Category Archives: wearable electronics

Humans can distinguish molecular differences by touch

Yesterday, in my December 18, 2017 post about medieval textiles, I posed the question, “How did medieval artisans create nanoscale and microscale gilding when they couldn’t see it?” I realized afterwards that an answer to that question might be in this December 13, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

How sensitive is the human sense of touch? Sensitive enough to feel the difference between surfaces that differ by just a single layer of molecules, a team of researchers at the University of California San Diego has shown.

“This is the greatest tactile sensitivity that has ever been shown in humans,” said Darren Lipomi, a professor of nanoengineering and member of the Center for Wearable Sensors at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, who led the interdisciplinary project with V. S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and distinguished professor in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego.

So perhaps those medieval artisans were able to feel the difference before it could be seen in the textiles they were producing?

Getting back to the matter at hand, a December 13, 2017 University of California at San Diego (UCSD) news release (also on EurekAlert) by Liezel Labios offers more detail about the work,

Humans can easily feel the difference between many everyday surfaces such as glass, metal, wood and plastic. That’s because these surfaces have different textures or draw heat away from the finger at different rates. But UC San Diego researchers wondered, if they kept all these large-scale effects equal and changed only the topmost layer of molecules, could humans still detect the difference using their sense of touch? And if so, how?

Researchers say this fundamental knowledge will be useful for developing electronic skin, prosthetics that can feel, advanced haptic technology for virtual and augmented reality and more.

Unsophisticated haptic technologies exist in the form of rumble packs in video game controllers or smartphones that shake, Lipomi added. “But reproducing realistic tactile sensations is difficult because we don’t yet fully understand the basic ways in which materials interact with the sense of touch.”

“Today’s technologies allow us to see and hear what’s happening, but we can’t feel it,” said Cody Carpenter, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student at UC San Diego and co-first author of the study. “We have state-of-the-art speakers, phones and high-resolution screens that are visually and aurally engaging, but what’s missing is the sense of touch. Adding that ingredient is a driving force behind this work.”

This study is the first to combine materials science and psychophysics to understand how humans perceive touch. “Receptors processing sensations from our skin are phylogenetically the most ancient, but far from being primitive they have had time to evolve extraordinarily subtle strategies for discerning surfaces—whether a lover’s caress or a tickle or the raw tactile feel of metal, wood, paper, etc. This study is one of the first to demonstrate the range of sophistication and exquisite sensitivity of tactile sensations. It paves the way, perhaps, for a whole new approach to tactile psychophysics,” Ramachandran said.

Super-Sensitive Touch

In a paper published in Materials Horizons, UC San Diego researchers tested whether human subjects could distinguish—by dragging or tapping a finger across the surface—between smooth silicon wafers that differed only in their single topmost layer of molecules. One surface was a single oxidized layer made mostly of oxygen atoms. The other was a single Teflon-like layer made of fluorine and carbon atoms. Both surfaces looked identical and felt similar enough that some subjects could not differentiate between them at all.

According to the researchers, human subjects can feel these differences because of a phenomenon known as stick-slip friction, which is the jerking motion that occurs when two objects at rest start to slide against each other. This phenomenon is responsible for the musical notes played by running a wet finger along the rim of a wine glass, the sound of a squeaky door hinge or the noise of a stopping train. In this case, each surface has a different stick-slip frequency due to the identity of the molecules in the topmost layer.

In one test, 15 subjects were tasked with feeling three surfaces and identifying the one surface that differed from the other two. Subjects correctly identified the differences 71 percent of the time.

In another test, subjects were given three different strips of silicon wafer, each strip containing a different sequence of 8 patches of oxidized and Teflon-like surfaces. Each sequence represented an 8-digit string of 0s and 1s, which encoded for a particular letter in the ASCII alphabet. Subjects were asked to “read” these sequences by dragging a finger from one end of the strip to the other and noting which patches in the sequence were the oxidized surfaces and which were the Teflon-like surfaces. In this experiment, 10 out of 11 subjects decoded the bits needed to spell the word “Lab” (with the correct upper and lowercase letters) more than 50 percent of the time. Subjects spent an average of 4.5 minutes to decode each letter.

“A human may be slower than a nanobit per second in terms of reading digital information, but this experiment shows a potentially neat way to do chemical communications using our sense of touch instead of sight,” Lipomi said.

