Researchers have developed a new kind of anti-theft system, based on a woven fabric that triggers an alarm when penetrated by intruders.
The smart fabric enables the exact location of the break-in to be identified, and is significantly cheaper than other burglary detection systems. It is also suitable as an invisible means of protecting entire buildings.
Thieves are unlikely to appreciate this fabric, which looks innocuous but in fact incorporates a fine web of conductive threads connected to a microcontroller that detects warning signals emitted when the fabric is cut and triggers an alarm. This system can be used to protect buildings, bank vaults, and trucks against even the most wily of intruders. Vehicles parked overnight at truck stops are particularly vulnerable to attacks by thieves who slit open the canvas tarp covering the trailer while the driver is asleep and make off with the cargo. If the tarp were made from the smart fabric, the driver in the bunk would be immediately alerted.
The smart fabric was developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin in collaboration with the Technische Universität Berlin and ETTLIN Spinnerei und Weberei Produktions GmbH. The company in Ettlingen manufactures technical textiles, among other things, and has filed a patent for the innovative fabric. IZM project manager Erik Simon can envision a whole swathe of potential applications, particularly where there is a need to provide protection over a large surface area. “The fabric could be used to implement an entirely novel, invisible security system for buildings,” he says. For example, the textile could be laid on the rafters of a roof as an additional layer to the vapor barrier underlay, underneath the tiles. This might be a good solution for museums housing valuable collections, or jeweler’s shops, or banks. An alternative solution would be to integrate the fabric in concrete and blockwork walls, for instance those surrounding a bank vault. Another possibility is to use it as a backing material for floor coverings, in combination with pressure sensors that signal an alarm if an unauthorized person enters the room. “The electric current flowing through the fabric is so weak that it presents no danger to humans or animals,” says Simon reassuringly.
Precise identification of the point of entry
What makes this solution unique is the fact that it not only signals the presence of intruders but also indicates the precise point of forced entry. The fine lattice of conductive threads woven into the fabric enables the place where it was cut to be identified to the nearest centimeter. Other solutions currently on the market require a complex system of optical fibers, which naturally makes them more expensive.
There are also other reasons why this fabric is cheap to produce. The process makes exclusive use of standard materials and components such as silver-coated conductive threads and a simple but robust signal evaluation system. A further advantage is that “the conductive thread can be incorporated in the polyester substrate using an industry-standard textile-weaving process,” explains Simon. The result is reams of fabric that can be trimmed to any length and customized to provide the desired functionality for surfaces of any size, from one square meter upward.
It may be a few years before it makes its way into commercially-available phones
If you were using a smartphone projector to shine an image onto an uneven surface, or onto a flat surface but at a diagonal angle, parts of the image would end up out of focus … unless, that is, your phone featured a new prototype LED projector developed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering. Inspired by the compound eyes of insects, the device can reportedly display crisp, bright, distortion-free visuals onto irregular surfaces, and at non-perpendicular angles. Additionally, users can manipulate that display by reaching in and touching the projection surface.
The secret to the system is that it incorporates not just one projector, but an array of 200 microprojectors. Each one of those projects the same complete image, their shots all superimposed on top of one another on the wall – or whatever surface is being used. However, each microprojector can independently adjust the focus of its image, based on how far it is from the surface. If integrated into a smartphone, the phone’s position sensor and camera could be used to provide the necessary data.
What it all boils down to is that even if the picture were being projected onto a curved surface, every part of that surface would be reflecting an image that was custom-focused to its own unique distance from the array.
Besides identifying spoiled food, other possible applications include the analysis of drugs, cosmetics and even forgery detection.
Foodies who’ve ever dreamed of having superhero-style vision that could analyze what they are about to eat should keep an eye on the upcoming Sensor+Trade fair in Nuremberg. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute of Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) will be exhibiting a tiny prototype spectrometer that can measure factors such as water and protein level in foods, meaning you won’t make the mistake of buying fruit that looks good on the outside but is rotten at its core.
