A hybrid technology mixes traditional electronics with flexible, high-performance electronics and new 3D printing technologies. The system takes a razor-thin silicon integrated circuit and places it on a flexible, bendable, or even foldable plastic-like material. The circuitry can fit into extremely tight spaces, and even can be integrated into complex curved surfaces such as an airplane’s wing.

Stretchy, bendable electronics could be used to keep tabs on airplanes and pilots. (Benjamin Leever, Ph.D.)

In aircraft applications, the system can be used to monitor stresses and strains, and report this information through miniature embedded antennas to ground crews or a pilot. Researchers also are developing the same approach to monitor pilots’ health. This involves a biosensor system that can measure heartbeat, hydration levels, sweat, temperature, and other vital signs through miniature circuitry. The system would be embedded on a flexible, wearable patch, and would include an antenna to transmit these biometric signals to the pilot or a ground team.