Basic Model of Touch

The researchers also found that these surfaces can be differentiated depending on how fast the finger drags and how much force it applies across the surface. The researchers modeled the touch experiments using a “mock finger,” a finger-like device made of an organic polymer that’s connected by a spring to a force sensor. The mock finger was dragged across the different surfaces using multiple combinations of force and swiping velocity. The researchers plotted the data and found that the surfaces could be distinguished given certain combinations of velocity and force. Meanwhile, other combinations made the surfaces indistinguishable from each other.

“Our results reveal a remarkable human ability to quickly home in on the right combinations of forces and swiping velocities required to feel the difference between these surfaces. They don’t need to reconstruct an entire matrix of data points one by one as we did in our experiments,” Lipomi said.

“It’s also interesting that the mock finger device, which doesn’t have anything resembling the hundreds of nerves in our skin, has just one force sensor and is still able to get the information needed to feel the difference in these surfaces. This tells us it’s not just the mechanoreceptors in the skin, but receptors in the ligaments, knuckles, wrist, elbow and shoulder that could be enabling humans to sense minute differences using touch,” he added.

This work was supported by member companies of the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego: Samsung, Dexcom, Sabic, Cubic, Qualcomm and Honda.

For those who prefer their news by video,

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Human ability to discriminate surface chemistry by touch by Cody W. Carpenter, Charles Dhong, Nicholas B. Root, Daniel Rodriquez, Emily E. Abdo, Kyle Skelil, Mohammad A. Alkhadra, Julian Ramírez, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Darren J. Lipomi. Mater. Horiz., 2018, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C7MH00800G

This paper is open access but you do need to have opened a free account on the website.

A watch that conducts sound through your body and into your ear

Apparently, you all you have to do is tap your ear to access your telephone calls. A Jan. 8, 2016 article by Mark Wilson for Fast Company describes the technology and the experience of using Samsung’s TipTalk device,

It’s not so helpful to see a call on your smartwatch when you have to pull our your phone to take it anyway. And therein lies the problem with products like the Apple Watch: They’re often not a replacement for your phone, but an intermediary to inevitably using it.

But at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show [held in Las Vegas (Nevada, US) annually (Jan. 6 – 9, 2016)], Samsung’s secret R&D lab … showed off a promising concept to fix one of the biggest problems with smartwatches. Called TipTalk, it’s technology that can send sound from your smartwatch through your arm so when you touch your finger to your ear, you can hear a call or a voicemail—no headphones required.

Engineering breakthroughs like these can be easy to dismiss as a gimmick rather than revolutionary UX [user experience], but I like TipTalk for a few reasons. First, it maps hearing UI [user interface] into a gesture that we already might use to hear to something better … . Second, it could be practical in real world use. You see a new voicemail on your watch, and without even a button press, you listen—but crucially, you still opt-in to hear the message rather than just have it play. And third, the gesture conveys to people around you that you’re occupied.

Ulrich Rozier in his Jan. 8, 2016 article for also raves albeit, in French,

Samsung a développé un bracelet que l’on peut utiliser sur n’importe quelle montre.

Ce bracelet vibre lorsque l’on reçoit un appel… il est ainsi possible de décrocher. Il faut ensuite positionner son doigt au niveau du pavillon de l’oreille. C’est là que la magie opère. On se retrouve à entendre des sons. Contrairement à ce que je pensais, le son ne se transmet pas par conduction osseuse, mais grâce à des vibrations envoyées à partir de votre poignet à travers votre corps. Vous pouvez l’utiliser pour prendre des appels ou pour lire vos SMS et autres messages. Et ça fonctionne.

Here’s my very rough translation,

Samsung has developed a bracelet that can worn under any watch’s band strap.

It’s the ‘bracelet’ that vibrates when you get a phone call. If you want to answer the call, reach up and tap your ear. That’s when the magic happens and sound is transmitted to your ear. Not through your bones as I thought but with vibrations transmitted by your wrist through your body. This way you can answer your calls or read SMS and other messages [?]. It works

I get sound vibration being transmitted to your ear but I don’t understand how you’d be able to read SMS or other messages.

Wearable tech for Christmas 2015 and into 2016

This is a roundup post of four items to cross my path this morning (Dec. 17, 2015), all of them concerned with wearable technology.

