Imagine a world where your clothes could alert people to your fatal wound. You could sit at a bar with your friend and catch up over drinks, when in reality they were on the other side of the world. Or at a whim change and control the ambience in your room just by touching your wallpaper.
These were just some of the materials that didn’t quite make the final “Making Stuff: Smarter” show but nevertheless are still innovative and “smart”. After working on the show for over a year and spending the best part of the first five months researching and writing up proposals, I thought I’d write a little blog about a few materials that stood out for me but didn’t make it through to the show.
Dr Nicholas Kotov, a professor from the University of Michigan has developed an elegant and comfortable way for clothes to detect blood – coat some fibres with an antibody that can detect proteins in the blood. To do this Kotov and his team dip strands of cotton fibres into a solution of carbon nanotubes, a polymer, and the antibody anti-albumin. The result, highly conductive fibres that recognise the blood protein albumin, and upon binding change their electrical conductivity by a measureable amount. When woven into a garment these electric signals could be sent to a device that could alert the wearer or others of a wound…a potential life-saving device for high risk professionals who may be wounded and unconscious, with the only chance of being the automatic generation of a distress signal.
The technique used to create these threads makes them highly durable, so you can wash your clothes time and time again and not worry about losing the sensitivity. You can see how they are made here
Just like the atoms around us that make up life and everyday objects, “Catoms” are building blocks of a new technology in the realm of programmable matter known as “Claytronics”. These miniature programmable robots (catoms) work together forming a uniform material that can be morphed into any 3D model you wish. If successful this would really stretch the use of a “multi-purpose” object – you’d be able to morph your cell phone into a watch, and change the colour to match an outfit, or you could change the size and model of your car to suit your mood and the number of passangers travelling in it, all by a touch. But the thing I find most impressive is how communication would change. Rather than holding a headset to speak to your friend who is on the other side on the world, the catoms could instead be programmed to morph into that person when you dial the number in the phone…it all sounds pretty Star Trek like and very cool.
Professor Seth Goldstein, from Carnegie Mellon University is one of the pioneers in this field and you can learn more about “Claytronics” below
The idea of controlling the ambience in your room isn’t new – you just flick a few light switches, press some buttons to alter the volume of your music, and fiddle with the thermostat to get the temperature just right. But what if you could just dump all those steps and control the ambience just by touching your wall paper?
That’s what quite a few wallpaper companies have been thinking as they’ve been investing in developing interactive wallpapers… all rather bulky and at a great expense to the consumer. However, Dr Leah Buechley from MIT has come up with a better, cheaper solution. She uses magnetic and conductive paint, sensors which detect temperature, light, and touch, and by using Bluetooth technology the wallpaper becomes a control pad.
The wallpaper is made entirely of paper and paint, and runs on 25 volts, and draws 2.5 amps when loaded with devices – making for a wallpaper that is smooth, flat and shock free!
See it in action here