Flexible AI computer chips promise wearable health monitors that protect privacy

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

My colleagues and I have developed a flexible, stretchable electronic device that runs machine-learning algorithms to continuously collect and analyze health data directly on the body. The skinlike sticker, developed in my lab at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, includes a soft, stretchable computing chip that mimics the human brain.

To create this type of device, we turned to electrically conductive polymers that have been used to build semiconductors and transistors. These polymers are made to be stretchable, like a rubber band. Rather than working like a typical computer chip, though, the chip we’re working with, called a neuromorphic computing chip, functions more like a human brain. It’s able to both store and analyze data.

To test the usefulness of the new device, my colleagues and I used it to analyze electrocardiogram data representing the electrical activity of the human heart. We trained the device to classify ECGs into five categories: healthy and four types of abnormal signals. Even in conditions where the device is repeatedly stretched by movements of the wearer’s body, the device could still accurately classify the heartbeats.