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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Posted in Technology

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.

Posted in Technology

By: Richard E. Peltier, University of Massachusetts Amherst

DIY Sensor

In an experiment sponsored by Intel, a Portland, Oregon household uses a low-cost sensor to measure air quality and stream real-time data online. Intel Free Press/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Until recently, measuring air pollution was a task that could be performed only by trained scientists using very sophisticated – and very expensive – equipment. That has changed with the rapid growth of small, inexpensive sensors that can be assembled by almost anyone. But an important question remains: Do these instruments measure what users think they are measuring?

A number of venture capital-backed startup or crowd-funded groups are marketing sensors by configuring a few dollars’ worth of electronics and some intellectual property – mainly software – into aesthetically pleasing packages. The Air Quality Egg, the Tzoa and the Speck sensor are examples of gadgets that are growing in popularity for measuring air pollutants.

These devices make it possible for individuals without specialized training to monitor air quality. As an environmental health researcher, I’m happy to see that people are interested in clean air, especially because air pollution is closely linked with serious health effects. But there are important concerns about how well and how accurately these sensors work.

At their core, these devices rely on inexpensive, and often uncertain, measurement technologies. Someday small sensors costing less than US$100 may replace much more expensive research-grade instruments like those used by government regulators. But that day is likely to be far away.

New territory for a known technology

Pollution sensors that measure air contaminants have been on the market for many years. Passenger cars have sophisticated emission controls that rely on data collected by air sensors inside the vehicles. These inexpensive sensors use well-established chemical and physical methods – typically, electrochemistry or metal oxide resistance – to measure air contaminants in highly polluted conditions, such as inside the exhaust pipe of a passenger vehicle. And this information is used by the vehicle to improve performance.

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By: Sudeep Pasricha, Colorado State University

SmartphoneAmerican mining production increased earlier this decade, as industry sought to reduce its reliance on other countries for key minerals such as coal for energy and rare-earth metals for use in consumer electronics. But mining is dangerous – working underground carries risks of explosions, fires, flooding and dangerous concentrations of poisonous gases.

Mine accidents have killed tens of thousands of mine workers worldwide in just the past decade. Most of these accidents occurred in structurally diverse underground mines with extensive labyrinths of interconnected tunnels. As mining progresses, workers move machinery around, which creates a continually changing environment. This makes search and rescue efforts even more complicated than they might otherwise be.

To address these dangers, U.S. federal regulations require mine operators to monitor levels of methane, carbon monoxide, smoke and oxygen – and to warn miners of possible danger due to air poisoning, flood, fire or explosions. In addition, mining companies must have accident-response plans that include systems with two key capabilities: enabling two-way communications between miners trapped underground and rescuers on the surface, and tracking individual miners so responders can know where they need to dig.

So far, efforts to design systems that are both reliable and resilient when disaster strikes have run into significant roadblocks. My research group’s work is aimed at enhancing commercially available smartphones and wireless network equipment with software and hardware innovations to create a system that is straightforward and relatively simple to operate.

Existing connections

The past decade has seen several efforts to develop monitoring and emergency communication systems, which generally can be classified into three types: through-the-wire, through-the-Earth and through-the-air. Each has different flaws that make them less than ideal options.

Wired systems use coaxial cables or optical fibers to connect monitoring and communications equipment throughout the mine and on the surface. But these are costly and vulnerable to damage from fires and tunnel collapses. Imagine, for example, if a wall collapse cut off a room from its connecting tunnels: Chances are the cable in those tunnels would be damaged too.

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Tagged
Image: Kim et al.

Image: Kim et al.

A team of researchers recently developed a next-generation medical wearable that will make your Fitbit look archaic.

A new study details the development of a small, stretchy sensor that monitors heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and UV radiation exposure – all without batteries or wires.

The patch, which relies on wirelessly transmitted power, uses near-field communication to activate LED lights. Essentially, the energy to power the device is harnessed from wasted energy emitted from surrounding electronics such as smartphones or tablets. The lights then penetrate the skin and reflect back to the sensor, transmitting data to a nearby device. In this application, radio frequencies are used to both transmit communications and provide an energy source.

Without the need for a battery, researchers were able to create an ultra-thin sensor.

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The system consists of a temporary tattoo (left) and a circuit board (right).Image: UC San Diego

The system consists of a temporary tattoo (left) and a circuit board (right).
Image: UC San Diego

A team of researchers form the University of California, San Diego has developed a flexible, wearable sensor that can accurately measure a person’s blood alcohol level from sweat and transmit the results wirelessly in real time.

