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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Big future for nanosensors
Article Type: Editorial From: Sensor Review, Volume 29, Issue 4
Our theme for this issue is nanosensors and this is probably the most exciting area of sensor development at the present time. Key to the success of nanosensors has been the utilization of technologies that have been refined over many decades in the semiconductor industries.
Nanosensors are not just small sensors – the fabrication techniques themselves mean that they can be made with great reliability and with a degree of consistency that would previously have been unattainable. In addition, but still at an early stage, is the promise of on board computation, calibration, and communication as semiconductor technologies are incorporated alongside the sensors that they monitor.
The small size of nanosensors also brings with it the benefits of lower power consumption which in turn opens the doors for battery powered mobile systems and sensors that are powered by free environmental sources such as solar power and mechanical vibration.
We are fortunate indeed to live in such extraordinary times. Who would have anticipated even just ten years ago that we would all have “Star Trek” communicators that are more feature rich and compact than those used by Captain Kirk in the 1960s’ TV programmes.
Medical science also stands to gain considerably from nanosensor technology. Sensors can now “boldly go” where surgeon’s knives have feared to tread. Allowing in turn both the more accurate diagnosis of medical conditions, and also the unobtrusive ongoing monitoring of blood sugar levels, pressure, and flow rates.
The bionic-man may become a reality much sooner than we think and arise, not from the development of artificial replacements for organic body parts as is often supposed but from the integration of nanosensor and electronic stimulus. Heart Pace Makers are now established technology, but what if we had the ability to control our bodies’ reactions to external events? For example, allergic reactions and conditions such as asthma and hay fever are basically caused by our bodies’ over-reaction to external stimulations. People are harmed not by the chemical make-up of whatever is triggering the problem, but by our bodies’ reaction to it.
If you can make small sensors and give them the ability to communicate with one another then it is possible to create swarms of sensors that have collective abilities that would be unachievable in larger single units. One example of this is the ANTS technology currently under development at the Goddard Space Flight Center for planetary exploration “The ANTS architecture is inspired by the success of social insect colonies, a success based on the division of labor within the colony in two key ways: First, within their specialties, individual specialists generally outperform generalists. Second, with sufficiently efficient social interaction and coordination, the group of specialists generally outperforms the group of generalists. Thus, systems designed as ANTS are built from potentially very large numbers of highly autonomous, yet socially interactive, elements. The architecture is self-similar in that elements and sub-elements of the system may also be recursively structured as ANTS on scales ranging from microscopic to interplanetary distances.”
The advantage of a swarm is that it can survive, and continue to perform a given task, even if individual members of the swarm are incapacitated.
No one can know the full range of development possibilities for nanosensors – but one thing is becoming clear – they have a great future and will exceed our expectations.