The first, a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on, is a fluffy little piece concerning the imminent arrival of a new generation of wearable technology,

It’s not every day that there’s a news story about socks. But in November [2015], a pair won the Best New Wearable Technology Device Award at a Silicon Valley conference. The smart socks, which track foot landings and cadence, are at the forefront of a new generation of wearable electronics, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society [ACS].

That news item was originated by a Dec. 16, 2015 ACS news release on EurekAlert which adds this,

Marc S. Reisch, a senior correspondent at C&EN, notes that stiff wristbands like the popular FitBit that measure heart rate and the number of steps people take have become common. But the long-touted technology needed to create more flexible monitoring devices has finally reached the market. Developers have successfully figured out how to incorporate stretchable wiring and conductive inks in clothing fabric, program them to transmit data wirelessly and withstand washing.

In addition to smart socks, fitness shirts and shoe insoles are on the market already or are nearly there. Although athletes are among the first to gain from the technology, the less fitness-oriented among us could also benefit. One fabric concept product — designed not for covering humans but a car steering-wheel — could sense driver alertness and make roads safer.

Reisch’s Dec. 7, 2015 article (C&EN vol. 93, issue 48, pp. 28-90) provides more detailed information and market information such as this,

Materials suppliers, component makers, and apparel developers gathered at a printed-electronics conference in Santa Clara, Calif., within a short drive of tech giants such as Google and Apple, to compare notes on embedding electronics into the routines of daily life. A notable theme was the effort to stealthily [emphasis mine] place sensors on exercise shirts, socks, and shoe soles so that athletes and fitness buffs can wirelessly track their workouts and doctors can monitor the health of their patients.

“Wearable technology is becoming more wearable,” said Raghu Das, chief executive officer of IDTechEx [emphasis mine], the consulting firm that organized the conference. By that he meant the trend is toward thinner and more flexible devices that include not just wrist-worn fitness bands but also textiles printed with stretchable wiring and electronic sensors, thanks to advances in conductive inks.

Interesting use of the word ‘stealthy’, which often suggests something sneaky as opposed to merely secretive. I imagine what’s being suggested is that the technology will not impose itself on the user (i.e., you won’t have to learn how to use it as you did with phones and computers).

Leading into my second item, IDC (International Data Corporation), not to be confused with IDTechEx, is mentioned in a Dec. 17, 2015 news item about wearable technology markets on,

The global market for wearable technology is seeing a surge, led by watches, smart clothing and other connected gadgets, a research report said Thursday [Dec. 16, 2015].

IDC said its forecast showed the worldwide wearable device market will reach a total of 111.1 million units in 2016, up 44.4 percent from this year.

By 2019, IDC sees some 214.6 million units, or a growth rate averaging 28 percent.

A Dec. 17, 2015 IDC press release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the market forecast,

“The most common type of wearables today are fairly basic, like fitness trackers, but over the next few years we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types,” said Jitesh Ubrani , Senior Research Analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analog counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities.”

One of the most popular types of wearables will be smartwatches, reaching a total of 34.3 million units shipped in 2016, up from the 21.3 million units expected to ship in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 88.3 million units, resulting in a five-year CAGR of 42.8%.

“In a short amount of time, smartwatches have evolved from being extensions of the smartphone to wearable computers capable of communications, notifications, applications, and numerous other functionalities,” noted Ramon Llamas , Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “The smartwatch we have today will look nothing like the smartwatch we will see in the future. Cellular connectivity, health sensors, not to mention the explosive third-party application market all stand to change the game and will raise both the appeal and value of the market going forward.

“Smartwatch platforms will lead the evolution,” added Llamas. “As the brains of the smartwatch, platforms manage all the tasks and processes, not the least of which are interacting with the user, running all of the applications, and connecting with the smartphone. Once that third element is replaced with cellular connectivity, the first two elements will take on greater roles to make sense of all the data and connections.”

Top Five Smartwatch Platform Highlights

Apple’s watchOS will lead the smartwatch market throughout our forecast, with a loyal fanbase of Apple product owners and a rapidly growing application selection, including both native apps and Watch-designed apps. Very quickly, watchOS has become the measuring stick against which other smartwatches and platforms are compared. While there is much room for improvement and additional features, there is enough momentum to keep it ahead of the rest of the market.

