A complete hybrid 3D-printed device flexes and conforms to the body’s shap (Image credit: Alex Valentine, Lori Sanders and
Human skin must flex and stretch to accommodate the body’s every move. Anything worn tight on the body must also be able to flex around muscles and joints, which helps explain why synthetic fabrics like spandex are popular in activewear. Wearable electronic devices that aim to track and measure the body’s movements must possess similar properties, yet integrating rigid electrical components on or within skin-mimicking matrix materials has proven to be challenging. Such components cannot stretch and dissipate forces like soft materials can, and this mismatch in flexibility concentrates stress at the junction between the hard and soft elements, frequently causing wearable devices to fail.
A new hybrid 3D printing technique developed at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Air Force Research Laboratory combines stretchable conductive inks and electronic components into flexible, durable wearable devices that move with the body and offer increased programmability. This research was supported by the Wyss Institute, Harvard SEAS, AFRL and GETTYLAB. (Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)