Tag Archives: Joseph Wang

University of Toronto’s (Canada) smiley face tattoo/sensor

Researchers at the University of Toronto have created a medical sensor that can be applied to the skin like a temporary tattoo.

University of Toronto Scarborough student Vinci Hung helped create the smiley face sensor shown here in the box at upper right (photo by Ken Jones)

The Dec. 3, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily notes,

A medical sensor that attaches to the skin like a temporary tattoo could make it easier for doctors to detect metabolic problems in patients and for coaches to fine-tune athletes’ training routines. And the entire sensor comes in a thin, flexible package shaped like a smiley face.

“We wanted a design that could conceal the electrodes,” says Vinci Hung, a PhD candidate in the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences at UTSC [University of Toronto Scarborough], who helped create the new sensor. “We also wanted to showcase the variety of designs that can be accomplished with this fabrication technique.”

The Dec. 3, 2012 University of Toronto news release by Kurt Kleiner, which originated the news item, provides details about how the sensor/tattoo is fabricated and how it functions on the skin,

The new tattoo-based solid-contact ion-selective electrode (ISE) is made using standard screen printing techniques and commercially available transfer tattoo paper, the same kind of paper that usually carries tattoos of Spiderman or Disney princesses. In the case of the smiley face sensor, the “eyes” function as the working and reference electrodes, and the “ears” are contacts to which a measurement device can connect.

The sensor Hung helped make can detect changes in the skin’s pH levels in response to metabolic stress from exertion. Similar devices, called ion-selective electrodes (ISEs), are already used by medical researchers and athletic trainers. They can give clues to underlying metabolic diseases such as Addison’s disease, or simply signal whether an athlete is fatigued or dehydrated during training. The devices are also useful in the cosmetics industry for monitoring skin secretions.

But existing devices can be bulky, or hard to keep adhered to sweating skin. The new tattoo-based sensor stayed in place during tests, and continued to work even when the people wearing them were exercising and sweating extensively. The tattoos were applied in a similar way to regular transfer tattoos, right down to using a paper towel soaked in warm water to remove the base paper.

To make the sensors, Hung and her colleagues used a standard screen printer to lay down consecutive layers of silver, carbon fibre-modified carbon and insulator inks, followed by electropolymerization of aniline to complete the sensing surface.

By using different sensing materials, the tattoos can also be modified to detect other components of sweat, such as sodium, potassium or magnesium, all of which are of potential interest to researchers in medicine and cosmetology.

You can find the reserchers’ article in the Royal Society’s Analyst journal,

Tattoo-based potentiometric ion-selective sensors for epidermal pH monitoring
Amay J. Bandodkar ,  Vinci W. S. Hung ,  Wenzhao Jia ,  Gabriela Valdés-Ramírez ,  Joshua R. Windmiller ,  Alexandra G. Martinez ,  Julian Ramírez ,  Garrett Chan ,  Kagan Kerman and Joseph Wang in Analyst, 2013,138, 123-128 DOI: 10.1039/C2AN36422K

The article is open access but you do need to register for a free account with the Royal Society’s RSC [ublishing platform.

Surveillance by design and by accident

In general, one thinks of surveillance as an activity undertaken by the military or the police or some other arm of the state (a spy agency of some kind). The  Nano Hummingbird, a drone from AeroVironment designed for the US Pentagon, would fit into any or all of those categories.

AeroVironment's hummingbird drone // Source: suasnews.com (downloaded from Homeland Security Newswire)

You can see the device in action here,

The inset screen shows you what is being seen via the hummingbird’s camera, while the larger screen image allows you to observe the Nano Hummingbird in action. I don’t know why they’ve used the word nano as part of the product unless it is for marketing purposes. The company’s description of the product is at a fairly high level and makes no mention of the technology, nano or otherwise, that makes the hummingbird drone’s capabilities possible (from the company’s Nano Hummingbird webpage),

AV [AeroVironment] is developing the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) under a DARPA sponsored research contract to develop a new class of air vehicle systems capable of indoor and outdoor operation. Employing biological mimicry at an extremely small scale, this unconventional aircraft could someday provide new reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities in urban environments.

The Nano Hummingbird could be described as a traditional form surveillance as could the EyeSwipe iris scanners (mentioned in my Dec. 10, 2010 posting). The EyeSwipe allows the police, military, or other state agencies to track you with cameras that scan your retinas (they’ve had trials of this technology in Mexico).

A provocative piece by Nic Fleming for the journal, New Scientist, takes this a step further. Smartphone surveillance: The cop in your pocket can be found in the July 30, 2011 issue of New Scientist (preview here; the whole article is behind a paywall),

While many of us use smartphones to keep our social lives in order, they are also turning out to be valuable tools for gathering otherwise hard-to-get data. The latest smartphones bristle with sensors …

Apparently the police are wanting to crowdsource surveillance by having members of the public use their smartphones to track licence plate numbers, etc. and notify the authorities. Concerns about these activities are noted both in Fleming article and in the August 10, 2011 posting on the Foresight Institute blog,

“Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute based in Palo Alto, California, warns that without safeguards, the data we gather about each other might one day be used to undermine rather than to protect our freedom. ‘We are moving to a new level of data collection that our society is not accustomed to,’ she says.”

