Our environment will slowly but surely evolve into an 'Internet of Things', where chips and sensors are integrated invisibly in the environment to assume their manifold tasks. Think of sensors that detect the presence of individuals and adapt the light in a building accordingly, resulting in serious energy savings. Those sensors will be, in a sense, the eyes, ears, and noses of our environment. At the recent ISSCC-conference, researchers have presented a number of remarkable developments. These may pave the way to a world where sensors assist us to drive more safely, live healthier, and make the planet more sustainable.
Researchers have explored common inexpensive materials to demonstrate their valuable and advantageous properties for artificial skin development. They demonstrate a scalable fabrication approach using off-the-shelf household items such as aluminum foil, scotch tapes, sticky-notes, napkins and sponges to build 'Paper Skin'. Paper Skin promises to be an affordable all-in-one flexibel sensing platform, applicable for applications such as health monitoring, 3D touchscreens, and human-machine interfaces, where sensing diversity, surface adaptability, and large-area mapping all are essential.
Many virus detection platforms, including conventional fluorescent label-based ones, have limitations because they are time-intensive and not easily compatible with point-of-care use without the existence of significant infrastructure and expert staff. Researchers have now developed a technique capable of specifically visualizing label-free single viruses in complex solutions in real-time. This approach eliminates virtually all sample preparation.
The future Internet of Things (IoT), with its intuitive applications, will operate based on an broad stream of data supplied by sensors placed everywhere. These will be sensors that are many times smarter and more sensitive than the ones we have today. They will also be produced and installed in far greater numbers and be much cheaper than they are now. For example, researchers envisage a radar that is capable of distinguishing pedestrians from cyclists. That technology might even allow to identify individuals from the way they walk.
Researchers have developed a suspended planar-array chip whose in situ capabilities with a spatial molecular-probe arrangement combine the advantages of both suspended arrays and planar arrays. This opens the way towards the multiplexed detection of intracellular biological parameters using a single device in dramatically reduced volumes, such as inside a living HeLa cell. The chip's volume represents only about 0.35% of the total volume of a typical HeLa cell.
One of the challenges of fabricating flexible electronics has been the trade-off between a material's high flexibility and adaptability, and its conductivity. Exploring feasible methods for guiding conducting or semiconducting nanomaterials into elastomeric matrices will be key to further progress in this area. A promising approach has just been reported by scientists, who have developed a facile printing strategy to assemble silver nanoparticles into micro- and nano-curve structures via a pillar-patterned silicon template. The curves with various tortuosity morphologies have differential resistive strain sensitivity, which can be integrated into a multi-analysis flexible sensor to perform complex-recognition of human facial expressions.
The development of nanoscale devices and applications requires ultra-sensitive sensing systems that can offer not only atomic resolution imaging but also sub nanometer scale displacement detection, zeptogram level mass sensing, or single bio-molecular sensing. Researchers have now developed a novel sensor that addresses some of the shortcomings that have plagued existing optical scanning systems , namely size, complexity, and cost. This sensing technology is completely electrical and capable of sensing very small displacement as low as in the femtometer range.
To overcome the pixel size limitation of existing digital image sensors, both new materials with enormous photoelectric properties and novel device architectures are required. In new work, researchers are now reporting ultra-high resolution nanorod digital image sensor (NDIS) which is fabricated by sandwiching vertically aligned zinc oxide nanorod arrays between orthogonal top and bottom nanostripe electrodes. The most important application of the NDIS is as a next-generation digital image sensor with ultra-high resolution, well beyond the limit of existing techniques.