Android/Android Wear will be a distant second behind watchOS even as its vendor list grows to include technology companies (ASUS, Huawei, LG, Motorola, and Sony) and traditional watchmakers (Fossil and Tag Heuer). The user experience on Android Wear devices has been largely the same from one device to the next, leaving little room for OEMs to develop further and users left to select solely on price and smartwatch design.

Smartwatch pioneer Pebble will cede market share to AndroidWear and watchOS but will not disappear altogether. Its simple user interface and devices make for an easy-to-understand use case, and its price point relative to other platforms makes Pebble one of the most affordable smartwatches on the market.

Samsung’s Tizen stands to be the dark horse of the smartwatch market and poses a threat to Android Wear, including compatibility with most flagship Android smartphones and an application selection rivaling Android Wear. Moreover, with Samsung, Tizen has benefited from technology developments including a QWERTY keyboard on a smartwatch screen, cellular connectivity, and new user interfaces. It’s a combination that helps Tizen stand out, but not enough to keep up with AndroidWear and watchOS.

There will be a small, but nonetheless significant market for smart wristwear running on a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS), which is capable of running third-party applications, but not on any of these listed platforms. These tend to be proprietary operating systems and OEMs will use them when they want to champion their own devices. These will help within specific markets or devices, but will not overtake the majority of the market.

The company has provided a table with five-year CAGR (compound annual growth rate) growth estimates, which can be found with the Dec. 17, 2015 IDC press release.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing IDC’s claims regarding the market for wearable technology.

For the third and fourth items, it’s back to the science. A Dec. 17, 2015 news item on Nanowerk, describes, in general terms, some recent wearable technology research at the University of Manchester (UK), Note: A link has been removed),

Cheap, flexible, wireless graphene communication devices such as mobile phones and healthcare monitors can be directly printed into clothing and even skin, University of Manchester academics have demonstrated.

In a breakthrough paper in Scientific Reports (“Highly Flexible and Conductive Printed Graphene for Wireless Wearable Communications Applications”), the researchers show how graphene could be crucial to wearable electronic applications because it is highly-conductive and ultra-flexible.

The research could pave the way for smart, battery-free healthcare and fitness monitoring, phones, internet-ready devices and chargers to be incorporated into clothing and ‘smart skin’ applications – printed graphene sensors integrated with other 2D materials stuck onto a patient’s skin to monitor temperature, strain and moisture levels.

Detail is provided in a Dec. 17, 2015 University of Manchester press release, which originated the news item, (Note: Links have been removed),

Examples of communication devices include:

• In a hospital, a patient wears a printed graphene RFID tag on his or her arm. The tag, integrated with other 2D materials, can sense the patient’s body temperature and heartbeat and sends them back to the reader. The medical staff can monitor the patient’s conditions wirelessly, greatly simplifying the patient’s care.

• In a care home, battery-free printed graphene sensors can be printed on elderly peoples’ clothes. These sensors could detect and collect elderly people’s health conditions and send them back to the monitoring access points when they are interrogated, enabling remote healthcare and improving quality of life.

Existing materials used in wearable devices are either too expensive, such as silver nanoparticles, or not adequately conductive to have an effect, such as conductive polymers.

Graphene, the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, is perfect for the wearables market because of its broad range of superlative qualities. Graphene conductive ink can be cheaply mass produced and printed onto various materials, including clothing and paper.

“Sir Kostya Novoselov

To see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications.

Sir Kostya Novoselov (tweet)„

The researchers, led by Dr Zhirun Hu, printed graphene to construct transmission lines and antennas and experimented with these in communication devices, such as mobile and Wifi connectivity.

Using a mannequin, they attached graphene-enabled antennas on each arm. The devices were able to ‘talk’ to each other, effectively creating an on-body communications system.

The results proved that graphene enabled components have the required quality and functionality for wireless wearable devices.

Dr Hu, from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “This is a significant step forward – we can expect to see a truly all graphene enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future.

“The potential applications for this research are huge – whether it be for health monitoring, mobile communications or applications attached to skin for monitoring or messaging.

“This work demonstrates that this revolutionary scientific material is bringing a real change into our daily lives.”

