University of Washington engineers have turned tissue paper – similar to toilet tissue – into a new kind of wearable sensor that can detect a pulse, a blink of an eye and other human movement. The sensor is light, flexible and inexpensive, with potential applications in health care, entertainment and robotics.
The technology, described in a paper published in January in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, shows that by tearing tissue paper that’s loaded with nanocomposites and breaking the paper’s fibers, the paper acts as a sensor. It can detect a heartbeat, finger force, finger movement, eyeball movement and more, said Jae-Hyun Chung, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of the research.

University of Washington graduate student, Jinyuan Zhang, demonstrates how a wearable sensor can measure finger pressure.Dennis R. Wise/University of Washington

“The major innovation is a disposable wearable sensor made with cheap tissue paper,” said Chung. “When we break the specimen, it will work as a sensor.”
These small, Band Aid-sized sensors could have a variety of applications in various fields. For example, monitoring a person’s gait or the movement of their eyes can be used to inspect brain function or a game player’s actions. The sensor could track how a special-needs child walks in a home test, sparing the child the need for hospital visits. Or the sensors could be used in occupational therapy for seniors.
“They can use these sensors and after one-time use, they can be thrown away,” said Chung.
In their research, the scientists used paper similar to toilet tissue. The paper – nothing more than conventional paper towels – is then doused with carbon nanotube-laced water. …

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