Wearable air conditioner

Departments - Medical Innovations

University of Missouri engineers design an on-skin electronic device that provides personal air conditioning without requiring electricity.

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Zheng Yan
All photos courtesy of University of Missouri

It’s 90°F outside, but you feel like its only in the 70s. A light, breathable piece of clothing reflects harsh sunlight away and dissipates body heat, dramatically cooling your skin. That’s the future imaged by researchers at the University of Missouri (MU). Wearable air conditioning, an on-skin device designed by engineers at MU, could one day help people cool down – preventing heat stroke or exhaustion. The device could support numerous human healthcare applications such as monitoring blood pressure, electrical activity of the heart, and skin hydration levels.

Unlike similar products or other related concepts, this breathable and waterproof device can deliver personal air conditioning through a process called passive cooling. Passive cooling doesn’t use electricity, such as a fan or pump, which researchers believe causes only minimal discomfort to the user.

“Our device can reflect sunlight away from the body to minimize heat absorption, while simultaneously allowing the body to dissipate body heat, thereby allowing us to achieve around 11°F of cooling during the daytime hours,” says corresponding author Zheng Yan, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering. “We believe this is one of the first demonstrations of this capability in the emerging field of on-skin electronics.”

An on-skin device designed by engineers at the University of Missouri can achieve around 11°F of cooling to the human body.

Currently, the device is a small wired patch, and researchers say it will take one to two years to design a wireless version.

“Eventually, we would like to take this technology and apply it to the development of smart textiles,” Yan says. “That would allow for the device’s cooling capabilities to be delivered across the whole body. Right now, the cooling is only concentrated in a specific area where the patch is located. We believe this could potentially help reduce electricity usage and help with global warming.”

University of Missouri

Funding was provided by the University of Missouri start-up fund and a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.