SERVO 04.2014 23
TIME FOR A CHANGE
Imagine you're sitting in your living room watching the
season premiere of your favorite show when suddenly you
get a text message from your two month old daughter saying
her diaper needs to be changed. No, she's not a super-smart
infant who learned how to text at birth — it’s the diaper.
It knows when it's wet. and can alert you.
Thanks to a new invention from Takao Someya and a
team of researchers at the University of Tokyo, that scenario
may soon be a reality. Back in July 2013, the team announced
in the journal, Nature that they'd come up with flexible
circuits thinner than a piece of plastic wrap that could be
implanted in the body to monitor body temperature or blood
pressure, or implanted on the roof of the mouth to be used
as a touch pad for quadriplegics.
Now, they've applied their research to a truly different
problem: knowing when a diaper is soiled without having to
undress the wearer first.
While another recent attempt to make diapers more
intelligent involved QR codes, the Tokyo team — led by
Someya and Takayasu Sakurai (both professors at the
university) — have created a disposable, organic sensor that
can be embedded in a diaper. The sensor — which is printed
on a film using inkjet technology — responds to conditions
that cause a change in electrical resistance such as pressure,
temperature, and -- most relevantly -- wetness. When it
senses that a diaper needs to be changed, it sends a signal to
an external data-reading device.
Someya believes he can produce each sensor for mere
pennies so that it wouldn't add much cost to diapers. He says
the device is completely safe to wear next to the skin,
primarily because it receives its power from the external
monitoring device rather than generating its own electricity
(which could lead to a shocking experience). Someya added
that its bendability was a plus. "It is completely flexible," he
said, "therefore it's much safer than the conventional rigid
electronics when it is put very close to skin."
The device needs to be within a few inches of the film to
work, so the diaper wearer would have to have his or her
private parts scanned. Not a big deal for infants, but it might
be if used in adult diapers. However, the sensor would
eliminate the sometimes difficult chore of undressing patients
to see if they need changing, so it might be worth the initial
RULES OF THE (AIR) ROAD
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is working
with the Academy for Model Aeronautics (AMA) — the
largest organization for model aircraft enthusiasts in the US
— to create safety guidelines for model aircraft and drones.
Many model aircraft hobbyists already belong to the AMA or
at least know about its guidelines (don’t fly higher than 400
feet, don’t fly within three miles of an airport, etc.). Recently,
however, the advent of relatively affordable easy-to-fly model
1,000 feet and even autonomous drones — has added a large
number of new users. In addition, the FAA notes some high-end model aircraft can now have wingspans over 20 feet and
have multiple jet engines.
Given that the FAA has started its work on integrating
commercial drones into the national airspace system, working
with enthusiasts to create safety guidelines for how they can
safely fly is a sensible move. Many of the potential commercial
drones, after all, are essentially the same machines that today’s
hobbyists play with.
As part of the agreement between the FAA and AMA, the
AMA will “establish and maintain a comprehensive safety
program for its members, including guidelines for emerging
technologies such as model UAS.”