Printable wireless sensors set to monitor large structures

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Wireless sensors being developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology are set to enable large structures to be monitored for strain, stress and the early formation of cracks. The low cost sensors, which require no power, can be implemented on flexible polymers. The goal is to identify structural problems at an early stage.

"A key benefit of this technology is that it's completely wireless. It doesn't require a battery and you don't have to climb around on bridges running long connecting cables," said Yang Wang, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The sensors are being designed so they can be inkjet printed on various substrates, an approach believed to enable the creation of low cost, weather resistant devices. A prototype sensor has been tested in the laboratory. The device consists of a small piece of copper mounted on a polymer substrate and a 1 x 1mm rfid chip. However, more sophisticated designs are being developed. The team is also looking at different applications of inkjet printing technology. In one approach, an ink based on silver nanoparticles is applied to a flexible or semi flexible substrate, with the ink creating a structure whose properties change in response to strain. Another approach uses inkjet printed carbon nanotubes, which produces an altered response when subjected to deformation. The research team also hopes to improve the sensor's data transmission range by implementing energy scavenging techniques.