Sensor suit could give humans a magnetic sixth-sense

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Engineers from Germany and Japan have reportedly developed a new type of sensor that has led to the creation of an electric suit capable of giving humans a magnetic sixth-sense.

The research, which was carried out at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (IFW Dresden) and the TU Chemnitz in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Tokyo and Osaka University in Japan, led to the development of a magnetic sensor that is thin and pliable enough to be adapted to human skin, even the most flexible part of the palm.

Unlike many forms of bacteria, insects and some vertebrates, humans lack magnetoception (the innate ability to detect magnetic fields for orientation and navigation purposes). Using the new sensor, however, the engineers developed an electronic skin with a magneto-sensory system that gives the wearer the ability to perceive the presence of static or dynamic magnetic fields using a so-called “sixth sense.”

As the researchers explain in the journal Nature Communications, the suit was created using magnetoresistive sensor foils that are highly sensitive, flexible and durable  while being less than two micrometers thick and weighing just three grams per square meter.

The sensors can also withstand extreme bending with radii of less than three micrometer, and survive crumpling like a piece of paper without sacrificing the sensor performance. They can also be stretched to over 270 percent on elastic supports like a rubber band, lasting for more than 1,000 cycles without fatigue, the authors added.

“We have demonstrated an on-skin touch-less human-machine interaction platform, motion and displacement sensorics applicable for soft robots or functional medical implants as well as magnetic functionalities for electronics on the skin,” said study author and PhD student Michael Melzer.

“These ultrathin magnetic sensors with extraordinary mechanical robustness are ideally suited to be wearable, yet unobtrusive and imperceptible for orientation and manipulation aids” added Professor Oliver G. Schmidt, who is the director of the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at the IFW Dresden.

Currently, the sensors do not provide tactile feedback to the person wearing them, according to CNET. Instead, they are connected to an array of LEDs which light up when a person approaches a magnetic field. While this could make them somewhat inconvenience for day-to-day human use, it could be ideal for application in the field of robotics, the website added.

The study authors said that their sensors enable “detection, navigation and touchless control,” and could be used for “soft robotics, safety and healthcare monitoring, consumer electronics and electronic skin devices.” They also said that they hope that their work will “inspire a diverse number of devices that will benefit from a ‘sixth sense’ magnetoception.”

“The integration of magnetoelectronics with ultrathin functional elements such as solar cells, light-emitting diodes, transistors, as well as temperature and tactile sensor arrays, will enable autonomous and versatile smart systems with a multitude of sensing and actuation features,” the team of engineers conclude in their study, which was published online on January 21.

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