Samsung built a stretchy wearable that can show off your heart rate

Korean tech giant wants to bring skin-like stretchables to the masses
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Samsung has built a stretchable OLED display that is capable of monitoring and displaying heart rate and could track other health vitals in the future too.

The work has been conducted by researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), which is dedicated to building cutting-edge technologies.

Those researchers have now had a study published in the Sciences Advances journal on the subject of how technology can overcome the limitations of stretchable devices. It successfully managed to combine a stretchable OLED display with the kind of PPG sensor commonly found in smartwatches and fitness trackers into a single device.

The device created uses a modified elastomer-based structure with existing semiconductor manufacturing processes. The research team said the device continued to work without issue when placed on the inner wrist, with wrist movement not impacting on the performance of the device. It apparently showed no signs of degradation after being stretched 1,000 times.

WareableSamsung built a stretchy wearable that can show off your heart rate

It had to ensure all materials and components used in the display to have some form of stretchability to make the device a possibility. That included the OLED element of the device and ensuring that when stretched, the OLED pixels didn't become deformed.

It actually found that the stretchable, which sits close to the skin, was able to pick up a heartbeat signal 2.4 times stronger than a a fixed sensor, which is a promising breakthrough given the accuracy issues attached to wrist-based optical sensors.

Samsung believes this represents a first for the industry and now that it's shown it's possible, it will start to look at how the stretchy wearable can be applied to scenarios where it will be most useful.

Principal researcher Youngjun Yun believes this is a solution to make it easier to track biometric data 24/7 and sees the potential for it being used in wearable healthcare products for people of all ages including children.

While the research team feels they've made a major breakthrough already, the study is still very much in the early stages. The team though is already looking at how it can get the technology to the point where mass produce it. It hopes to also build in more sensors that would enable the ability to monitor oxygen saturation, blood pressure and take an electromyogram. That would mean being capable of detecting neuromuscular abnormalities.

We've been talking about stretchable sensors for some years now, but there are some quite obvious obstacles to create devices that can be pulled, bent or twisted and still fully function. So while we might not be quite ready to see a Samsung Galaxy Skin stretchy wearable, it's clear this research even its early stages has given us a glimpse at a potentially exciting stretchable wearable future.


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Michael Sawh

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Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.


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