In labs, on manufacturing floors, and around universities, innovations in technology and industry are beginning to take place in areas you may not even be able to dream up yet. In another blog, we mentioned President Obama’s government-funded innovation hubs, where the government is funding $80 million in projects to push America towards its technological potential. The administration is planning for 15 innovative hubs by the end of Obama’s term, all of which will rely on new manufacturing methods. Below are some of the newest technologies being tested through those federal initiatives.
NexFlex is a group that is currently printing electronics that can bend and stretch. They have developed the technology to make the product work, and machines that can make the product a reality. According to their website, NexFlex’s flexible hybrid electronics “enables the integration of thin silicon electronic devices, sensing elements, communications, and power on non-traditional flexible substrates.” Innovations in this technology means bandages will not only be able sense vital information in the skin, but relay that to a doctor, and treat the problem itself. Here are some areas NexFlex is working in:
- Getting more oxygen to wounds – Creating a 3D printed smart wound dressing not only tailors the bandage to the patient’s needs, it preemptively treats the wound before some doctors can physically see the problem. This bandage can take oxygen levels in the skin cells, and deliver oxygen as needed to prevent deterioration.
- Comfortable, smart, wearable medical monitoring systems – This Cal Poly project proposes the development of an assembly method for attaching ultra-thin chips onto printed flexible substrates that can provide better performance and comfort for wearable medical/human monitoring systems.
- Smart, chemical-biosensing mouth-guard – Designed for military service members and other high-stress professions, this mouthguard will take continuous readings of lactate concentration, which indicates fatigue levels. Before a soldier knows that his or her energy is spent, this mouthguard will already be reporting that information back to base. Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and their partner University of California at San Diego are heading this team.
3D printed cars
Fashion lines pride themselves if they can get a line of clothes made -from concept to store shelves- within six months. Now, innovators are doing the same with cars. Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, IACMI, a Midwestern-based group of innovators, is building cars out of lightweight carbon fiber, and taking them from blueprints to parking lots in six months. When President Obama and Vice President Biden visited the Detroit International Auto Show, they saw how cool a 3D printed sports car could look. President Obama said:
“We lost Joe’s attention when we laid eyes on that 3D-printed sports car—the carbon fiber Cobra… Besides being a cool car, it’s a great example of how a hub like this operates. So Oak Ridge National Labs created the design and manufacturing processes. Techmer produced the composite materials. Another company called Tru-Design developed the surface finishing techniques. Undergrads from UT worked on the project, gaining skills that can help them get hired in the future.”
Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), led by MIT are asking people across the fashion industry (designers, fabric mills and experts in sportswear) what clothing will be, when fused with technology. So far, they are making fabrics that can sense heat and cool.
One Philadelphia University engineer helped create rowing suits for this year’s Olympic team. They were created to fit like a second skin, with an antimicrobial layers woven into the fabric to protect the rowers from contaminated water and Zika virus.
The actual machines that are going to create these new products are at the forefront of these innovations. Designers are building roll-to-roll (r2r) machines for mass-manufacturing smart bandages, 3D printers that can print individual bandages and sensors on the spot, and wireless solutions that will work instantly in combat zones. These machines are considered the future for digital health initiatives and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT). For every new dream that is funded, teams will have to imagine and create an assembly process for these never-before-produced products.