Flexible electronic devices could enable new types of applications in a wide range of contexts, from medicine to general purpose computing: researchers unveil one of the most complex electronic systems ever built on plastic.
[Thank You MIT Technology Review]
[By Mike Orcutt | 07.21.13]
A sheet of thin plastic that emits light with an intensity that precisely reflects the amount of pressure applied to its surface hints at a new breed of flexible computer interface. Its creators say future iterations of the interface could be used for robotics, car dashboards, mobile displays, or even “interactive wallpaper.”
Described today in Nature Materials, the new light-emitting “electronic skin,” as its inventors call it, is an extension of previous work from the lab of Ali Javey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Javey’s group has developed processes that draw heavily on traditional silicon manufacturing techniques to uniformly and reliably integrate various organic and inorganic components on top of plastic.
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of efforts to make electronic devices on surfaces less rigid than the silicon wafers used in traditional manufacturing. Flexible, bendable electronics would open the door to a multitude of new applications, from medical sensors that wrap around organs to foldable displays. Certain plastics can serve as substrates for electronic systems, but reliably fabricating complicated circuits on plastic has been a challenge.
The team previously demonstrated a network of high-resolution pressure sensors made of nanowires arrayed on a relatively large area of plastic, which produced an electronic readout of pressure applied to the surface. The aim of the new work, says Javey, was to make a pressure sensor array that could directly interact with humans.
Cyberattacks on medical devices: computer Connecting hospital systems and devices to the Internet allows doctors to remotely study a patient’s scans and computers to quickly share patient information. But it also creates new entry points where computer viruses can prey on electronic systems.
[Reproduced from Scientific American]
A New Cyber Concern: Hack Attacks on Medical Devices
[By Dina Fine Maron | 06.25.2013]
Computer viruses do not discriminate. Malware prowling the cybersphere for bank information and passwords does not distinguish between a home computer or a hospital machine delivering therapy to a patient. Even if a radiation therapy machine, say, is infiltrated unintentionally, malware could theoretically cause radiation doses to spike.
Medical device-makers need to protect their products from cyber attack, according to recent draft guidance the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA calls for medical device manufacturers to consider the vulnerabilities that crop up when medical devices are designed to be more thoroughly integrated into networks and connected to the Internet. It asks manufacturers to draw up security plans to protect systems from malware before submitting plans for market approval. The agency also prodded hospitals to step up future reporting of any cyber attacks.
In a recent alert the U.S. Department of Homeland Security highlighted one weakness affecting approximately 300 medical devices, including drug infusion pumps, ventilators and external defibrillators. It warns that hard-coded passwords that normally allow service technicians to gain access to myriad machines could be used to make nefarious changes if they fall into the wrong hands. “We are aware of hundreds of devices involving dozens of manufacturers that have been affected by cyber security vulnerabilities or incidents,” says William Maisel, senior official at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. In none of these cases were specific devices or hospitals targeted nor did cyber attacks result in patient harm, at least that the FDA is aware of. A range of medical devices run on standard software such as Windows XP and are vulnerable to common viruses that plague home and office computers. Because the number of events is on the rise, Maisel says, the FDA decided it was time to issue formal guidance about the need to act.
Apple has been quietly creating a platform for managing branded currency in the form of its Passbook app and a newly filed patent.
If brands aren't careful, they will be as beholden to Apple for digital and mobile coupons, payments, and loyalty as record companies are for digital music, book publishers are to Amazon for digital books, and social game publishers are to Facebook.
[Thank you Harvard Business Review]
[By Mark Bonchek and Gene Cornfield | 07.16.13]
Coupons. Gift cards. Loyalty points. These tried-and-true tools of the retail trade might not be as sexy as other forms of marketing. But together they account for more than $165 billion in purchasing power ($110 billion in gift cards purchased, $48 billion in loyalty points earned, and more than $5 billion in product coupons redeemed). That's almost as much as total e-commerce sales.
These instruments share a common objective: to influence purchase decisions by equipping consumers with incremental spending power for specific brands and retailers. But consumers use them independently and individually (combining their value, when possible, takes a lot of manual effort), and store them in different places — often in drawers or folders where they lay forgotten and unused.
This is changing as coupons, gift cards, and loyalty points all become digital — and, more important, mobile. Mobile enables all of this purchasing power to converge in one place, and potentially be used interchangeably and collectively, always within easy reach for consumers.
What does this mean for retailers and brands? The mistake would be to think that they can keep doing what they have always done, but just add a little digital to it. Instead, retailers need to think about coupons, gift cards, and loyalty points not only as three separate tools, but as different forms of Branded Currency.
Economists define currency as a store of value and a medium of exchange. All of these instruments are stores of value, and by going digital and mobile, they become far more effective mediums of exchange.
A layer-by-layer fabrication tool lets researchers quickly form complicated biological tissue in three-dimensional space: Fabricated tissue could one day be implanted to replace damaged tissue in complicated organs like the heart.
[Reproduced from MIT Technology Review]
[By Mike Orcutt | 07.15.13]
Muscle matrix: The image below, made using confocal microscopy, shows multiple thin layers of an elastic polymer (purple) and interwoven muscle tissue (green) formed from neonatal rat heart cells.
By adapting a programmable device used to manufacture integrated circuits, researchers have devised a semi-automated process to build polymer scaffolds for guiding the development of three-dimensional heart tissue. The method, which entails layer-by-layer fabrication, will enable more precise investigation of the three-dimensional cues that drive cells to organize and form tissue—and could serve as a platform for the development of implantable organ tissue.
Tissue engineers can already make three-dimensional constructs of relatively simple tissues. But highly ordered cellular architectures essential to the function of complicated organs like the heart are much harder to replicate.
Tissue is grown in the lab by “seeding” scaffolds—usually composed of a porous elastic or gelatinous material—with cells meant to develop into specific tissues. Cardiac tissue’s function stems from its “multiscale architecture,” in which individual cells align to form multicellular fibers, which in turn form sheets of tissue, says Martin Kolewe, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Institute of Medical Engineering and Science. Recent work has focused on determining how to guide cells to make them align correctly and form these hierarchical components. But such research has mostly been confined to two dimensions.
Kolewe and lead investigator Lisa Freed of Draper Laboratory set out to develop a way to more precisely control the design of pore “networks,” with the aim of adding a third dimension. A new paper in Advanced Materials describes the research.
Using fabrication techniques adapted from the microelectronics industry, the researchers made thin sheets of a polymer known as biorubber, patterned with microscale rectangular holes of uniform dimensions. They then adapted a programmable machine—used by the electronics industry to automatically stack thin material layers and build circuit boards and integrated circuit packages—to stack the porous biorubber sheets, one by one. A computer program helped precisely position the pores of each sheet relative to those of the sheet below.
The researchers systematically tested various pore patterns and demonstrated ones that could produce “interwoven muscle-like bundles” out of mouse muscle cells and rat neonatal heart cells. They also showed they could control the directional orientation of the bundles, and that tissue built from the heart cells could beat in response to electrical stimulation.
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