Stretchable, twistable battery for future wearable devices

Batteries have always been a barrier in the evolution and adoption in soft, wearable devices. You wouldn't want the chemicals inside batteries to leak out onto your skin and ideally there wouldn't be a big risk of them bursting into flames either. Stanford engineers have developed a new kind of solid polymer battery that can stretch without breaking and doesn't contain liquid or gel that might seep out and ignite. From Stanford Engineering:

"Until now we haven't had a power source that could stretch and bend the way our bodies do, so that we can design electronics that people can comfortably wear," said chemical engineer Zhenan Bao, who teamed up with materials scientist Yi Cui to develop the device they describe in the Nov. 26 edition of Nature Communications....

The prototype is thumbnail-sized and stores roughly half as much energy, ounce for ounce, as a comparably sized conventional battery. Graduate student David Mackanic said the team is working to increase the stretchable battery's energy density, build larger versions of the device and run future experiments to demonstrate its performance outside the lab. One potential application for such a device would be to power stretchable sensors designed to stick to the skin to monitor heart rate and other vital signs as part of the BodyNet wearable technology being developed in Bao's lab.

More: Decoupling of mechanical properties and ionic conductivity in supramolecular lithium ion conductors (Nature Communications) Read the rest

Augmented reality contact lenses get real

Back in the early Wired magazine days, we used to joke about technology that seemed to be perpetually "just around the corner" -- like storing the entire Library of Congress in a sugar cube-sized device, nanobots, and contact lens computer displays. Looks like the latter is almost ready for prime time! Just this week, startup Mojo Vision has demonstrated augmented reality in a contact lens. They've integrated a 14K pixels-per-inch display, wireless, and image and motion sensors into a wirelessly-powered device that sits in your eye. “When you close your eyes, you still see the content displayed,” Mojo Vision's Steve Sinclair says. Tekla Perry wrote about the technology, called Invisible Computing, in IEEE Spectrum:

The first application, says Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing, will likely be for people with low vision—providing real-time edge detection and dropping crisp lines around objects. In a demonstration last week at CES 2020, I used a working prototype (albeit by squinting through the lens rather than putting it into my eyes), and the device highlighted shapes in bright green as I looked around a dimly lit room....

I also saw a demonstration of text displayed using the prototype; it was easy to read. Potential future applications, beyond those intended for people with low vision, include translating languages in real time, tagging faces, and providing emotional cues....

The path ahead is not a short one; contact lenses are considered medical devices and therefore need U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. But the Mojo Lens has been designated as an FDA Breakthrough Device which will speed things up a little.

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Testing an electronic shock bracelet to cut back on social media

Over at Medium's Forge, Nicole Dieker writes about her experiment testing the $200 Pavlok 2 electronic shock bracelet as a way to help herself cut down on checking social media. Read the rest

Wrist-mounted artists' palettes: the best wearables are analog

You know what's better than a smartwatch? Literally everything else. But especially: the centuries' worth of wrist-mounted paint palettes worn by some artists. Read the rest

Digital synesthesia

Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman invented the Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer (VEST), a wearable tactile display that translates myriad kinds of information, from speech to sounds to digital data, into patterns of vibrations on the skin. The device was inspired by Eagleman's study of synesthesia, the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. From Smithsonian:

The neuroscientist believes that the versatility and plasticity of the brain make it fundamentally receptive to forming new pathways of sensory input. “The brain gets this information from the world, but the brain doesn’t actually have any way of knowing: were these photons, were these sound compression aids, was this pressure?” Eagleman says. As he explains it, the brain simply transforms these diverse stimuli into electrochemical spikes and uses these signals to create a mental representation of the world. The VEST would do this same work for all sorts of data by translating it into interpretable vibrations—giving its wearer a veritable “sixth sense.”

Eagleman is developing the VEST with an open API, so that others can experiment with the types of data it can convert into vibrations. “We’ve thought of 20 really cool things to feed in, which we’ve been experimenting with, but the community will think of 20,000 streams of data to feed in,” he says.

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A tiny, wearable, Arduino-powered VT 100 terminal

The first "wearable" computer I ever tried was a wrist-strap that let me wear my Palm Pilot like a huge, ungainly wristwatch; I tethered it with a thick cable to a CDMA phone that could emulate a 9600 baud modem and used it to dial into the WELL. Read the rest

Wrist-worn device for monitoring people's emotions during market research

MIT Media Lab spinoff company mPath has developed a wristwatch-like wearable that measures changes in skin conductance tied to stress, frustration, disinterest, or boredom. Combined with other data, the device is meant to help companies with "emotyping," the process of "undersand(ing) customers’ emotional needs or wants" during market research and product development," according to CEO Elliot Hedman. Their clients range from LEGO to Google to Best Buy. Most recently, they started working with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Denver that could lead to new ways to encourage reading. From MIT News:

This process combines the stress sensors with eye-tracking glasses or GoPro cameras, to identify where a person looked at the exact moment of an emotional spike or dip. Personal interviews are also conducted with all participants, who are shown the data and asked what they think they felt.

