Sensor Watch: 6D Nano-Accelerometers, DHS Smartphone Chemical Detectors, and Datalogging Shirts

smartphone-sensors One of the big benefits that memristors properties fit well with are the emerging needs for distributed sensor technologies. Mesh networks of low power sensors with the ability to store threshold data through possible off-states are quickly becoming an important component in the Internet of Things and even more important as these sensors get linked to their own social networks of things.

A survey of recent prototypes on the sensor front shows how fascinating some of these new data capture vectors can be:

Tshirt Sensors Monitor Pitchers Arm Fatigue – A team of mechanical engineers at Northeastern University have prototyped a datalogging shirt that charts data from sensors sewn into the shirt, sensors which record a pitcher’s arm movements. Alexandra Morgan, Marcus Moche and David Schmidt designed the sensor covered wearable shirt as part of the colleges Capstone Design Project engineering.

The shirt uses three accelerometers, on the back, upper arm, and the forearm, to capture data during the throw.

She [Alexandra Morgan] said she can tell what kind of pitch was thrown just by looking at the data. “When I look at the different plots I can tell if it was a curveball or a fastball,” Morgan said. “And if it was a fastball I can also tell if he released too early.” [article]

smartphone-sensors Department of Homeland Security Smartphone Chemical Sensors – The DHS is a big force behind miniaturization of many types of detection and surveillance technology. They released an earlier i-phone add on for field agents to be able to detect various dangerous chemicals, with the company Cell-All. These are tiny, dime-sized chemical sensors which can sniff and detect miniscule amounts of chemicals, such as methane, ammonia, chlorine, and other gases:

The technology is a long way from full-on commercialization, but Homeland Security is working on cooperative research and development agreements with Qualcomm, LG, Apple and Samsung — four major cell phone manufacturers. If all goes well, 40 prototypes will be ready within the year, including one that sniffs carbon monoxide and fire. And eventually, Cell-All envisions that we will have “a chemical sensor in every cell phone in every pocket, purse, or belt holster.” [article]

Image: Rehmi Post/Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT News

Image: Rehmi Post/Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT News

6 Dimensional Microscale Motion Accelerometers – Researchers at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) recently built a microscale motion sensor by drilling a microscopic hole in a metal plate, and holding a metal bead suspended by an electric field. The scale of the suspension is whats new about this motion sensor, although there are numerous difficulties associated with translating the microscopic movements into a usable form:

A six-dimensional sensor would make the motion detection of handheld devices much more precise. The Wii game controller, for instance, wouldn’t need an infrared emitter mounted to the television, and the Apple iPhone would change its screen orientation more reliably. Rehmi Post, a visiting scientist at CBA who initiated the sensor project as a PhD student at MIT, points out that the three-axis accelerometer is the most expensive component of the Wii remote. He believes that ultimately, a six-dimensional microdynamical sensor could be manufactured for about a tenth as much. “If they can get all six degrees out of it, it would be huge,” says Michael Judy, a researcher at Analog Devices, the company that built the Wii’s accelerometers. “That’s the holy grail right now in the human interface to electronics.” [article]

Image: BBC News

Movement Sensors assist Managed Eldercare – These types of sensor models wont benefit as much from memristor or increased low-power or storage advances or miniaturization; in fact, they already exist in wide usage, and are already produced by large companies such as GE: but they are important, precisely because they begin to show what the ubiquity of sensors embedded in an environment can begin to tell us about behavior, and behavior management. (Social Engineering, anyone?) Here is an example from one of many implementations that discrete motion sensors have brought about at assisted-living and long term memory care facilities:

The facility’s QuietCare system, made by GE Healthcare, can be individualized to a person’s habits and can page a nurse when an unusual action triggers its computerized system of alerts. In one apartment, one thin, white sensor is installed above the bathroom door, and another above the entrance. Within a small refrigerator, another sensor sits on a shelf. “It can detect how often somebody’s going into their refrigerator,” says Assistant
Director of Resident Services Elizabeth Machanska. “Excessive hunger is one of the signs that diabetes may not be fully controlled.” The device also can detect and report abnormal room temperatures, or whether medication is being taken as instructed. [article]

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