Peterson’s comments about data collection struck me most particularly as I’ve noticed over the last several months a number of applications designed to make life ‘easier’ that also feature data collection (i. e., collection of one’s personal data). For example, there’s Percolate. From the July 7, 2011 article by Austin Carr for Fast Company,

Percolate, currently in its “double secret alpha” version, is a blogging platform that provides curated content for you to write about. The service taps into your RSS and Twitter feeds, culls content based on your interests–the stuff that “percolates up”–and then offers you the ability to share your thoughts on the subject with friends. “We’re trying to make it easy for anyone to create content,” Brier says, “to take away from the frustration of staring at that blank box and trying to figure out what to say.”

It not only removes the frustration, it removes at least some of the impetus for creativity. The service is being framed as a convenience. Coincidentally, it makes much easier for marketers or any one or any agency to track your activities.

This data collection can get a little more intimate than just your Twitter and RSS feeds. Your underwear can monitor your bodily functions (from the June 11, 2010 news item on Nanowerk),

A team of U.S. scientists has designed some new men’s briefs that may be comfortable, durable and even stylish but, unlike most underpants, may be able to save lives.

Printed on the waistband and in constant contact with the skin is an electronic biosensor, designed to measure blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs.

The technology, developed by nano-engineering professor Joseph Wang of University of California San Diego and his team, breaks new ground in the field of intelligent textiles and is part of shift in focus in healthcare from hospital-based treatment to home-based management.

The method is similar to conventional screen-printing although the ink contains carbon electrodes.

The project is being funded by the U.S. military with American troops likely to be the first recipients.

“This specific project involves monitoring the injury of soldiers during battlefield surgery and the goal is to develop minimally invasive sensors that can locate, in the field, and identify the type of injury,” Wang told Reuters Television.

I realize that efforts such as the ‘smart underpants’ are developed with good intentions but if the data can be used to monitor your health status, it can be used to monitor you for other reasons.

While the military can insist its soldiers be monitored, civilian efforts are based on incentives. For example, Foodzy is an application that makes dieting fun. From the July 7, 2011 article by Morgan Clendaniel on Fast Company,

As more and more people join (Foodzy is aiming for 30,000 users by the end of the year and 250,000 by the end of 2012), you’ll also start being able to see what your friends are eating. This could be a good way to keep your intake of bits down, not wanting to embarrass yourself in front of your friends as you binge on some cookies, but Kamphuis [Marjolijn Kamphuis is one of the founders] sees a more social aspect to it: “On my dashboard I am able to see what the ‘food match’ between me and my friends is, the same way Last.FM has been comparing me and my friend’s music taste for ages! I am now able to share recipes with my friends or hook up with them in real life for dinner because I notice we have similar taste.”

That sure takes the discovery/excitement aspect out of getting to know someone. As I noted with my comments about Percolate, with more of our lives being mediated by applications of this nature, the easier we are to track.

Along a parallel track, there’s a campaign to remove anonymity and/or pseudonymity from the Internet. As David Sirota notes in his August 12, 2011 Salon essay about this trend, the expressed intention is to ensure civility and minimize bullying but there is at least one other consequence,

The big potential benefit of users having to attach real identities to their Internet personas is more constructive dialogue.

As Zuckerberg [Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook executive] and Schmidt [Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO]  correctly suggest, online anonymity is primarily used by hate-mongers to turn constructive public discourse into epithet-filled diatribes. Knowing they are shielded from consequences, trolls feel empowered to spew racist, sexist and other socially unacceptable rhetoric that they’d never use offline. …

The downside, though, is that true whistle-blowers will lose one of their most essential tools.

Though today’s journalists often grant establishment sources anonymity to attack weaker critics, anonymity’s real social value is rooted in helping the powerless challenge the powerful. Think WikiLeaks, which exemplifies how online anonymity provides insiders the cover they need to publish critical information without fear of retribution. Eliminating such cover will almost certainly reduce the kind of leaks that let the public occasionally see inconvenient truths.

It’s not always about whistleblowing, some people prefer pseudonyms.  Science writer and blogger, GrrlScientist, recently suffered a blow to her pseudonymity which was administered by Google (from her July 16, 2011 posting on the Guardian science blogs),

One week ago, my entire Google account was deactivated suddenly and without warning. I was not allowed to access gmail nor any other Google service until I surrendered my personal telephone number in exchange for reinstating access to my gmail account. I still cannot access many of my other accounts, such as Google+, Reader and Buzz. My YouTube account remains locked, too.

I was never notified as to what specifically had warranted this unexpected deactivation of my account. I only learned a few hours later that my account was shut down due to the name I use on my profile page, which you claim is a violation of your “community standards”. However, as stated on your own “display name” pages, I have not violated your community standards. I complied with your stated request: my profile name is “the name that [I] commonly go by in daily life.”

My name is a pseudonym, as I openly state on my profile. I have used GrrlScientist as my pseudonym since 2000 and it has a long track record. I have given public lectures in several countries, received mail in two countries, signed contracts, received monetary payments, published in a number of venues and been interviewed for news stories – all using my pseudonym. A recent Google search shows that GrrlScientist, as spelled, is unique in the world. This meets at least two of your stated requirements; (1) I am not impersonating anyone and (2) my name represents just one person.

GrrlScientist is not the only writer who prefers a pseudonym. Mark Twain did too. His real name was Samuel J. Clemens but widely known as Mark Twain, he was the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and many more books, short stories, and essays.

Minimzing bullying, ensuring civility, monitoring vital signs in battle situations, encouraging people to write, helping a friend stay on diet are laudable intentions but all of this leads to more data being collected about us and the potential for abusive use of this data.