Electronic senses to touch us all

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

Five Senses

The next trend in industry is taking B2B to B2C. Industrial products and services have long been in a league of their own—too big, too dangerous or too expensive for consumers. Promoting something as “industrial strength” has long implied that it’s as serious as you can get.

Industrial strength is moving beyond cleaners and into new areas. New technology is making industrial machines smaller and more affordable. That’s most vivid in information technology, where computing power that once only governments and large corporations could afford now sits in the palm of your hand in the form of a smart phone.

The challenge for industry in the future lies in continuing to innovate for business while also finding consumer applications.

There’s no B2B business any more. What people care about is the C—the consumer. B2B will be driven by B2C: how can I access a C?” says Jean-Christophe Mifsud, president and chief executive of Alpha MOS SA, a Toulouse, France, company that makes electronic sensors which replicate three of the five senses: sight, smell and taste. MOS stands for multi-organoleptic systems, or systems that give information about a substance through taste, sight, smell and touch.

Electronic senses offer advantages such as not having to use humans for what may sometimes be unpleasant or even dangerous tasks, as well as consistency. “The mission of the company was to avoid any subjectivity from analysis to the production floor and then to customers,” Dr. Mifsud says.

nose of dog

Up to now, electronic senses have had straight industrial applications, Dr. Mifsud says. The food, beverage, pharmaceuticals, plastics, packaging and environmental industries have clear uses for electronic senses. They can detect when flavors or odors in food are “off,” and if there has been contamination or migration of compounds from plastic packaging into content. MOS odor sensors also can control how fast a flavor is diluted, ensure quality-control, or reverse-engineer an aroma. Its electronic tongues can assess things like bitterness, whether a taste remains stable over time, or whether a product has been adulterated.

In the “very short-term future,” he says, sight, taste and smell sensors will be available to new industries to incorporate into their own products, or for individuals directly.

We decided to bring the capability to the consumer,” Dr. Mifsud says. “Alpha MOS decided to miniaturize the expertise around the hardware and the power consumption, so those sensors can be embedded in things like mobile phones, refrigerators, tablets, the home or the car.”

The refrigerator of the future may have sensors that detect when food is going bad. It might be connected to a food-management system that alerts a resident, who can then check in order to make a grocery list.

Cars in the future may have sensors that detect carbon dioxide. The level of carbon dioxide rises in a car with, say, a family driving on a long trip with the windows shut. That’s dangerous, because carbon dioxide can make the driver sleepy. A sensor would alert the driver and passengers that they need to stop for fresh air.

Doctors in the future may give patients a breath test to detect the onset of diseases like diabetes or cancer. A new study shows that organic compounds in exhaled breath can indicate whether a person has lung cancer—as well as its stage—and can distinguish cancer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

We’re talking about millions of sensors with a very low price. An industrial electronic nose costs €50,000 to €100,000. For laboratory uses, it’s extremely powerful and very, very accurate,” he says. “That’s not what the consumer needs.”

At the first level, Alpha MOS is developing a horizontal databank of smells, tastes and visuals that would be valued for any type of user, without any genetic or cultural overlays. A test for ethanol in a person’s breath is the same whether the person is Chinese, American or Spanish.

The next level would be to create a vertical databank linking smells and tastes to personal experience. For example, it would remember which perfume, cheese or wine you like, not by brand or name but by odor, and you could store that information in your phone. Cultural markers could be included, because people in one country tend to appreciate different tastes and smells from those of people in another country.

Odor, in particular, is able to conjure up memories. The databank would let you “identify moments in your life with different smells,” Dr. Mifsud says.

Imagine identifying a wine or a perfume in the same way as you might use an app to identify music. Or eating something and using a sensor to find the recipe and download it. Sensors could identify people based on their smell, too.

Alpha MOS also has patented a way to measure odor, the way decibels measure sound and meters measure distance. Someday, we might say an odor smells like a 35.

“The idea is to bring a basic measurement point to every one of us,” Dr. Mifsud says.

For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

Improving the Reliability of Consumer Electronics Products Through Realistic Simulation

By Harish
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Realistic simulation for Electronic products

Early product failures and product recalls are very costly. They result in loss of revenue, litigation, and brand devaluation among others. Hardware recalls are often costlier than software recalls as software patches can be easily downloaded and installed once flaws come to light. But recalls and early product failures tend to happen over and over again. Why? Because engineering teams are constantly under the gun to improve product performance, reduce form factors, and reduce time to market, all while cutting costs. In order to mitigate risk engineers need to develop a deeper understanding of the product behavior under real operating conditions and quickly evaluate design trade-offs based on overall system behavior.

Physical tests provide an excellent means to understand product behavior. However, physical testing is expensive and time consuming. Simulation provides a cheaper and faster alternative to physical tests. It is critical to strike the right balance between physical tests and simulation during product development. In order to get the maximum bang for your buck, simulations should be deployed starting early in the design cycle when physical prototypes are not available and the design is not fully developed. The earlier you find flaws, the earlier you can fix them. Since the cost of fixing flaws grows exponentially through the design cycle (figure below), identifying and fixing design flaws early in the design cycle is super critical.

Relative Cost of fixing errors in embedded Systems

Relative cost of fixing errors in embedded systems

Not all simulation tools are created equal. You don’t need any answer. You need the right answer. For that, you need simulation tools that most closely depict reality. And you need answers fast. Hence you need product testing and validation tools with industry leading physics and solver technology to obtain accurate solutions faster in order to help you improve product design, ensure product reliability and reduce time to market. Accurate depiction of material behavior and physics of failure are essential to obtaining realistic results. Such capabilities are critical in predicting the behavior of materials such as glass, adhesives, and polymers that have high propensity for damage.

Consumer electronic products, especially mobile and portable devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, are subjected to a variety of operating conditions. The devices need to be designed to protect them from damage. Engineers need to ensure that “portable” doesn’t mean “breakable.”

Tablet drop

The challenge is to design a light-weight product that can withstand not just the loading cycles associated with regular usage, but also abusive loading scenarios that are encountered less frequently (According to surveys and insurance claim statistics, drop and water damage constitute the two most frequent causes of damage for mobile devices.). Simulation should be employed at the ideation, product development, and failure analysis stages in order to improve product quality and reduce time to market. Refer to this  case study to learn how a leading manufacturer of consumer electronics used simulation to improve the keystroke feel and to enhance frame rigidity while reducing weight .

Tablet drop simulation

While drop during daily usage is a concern for mobile devices, transportation drops are the main concern for office equipment. The engineers are faced with the challenge of identifying the structural members that are most susceptible to damage and to improve their damage resistance while reducing the overall weight of the structure. Refer to the ebook below to know how a leading manufacturer of office equipment designed a low cost printer that can withstand a series of transportation drop tests.

The examples above provide a snapshot of applications leveraging SIMULIA Abaqus technology   to successfully improve product durability while satisfying other constraints such as weight and cost.

More example related to  how engineering teams are using virtual testing to predict stresses, optimize design performance and reduce time to market can be read in  this ebook .