Smart skin for flexible monitoring

The tag shown is being attached to a sting ray, it can be used to track one of the many marine creatures.

© 2018 KAUST

A thin smart patch called Marine Skin could make studying the behavior of marine animals easier and more informative. This system for electronic tagging of animals is based on stretchable silicone elastomers that can withstand twisting, shearing and stretching, even when exposed to high pressures in deep waters.

“The integrated flexible electronics can track an animal’s movement and diving behavior and the health of the surrounding marine environment in real time,” says Joanna Nassar. Now at California Institute of Technology, Nassar was a Ph.D. student in the KAUST team that developed the patch.

Being able to monitor and record a range of environmental parameters is vital in the study of marine ecosystems. Yet existing systems for tracking animals in the sea are bulky and uncomfortable for animals to wear.

“Using simple design tricks and soft materials, we were able to beat the current standard systems in terms of noninvasiveness, weight, operational lifetime and speed of operation,” says Nassar. In the current prototype, the location data is supplemented by recordings of water temperature and salinity. Additional sensing capabilities could be added in future. Possibilities include sensing the physiological state of the tagged animals. This would allow information about ocean chemistry to be correlated with the heath and activity of even small animals as they move around in their habitat. 

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