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Scientists invented a sensor for monitoring joints after surgery, but it could also be used in tires

Posted August 30, 2018

Science is amazing. It is fighting aging at every step, making our lives easier. Not so long ago worn joints meant that you‘re going to endure pain and walk funny for the rest of your life. However, now they can be fixed during surgeries. Now scientists from the University of Waterloo developed a new wireless sensor that can be used to remotely monitor the recovery of joint surgery patients.

A small tube-like device is designed to be fitted to braces after joint surgery to monitor the progress of the recovery. The image does not depict the actual sensor. Image credit: KintechOrthopaedics via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Joint surgeries have been perfected through decades of work. However, the recovery is still quite a tiring process and monitoring progress is difficult. Scientists created this tiny tube-like device, which is designed to be fitted to braces after joint surgery. It connects to computers, smartphones or smartwatches and allows tracking indicators of improvement, such as the range of motion. Because information would be collected continuously all the time, it would be almost as if the doctor is with the patient 24/7. Scientists are also happy to note that because the device is self-powered, it could be used in different applications, such as monitoring the work of the tires of autonomous vehicles to detect and respond to icy roads.

This device is powered through motion – when it is bent or twisted, it generates enough power for its sensors, processing function and wireless transmission. Energy is being produced through electromagnetism and triboelectricity, which means that no batteries are needed. This means that they could be used in applications where maintenance is difficult or it is simply impossible to change or charge the batteries. But probably the best part is that these sensors are extremely cheap – one will cost somewhere between 5 and 10 Australian dollars. But scientists are already looking for ways to improve this invention.

Currently this sensor is about six centimetres long and one centimetre wide. Scientists want to make it smaller so that it would fit a wider variety of applications. Scientists also want to limit power production to the triboelectricity, which is a relatively new way of producing electricity involving bringing different materials together to produce current.  And, of course, scientists are thinking about using these sensors in tires. Hassan Askari, one of the developers of the sensor, said: “Based on the forces, the interaction between the road and the tires, we could actually detect ice or rain. That is extremely important information for autonomous driving”.

It is one of these rare cases when a medical device could be useful in automotive industry as well. However, it will still take years for it to become an actually usable product.


Source:  University of Waterloo

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