Sunday 14 October 2012

caring clothes


Sensor button

The average new car has over 100  sensors, our smartphones have at least 10,  the average new washing machine has over 8. The car sensors look after  the engine and safety aspects of our vehicles, and in the washing machine the sensors calculate an efficient wash cycle. Aircraft have black box accident recorders to do crash analysis and make planes safer in future. However our bodies for generally healthy people have no such 24/7 care.
Why is this? One reason is the devices have not yet been developed, we do not like to be thought of as ill people,  and current devices are costly. We design our clothes to be beautiful and to keep us warm. We do not want geeky lumps,  bumps, switches,  or batteries  detracting from these features. Many would find useful clothes and shoes  that can care for us, warn us of dangers, measure sports performance etc. When our clothing measures (using accelerometers) that  we have been sat in front of the computer too long, a gentle nudge from our clothing to switch us out of "couch potato" mode can be useful.   Some of us might like sensors to warn others of  falls in the home, baby nappy care, or just to wake us up in the morning when our Smart  T- shirt detect we have had enough sleep. These are all old ideas, but with all our technology, we still hear of cyclists and car drivers  falling into ditches,  and being so injured for days  they cannot even use their smart  phone to call for help.

What design features can help to embed these sensors into clothes ? The sensors must be invisible and not detract from the clothing. We don't all want to look like astronauts! The sensors should not need on/off switches and should be able to send messages to our phones. If we do want to switch our sensors on and off, this should be as intuitive as doing up a button.   Being small and  able to stitch  the sensors into the seams of clothes during manufacture would help as seams would be able to disguise any additional thickness of the sensors. We do not want the inconvenience of being able to change batteries. Can we  harvest power from the wash cycle motion of our washing machine? There is research to indicate that is possible for low currents.
Much of the hardware for this health monitoring exists already. We have our smartphones for the high end processing and communicating to others if we need help. Re the tiny sensors,  from Nov 2012 every new car in the UK will need Tyre Pressure Measurements systems. (This has been law in the USA for a while). These legal requirements have provided   tiny sensors 7 x7 mm for monitoring our car tyre pressure, acceleration in 2 dimensions, temperature, with the  microcontroller and radio built in. These sensors just need power.

Texas TPMS is the size of a shirt button.

Girton Labs and Associates plans to prototype some of these systems.

Friday 28 September 2012

Free Money

Free Money   (c) The Seed 2012
Required reading for all employees and employers
A tale of blackmail, exotic pets and magnetic seeds...

Sunday 23 September 2012

Batteryless sensing medical computers in our clothes

Using our washing machine to clean and charge up our clothes 
Design by Lyndsay Williams 

The future of clothing and wearable computer  technology will include clothes with invisible  inbuilt medical, sports and wellbeing sensors embedded  into the fabric.

Computer rendering of future sensor - sensing shirt button

We may want  smart sensing to be embedded in our clothing including shoes,  that can measure biomedical parameters , e.g. motion, body temperature and  transmit this data  via radio to the mobile phone for healthcare applications.
Health applications also include fall detection for people living alone but nobody wants cumbersome pendants as used as present.

 The clothes must also be  washable (up to 90C) and preferably have no battery, as batteries do not cope with  the temperature range in a hot wash.

We also want our clothes to light up for decoration and for safety, we can also have them emit relaxing signals if it detects we are stressed. We might want them to talk to our smartphones for 24/7 medical care.

Here is an example of a sensing light up cycle jacket which uses sensors to indicate movement and cyclist turning left and right.

We want tiny sensors no larger than a shirt button so as to be unobtrusive. Where can we get these from?

There is a established  area of the consumer market in Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems TPMS  which can  provide a solution to sensors for clothing. From Nov 2012 all new UK cars will require TPMS. This allows more  safety, re braking,  longer life tyres  and better fuel economy. There will be millions of these low costs sensors so we can re purpose  them.  These sensing semiconductors provide pressure measurement, acceleration in 2 dimensions, temperature, microcontroller,  complete with a 315MHz radio transmitter. Here are some examples,  from Texas Instruments 

Texas Sensor more here.

and Melexis below, radio transmitter not shown 

There are other manufacturers of  TPMS sensors and they cost less than  £5 for one off.

These TPMS sensors  can be re purposed for clothing sensors, and are washable up to 150C.

