Flex­i­ble sen­sors mea­sure move­ment

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - ELECTRICAL TECHNOLOGY -

Auck­land sci­en­tist Dr Ben O’Brien has pi­o­neered the de­vel­op­ment of small, light and soft, stretchy sen­sors that can mea­sure move­ment of the hu­man body and trans­mit the in­for­ma­tion to a smart phone app.

Ear­lier this year, he formed a com­pany – StretchSense – to start sell­ing the tech­nol­ogy to global cus­tomers in health­care, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, sports train­ing, an­i­ma­tion and gam­ing.

“Our sen­sors are so pre­cise and re­li­able that they can be used for any­thing you want to mea­sure,” says O’Brien. “One ex­am­ple is re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion where a health­care pro­fes­sional wants to track some­thing, like how an in­jury is im­prov­ing over time.”

O’Brien has won the 2013 Prime Min­is­ter’s MacDiarmid Emerg­ing Sci­en­tist award and plans to use his prize money of $200,000 to take the tech­nol­ogy to the next level by de­vel­op­ing an in­tu­itive skin-tight un­der gar­ment that can mon­i­tor and in­ter­pret body lan­guage, ges­tures and pos­ture to ac­cu­rately read the emo­tions of the wearer.

His goal is to cre­ate an ‘emo­tion­ally aware’ body suit that he ex­pects will pro­duce a range of prac­ti­cal tech­nolo­gies that can be com­mer­cialised by his com­pany.

“Huge in­vest­ment is go­ing into cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories that have tech­nol­ogy em­bed­ded in them, (such as the Google glass wear­able com­puter),” O’Brien says. “But if those por­ta­ble prod­ucts are not able to pick up non­ver­bal mes­sages and be sen­si­tive to people’s emo­tions it could be dis­as­trous.

“If you be­come frus­trated while sit­ting at a com­puter, you can get up and walk away but that’s not the case if the com­puter is em­bed­ded in your t-shirt or your shoes. Wear­able tech­nol­ogy that can lis­ten to body lan­guage is so far an un­ex­plored area, but I see it as a cru­cial en­abler to this fast grow­ing in­dus­try.”

O’Brien’s field of ex­per­tise is elec­troac­tive poly­mers, ma­te­ri­als that are de­signed to change in size or shape when stim­u­lated by an elec­tric field. O’Brien in­vented a di­elec­tric elas­tomer switch that al­lows the tech­nol­ogy to be di­rectly em­bed­ded into ar­ti­fi­cial mus­cle de­vices, giv­ing them life-like re­flexes.

O’Brien says StretchSense’s point of dif­fer­ence is its abil­ity to cus­tomise sen­sors to the needs of the cus­tomer “This is a boom time for soft sens­ing and we are rid­ing the wave.”

Photo / sup­plied

Dr Ben O’Brien wears a stretchy glove filled with flex­i­ble sen­sors, data of any move­ment in the hand is sent to an iPhone app.

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