Smart earrings can read your temperature, paving the way for new wearables

When people talk about wearables or wearable tech, they are mostly thinking of smartwatches and fitness trackers, basically those that are worn on your wrist. Technically speaking, however, any kind of technology that can be worn on your body would qualify as wearables, hence the name, but we have been restrained by the limits of current technologies and design trends. Fortunately, it isn’t a dead end yet, and smart rings are starting to become a viable alternative, allowing some people to still keep track of their health while finally being able to wear their favorite classic watches again. These rings reveal the potential of jewelry that could deliver those same features while allowing you to maintain your fashion sense, like this earring that can read your body temperature, something that is still uncommon even on smartwatches today.

Designers: Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue, Yujia (Nancy) Liu, Joseph Breda, Vikram Iyer, Shwetak Patel, Mastafa Springston (University of Washington)

Our bodies are a treasure trove of data, depending on which part you are observing. Smartwatches try to shed light on our health by literally shining light through the skin on our wrists and down to blood vessels. Smart rings largely do the same, though on your finger, of course. While much of your body’s state can be calculated from these areas, some body parts give more accurate biometrics than others. There might still be some debate about it, but some researchers believe that the ears, particularly our earlobes, are a better source for that kind of information.

That’s the medical foundation that the Thermal Earrings are based on, a research project that is attempting to create a new wearable that is both functional and potentially fashionable, especially for women. The device uses two sensors, one that magnetically clips to the earlobe and measures body temperature, while another dangles an inch below it to measure room temperature. Comparing data from these two sources yields a more accurate body temperature reading compared to smartwatches that can’t properly differentiate ambient temperature. This accurate reading is crucial not just for knowing your body’s temperature but, for women, also for keeping track of their ovulation and periods.

The Thermal Earrings’ diminutive design presents both a challenge and an opportunity. It uses up very little power and uses low-power Bluetooth to transmit its data to a paired smartphone. In theory, it can be charged with solar or kinetic energy, but implementing a charging system for that is proving to be a bit tricky. And since only one earring is enough to read the wearer’s body temperature, it raises the question of what the other earring would do. Should it be a simple non-smart decoy to pair with the smart earring or can it also be used to read some other biometric as well?

More importantly, however, the Thermal Earrings open the doors to another kind of wearable accessory. Although the current prototype is largely limited by the electronics it uses, it can already be customized with charms and gemstones. More research into different materials and forms can hopefully lead to more chic styles, ones that ladies won’t be embarrassed to be seen wearing.

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Drone designed to collect DNA on tall tree branches has a suprising style to increase biodiversity

Drones have become ubiquitous in recent years when it comes to wide video shots that encompasses a huge amount of space, whether it’s concert festivals, a beautiful landscape, or if you just want to have video of kids playing around in your backyard. But there are also a lot of other uses for drones rather than just documenting a place, an event, or whatever it is you want to capture. It can now even be used for research and studies about various things, including a forest biodiversity.

Designer: ETH Zurich

The Zurich-based roboticists have come up with a drone that can collect “external DNA” from birds, insects, and other organisms that leave them on the branches of really tall trees that climbers may not be able to reach. These include dead skin, feathers, waste, fluids, and other sources of DNA. These things are important in understanding how to do understand the biodiversity that exists in an area and therefore plans how to conserve and restore it.

The drone they developed looks more like your typical drone except it has several fixtures attached to it which makes it look like a lamp or something. It has a crafted wooden frame and plastic shielding to protect the drone inside. It has something called “humidified cotton” which is pretty similar to strips of adhesive tape which is able to press onto the branches of trees and then collect the materials on the surface. Researchers will be able to extract the needed DNA from these strips once they’re back in the lab.

Hopefully there’s also something in the drone’s structure that will be able to protect the materials that it was able to gather. The are still working further on developing the drone so that it can get higher up than what it currently can. They’re also planning to “teach” it to collect materials in other conditions and circumstances. It would be interesting to see how robotic biodiversity explorers can help various researchers in this sphere.

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This paper-thin solar cell could bring solar power to any surface

Solar energy is finally becoming more common these days, with some homes even using them for a big part of their overall consumption. The common conception about solar panels, however, takes for granted that this form severely limits where they can be used, which is often only on rooftops or large flat surfaces. In order to truly make solar power a more common technology, it should be more ubiquitous and more applicable to a variety of designs. This goes beyond merely having portable solar panels that are still clunky and inconvenient to use everywhere. This research achievement solves that problem by making a solar cell that’s so thin and lightweight that it can be put on almost any surface, including fabrics.

Designers/Inventors: Vladimir Bulovic, Jeremiah Mwaura, Mayuran Saravanapavanantham (MIT)

The two most common considerations when picking solar panels are their conversion efficiency and cost in dollars-per-watt. Few actually think about how well these panels will be integrated into their surroundings because it is always presumed they come in the form of big, thick, and heavy panels. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and this innovation proves that not only is it possible to create almost impossibly thin solar panels, these flexible cells might even outdo their rigid counterparts in performance.

To make this paper-thin solar cell possible, MIT researchers utilized a relatively new yet increasingly popular technology that prints circuits using semiconductor inks. They then used a more traditional screen printing process, similar to the ones used for shirts, to deposit electrodes onto that thin substrate. The last critical layer is Dyneema fabric that protects the solar module from easily tearing, resulting in a robust sheet that you can bend and roll like a piece of paper or thick fabric.