 However there is still the problem of batteries,  changing them and making them  waterproof.  It  is preferred  to use power harvesting rather than Lithium cells. All clothes need to be washed, we use a washing machine. The spin cycle provides a large amount of vibration (particularly if load unbalanced) and energy, some via centrifugal force  for power harvesting, here is some research on using the motion of a car wheel to charge up the TPMS. Piezo sensors are a possibility as here.  There is also the possibility of using the varying electromagnetic forces inside the drum from the washer motor. This system  needs further research to see how much power can be derived from a normal spin cycle e.g.  4 mins at 900 RPM. An Aerogel SuperCapacitor can be charged in this period of time. These capacitors operate up to 70C.

Image of Bosch Washer from John Lewis

The TPMS semiconductors can have a shock survival of up to 4000G.

This prototype design  will enable our clothes to have built in sensors, lights and just a normal wash cycle with spin to charge up the clothes every few days.

Rendering of Girton Labs HexSensor size 10 x 10 mm

There are other advantages to embedding sensors into our clothes, an ID tag, with radio transmitter so we don't loose them, and when clothes put in washing machine the care tag data is transmitted to washer for correct wash, at the correct temperature so no more mixing of whites and coloured. The clothes can transmit a signal when due for a wash or record in a database the last time clothes were one. Some people do not like to be seen in the same outfit twice so a date log of wearing the clothes sent to mobile phone with help the fashion conscious!

Additional areas to research, using the TPMS  pressure sensors to monitor pressure points on the body, power requirements etc.

We can maybe also use these tiny sensors to track our glasses which can get lost...


  Girton Labs in conjunction with Northumbria University had already built  proof of concept designs for early onset epilepsy detection using accelerometers, and work is in progress with Smart Sensing Bandages for healthcare.

Contact Lyndsay Williams, Girton Labs, Cambridge, UK +44 (0) 7970 101578

2012 Girton Labs designs, click to enlarge

Friday 21 September 2012

Permethrin poisoning in Cats

Permethrin poisoning in Cats 

Lyndsay Williams

Dot (left) and twin sister Ditto on right, born June 2011.
Cats are well now (21/9/2012) 

From Wikipedia:Permethrin is a common synthetic chemical, widely used as an insecticideacaricide, and insect repellent.  It is not known to rapidly harm most mammals or birds, but is dangerously toxic to cats and fish.

It is used in popular flea killer sold by large UK Supermarkets.It is probably ok if used with dogs as per instructions but not with cats.From The Feline Advisory Bureau  UK: (year unknown) 

 Permethrin has been reported to be the most common cause of poisoning of cats in the USA and the most common toxicological cause of death of cats reported to the UK Veterinary Poisons Information Service.

Video here, warning slightly distressing but educational. 

This month there has been a large outbreak of fleas in UK re the weather, this BBC report covers it.The carpet in our house and pet bedding was treated as per instructions with a popular yellow  flea powder. I read the small print twice before applying, but  no mention of danger to cats. Unfortunately one of the cats,  Dot, (15 months old) became lethargic, not eating or drinking for several days. We took her to the vet with the flea powder. Vet examined her and noted swollen mouth and bleeding and other malaise and treated her. Vet said poison was "highly likely" due to  Permethrin but cat would probably be "ok".


I then checked other flea killers available in the UK  and noticed they also contained Permethrin.  I then tried to contact the manufacturer of the flea powder via their web site but no phone number, only email or postal and a response within 28 working  days, i.e. up to 6 weeks!  As the matter was urgent, I contacted them via public means via Twitter and they are now responding, suppling me with a claim form to fill in. It would be useful if these Permethrin based flea powders were labelled as toxic to cats. I have asked the manufacturer to do this.
The cat is now recovering. The flea powder however did not kill the fleas so I used a traditional lamp and sticky paper  to sort them out as here, did the job.

Contact Lyndsay Williams, Cambridge, UK Tel +44 (0) 7970 101578

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Arduino case design

This is a 3D printable case design for the smallest Arduino Pro Mini. There is space for a rechargeable 3.7V 150mAh Li Poly battery (also UK supplier)  and a sensor.  Holes are provided for reset, led viewing and additional sensors and cables. Battery should last several days before recharging dependant on application. 

3D printable version here from Shapeways

This case can be printed, but is not tested yet, expected mid August 2012.

Case design by Lyndsay Williams

Sunday 29 April 2012

Kittens 29th April 2012, lots of rain in Cambridge so they are at home!

