E-skin Resistive Temperature Sensor; Continuous Personal Health Tracking: An Ethical Overview of the User Interaction

Ghatnekar, Sohail, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Xu, Baoxing, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Continuous tracking technology will shape our physical relationship with technology and each other. By working with continuous tracking technology, the technical research topic aims to fabricate an accurate device for health tracking, while limiting patient discomfort and maximizing patient safety. The science, technology and society (STS) topic uses a framework to analyze the relationship between associated social groups and their interaction with continuous fitness and health tracking technology. These technical and STS topics are tightly coupled, as they combine wearable device design, manufacture, fabrication and testing, while also discovering the social impact and influence these devices have on current users and groups.

The technical report describes the development, design, manufacture, fabrication and testing of a continuous tracking resistance sensor to create an e-skin, allowing for temperature and strain measurements that enable non-invasive, continuous, user tracking. As the technology continues to develop, future iterations of e-skin could provide novel insight into human activity. This report outlines current advancements in tracking technologies, with more complex applications ranging from blood levels to sun exposure. Our device, made out of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, was modeled using the computer-aided design software, Solidworks, and cut using a K40 laser cutter.

Iterations of the device included a 3D-printed mold, as well as multiple design schemes. The device is able to conform to skin, measuring changes in resistance and manual deformation to quantify temperature and mechanical strain. Due to time and resource constraints, the device was unable to be tested on human subjects and has only been able to be tested mechanically. In the future, device improvement would require extensive investment of time and money to create a proven nano mesh material that can conform to human skin in a less invasive and highly repeatable pattern.

The primary incentive for researching the social relationship between human groups and continuous tracking devices was to understand the drawbacks that could result from universal adaptation of intimate, continuous tracking technologies. Research focused on answering the following question: how are continuous tracking devices shaping the relationship with users and their technology, and how are they changing the social groups influencing this technology? Pinch and Bijker’s Social Construction of Technology theory was used in tandem with Carlson’s Handoff Model to create a framework and diagram the various social groups that use and change continuous tracking technology. This framework and model were developed by studying data criteria, op-ed articles, and scientific journals, analyzing the devices based on accuracy of data, data privacy, and mental health effects.

While the data illuminates that, in the right context, continuous wearable tracking can be a beneficial training aid, there are some unseen downsides to the devices that are emphasized by the social model. The relevant social groups lack the necessary inter-communication to provide essential feedback to influence device development. It is apparent that primary users of continuous tracking technology lack proper education in regards to their own data privacy, and the medical validity of their data. Overall, the research provides a groundwork for further communication and accountability amongst groups to educate users, and improve device protection and design.

The future of medical and fitness technology will undeniably include increasingly intimate wearable devices. While the technology has not reached full body integration, non-invasive, accurate, and body conforming technology is on the horizon. The future of continuous tracking technology must include educational aspects for all parties, rather than a shareholder-focused approach.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Social Construction of Technology, Handoff Model, E-skin, Continuous Tracking Technology, Wearable Devices

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Baoxing Xu
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Denis Chavarria, Zachary Holden, Nicholas Johnson

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