A team of MU researchers has created a patch that has the potential to become wearable air conditioning.
Right now, the patch only cools the skin it covers — about the size of a business card — but the plan is to create one that covers the entire body.
The patch can be used to control drones and play video games based on the wearer’s gestures. It also can serve as a biomedical sensor, reading information about the body such as blood pressure, heart rate, skin hydration and temperature so the information can be sent to cellphones.
The current patch has wires to connect to a control device to fly the drones or detect and send biomedical data. But the team hopes to create a wireless version and make it practical for people in one or two years, said Zheng Yan, an assistant professor in the MU College of Engineering who leads the research team.
“This is a hot research area,” he said. “Right now, many people work on the wearable electronics to achieve the real-time human health monitoring and human-machine interaction.”
But the cooling component is new, Yan said. He said he came up with the idea — to create the first device attaching a self-cooling system with wearable electronics — when he joined the faculty at MU.
“When I came here about two years ago, I was thinking about what kind of new property should I introduce to wearable electronics,” he said.
“So I found maybe the cooling capability will be very interesting and also very usable property.”
Passive cooling — the process of cooling without any electricity — saves energy, improves human comfort and is increasingly popular, Yan said.
“Actually many people work on the passive cooling structures — for example, passive cooling house,” he said. “But no one works on the wearable electronics with passive cooling property.”
The special physical surface can reflect most sunlight and is transparent to infrared rays, the radiation that allows the human body to dissipate heat.
“So this means we wear this patch, it can reflect sunlight so you will not gain heat from sun,” Yan said. “But the human body still can dissipate heat through the patch.”
Based on Yan’s team’s research, the patch can only last for two or three days, Yan said.
“But our target is that we hope they can stay on the human body to maybe more than seven days.”
Yan said the researchers want to make the patch more sticky with certain chemical modifications and plan to design a large-scale patch to cover the whole body.
“That would allow for the device’s cooling capabilities to be delivered across the whole body,” Yan said in an MU news release.
The research, “Multiscale porous elastomer substrates for multifunctional on-skin electronics with passive-cooling capabilities,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and had 15 authors, including 13 engineers at MU.
The University of Missouri startup fund and a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported the research.
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