And it isn’t all just for show, either. The extremely flexible solar panel can generate 370 watts-per-kilogram of power, 18 times more than conventional power cells. Not only does this mean that they are viable alternatives to heavy panels that burden your roof, they can also be installed on almost any surface, including flexible ones like boat sails or tents. The latter is important when such tents are needed in disaster-stricken areas where power grids are inoperative.

There is still one critical piece missing from the puzzle, though, a protective layer that will protect the cells from the environment. Traditionally, this is a role fulfilled by glass, which would defeat the purpose of having a flexible solar cell in the first place. The researchers are experimenting with a few ultra-thin packaging solutions that would let these solar cells stand the test of both weather and time, making solar power truly available for all.

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Mad Scientists Use Wolf Spider Carcasses as Robotic Grippers

A group of researchers at Texas’s Rice University have developed a method of turning wolf spider carcasses into robotic grippers, making the legs open and extend when a small amount of air is applied inside the carcass and close and grip when the air is drawn back out. The researchers have named their unholy field of experimentation “necrobotics.” Just to be perfectly clear, this is not good news.

In tests, the mad scientists discovered the necrobot spiders could lift more than 130% of their own body weight. They also endured about 1,000 cycles of air application/removal before the spider’s internal tissue began to degrade and, presumably, legs started falling off. They hope that the spiders can last even longer with the addition of a polymer coating, but I hope they abandon the project altogether.

What will they possibly think of next? Honestly, I’m scared to find out. Remember yesterday when you didn’t know anything about necrobotic spider grippers? Those were simpler times, weren’t they? Better times, even. I sure miss those days.

[via NewAtlas]

This fleet of autonomous ‘saildrones’ use solar and wind power to collect data during a hurricane!

Saildrone, a maritime research company and “world leader in oceangoing autonomous surface vehicles,” has launched a fleet of saildrones to collect first-of-its-kind hurricane data via advanced sensors and AI technology.

It’s been said we know more about outer space than we know about the ocean. In the grand scheme of Earth, we might not know too much about the deep blue that surrounds us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t tell us about the rest of our world. Today, a fleet of five autonomous saildrones has been launched from Florida and the Virgin Islands by Saildrone, a maritime research company, to collect data on hurricanes, spending three months at sea where the fleet will compile the first hurricane research of its kind completed by ‘uncrewed’ surface vehicles (USVs).

With news regarding climate change and tropical storms flooding our timelines, our eyes and ears are more tuned in than ever in anticipation of new data. For decades, the ocean has provided scientists with the data necessary to understand climate change, hurricanes, carbon cycling, and maritime security.

The fleet of saildrones is comprised of solar and wind-powered USVs that acquire data on climate change and weather conditions through AI technology and over 20 advanced sensors, leaving a minimal carbon footprint while exploring international ocean waters. Amounting to around 1,500 pounds, each saildrone comes equipped with a photovoltaic sail that’s designed to keep each saildrone powered up as it sails right into the eye of a hurricane.

All in an effort to understand hurricanes and global weather events, for years Saildrone has been developing the technology necessary to map the ocean floor while measuring water temperature, salinity, chemical composition. Once programmed for navigation, the saildrones can sail autonomously from waypoint to waypoint.

During their voyage, the USVs remain within a user-defined safety corridor and are monitored by a Saildrone Mission Control operator. Spanning from Arctic waters to the Atlantic Ocean, saildrones have collected data on weather and climate science from waters all over the globe.

Designer: Saildrone

MIT scientist weaves smart fabric with electrical signal to monitor health and store digital memory!

MIT scientist Yoel Fink has worked on developing smart fabrics for longer than a decade. In 2010, Fink and some of his colleagues produced fibers that could detect audio. A first for smart fabric developments, the fiber could be woven into a fabric, which transformed it into a needle-thin, working microphone. Today, the team of scientists continues work on spinning fibers into the smart fabric but moves past analog capabilities towards a digital future, weaving fibers that carry continuous electrical signals into a piece of wearable smart fabric.

Published in a Nature Communications academic journal, Fink’s research suggests that the fibers carrying electrical signals could be woven into the wearable smart fabric for “applications in physiological monitoring, human-computer interfaces, and on-body machine-learning.” Incorporating those capabilities into smart fabric required first embedding hundreds of silicon digital chips into casting pre-forms before spinning that into a piece of wearable fabric.

Each string of flexible fiber reaches tens of meters in length, containing hundreds of intertwined, digital sensors that monitor temperature changes and store memory. Each digital fiber, for instance, can collect and store information on changing body temperatures, garnering real-time inference for the wearer’s activity throughout the day. In addition to tracking and collecting data on physiological measures, the smart fabric retains the information gathered and “harbors the neural pathways” necessary to understand that data and infer the future activity of the wearer.

Thin enough to slide through the eye of a needle, the smart fabric is woven with hundreds of laced digital chips that still remain undetectable to the wearer. Forming a continuous electrical connection, the textile fiber also weaves a neural network made up of 1,650 AI connections into the smart fabric, pushing the new development even further. Capable of collecting 270 minutes worth of changing body temperatures and storing a 767-kilobit full-color short film as well as a 0.48-megabyte music file, the smart fabric can retain all of this and store it for two months at a time without power.

Designer: Yoel Fink

Each string of fabric is intertwined with fibers that contain hundreds of digital chips to monitor body temperature and track memory devices.

When woven together, the fibers form a string of fabric thin enough to pass through the eye of a needle.

The fabric is thin enough that Gabriel Loke,  a Ph.D. student at MIT says, “When you put it into a shirt, you can’t feel it at all. You wouldn’t know it was there.”