This entire process creates a more in-depth, precise emotional profile of consumers than traditional market research, which primarily involves interviews and occasionally video analysis, according to Hedman. “All these things combined together in emototyping tell us a deep story about the participant,” he says.

Emototyping is an especially useful tool when studying children’s experiences, according to Hedman. “It’s hard for kids to describe what they felt,” he says. “The sensors help tell the whole story..."

A study with the New World Symphony found that making songs shorter and performing classical compositions of modern pop music help engage new audiences in classical music. Studying movies such as “The Departed” revealed where some techniques or concepts (such as dark humor) can be implemented in films to keep audiences engaged.

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Computing in your fingernails and other weird wearables

Computers in your fingernails. Temporary tattoos laden with sensors. These are some of the new wearable technologies that UC Berkeley engineer and artist Eric Paulos is developing with his colleagues in the Hybrid Ecologies Laboratory. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Eric about Cosmetic Computing in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

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Temporary tattoos act as "on-skin user interfaces"

MIT and Microsoft researchers demonstrated a system of gold leaf temporary tattoos for "on-skin user interfaces" including a touch sensor, near field communication antennae, and a low-res thermochromic display that changes color. From the research description:

DuoSkin draws from the aesthetics found in metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos to create on-skin devices which resemble jewelry. DuoSkin devices enable users to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information on their skin while serving as a statement of personal style. We believe that in the future, on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified; instead, they will converge towards the user friendliness, extensibility, and aesthetics of body decorations, forming a DuoSkin integrated to the extent that it has seemingly disappeared.

DuoSkin (MIT)

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Electronic temporary tattoo measures how drunk you are

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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Listen: podcast about the alleged "data" collected by wearable devices

Rachel "Datapunk" Kalmar is a brilliant data scientist with a background in neuroscience, connected devices, sensors, and wearables. Read the rest

Kickstarting a prismatic, hat-brim mounted heads-up display for your phone

The Hattrickwear is an improbable ball-cap designed to mount your phone horizontally along your eyeline with a mirror and prism that keeps your screen in your field of vision all the time. Read the rest

Imogen Heap's musical gloves

Sean sends us, "a video interview with Imogen Heap describing her homemade electronic interface gloves that control her music interface software by the movement and positions of her hands." Heap is kickstarting an open source hardware version of the gloves. Read the rest

Google Glass is a borg mullet

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Conductive cosmetics to control mobile devices

Computer scientist Katia Vega has developed conductive eye shadow and false eyelashes that can be used to control wearable computers. For example, an extended blink could trigger your phone's camera. "We use voluntary movements to amplify intentions – using our body as a new input device," Vega, a researcher at Rio de Janeiro's Pontifical Catholic University, told New Scientist. Read the rest

Electronic cotton and stretchable silicon

Over at our sponsor Intel's My Life Scoop site, I wrote about the future of wearable computing:

Electronic Cotton Several university laboratories are developing transistors — the building blocks of all computers — that are literally woven from cotton fibers. In a recent project led by Cornell University’s Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory, engineers coated cotton with gold nano particles and a conductive polymer layer. So far, they’ve only created simple circuits as a proof of concept. The first applications will likely be, say, clothing with chemical sensors for firefighters or shirts that measure vital signs. But according to Lab director Juan Hinestroza, “If you think about how many fibers you have in your T-shirt, and how many interconnections you have between the weft and the warp of the fabric, you could get pretty decent computing power.”

Stretchable Silicon University of Illinois nano scientist John Rogers developed a method to print ultra-thin silicon circuits, like those on a computer chip, onto a highly-elastic surface that you can stick on your skin. Think of a temporary tattoo containing electronic components that are one-fifth the thickness of human hair. The possible uses of this are broad, ranging from a tiny patch that will detect when you need more sunscreen and alert you, to implantable (yes implantable) sensors that keep a constant vigil for infections inside the body. Rogers spun out a company called MC10 to commercialize the technology and has already partnered with Reebok on a forthcoming wearable device to track athletic performance.

"Smartly Dressed: The Future of Wearable Computing" Read the rest