SensorTape Unrolls New Sensor Deployment Possibilities

An embedded MEMS sensor might be lots of fun to play with on your first foray into the embedded world–why not deploy a whole network of them? Alas, the problem with communicating with a series of identical sensors becomes increasingly complicated as we start needing to handle the details of signal integrity and the communication protocols to handle all that data. Fortunately, [Artem], [Hsin-Liu], and [Joseph] at MIT Media Labs have made sensor deployment as easy as unraveling a strip of tape from your toolkit. They’ve developed SensorTape, an unrollable, deployable network of interconnected IMU and proximity sensors packaged in a familiar form factor of a roll of masking tape.

Possibly the most interesting technical challenge in a string of connected sensor nodes is picking a protocol that will deliver appreciable data rates with low latency. For that task the folks at MIT Media labs picked a combination of I²C and peer-to-peer serial. I²C accomodates the majority of transmissions from master to tape-node slave, but addresses are assigned dynamically over serial via inter-microcontroller communication. The net effect is a fast transfer rate of 100 KHz via I²C with a protocol initialization sequence that accommodates chains of various lengths–up to 128 units long! The full details behind the protocol are in their paper [PDF].

With a system as reconfigurable as SensorTape, new possibilities unfold with a solid framework for deploying sensors and aggregating the data. Have a look at their video after the break to get a sense of some of the use-cases that they’ve uncovered. Beyond their discoveries, there are certainly plenty others. What happens when we spin them up in the dryer, lay them under our car or on the ceiling? These were questions we may never have dreamed up because the tools just didn’t exist! Our props are out to SensorTape for giving us a tool to explore a world of sensor arrays without having to trip over ourselves in the implementation details.

via [CreativeApplications]

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Super Thin ICs are Coming

An ordinary integrated circuit is made of layers of material. Typically a layer is made from some material (like silicon dioxide, polysilicon, copper, or aluminum). Sometimes a process will modify parts of a layer (for example, using ion implantation to dope regions of silicon). Other times, some part of the layer will be cut away using a photolithography process.

Researchers at MIT have a new technique that allows super thin layers (1-3 atoms thick) and–even more importantly–enables you to use two materials in the same layer. They report that they have built all the basic components required to create a computer using the technique.

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Augmented Reality Becomes Useful, Real

The state of augmented reality is terrible. Despite everyone having handheld, portable computers with high-resolution cameras, no one has yet built ‘Minecraft with digital blocks in real life’, and the most exciting upcoming use for augmented reality is 3D Dungeons and Dragons. There are plenty of interesting things that can be done with augmented reality, the problem is someone needs to figure out what those things are. Lucky for us, the MIT Media Lab knocked it out of the park with the ability to program anything through augmented reality.

The Reality Editor is a simple idea, but one that is extraordinarily interesting. Objects all around you are marked with a design that can be easily read by a smartphone running a computer vision application. In augmented reality, these objects have buttons and dials that can be used to turn on a lamp, open a car’s window, or any other function that can be controlled over the Internet. It’s augmented reality buttons for everything.

This basic idea is simple, but by combining it by another oft-forgotten technology from the 90s, we get something really, really cool. The buttons on each of the objects can be connected together with a sort of graphical programming language. Scan a button, connect the button to a lamp, and you’re able to program the lamp with augmented reality.

The Reality Editor is already available on the Apple app store, and there are a number of examples available for people to start tinkering with this weird yet interesting means of interacting with the world. If you’ve ever wondered how we’re going to interact with the Internet of Things, there you have it. Video below.

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Using RF To See Through Walls

This is some seriously cool stuff. Researchers at MIT recently came up with a device that can “see” through walls. It can actually identify a person (or people) behind a solid object.

They call it RF-Capture and it uses radio waves to identify people. Kind of like some high tech radio-frequency sonar. Using a very complex algorithm it can reconstruct the human figure by analyzing the various reflections of the signals transmitted. It’s so accurate it can even distinguish between different people based on size and posture, and even trace a person’s handwriting in the air.

Sounds like whatever they’re doing, it’s probably blasting a lot of radiation to do it. You’d think so, but no.

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Amino Wants to Bring Bioengineering to Your Workbench

As the maker movement has exploded in popularity in recent years, there has been a strong push to put industrial tools into the hands of amateur tinkerers and hackers. CNC mills, 3D Printers, and laser cutters were all extremely expensive machines that were far too costly for most people until makers demanded them and hackers found ways to make them affordable. But, aside from the home brewing scene, those advancements haven’t really touched on anything organic. Which is a deficiency that Amino, a desktop bioengineering system, is seeking to address.

Amino, created by [Julie Legault], is currently seeking crowd-funding via Indiegogo. Hackaday readers are more suspicious than most when it comes to crowd-funding campaigns, and with good reason. But, [Julie Legault] has some very impressive credentials that lend her a great deal of credibility. She has four degrees in the arts and sciences, including a Masters of Science at the MIT Media Lab.

It was for that degree at MIT that [Julie] started Amino as her thesis. Her plan is to bring the tools necessary for bioengineering to the masses – tools which are traditionally only available in research labs. Those tools are packaged into a small desktop-sized unit called Amino. Backers will receive this desktop system, along with the supplies for their first project. Those projects are predefined, but the tools are versatile enough to allow users to move on to their own projects in the future. [Julie] thinks that the future is in bioengineering, and that the best way to feed innovation is to make the necessary tools both affordable and accessible.

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Shape-Shifting Composite That You Can Make At Home

In material science, thermal expansion is a very well understood concept. However, in most cases it’s regarded as somewhat of a nuisance. It’s the kind of thing that gives engineers headaches, and entire subsystems of machines are often designed specifically to combat it. But a group of students at MIT have come up with an ingeniously simple way of taking advantage of thermal expansion to create shape-changing composites.

Their project is a method of creating shape-shifting composites, called uniMorph. It works by using resistive heating (or simply ambient temperature) to change the temperature of a sandwich composite. The composite is made of two different materials, and the copper traces to heat them. The two materials themselves aren’t particularly important, what’s important is that they have vastly different thermal expansion rates.

When the composite is heated, one material will expand more or less than the other material. Depending on the relative shapes of the two materials, this causes the composite to bend or twist in predetermined ways. How much it bends, for example, is just a matter of how the layers are cut, and how much they’re heated.

The concept itself isn’t exactly new – bimetallic composites have existed for ages. We even covered a similar idea that works based on moisture content. But, the methods used for uniMorph are very well thought out. It’s very inexpensive to produce, and the students seem to have devised reliable techniques for designing the layers in order to produce a desired shape change.

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MIT’s Glass 3D Printer

How hot does your 3D printer’s hot end get? Most low cost printers heat up to 240°C (464°F) at the most because they contain PEEK which starts to get soft if you go much higher. Even a metal hot end with active cooling usually won’t go much higher than 400°C (752°F). Pretty hot, right? [MIT’s] new G3DP printer goes to 1900°F (over 1000°C) and prints optically clear glass.

By changing design and print parameters, G3DP can limit or control light transmission, reflection and refraction. The printer uses a dual heated chamber. The upper chamber acts as a 1900°F kiln while the lower chamber serves to anneal the structures. The print head is an alumina-zircon-silica nozzle.

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