Forget foldables, Samsung's working on a "stretchable OLED" fitness tracker

Samsung's new futuristic stretchable OLED fitness tracker: Explained
We were so not ready for this one, Samsung...

Modern-day smartphones and wearables have looked more or less the same for over a decade now. Of course, foldable and even rollable smartphones are here to change that, but until they become the norm, we might find ourselves in a perfectly new era - one of "stretchable" devices.

Although it's a concept for the future more than a thing of the present, we simply can't skip past it.

On June 4, researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), Samsung's hub dedicated to cutting-edge future technologies, published a piece of research found in the journal of 'Science Advances'. The project is about a technology that "overcomes the limitations of stretchable devices". Not that we knew much about those limitations before...

This is huge news since the research appears to be the first in the industry that proves the commercial potential of stretchable devices since the tech is capable of accepting existing semiconductor processes - like the ones found in other smart devices.

The fitness tracker

Samsung's research team was able to use a stretchable OLED display and a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor in a fitness tracker device to measure and display one's heart rate in real-time. That's how Samsung's starting the 'stretchable electronic skin' trend and form factor.

In case you were wondering, photoplethysmography is an optical technique for detecting and measuring changes in blood in peripheral circulation on a skin surface lever. Its advantages are that it's lowcostand non-invasive. The technique provides valuable information related to our cardiovascular system.

Note that at this stage, the technology is dubbed as a "test". However, it does what it's supposed to - it proves the feasibility of expanding to further applications.

OLED 'Skin' Display That Can Be Stretched by Up to 30%

According to Samsung, one of the most significant achievements of research was that the engineers were able to modify the composition and structure of the elastomer, a polymer compound with excellent elasticity and resilience.

Furthermore, they managed to integrate existing semiconductor manufacturing processes to apply it to the under-layer of the stretchable OLED display and optical blood-flow sensors - that's industry-first.

As of now, Samsung confirms the sensor and display can carry on their normal operations and won't show any performance degradation with elongation of up to 30% (or up to 1000 times).

The researchers performed real-world tests by attaching the stretchable PPG heard rate sensors and OLED display system to the inner wrist near the radial artery (the one used to take one's pulse) of a volunteer. Hence, they could confirm that the wrist movement didn't cause any issues, and the solution stayed in place.

Moreover, when measuring signals from a moving wrist, the sensor was found to pick up a heartbeat signal that was 2.4 times stronger than would be picked up by a standard sensor.

Practical implications

The goal of the tech is to become a user-friendly fitness and medical tracker that allows you to measure your biometric data for more extended periods of time - even when you sleep. Samsung claims that the patch "feels like a part of your skin". Of course, you can also view the data on the OLED screen without the need for a separate device, which is pretty practical.

When are stretchable devices going to become mainstream

Jong Won Chung, a co-author of the paper, says that the research is still in the early stages. Samsung's goal is to realize and commercialize stretchable devices by working on improving them to a level that makes mass production possible.
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