Whiskers are a fantastic natural sensor that enables cats, fish, seals, and many other animals to detect not just direct contact but even air flow indicating an approaching object. In a fascinating example of biomimicry, University of Queensland engineer Pauline Pounds and her colleagues have developed tiny whisker sensors for drones. According to the researchers, the whiskers are well-suited for "navigating through dark, dusty, smoky, cramped spaces, or gusty, turbulent environments with micro-scale aircraft that cannot mount heavier sensors such as lidars." At IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman writes:
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The whisker fibers themselves are easy to fabricate—they’re just blobs of ABS plastic that are heated up and then drawn out into long thin fibers like taffy. The length and thickness of the whiskers can be modulated by adjusting the temperature and draw speed. The ABS blob at the base of each whisker is glued to a 3D-printed load plate, which is in turn attached to a triangular arrangement of force pads (actually encapsulated MEMS barometers)...
It can detect forces as low as 3.33 micronewtons, meaning that the researchers had to be careful not to stand too close to the whiskers while making measurements since the force of their breathing would throw things off. This sensitivity allows the whiskers to detect the wave of air generated by objects moving towards them, perhaps not in time for the drone to actually stop, but certainly in time for it to take other steps to protect itself, like cutting power to its motors. The whiskers can also be used to measure fluid flow (a proxy for velocity through the air), and of course, at slow speeds they work as contact sensors.
Fertility doctors often advise men that wearing boxers instead of briefs lowers scrotal temperature and possibly increase sperm count. The CoolMen device takes that idea to the extreme, instrumenting the wearer's testicles with temperature, pulse, and motion sensors while also cupping them in a specific position conducive to coolness. From the Polish start-up CoolTec:
CoolMen is an innovative device that stabilizes the temperature of the testicles in the optimum range. In a short time, CoolMen significantly improves semen parameters, contributing to increased fertility of the pair.
CoolMen can record data about temperature and time of use as well as types of activity (sleep, sitting, physical activity) by wirelessly transferring it to the mobile application on the smartphone. These data can then be analyzed by the andrologist to improve the treatment process...
CoolMen has been designed to be completely invisible under clothing, providing full discretion during use.
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As part of their research on the future of play, RMIT University's Exertion Games Lab demonstrated a game based around an ingestible sensor pill that measures internal body temperature and transmits the data in real-time to your smartphone as the sensors travels through your gut. You can guess what marks the end of the game. (This is the same group that explored the use of chest-mounted robot arms for "playful eating.") From their research paper (PDF):
In the Guts Game, a chocolate bar is given to each player initially. Then the researchers, who dress up like medical doctors, tell the players that they have been infected by a parasite, which is sensitive to its environment’s temperature, i.e. the body temperature of the player as measured by the sensor. If the environment’s temperature reaches a certain value, the parasite will be hurt. The crafty parasite may adapt to the environment so the target temperature might change once reached. The more often the player reaches the target temperature, the bigger possibility he/she will survive. To aid the treatment, the “doctors” developed an application called the Guts Game. Players need to swallow the sensor to measure their body temperature and the application will guide players. Players need to come back to the “doctors” after the game ends to check if the parasite is still there.
The Guts Game ends when one of the players excretes the sensor.
The Guts Game (Exertion Games Lab)
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Approximately 36 million people in the United States have high blood pressure and many could do with reducing their sodium intake. But how do you even monitor your intake accurately? Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a flexible sensor that goes in your mouth for real-time sensing of how much salt is in those french fries you're munching. It then sends the data to your phone to alert you of your sodium intake. From IEEE Spectrum:
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W. Hong Yeo, an assistant professor of micro and nano engineering who led the research team, says it would also be possible to stick the sensor directly to the tongue or the roof of the mouth, or to laminate it onto a tooth. The soft retainer they used in this experiment was just phase one. “For the first prototype device, we wanted to offer easy handling and cleaning capability via the integration with a soft retainer,” he said.
Yeo says the biggest challenge was making the entire electronic device soft, flexible, and comfortable enough to wear in the mouth. So the team designed a chip that uses stretchable circuits mounted on an ultrathin porous membrane.
University of Washington researchers 3D printed mechanical sensors and switches from standard plastic filament that can send data to Wi-Fi devices without using any electronics. As the engineers explain in this video, the plastic devices either reflect or absorb the ambient Wi-Fi signals and that effect is translated into a signal of zero or one. From the Printed Wi-Fi research page:
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Specifically, we introduce the first computational designs that 1) send data to commercial RF receivers including Wi-Fi, enabling 3D printed wireless sensors and input widgets, and 2) embed data within objects using magnetic fields and decode the data using magnetometers on commodity smartphones. To demonstrate the potential of our techniques, we design the first fully 3D printed wireless sensors including a weight scale, flow sensor and anemometer that can transmit sensor data. Furthermore, we 3D print eyeglass frames, armbands as well as artistic models with embedded magnetic data. Finally, we present various 3D printed application prototypes including buttons, smart sliders and physical knobs that wirelessly control music volume and lights as well as smart bottles that can sense liquid flow and send data to nearby RF devices, without batteries or electronics.
For 13 years, I've been writing about Adam Greenfield, one of the world's smartest critical thinkers on what we're calling "The Internet of Things" this decade -- but since the first glimmers of the idea of networked people, places and objects, Greenfield has been writing smart things about the subject, most recently in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, a book that Verso will publish next week. Read the rest
Lancaster University's Aurora Watch issued an alert on Tuesday that the Northern Lights would be clearly visible in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the alert was cancelled after the scientists determined that the data from one of their magnetometers was spurious. A surge in geomagnetic energy is indicative of auroras but this particular spike was likely caused by a lawnmower.
"We believe the interference was caused by University staff mowing the grass on a sit-on mower," Aurora Watch stated. "We’ll work with the facilities team to try and avoid an incident such as this occuring in the future!"
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University of California San Diego nanoengineers developed a flexible, wearable sensor that measures the blood alcohol level of its wearer and transmits the info to a mobile device. From UCSD News:
The device consists of a temporary tattoo—which sticks to the skin, induces sweat and electrochemically detects the alcohol level—and a portable flexible electronic circuit board, which is connected to the tattoo by a magnet and can communicate the information to a mobile device via Bluetooth.
The device could be integrated with a car’s alcohol ignition interlocks, or friends could use it to check up on each other before handing over the car keys, he added.
“When you’re out at a party or at a bar, this sensor could send alerts to your phone to let you know how much you’ve been drinking,” said Jayoung Kim, a materials science and engineering PhD student.
"Noninvasive Alcohol Monitoring Using a Wearable Tattoo-Based Iontophoretic-Biosensing System" (ACS Sensors)
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