Flexible polyurethane foam that could be used as a sensor material in industrial and sports applications was science fiction… Not any more with nanoparticles, as Sarah Houlton reports.
Foam mattresses that can use a person’s motion to generate a voltage, allowing the movement of bed-ridden patients to be monitored, could be a step closer with technology from XOnano. The technology has already been successfully applied to denser foams used in sporting equipment.
The research that led to OXnano Smartfoam dates back to 2010. At that time Jake Merrell, now the company’s president, enrolled as an engineering undergraduate at Brigham Young University in Utah. Merrell spent some time in a nanocomposite lab that was making strain gauges out of silicone rubber. Merrell was adding nanoparticles to silicone materials that generated a piezoresistive response. This turns the silicone into a strain gauge that allowed the amount of stretch to be measured.
Nanoparticles = Serendipity
While the gauges allowed stretch to be measured, compression was a different matter. A project to create a foam-based sensor that might be able to measure compression was initiated. At the heart of the technology is a piezoresistive foam that undergoes a change in electrical resistance when it is compressed.