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Graphene could be the material of the future. It has already demonstrated promise in a wide range of beneficial applications, from energy storage to water purification.

The Graphene Flagship, a European Commission-funded body, exists to promote and develop possibilities such as these. One of its partners, the Spanish Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) has also been working on making them a reality.

In fact, ICFO’s work is at the stage wherein it has working prototypes to exhibit. It will do so at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) technology showcase. This will take place from February 25th to 28th, this year, in Barcelona. ICFO has a number of the products that the Flagship projects will be made of or based heavily on graphene in the future to demonstrate at the international tech event. They include health monitoring wearables, next-generation tiny spectrometers and camera sensors.

Graphene Circuits as Next-Gen Wearables

The wearables to be demonstrated get particularly futuristic as they are of the kind that can be worn directly on the skin, rather than the bulkier smartwatches and fitness bands in current use. This dermal patch-like nature means that the emerging type of wearable may obtain improved readings for the health metrics that they are intended to monitor.

ICFO envisages that graphene will be used in situations where measuring hydration or blood oxygen levels may become paramount. Therefore, they may be used by people who find themselves in extreme conditions, such as the Earth’s poles, significant altitudes, or in remote forests far from civilization.

The ICFO-wearable health monitoring graphene patch. (Source: ICFO)

The ICFO-wearable health monitoring graphene patch. (Source: ICFO)

People in these conditions could apply a patch – which is made of a specific conformation of graphene that forms components such as sensors, circuits or even batteries – to the skin, in an appropriate location.

This patch would be capable of pairing with a smartphone (graphene can help form radios too) for real-time notifications when the user is at risk of dehydration or another potentially severe form of medical status. Therefore, technologies such as these could be the future of health tracking electronics.

On the other hand, ICFO also suggests that these patches may be disposable; it is to be hoped that all of their components, including any adhesives necessary, are biodegradable or environmentally-friendly in some other way.

ICFO’s graphene-based offerings extend even further beyond this development. The researcher claim that their work has resulted in “the world's smallest single pixel spectrometer.”

These, together with the Institute’s new multi-spectrum spectrometer, could revolutionize the equipment used to analyze substances such as food or even pharmaceutical products for contamination or quality.

Like most graphene-based tools, these image sensors exist as ultra-thin sheets of nano-carbon lattices. This means that they can be integrated into camera modules very easily, while greatly enhancing their capabilities and functions.

ICFO asserts that their sensors are ready for placement into many CMOS array types, even those small enough to fit into smartphones. Therefore, the mobile device users of the future could point them at things that they want to investigate. This may enable them to determine the freshness of foodstuffs in front of them, as well as to analyze the actual contents of a liquid or perhaps even an ingestible capsule at some point.

ICFO also intends to direct its new camera-related technology in the automotive industry. This may result in next-generation vehicles that can ‘sense’ their surroundings in more sophisticated ways. For example, graphene-enhanced car-cams could work out and display the obstacles and potential dangers in conditions of heavy fog. This could be done by analyzing the visible and non-visible spectra emitted by various objects, including plants, road surfaces, barriers, and other vehicles.

ICFO outlines the potential of its new spectral and image sensors. (Source: ICFO/YouTube)

Where to Find These Innovations at MWC

All in all, it seems ICFO has an exciting vision of next-level technology to share at MWC19. Their exhibits can be found at the Graphene Pavilion, located at Stand 8.0K31, Hall 8.0 in the NEXTech installation being maintained at Fira Gan Via in Barcelona throughout the conference.

After seeing ICFO’s demonstration, visitors could then move on to even more graphene-related presentations at the Pavilion. They will cover a range of topics, including the material’s potential role in next-generation internet connectivity, electrical circuitry, and aeronautics.

Therefore, if you intend to follow MWC19 while it’s on, or are lucky enough to be there this year, try not to miss out on the Graphene Pavilion this year. It may not show off the latest phones or gadgets for this year, but will probably demonstrate how their successors will work and improve lives in the future.

Top Image: Graphene is a flat ‘sheet’ of carbon atoms in a hexagonal pattern. It takes on various electrical, physical and chemical properties in response to the adjustment and manipulation of its carbon bonds. (Source: UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences/Flickr)

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Deirdre O’Donnell

Deirdre O’Donnell received her MSc. from the National University of Ireland, Galway in 2007. She has been a professional writer for several years. Deirdre is also an experienced journalist and editor with particular expertise in writing on many areas of medical science. She is also interested in the latest technology, gadgets and innovations.Read More

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