Co-author Sir Kostya Novoselov, who with his colleague Sir Andre Geim first isolated graphene at the University in 2004, added: “Research into graphene has thrown up significant potential applications, but to see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Highly Flexible and Conductive Printed Graphene for Wireless Wearable Communications Applications by Xianjun Huang, Ting Leng, Mengjian Zhu, Xiao Zhang, JiaCing Chen, KuoHsin Chang, Mohammed Aqeeli, Andre K. Geim, Kostya S. Novoselov, & Zhirun Hu. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 18298 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep18298 Published online: 17 December 2015

This is an open access paper.

The next and final item concerns supercapacitors for wearable tech, which makes it slightly different from the other items and is why, despite the date, this is the final item. The research comes from Case Western Research University (CWRU; US) according to a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Wearable power sources for wearable electronics are limited by the size of garments.

With that in mind, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed flexible wire-shaped microsupercapacitors that can be woven into a jacket, shirt or dress (Energy Storage Materials, “Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes”).

A Dec. 16, 2015 CWRU news release (on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about a device that would make wearable tech more wearable (after all, you don’t want to recharge your clothes the same way you do your phone and other mobile devices),

By their design or by connecting the capacitors in series or parallel, the devices can be tailored to match the charge storage and delivery needs of electronics donned.

While there’s been progress in development of those electronics–body cameras, smart glasses, sensors that monitor health, activity trackers and more–one challenge remaining is providing less obtrusive and cumbersome power sources.

“The area of clothing is fixed, so to generate the power density needed in a small area, we grew radially-aligned titanium oxide nanotubes on a titanium wire used as the main electrode,” said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering. “By increasing the surface area of the electrode, you increase the capacitance.”

Dai and Tao Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve, published their research on the microsupercapacitor in the journal Energy Storage Materials this week. The study builds on earlier carbon-based supercapacitors.

A capacitor is cousin to the battery, but offers the advantage of charging and releasing energy much faster.

How it works

In this new supercapacitor, the modified titanium wire is coated with a solid electrolyte made of polyvinyl alcohol and phosphoric acid. The wire is then wrapped with either yarn or a sheet made of aligned carbon nanotubes, which serves as the second electrode. The titanium oxide nanotubes, which are semiconducting, separate the two active portions of the electrodes, preventing a short circuit.

In testing, capacitance–the capability to store charge–increased from 0.57 to 0.9 to 1.04 milliFarads per micrometer as the strands of carbon nanotube yarn were increased from 1 to 2 to 3.

When wrapped with a sheet of carbon nanotubes, which increases the effective area of electrode, the microsupercapactitor stored 1.84 milliFarads per micrometer. Energy density was 0.16 x 10-3 milliwatt-hours per cubic centimeter and power density .01 milliwatt per cubic centimeter.

Whether wrapped with yarn or a sheet, the microsupercapacitor retained at least 80 percent of its capacitance after 1,000 charge-discharge cycles. To match various specific power needs of wearable devices, the wire-shaped capacitors can be connected in series or parallel to raise voltage or current, the researchers say.

When bent up to 180 degrees hundreds of times, the capacitors showed no loss of performance. Those wrapped in sheets showed more mechanical strength.

“They’re very flexible, so they can be integrated into fabric or textile materials,” Dai said. “They can be a wearable, flexible power source for wearable electronics and also for self-powered biosensors or other biomedical devices, particularly for applications inside the body.” [emphasis mine]

Dai ‘s lab is in the process of weaving the wire-like capacitors into fabric and integrating them with a wearable device.

So one day we may be carrying supercapacitors in our bodies? I’m not sure how I feel about that goal. In any event, here’s a link and a citation for the paper,

Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes by Tao Chen, Liming Dai. Energy Storage Materials Volume 2, January 2016, Pages 21–26 doi:10.1016/j.ensm.2015.11.004

This paper appears to be open access.

A wearable book (The Girl Who Was Plugged In) makes you feel the protagonists pain

A team of students taking an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) course called ‘Science Fiction to Science Fabrication‘ have created a new kind of category for books, sensory fiction.  John Brownlee in his Feb. 10, 2014 article for Fast Company describes it this way,

Have you ever felt your pulse quicken when you read a book, or your skin go clammy during a horror story? A new student project out of MIT wants to deepen those sensations. They have created a wearable book that uses inexpensive technology and neuroscientific hacking to create a sort of cyberpunk Neverending Story that blurs the line between the bodies of a reader and protagonist.

