MM: Snake-Inspired Artificial Skin; Building Wireless Factories

In this episode of Manufacturing Minute, artificial skin inspired by snakes and building a reliable wireless factory.

Snake-Inspired Artificial Skin

A product that’s used in everyday items such as jams and cough drops, could be the future of robot skin.

Researchers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have created an artificial skin out of pectin — a product used in food manufacturing as a jellying agent. 

The resulting transparent film is as thin as a human hair, is extremely flexible and can sense temperature change.

The pectin film works similar to the pit organ which snakes use to sense the body heat of their prey. An increase in temperature causes an increased release of calcium ions. 

In the pit viper, this is picked up as electrical signals, while scientists detected the increased release using a multimeter. 

The skin is capable of detecting tiny changes in temperature in a range roughly between 5 to 50 degrees Celsius.  Researchers would like to bring that up to 90 degrees to expand its uses.

As to how it could be used, the sky’s the limit researchers say. 

Medical applications include prosthetics and smart bandages. 

But the product also has potential in industrial applications such as thermal sensors in consumer electronics or robot skins to augment human and robot interactions.

However, before that happens, the process to create the material needs to be adjusted as it leads to the presence of water which evaporates at higher temperatures.


How do you see this light-weight, heat-sensing technology being used? Could it be the future of thermal sensors? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Building A Reliable Wireless Factory

Federal researchers hope that a newly published study could one day make wireless networks in factories as commonplace as those in homes and other businesses.

Eliminating wires and cables could make everything from manufacturers to chemical plants to water treatment facilities more efficient and less costly, but concerns about unreliable signals and security risks has hindered adoption of wireless technology.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology and private-sector partners recently conducted a series of experiments to determine how radio frequency signals behaved in a machine shop, an auto transmission plant and a power plant.

They measured how the signals were affected due to distance, factory floor setups and obstacles within the facility. 

They then incorporated the information into a system that allows researchers to study manufacturing environments in a laboratory setting.

Eventually, they hope to determine how heat, vibration, reflection and other factors interfere with radio signals and develop measures to combat them.

NIST researchers said they also hope to conduct further field tests, primarily in outdoor operations or those -- like paper mills -- laden with possible signal-absorbing materials.


Does this study move us any closer to reliable, secure cable-free manufacturing? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below.

That’s all the time we have for today, but tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for your next Manufacturing Minute.

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