Monday 23 April 2012

'Huge' water resource exists under Africa

'Huge' water resource exists under Africa

BBC News 20th April 2012 

Why does image of the water in North Africa look like that of Mediterranean?

Look at Aquifier in blue below and the "leg" shape of Italy:

image from above blue sea looks like the Mediterranean, click to enlarge - annotations added 8 Feb 2013 

I can see Italy, Adriatic Sea, Aegean Sea,  Greece, Crete but all distorted.

Is is a coincidence or computer error?

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Is this where the Kinect really started?

This article was first scheduled to appear in The Independent in 26 February 2002.
Hmm, ultrasonic detection… navigation… that sounds like…
Amazing what you discover when you’re looking for completely other things. I was doing a search for “tablet” and hit this.
Technology Editor The Guardian 
After the hands-free phone – the hands-free computer. Microsoft has secretly developed a prototype handheld computer that lets users navigate around large documents or images on screens by moving their hands or heads – but without touching the computer.
The system, developed at its British research centre in Cambridge, was last week taken by its British-born inventor to the US to show off at the company’s headquarters, to assess its commercial potential.
Rather than the usual mouse or keyboard, the new system – dubbed “Sonarscreen” – senses the movements by using ultrasonic emitters and sensors attached to the screen. While the sound is inaudible to humans, the computer can sense it and assess changes in the echoes as movement, much as a bat senses how near walls and objects are.
Its developer, Lyndsay Williams, hit on the idea when she was trying to navigate her way through a map on Cambridge on the Web to find a specific location.
The result – familiar to many Web users – was a frustrating episode in which she kept clicking to zoom in and then out and then left and then right, but kept missing the image she wanted.
“I said to myself, there has to be an easier way to handle large images and documents without depending on a mouse and without so many clicks,” she noted in an internal Microsoft briefing document that has been seen by The Independent.
Although Microsoft is best known as a software company, it has recently moved into making hardware with its Xbox games console, to be released in Europe in March, and says “major hardware manufacturers” will offer pen-operated tablet-shaped PCs, made to its specification, “in the second half of 2002″. The Tablets would be the ideal format for the new ultrasonic system – although some observers have cast doubts on whether the shape will prove popular with users.
Ms Williams, who has a long pedigree in computing – including having designed the hardware for the first sound card in an IBM-compatible PC in 1987 – rigged up a working model of her system in just four weeks.
Presently it is just a demonstration model, believed to be based on the Tablet PC, which is essentially a large screen with a computer processor attached. In one software setup, for map viewing, moving the face nearer to the screen enlarges the onscreen image, and gesturing left or right with the hands scrolls the image in the same direction.
Another setup will enlarge onscreen text as the face gets further away – so that one can view the screen, say for reading an electronic documents, from a comfortable distance.
“We proved the technology works and now we really need to test users to find out if this method of manipulating information is easy and comfortable for customers to use on a handheld device,” Ms Williams notes in the internal document.
But Andy Brown, research manager of mobile computing at IDC, a computing market research and analysis company, said: “It sounds interesting, but over the years there have been a lot of things that are invented, but very few actually materialise. The trouble is that their invention is driven by engineers rather than end-users. And though tests might find that people say they like it, if it’s at all expensive to implement then it won’t get taken up.”
However he said that it could have interesting applications once “pervasive” computing – where computers are built into homes and react with people constantly – becomes commonplace. “But that’s about five to ten years away,” he added.
Microsoft Cambridge estimates that the ultrasonic sensors cost no more than a few pounds each, and are just 3 millimetres across – which ought to mean that they pose no significant cost to PC manufacturers.
The Microsoft Cambridge laboratories were established in June 1997.

Sunday 8 January 2012

reinventing the wheel

Biomimetic robot

The goal was to make a robotic device with the following goals.

very small and compact - 2" diameter
no external moving parts
very low weight - currently 22 g with battery and debug connector
can be made waterproof -wrap in silicone rubber and use inductive charging
will work on slippery surfaces
long battery life
collision avoidance using infrared
can be radio controlled or GPS driven

Here is a Video of a very early prototype made with an Arduino LilyPad.
It is based on using the movement of centrifugal  printed pancake motors.  Further work needed on accurate steering etc.
Prototype currently runs for > 2 hours on one recharge of 3.7V 150mAhr model helicopter Lithium Polymer battery.

End Jan, the graphene will be delivered to Girton Labs and so the low  friction surface can be added onto the actuators.

So far applications are not much more than a cat toy but possible military applications.

Further reference - sidewinder snake movement