Called Sensory Fiction, the project was created by a team of four MIT students–Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, Julie Legault, and Sophia Brueckner …

Here’s the MIT video demonstrating the book in use (from the course’s sensory fiction page),

Here’s how the students have described their sensory book, from the project page,

Sensory fiction is about new ways of experiencing and creating stories.

Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images.  By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader.

To explore this idea, we created a connected book and wearable. The ‘augmented’ book portrays the scenery and sets the mood, and the wearable allows the reader to experience the protagonist’s physiological emotions.

The book cover animates to reflect the book’s changing atmosphere, while certain passages trigger vibration patterns.

Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state triggers discrete feedback in the wearable, whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localized temperature fluctuations.

Our prototype story, ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’ by James Tiptree showcases an incredible range of settings and emotions. The main protagonist experiences both deep love and ultimate despair, the freedom of Barcelona sunshine and the captivity of a dark damp cellar.

The book and wearable support the following outputs:

  • Light (the book cover has 150 programmable LEDs to create ambient light based on changing setting and mood)
  • Sound
  • Personal heating device to change skin temperature (through a Peltier junction secured at the collarbone)
  • Vibration to influence heart rate
  • Compression system (to convey tightness or loosening through pressurized airbags)

One of the earliest stories about this project was a Jan. 28,2014 piece written by Alison Flood for the Guardian where she explains how vibration, etc. are used to convey/stimulate the reader’s sensations and emotions,

MIT scientists have created a ‘wearable’ book using temperature and lighting to mimic the experiences of a book’s protagonist

The book, explain the researchers, senses the page a reader is on, and changes ambient lighting and vibrations to “match the mood”. A series of straps form a vest which contains a “heartbeat and shiver simulator”, a body compression system, temperature controls and sound.

“Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations,” say the academics.

Flood goes on to illuminate how science fiction has explored the notion of ‘sensory books’ (Note: Links have been removed) and how at least one science fiction novelist is responding to this new type of book,,

The Arthur C Clarke award-winning science fiction novelist Chris Beckett wrote about a similar invention in his novel Marcher, although his “sensory” experience comes in the form of a video game:

Adam Roberts, another prize-winning science fiction writer, found the idea of “sensory” fiction “amazing”, but also “infantalising, like reverting to those sorts of books we buy for toddlers that have buttons in them to generate relevant sound-effects”.

Elise Hu in her Feb. 6, 2014 posting on the US National Public Radio (NPR) blog, All Tech Considered, takes a different approach to the topic,

The prototype does work, but it won’t be manufactured anytime soon. The creation was only “meant to provoke discussion,” Hope says. It was put together as part of a class in which designers read science fiction and make functional prototypes to explore the ideas in the books.

If it ever does become more widely available, sensory fiction could have an unintended consequence. When I shared this idea with NPR editor Ellen McDonnell, she quipped, “If these device things are helping ‘put you there,’ it just means the writing won’t have to be as good.”

I hope the students are successful at provoking discussion as so far they seem to have primarily provoked interest.

As for my two cents, I think that in a world where it seems making personal connections  is increasingly difficult (i.e., people becoming more isolated) that sensory fiction which stimulates people into feeling something as they read a book seems a logical progression.  It’s also interesting to me that all of the focus is on the reader with no mention as to what writers might produce (other than McDonnell’s cheeky comment) if they knew their books were going to be given the ‘sensory treatment’. One more musing, I wonder if there might a difference in how males and females, writers and readers, respond to sensory fiction.

Now for a bit of wordplay. Feeling can be emotional but, in English, it can also refer to touch and researchers at MIT have also been investigating new touch-oriented media.  You can read more about that project in my Reaching beyond the screen with the Tangible Media Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) posting dated Nov. 13, 2013. One final thought, I am intrigued by how interested scientists at MIT seem to be in feelings of all kinds.

Internet of Things 2012 conference: call for papers

The 3rd International Conference on the Internet of Things will be held Oct. 24 – 26, 2012 in Wuxi, China. From the Call for papers page,

In what is called the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects — from containers to pacemakers — are linked through both wired and wireless networks to the Internet. When objects in the IoT can sense the environment, interpret the data, and communicate with each other, they become tools for understanding complexity and for responding to events and irregularities swiftly. The IoT is therefore seen by many as the ultimate solution for getting fine grained insights into business processes — in the real-world and in real-time. Started one decade ago as a wild academic idea, this interlinking of the physical world and cyberspace foreshadows an exciting endeavour that is highly relevant to researchers, corporations, and individuals.

