Stretchy computing device feels like skin, but analyzes health data with artificial intelligence that mimics the brain

Stretchy computing device feels like skin, but analyzes health data with artificial intelligence that mimics the brain

The wearable neuromorphic chip, made of stretchable semiconductors, can implement artificial intelligence (AI) to process massive amounts of health information in real time. Upstairs, Asst. Prof. dr. Sihong Wang shows a single neuromorphic device with three electrodes. Credit: John Zick

It’s a smart patch, a smart watch without a watch, and a leap forward for wearable health technologies. Researchers at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago have developed a flexible, stretchable computer chip that processes information by mimicking the human brain. The device, described in the magazine Matteraims to change the way health data is processed.

“With this work, we have combined wearable technology with artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a powerful device that can analyze health data directly on our own bodies,” said Sihong Wang, materials scientist and assistant professor of Molecular Engineering.

Today, it requires a visit to a hospital or clinic to get an in-depth profile of your health. In the future, Wang said, people’s health could be continuously monitored by wearable electronics that can detect disease before symptoms appear. Discreet, portable computing devices are a step toward making this vision a reality.

A data stream

The future of healthcare envisioned by Wang — and many others — includes wearable biosensors to track complex health indicators, including levels of oxygen, sugar, metabolites and immune molecules in people’s blood. One of the keys to making these sensors possible is their ability to adapt to the skin. As such skin-like wearable biosensors emerge and begin to collect more and more information in real time, the analysis becomes exponentially more complex. A single piece of information must be placed in the broader perspective of a patient’s history and other health parameters.

Today’s smartphones are incapable of the kind of complex analysis needed to learn a patient’s basic health measures and discern key disease signals. However, advanced artificial intelligence platforms that integrate machine learning to identify patterns in extremely complex datasets can do a better job. But sending information from a device to a centralized AI location isn’t ideal.

Stretchy computing device feels like skin, but analyzes health data with artificial intelligence that mimics the brain

Asst. Prof. dr. Wang and his team hope to revolutionize personalized medicine by moving AI-based data analytics to users’ bodies using neuromorphic computing devices like the one seen here. Credit: Wang Group

“Transmitting health data wirelessly is slow and poses a number of privacy concerns,” he said. “It’s also incredibly energy inefficient; the more data we start collecting, the more energy these transmissions are going to use.”

Skin and brain

Wang’s team wanted to design a chip that could collect data from multiple biosensors and draw conclusions about a person’s health using advanced machine learning approaches. Importantly, they wanted it to be wearable on the body and integrate seamlessly with the skin.

“With a smart watch, there’s always a gap,” Wang says. “We wanted something that can achieve very intimate contact and accommodate the movement of the skin.”

Wang and his colleagues turned to polymers, which can be used to build semiconductors and electrochemical transistors, but can also be stretched and bent. They assembled polymers into a device that enabled the analysis of health data based on artificial intelligence. Instead of working like a typical computer, the chip, a so-called neuromorphic computer chip, functions more like a human brain, capable of storing and analyzing data in an integrated way.

Testing the technology

To test the utility of their new device, Wang’s group used it to analyze electrocardiogram (ECG) data representing the electrical activity of the human heart. They trained the device to classify EKGs into five categories: healthy or four types of abnormal signals. Then they tested it on new EKGs. Whether the chip was stretched or bent, they showed it could accurately classify heartbeats.

Stretchy computing device feels like skin, but analyzes health data with artificial intelligence that mimics the brain

Asst. Prof. dr. Sihong Wang and PhD student Yahao Dai analyze a wearable neuromorphic device. Credit: John Zich

More work is needed to test the device’s power in inferring patterns of health and disease. Ultimately, though, it could be used to send alerts to patients or clinicians, or to automatically adjust medications.

“For example, if you can get real-time information about blood pressure, this device can make very intelligent decisions about when to adjust the patient’s blood pressure medication,” Wang said. That kind of automatic feedback loop is already being used by some implantable insulin pumps, he added.

He is already planning new iterations of the device to expand both the type of devices it integrates with and the types of machine learning algorithms it uses.

“Integration of artificial intelligence with wearable electronics is going to be a very active landscape,” Wang says. “This is not a completed study, it is just a starting point.”


Multi-tasking wearable continuously monitors glucose, alcohol and lactate


More information:
Shilei Dai et al, Intrinsically stretchable neuromorphic devices for on-body health data processing with artificial intelligence, Matter (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.matt.2022.07.016

Provided by the University of Chicago

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