The micro electromechanical system (MEMS) spectrometer can probe under the surface of any food type, even when it is enveloped in thin packaging film. The user points it at a piece of fruit, for example, and it reflects back a spectrum of infrared light that the system analyses by comparing it with information stored in a database.
It’s not a new concept, but the advantage of the IPMS technology is that it is cheap to manufacture and, because it’s built on silicon wafers that can hold the components of hundreds of spectrometers, far smaller than existing commercial devices.
This means that the spectrometer could be integrated into smartphones and be used to make purchasing recommendations – i.e. an App could tell you when the avocado you are about to buy will be ready to eat.
By the end of the project term, in one year, the meat substitute from the land should be every bit as good as a genuine cutlet, and it should come directly from the machine, ready-to-eat.
It looks like a cutlet, it’s juicy and fibrous like a cutlet, and it even chews with the consistency of a real cutlet — but the ingredients are 100 percent vegetable. Researchers are using a new method to prepare a meat substitute that not only tastes good, but is also environmentally sustainable.
Meat production is complicated, costly and not eco-friendly: fatted animals have to consume five to eight kilos of grain just to generate one kilogram of meat. It would be simpler and more sustainable if one were to make cutlets out of seed — without the detour through the animal’s body. Impossible? Not entirely: there are plants that are suitable for the production of meat substitute products. Researchers in the EU-project “LikeMeat” have studied what they are, and how they can be incorporated into a product that tastes and looks like meat. “Studies have shown that many Europeans are ready to give up meat, but there have only been a handful of alternatives until now,” explains Florian Wild. The researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising is spearheading the project. “Our goal is to develop a vegetable surrogate for meat that is both juicy and fibrous, but that also has a pleasant flavor. The product should have a long shelf life, it should not be more expensive than meat, and be suitable for vegetarians and allergy sufferers.”
In addition to the scientists at IVV, experts from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) are also participating in the development, as are consumer researchers from the University of Wageningen, in the Netherlands, and eleven small to medium-sized corporations that manufacture or do business in food or food ingredients. The team roster also includes two Austrian and one Dutch company that have hitherto only processed meat, as well as an organic food producer from Spain. “As a group, we are seeking to engineer a simple production chain in which pure vegetable raw materials are used to produce a meat substitute that corresponds to consumer preferences,” as Wild summarizes it. The ingredients originate from the land: Wheat and peas, lupins and soya are all suited for production, explains Wild: “We are intentionally not tying ourselves down to one type of plant because many people get an allergic reaction to the one or other substance. In the process, we have developed a variety of recipes. They are the basis for a product spectrum that offers a broad selection to people who suffer food intolerance or allergies.”
When it comes to laborious, monotonous tasks that are typically performed by hand, the polishing of hard materials has got to rank right near the top. Although a really lustrous shine may still require the human touch, scientists have now developed a process for getting a “good enough” shine, using lasers. Instead of removing a fine layer of the material’s surface, which is what traditional buffers and polishes do, the lasers melt it.
The system was developed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, in collaboration with the companies Maschinenfabrik Arnold and S&F Systemtechnik. While it could presumably have many applications, it is intended mainly for use on the inside surfaces of metal molds. According to Fraunhofer, such molds are presently polished by hand at a rate of ten minutes per square centimeter.
The main components are a 5-axis gantry system (which holds the mold), and a 3-axis laser, which together allow the laser’s beam to access the inside contours of the mold from pretty much every possible angle. The beam is deflected off angled mirrors, which control the rate at which it travels along the surface of the metal. It is able to move as quickly as one meter (3.28 feet) per second, even on small pieces.
Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs, which will likely already be in use by most manufacturers anyway, are used to build a 3D model of the mold. The system can then plan a path for the laser, based on that model.
The laser melts a surface layer just 20 to 100 micrometers deep. The surface tension of the melted material ensures that it will reset evenly.
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