EDIBLES: Environmentally Driven Body-Scale Electromagnetic Co-Sensing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Engineering


The ability to pervasively monitor the activities, vital signs, and biomarkers of healthy and recovering individuals has been investigated for decades, and could revolutionise the healthcare sector enabling a new generation of predictive diagnostics. Electronic devices, the heart of such sensors, however, represent a growing environmental emergency. Traditional electronic fabrication processes are extremely power and water hungry and are constantly depleting a finite reserve of critical raw materials. Moreover, at their end-of-life, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is generated and typically shipped to overseas disassembly facilities which are predominantly manual, risking both the environment and the local communities; the UK is currently the world's 2nd largest producer of WEEE/capita. Unless an alternative wearable sensing paradigm emerges, the sensorisation of everyday garments will add to this exponential growth in WEEE, and the electronics industry will inevitably be stunted by its inability to find alternative sustainable materials.

The vision of this collaborative research is to develop an Environmentally Driven Body-Scale Electromagnetic Co-Sensing (EDIBLES) methodology that enables the next generation of wearables to drastically reduce the environmental impact of its cradle-to-grave life cycle. We will develop a methodology for fusing passive, biodegradable, and chip-free wireless electromagnetic sensors with recyclable radio frequency identification (RFID) electronics. Printed on flexible and biodegradable substrates such as eco fabrics and paper, we will demonstrate the first biodegradable microwave components with performance matching that of metal nanoparticle inks. Our fabrication process will be roll-to-roll-friendly, scalable to very large (>1 square metre) areas, and will not require cleanrooms or costly infrastructure. We will demonstrate that printed organic RF structures can match the performance of the metal-based non-biodegradable and non-biocompatible counterparts up to 110 GHz and develop sensing structures operating at sub-THz frequencies (700 to 1,100 GHz) based on polymers and 2D materials. The project is culminated by a novel demonstrator, the EDIBLES garment. The EDIBLES garment, combined with our new read-out mechanism, will be capable of wirelessly measuring, at a metres-range, human motion, vital signs, and environmental conditions, for multiple subjects in a multi-user environment. The EDIBLES garment will be a zero-WEEE demo with components that are either biodegradable or recyclable, with no requirement for special disassembly procedures. The demo will be used to engage industry users, promote sustainable electronics design through an open-source tool, and in a programme of public engagement and STEM outreach activities across the three international institutions, showing the full potential of sustainable wireless technologies.

EDIBLES reaches beyond developing the technology to championing and advocating its use to the research community and relevant industry stakeholders. As our methodology will be co-created with two research leaders in wireless sensing, Prof. Gaetano Marrocco from the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Prof. Mohammad Zarifi from the University of British Columbia, the team will champion the sustainability-driven design of wireless sensors, extending the identified guidelines to the activities of their group. We will advocate this through workshops at leading international symposia and by hosting an international sustainable wireless technologies meeting in Glasgow, bringing interdisciplinary experts from across the UK to grow the engagement with our international partnership.


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