The new development provides a continuous, non-invasive alternative to current alcohol level detection methods. Researchers state it also provides a more accurate reading than breathalyzers.

The device consists of a temporary tattoo, which adheres to the skin, induces sweat, and electrochemically detects alcohol levels. The sensor also incorporates a portable, flexible electronic circuit board, which connects to the tattoo and wirelessly communicates the information.

“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving,” says Joseph Wang, ECS member and co-author of the study. “This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated.”

In addition to applications in law enforcement and medicine, Wang believes this device could potentially be integrated with a car’s alcohol ignition interlocks, or used by people to check their own alcohol level before getting behind the wheel.

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Global estimates report that nearly 600 million people are sickened by a foodborne illness annually, resulting in over 400,000 deaths. In the United States alone, foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella and E. coli result in an overall cost of $77 billion per year.

Researchers from the Washington State University (WSU) are looking to help put an end to the spread of foodborne illnesses with the development of a new and improved biosensor.

We’ve see in in the recent food recalls; harmful pathogens in food are almost always discovered after people have become sick. The work from WSU, led by ECS member Yuehe Lin, focuses on detecting and amplifying the signal of food pathogens, reducing the risk of small (but dangerous) pathogens to go undetected.

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With this new development, the diagnosis of fungal infections could go from days to minutes.Image: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzyzewski

Image: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzyzewski

Fungal infections can often be life-threatening, especially for those with weak immune systems. The current standard test to detect the presence of fungi in a person takes at least a dozen hours, with the results sometimes being unreliable. Now, researchers from the Polish Academy of Science have developed a new device that could allow medical practitioners to more quickly and reliably detect fungal infections, allowing for better and faster overall treatment.

The research team, led by ECS member Wlodzimierz Kutner, devised a chemical sensor that can shorten the detection of the fungi from a few days to just a few minutes.

“The most important element of our sensor is a film of polymer selectively recognizing D-arabitol,” Kutner says. “It captures molecules of D-arabitol, a compound indicating the presence of fungi. The measurement takes only a few minutes, and the D-arabitol is detected with a high degree of certainty even in the presence of interfering substances with a similar molecular structure.”

One of the most critical aspects of the treatment of fungal infections is time. The longer these infections go undetected, the more serious they become. This new development will allow for the quick, reliable detection of fungal infections and more successful administration of appropriate fungal therapy.

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Texting while walkingSmartphones are amazing little bundles of electrochemistry. From the sensors that pick up your touch and analyze your voice to the battery that is small and powerful enough to provide enough power to run applications on demand – the innovative science behind smartphones has changed the lives of people around the world.

But sometimes those changes are not completely positive. With increased dependence on smartphones, many people now roam the sidewalk with their nose buried in their phones. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of distracted pedestrians using cellphones is up 124 percent from 2010. Some researchers are even blaming portable electronic gadgets for 10 percent of pedestrian injuries and a half-dozen deaths each year.

In Germany, these distracted pedestrians have been deemed “sombies,” or “smartphone zombies.” And the German government isn’t just looking to throw out a new buzzword, they’re also seeking to solve this issue.

According to reports from The Local, the city of Augsburg recently installed rows of LED lights into the sidewalk that can sense when distracted pedestrians are approaching and give off a bright flash of red to warn them to not mindlessly wander into the street.

“We realized that the normal traffic light isn’t in the line of sight of many pedestrians these days,” said Tobias Harms of the Augsburg city administration in an interview with The Augsburger Allgemeine. “So we decided to have an additional set of lights – the more we have, the more people are likely to notice them.”

HIV and hepatitis C are among the leading causes of worldwide death. According to amfAR, an organization dedicated to eradicating the spread of HIV/AIDS through innovative research, nearly 37 million people are currently living with HIV. Of those 37 million, one third become co-infected with hepatitis C.

The threat of HIV and hepatitis C

The regions hit the hardest by this co-infection tend to be developing parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central and East Asia.

While these developing regions have measures to diagnosis HIV and hepatitis C, the rapid point-of-care tests used are typically unaffordable or unreliable.

An electrochemical solution

A group from McGill University is looking to change that with a recently developed, paper-based electrochemical platform with multiplexing and telemedicine capabilities that may enable low-cost, point-of-care diagnosis for HIV and hepatitis C co-infections within serum samples.

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