PlantSensors on tape that attach to plants yield new kinds of data about water use for researchers and farmers.

“With a tool like this, we can begin to breed plants that are more efficient in using water,” says Patrick Schnable, plant scientist at Iowa State University. “That’s exciting. We couldn’t do this before. But, once we can measure something, we can begin to understand it.”

The tool making these water measurements possible is a tiny graphene sensor that can be taped to plants—researchers call it a “plant tattoo sensor.” Graphene is an atom-thick carbon honeycomb. It’s great at conducting electricity and heat, and is strong and stable. The graphene-on-tape technology in this study has also gone into wearable strain and pressure sensors, including sensors for a “smart glove” that measures hand movements.

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ChemicalsA new chemical sensor prototype will be able to detect “single-fingerprint quantities” of chemicals and other substances at a distance of more than 100 feet—and its creators are working to make it the size of a shoebox.

The device could potentially identify traces of drugs and explosives, as well as speed up the analysis of certain medical samples. A portable infrared chemical sensor could be mounted on a drone or carried by users such as doctors, police, border officials, and soldiers.

The device’s sensor is made possible by a new optical-fiber-based laser that combines high power with a beam that covers a broad band of infrared frequencies—from 1.6 to 12 microns, which covers the so-called mid-wave and long-wave infrared.

“Most chemicals have fingerprint signatures between about 2 and 11 microns,” says researcher Mohammed Islam, who developed the laser. “Hence, this wavelength range is called the ‘spectral fingerprint region.’ So our device enables identification of solid, liquid, and gas targets based on their chemical signature.”

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A new quantum material mimics a shark’s ability to detect the minute electric fields of small prey.

Such a technology might be used to study ocean organisms and ecosystems and to monitor the movement of ships for military and commercial maritime applications, says Shriram Ramanathan, professor of materials engineering at Purdue University. “So, it has potentially very broad interest in many disciplines.”

The material maintains its functional stability and does not corrode after immersion in saltwater, a prerequisite for ocean sensing. Surprisingly, it also functions well in the cold, ambient temperatures typical of seawater.

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Focus IssuesSubmission Deadline: December 26, 2017

The Journal of The Electrochemical Society Focus Issue on Ubiquitous Sensors and Systems for IoT is currently accepting manuscripts.

Ubiquitous sensors are becoming an integral part of 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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By: Jeremy Straub, North Dakota State University

Driverless carIn the wake of car- and truck-based attacks around the world, most recently in New York City, cities are scrambling to protect busy pedestrian areas and popular events. It’s extremely difficult to prevent vehicles from being used as weapons, but technology can help.

Right now, cities are trying to determine where and how to place statues, spike strip nets and other barriers to protect crowds. Police departments are trying to gather better advance intelligence about potential threats, and training officers to respond – while regular people are seeking advice for surviving vehicle attacks.

These solutions aren’t enough: It’s impractical to put up physical barriers everywhere, and all but impossible to prevent would-be attackers from getting a vehicle. As a researcher of technologies for self-driving vehicles, I see that potential solutions already exist, and are built into many vehicles on the road today. There are, however, ethical questions to weigh about who should control the vehicle – the driver behind the wheel or the computer system that perceives potential danger in the human’s actions.

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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.

(more…)

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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