Engineers have developed a flexible sensor “skin” that can stretch over any part of a robot’s body or prosthetic to accurately convey information about shear forces and vibration—information critical to grasping and manipulating objects.

If a robot sets out to disable a roadside bomb—or delicately handle an egg while cooking you an omelet—it needs to be able to sense when objects are slipping out of its grasp. Yet, to date, it’s been difficult or impossible for most robotic and prosthetic hands to accurately sense the vibrations and shear forces that occur, for example, when a finger is sliding along a tabletop or when an object begins to fall.

To solve that issue, the bio-inspired robot sensor skin mimics the way a human finger experiences tension and compression as it slides along a surface or distinguishes among different textures. It measures this tactile information with similar precision and sensitivity as human skin, and could vastly improve the ability of robots to perform everything from surgical and industrial procedures to cleaning a kitchen.

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The development of prosthetics has changed many lives, providing mobility options and allowing for more active lives. But all artificial limbs aren’t perfect. Some can be painful, difficult to use, and lead to possible skin infections. The Office of Naval Research is looking to change that, providing new options for those in need of artificial limbs.

By teaming up with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Office of Naval Research has developed a “smart” artificial leg, using sensor technology to monitor walking, alter the way the user wears the prosthetic to aid in comfortability and reduce wear and tear, and warn of potential infection risks. They’re referring to this development as Monitoring Ossolntegrated Prosthesis (MOIP).

“This new class of intelligent prostheses could potentially have a profound impact on warfighters with limb loss,” says Liming Salvino, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “MOIP not only can improve quality of life, but also usher in the next generation of prosthetic limbs.”

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Researchers have created a small, thin, biodegradable sensor that could monitor the temperature of food in transit.

Microsensors are already used in many different applications today, such as the detection of poisonous gases. They are also part of miniaturized transmitter/receiver systems, such as the ubiquitous RFID chips.

As the sensors often contain precious metals that are harmful to both the environment and human health, however, they are not suitable for medical applications involving direct contact with the human body or for inclusion in food products. There is therefore a high level of interest, both in research and industry, in developing microsensors made from non-toxic materials that are also biodegradable.

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Focus IssuesSubmit your manuscripts to the Journal of The Electrochemical Society Focus Issue on Ubiquitous Sensors and Systems for IoT by December 26, 2017.

Ubiquitous sensors are becoming an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and progress in this domain can be seen each month. The promise is that everyone and everything will be connected via wireless data collection, and services like healthcare will be brought to everyone, everywhere, anytime, for virtually any need.

These devices sense the environment and provide applications in home automation, home safety and comfort, and personal health. At a macro level, they provide data for smart cities, smart agriculture, water conservation, energy efficiency industry 4.0, and Society 5.0. Other applications include supply chain management, transportation, and logistics.

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A new device that runs on almost zero power can transmit data across distances of up to 2.8 kilometers—breaking a long-held barrier—and could lead to a vast array of interconnected devices.

For example, flexible electronics—such as knee patches that capture range of motion in arthritic patients or patches that use sweat to detect fatigue in athletes and soldiers—hold great promise for collecting medically relevant data.

But today’s flexible electronics and other sensors that can’t employ bulky batteries and need to operate with very low power typically can’t communicate with other devices more than a few feet or meters away. This limits their practical use in applications for medical monitoring, home sensing to smart cities, and precision agriculture.

By contrast, the new long-range backscatter system, which uses reflected radio signals to transmit data at extremely low power and low cost, achieve reliable coverage throughout a 4,800-square-foot house, an office area covering 41 rooms, and a one-acre vegetable farm.

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MedicineResearchers have developed a new method for evaluating drug safety that can detect stress on cells at earlier stages than current methods, which mostly rely on detecting cell death.

The new method uses a fluorescent sensor that is turned on in a cell when misfolded proteins begin to aggregate—an early sign of cellular stress. The method can be adapted to detect protein aggregates caused by other toxins as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

“Drug-induced protein stress in cells is a key factor in determining drug safety,” says senior author Xin Zhang, assistant professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State.

“Drugs can cause proteins—which are long strings of amino acids that need to be precisely folded to function properly—to misfold and clump together into aggregates that can eventually kill the cell. We set out to develop a system that can detect these aggregates at very early stages and that also uses technology that is affordable and accessible to many laboratories,” Zhang says.

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LightA new device improves on the sensitivity and versatility of sensors that detect doping in athletics, bomb-making chemicals, or traces of drugs. It could also cut costs.

To conduct these kinds of searches, scientists often shine light on the materials they’re analyzing. This approach is known as spectroscopy, and it involves studying how light interacts with trace amounts of matter.

One of the more effective types of spectroscopy is infrared absorption spectroscopy, which scientists use to sleuth out performance-enhancing drugs in blood samples and tiny particles of explosives in the air.

While infrared absorption spectroscopy has improved greatly in the last 100 years, researchers are still working to improve the technology.

“This new optical device has the potential to improve our abilities to detect all sorts of biological and chemical samples,” says Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University at Buffalo. Gan is lead author of the study.

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Fitness trackerA new biosensor technology, commonly referred to as a “lab on a chip,” could monitor your health and alert you of exposure to bacteria, viruses, and pollutants.

“This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring,” says Mehdi Javanmard, co-author of the recently published work on the development. “Our technology enables true labs on chips. We’re talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated onto an Apple Watch, for example, or a Fitbit.”

This from Rutgers University:

The technology, which involves electronically barcoding microparticles, giving them a bar code that identifies them, could be used to test for health and disease indicators, bacteria and viruses, along with air and other contaminants, says Javanmard, senior author of the study.

In recent decades, research on biomarkers—indicators of health and disease such as proteins or DNA molecules—has revealed the complex nature of the molecular mechanisms behind human disease. That has heightened the importance of testing bodily fluids for numerous biomarkers simultaneously, the study says.

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Sensors have become intertwined with our everyday life. From the cars to phones to medical devices, sensors are embedded in many of the technologies we consistently use.

However, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) accelerometers, which measure the rate of change in an object’s speed, can be tricked, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

This from the University of Michigan:

Researchers used precisely tuned acoustic tones to deceive 15 different models of accelerometers into registering movement that never occurred. The approach served as a backdoor into the devices—enabling the researchers to control other aspects of the system.

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By: Gary W. Hunter, Raed A. Dweik, Darby B. Makel, Claude C. Grisby, Ryan S. Mayes, and Cristian E. Davis

IOTThe advent of the Internet of Things suggests the potential for broad dissemination of information through a world of networked systems. An aspect of this paradigm is reflected in the concept of Smart Sensors Systems previously described in Interface: Complete self-contained sensor systems that include multi-parameter sensing, data logging, processing and analysis, self-contained power, and an ability to transmit or display information.

One application of Smart Sensor Systems is in the healthcare field. The concept of smart technologies that can monitor a patient’s health, assist in remote assessment by a health care provider, and improve the patient’s quality of life with limited intrusion and decreased costs is another aspect of a more interconnected world composed of distributed intelligent systems. One area where smart sensor systems may have a significant health care impact is in the area of breath analysis.

Breath analysis techniques offer a potential revolution in health care diagnostics, especially if these techniques can be brought into standard use. Of particular interest is the development of portable breath monitoring systems that can be used outside of a clinical setting, such as at home or during an activity. This article provides a brief overview of the motivation for breath monitoring, possible components of portable breath monitoring systems, and provides an example of this approach.

Read the full article in the winter 2016 edition of Interface.

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