Secondee seeks “Smart Dust” Technology

Sensor Review

ISSN: 0260-2288

Article publication date: 1 September 2004




(2004), "Secondee seeks “Smart Dust” Technology", Sensor Review, Vol. 24 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Secondee seeks “Smart Dust” Technology

Secondee seeks “Smart Dust” Technology

Keywords: Microsensors, Clothing, Temperature sensors

“Intelligent” clothing that reacts to changing temperatures and river pollution monitoring are two possible applications for smart microsensors which Luton company Whistonbrook Technologies Ltd plans to investigate as part of a DTI Global Watch secondment.

Dr Stephen Edwards, the company's co-founder and technical director, is to spend 12 months researching the area while on secondment at the world-class National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR) at Dublin City University.

Whistonbrook Technologies designs and fabricates small and microsenser instruments and loggers which it supplies to manufacturers of consumer products. But the company now wishes to develop the skills to manufacture low-cost, novel smart microloggers and microsensors – or “smart dust”.

Dr Edwards will join Professor Dermot Diamond and the NCSR's team of experts as a visiting fellow in March to gain knowledge of a range of technologies including microfabrication and micromachining, laser machining, microinjection-moulding, and smart materials for sensors.

He said: “The development of smart dust microinstruments is rapidly moving ahead in other countries, particularly in the United States. Whistonbrook Technologies has a base understanding of the technology and we are one of the few companies leading the field in the UK. However, we now need to develop the skills to manufacture these smart microloggers and microsensors. We believe we can do this with the assistance of the NCSR, which is the only multidisciplinary sensor research group in Europe. The group has a new building with state-of-the-art micromachining technology, so it contains the necessary knowledge and technology all in one place.”

While at the NCSR, Dr Edwards will also link up with Professor Gordon Wallace from Woolongong University in Australia, an expert in intelligent polymer research, who is currently working at Dublin City University.

“We are particularly interested in the sensors side of intelligent polymer clothing”, said Dr Edwards. “In the future, our clothes will contain tiny computers which will sense how a garment is being worn and change the material to make it warmer or cooler depending on temperature or weather conditions”.

“Another application could be environmental monitoring. For example, microsensors could be used to measure heavy metal content in a river and send an alarm to a Web server if there is an incident of pollution. Current instrumentation can cost between £10,000 and £20,000 each, but microfabrication techniques could be used to produce smaller, low-cost, intelligent sensor instruments for around £20 to £30. This would make it affordable for an authority to buy hundreds of sensors for the continual monitoring of a river.”

During his secondment, Dr Edwards will be transferring technology to Whistonbrook Technologies. When he finally returns to his company next year, he will become responsible for applying the new knowledge to the development of new products.

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