The IoT2012 conference will focus on these core research challenges.

IoT 2012

The IoT conference series has become the major biennial event that brings internationally leading researchers and practitioners from both academia and industry together to facilitate the sharing of applications, research results, and knowledge. Building on the success of the last two conferences (2008 in Zurich and 2010 in Tokyo), the 3rd International Conference on the Internet of Things (IoT2012) will include a highly selective dual-track program for technical papers, accompanied by reports on business projects from seasoned practitioners, poster sessions summarizing late-breaking results, and hands-on demos of current technology.  We invite submissions of original and unpublished work covering areas related to the IoT, in one or more of the following three categories: technical papers, posters, and demonstrations.

IoT Topics of Interest

IoT 2012 welcomes submissions on the following topics:

* IoT architectures and system design
* IoT networking and communication
* Circuit and system design for smart objects in the IoT
* Novel IoT services and applications for society/corporations/individuals
* Emerging IoT business models and corresponding process changes
* Cooperative data processing for IoT
* Social impacts such as security, privacy, and trust in the IoT

Work addressing real-world implementation and deployment issues is encouraged.

The deadlines (according to the newsletter I received) are:

papers : May 1 2012 | posters, demos: August 1 2012

Given last week’s flutter of interest (See Brian Braiker’s April 5, 2012 posting for the Guardian, etc.)  in the Google goggles or as they prefer to call it, the Google Project Glass, this conference would offer information about the practical aspects of  implementation for at least one of these scenarios,

Assuming you’ve watched the video, imagine the number of embedded sensors and tracking information needed to give the user up-to-date instructions on his walking route to the bookstore. On that note, I’m glad to see there’s one IoT 2012 conference theme devoted to social impacts such as security and privacy.

British soldiers conduct field trials of uniforms made from e-textiles

I gather that today’s soldier (aka, warfighter)  is carrying as many batteries as weapons. Apparently, the average soldier carries a couple of kilos worth of batteries and cables to keep their various pieces of equipment operational. The UK’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (part of the Ministry of Defence) has announced that this situation is about to change as a consequence of a recently funded research project with a company called Intelligent Textiles. From Bob Yirka’s April 3, 2012 news item for,

To get rid of the cables, a company called Intelligent Textiles has come up with a type of yarn that can conduct electricity, which can be woven directly into the fabric of the uniform. And because they allow the uniform itself to become one large conductive unit, the need for multiple batteries can be eliminated as well.

The company says it has found a way to weave the conductive yarn into virtually all parts of the uniform: vest, shirt, backpack, helmet, even gloves or the interactive parts of weapons. Different pieces of the uniform can then be connected via plug-and-play connections when the soldier dresses for battle, … They say they are currently also working on a keyboard that can also be integrated into a uniform to allow for interaction with a small computer that will also be carried as part of the uniform.

Field trials are scheduled for next month and uniforms made with e-textiles are expected to begin being worn by actual soldiers over the next two years.

You can find the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) here, from the CDE’s home page,

The Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) is the first point of contact for anyone with a disruptive technology, new process or innovation that has a potential defence application. CDE funds research into novel high-risk, high-potential-benefit innovations sourced from the broadest possible range of science and technology providers, including academia and small companies, to enable development of cost-effective capability advantage for UK Armed Forces.

CDE is the entry point for new science and technology providers to defence, bringing together innovation and investment for the defence and security markets.

Here’s a link to a video featuring an employee from Intelligent Textiles discussing their new product and the joys of applying for funds from the CDE.

I did try to find out more about Intelligent Textiles. While they do have a website, it is currently under construction, here’s an excerpt from their home and only page,

Welcome to this very special first glimpse of a new 21st century world. A wonderful world of soft, safe, stylish, comfortable, colourful fabrics which not only do all the traditional fabric things but which discreetly and unobtrusively include a host of additional attributes.

The new world of Intelligent Textiles is limited only by your vision and needs, and the enthusiasm by innovative manufacturers to embrace a new world.

Building on the best of the past, see an amazing high tech future using traditional techniques and materials with the addition of the Intelligent Textiles globally patented technology.

