Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
A team of researchers from the University of Missouri have developed what’s being called a wearable air conditioning system. This new flexible material is designed to moderate body temperature and may be a good solution for those who exert themselves physically in the field, like soldiers and athletes. Imagine being able to run for miles and miles without worrying about heat stroke or fatigue caused by the scorching sun.
According to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the material can cool you down by around 11°F (6°C), by reflecting sunlight and allowing body heat to escape simultaneously. It utilizes a process called passive cooling, which works without the need for electricity.
Zheng Yan, a co-author of the study, said: “Our device can reflect sunlight away from the human body to minimize heat absorption, while simultaneously allowing the body to dissipate body heat, thereby allowing us to achieve around 11 degrees Fahrenheit of cooling to the human body during the daytime hours. We believe this is one of the first demonstrations of this capability in the emerging field of on-skin electronics.”
However, the new device is only the size of a small patch, rather than an entire outfit. Additionally, it operates using a wire connected to a computer system. Researchers say they will have a wireless version within 1-2 years, and that they hope to use the technology to develop “smart clothing” at some point in the future.
“Eventually, we would like to take this technology and apply it to the development of smart textiles,” said Yan. “That would allow for the device’s cooling capabilities to be delivered across the whole body. Right now, the cooling is only concentrated in a specific area where the patch is located. We believe this could potentially help reduce electricity usage and also help with global warming.”
The new device is another addition to the growing field of “on-skin electronics.” In October 2019, researchers Yujia Zhang and Tiger H. Tao developed an electronic patch that sticks to your skin and transmits medical data to a host computer. It uses machine learning tools to sense various biological functions. The patch is considered “skin-friendly,” which means it does not irritate the skin when applied or removed, unlike other similar devices. The device, and most other wearable patches, are still in development, but scientists hope to use this technology to create advanced tools which will be able to, for example, detect diseases without the need for blood work.
Various other technologies are in development as well, which promise everything from fast and easy medication delivery via the skin to heart monitoring to diabetes management. We’ll have to wait and see what they’ll come up with in the coming years.