Even after reading the news item, watching the video clip, and reading the information on Intelligent Textile’s home page, I don’t really understand the benefit of  the technology. It’s nice that cables are being eliminated but it sounds as if at least one battery is still needed (and probably one backup just in case something goes wrong) and they have plans to include a computer in the future. Are they eliminating five pounds of equipment and replacing it with one pound’s worth? If they include a computer in the future, how much weight will that add?

Electronic tattoos

Yes, you can temporarily apply electronics that look like tattoos to your skin. From the August 11, 2011 news item on,

Engineers have developed a device platform that combines electronic components for sensing, medical diagnostics, communications and human-machine interfaces, all on an ultrathin skin-like patch that mounts directly onto the skin with the ease, flexibility and comfort of a temporary tattoo.

The team led by professor John Rogers at the University of Illinois has create wearable electronics.

The patches are initially mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic, then laminated to the skin with water – just like applying a temporary tattoo. Alternately, the electronic components can be applied directly to a temporary tattoo itself, providing concealment for the electronics.

Here’s a video released by the University of Illinois featuring Rogers and his colleague, lead author Dae-Hyeong Kim, describing their work,

(ETA April 7, 2014: This link leads to a notice that the video is no long available.)

Possible applications for this technology include (from the news item on,

In addition to gathering data, skin-mounted electronics could provide the wearers with added capabilities. For example, patients with muscular or neurological disorders, such as ALS, could use them to communicate or to interface with computers. The researchers found that, when applied to the skin of the throat, the sensors could distinguish muscle movement for simple speech. The researchers have even used the electronic patches to control a video game, demonstrating the potential for human-computer interfacing.

The August 11, 2011 news item about this research on Nanwerk features some technical details [Note: The news item on also offers technical information but the Nanowerk item from the National Science Foundation offered some additional details.],

The researchers have created a new class of micro-electronics with a technology that they call an epidermal electronic system (EES). They have incorporated miniature sensors, light-emitting diodes, tiny transmitters and receivers, and networks of carefully crafted wire filaments into their initial designs.

The technology is presented—along with initial measurements that researchers captured using the EES—in a paper by lead author Dae-Hyeong Kim of the University of Illinois and colleagues in the August 12, 2011, issue of Science (“Epidermal Electronics “).

While existing technologies accurately measure heart rate, brain waves and muscle activity, EES devices offer the opportunity to seamlessly apply sensors that have almost no weight, no external wires and require negligible power.

Because of the small power requirements, the devices can draw power from stray (or transmitted) electromagnetic radiation through the process of induction and can harvest a portion of their energy requirements from miniature solar collectors.

The EES designs yield flat devices that are less than 50-microns thick—thinner than the diameter of a human hair—which are integrated onto the polyester backing familiar from stick-on tattoos.

The devices are so thin that close-contact forces called van der Waals interactions dominate the adhesion at the molecular level, so the electronic tattoos adhere to the skin without any glues and stay in place for hours. The recent study demonstrated device lifetimes of up to 24 hours under ideal conditions.

In light of today’s earlier posting on surveillance, I’m torn between appreciating the technological advance with its attendant possibilities and my concerns over increased monitoring.

Adding to my disconcertment is this comment from one of Rogers’ other colleagues (from the news item on,

“The blurring of electronics and biology is really the key point here,” Huang [Northwestern University engineering professor Yonggang Huang] said. “All established forms of electronics are hard, rigid. Biology is soft, elastic. It’s two different worlds. This is a way to truly integrate them.”

Engineers never talk about the social implications of these concepts (integrating biology and electronics) which can be quite frightening and upsetting to some folks depending on how they are introduced to the concept.

While existing technologies accurately measure heart rate, brain waves and muscle activity, EES devices offer the opportunity to seamlessly apply sensors that have almost no weight, no external wires and require negligible power.
Because of the small power requirements, the devices can draw power from stray (or transmitted) electromagnetic radiation through the process of induction and can harvest a portion of their energy requirements from miniature solar collectors.
The EES designs yield flat devices that are less than 50-microns thick—thinner than the diameter of a human hair—which are integrated onto the polyester backing familiar from stick-on tattoos.
The devices are so thin that close-contact forces called van der Waals interactions dominate the adhesion at the molecular level, so the electronic tattoos adhere to the skin without any glues and stay in place for hours. The recent study demonstrated device lifetimes of up to 24 hours under ideal conditions.