Text for FP and LN. SS04

beaverswimmingΤεχνίτη Νοημοσύνη και Ρομποτική

14 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 4 χρόνια και 8 μήνες)

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Going With the Flow

THESE days everything seems to be getting smarter. So
called “smart materials” include shape
memory alloys, which change shape according to the temperature, and piezoelectric materials that
mechanically deform w
hen an electric field is applied. These materials are said to be smart because

they can be used to sense and respond to the environment. But smart materials are not limited to
solids; liquids, it turns out, can be smart too. Such “smart fluids” are now fin
ding their way into all sorts
of devices, from cars to bridges to digital cameras.

The term “smart fluid” is generally applied to fluids whose properties can be changed by the
application of an electrical or magnetic field. In particular, there are electro
rheological (ER) and

rheological (MR) fluids that can change, in an instant, from free
flowing liquids to become
more viscous, or even solid. ER fluids consist of tiny dielectric particles dispersed in an insulating fluid
such as silicon oil, whil
e MR fluids use magnetisable particles suspended in a non
carrier liquid. Normally, the particles are randomly aligned. But when a field is applied, they line up
with it, forming long chains that make the liquid more viscous. The process is re
versible: once the field

is removed, the fluid flows freely again. And by varying the field, the fluid's viscosity can be carefully

For more than half a century, smart fluids have been little more than a laboratory curiosity. But gradual
ements in their properties

the development, for example, of additives that prevent suspended
particles from clumping or settling

and recent advances in the systems used to control them have led

to the first commercial applications.

Magnetic attraction


fluids are the most widely used kind of smart fluid. They can resist large forces more efficiently
than ER fluids, since they require less energy to change their properties. The world leader in the

commercial development of MR
fluid technology is Lord Cor
poration, of Cary, North Carolina, a private
firm with an interest in vibration and motion control. Its first commercial success came in 1997, using
MR fluids to dampen vibration for drivers of 18
wheel trucks. Then Lord, along with Delphi
Corporation, of
Troy, Michigan, a former subsidiary of General Motors and a big supplier of car parts,
applied MR fluids to car suspension.


The result, called MagneRide, first appeared on Cadillac's Seville models and is now standard
equipment on its XLR convertible roads
ter, and an option on some other models. Sensors monitor the
profile of the road surface and provide a permanent stream of information as to what damping is
necessary. An electromagnetic coil inside the piston of the damper creates a magnetic field that
justs the viscosity of the fluid up to provide continuously variable damping. Unlike traditional

suspension, the system has no electromechanical valves or small moving parts that wear out, and
provides particularly good control at low frequencies. The indu
stry also claims it offers a smoother ride
and improves road
holding. The only problem is its high price. About 100,000 cars with MagneRide
suspension have been sold since production started in 2002, says David Hoptry of Delphi. So far only
General Motors
is using the technology, and only in luxury, high
end sports and specialist vehicles.

But as the price of the technology falls it will, he predicts, spread into cheaper cars too.

Ford, another carmaker, is researching other applications of MR fluids. It th
inks they will be useful one
day in automotive suspension, but that they are still too expensive. Instead, Ford is concentrating on
their use in automatic clutches. Prototype designs being studied at Ford's Scientific Research
Laboratories are extremely qu
iet compared with mechanical clutches, and can engage gradually by

slowly increasing the strength of the magnetic field. This reduces noise and means the car pulls away
smoothly. Ford is also examining the use of smart fluids to make quieter air
ng compressors.

Steady improvements in the technologies used to control smart fluids, such as microprocessors and
sensors, are opening up a diverse range of new markets. Lord, for example, has figured out how to
use MR fluids to reduce vibration in washing

machines. Its system works well; again, the barrier to

adoption is cost. MR fluids are also appearing in much larger structures. Japan's National Museum of
Emerging Science and Innovation, in Tokyo, has installed seismic
scale MR
fluid dampers developed
y Lord. They are integrated with the building's structure and are designed to act as huge shock
absorbers in the event of an earthquake, soaking up energy and protecting the building from damage.
Large MR
fluid dampers are also being put into bridges, such

as the Dong Ting Lake Bridge in China's

Hunan province, to steady it in high winds.

Meanwhile, CSA Engineering of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has developed a damping system based
on MR fluids to suppress vibration during rocket launches, which can damage sat
ellites. MR fluids
have also been suggested as a way to reduce vibration in surveillance satellites. Another military use
is being explored at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: the idea is to create a fluid

uniform that is flexible and comf
ortable to wear in normal conditions, but that can instantly be made
much more resistant

and ultimately bullet

The development of ER fluids has been much slower, since they require large amounts of energy to
keep them in a viscous or solid state. Bu
t there have been some recent and significant scientific
developments in this area, so it may only be a matter of time before ER fluids begin appearing in

commercial products too. For if the energy
consumption problem can be overcome, they have
over MR fluids. They do not need bulky magnets to be activated and can, instead, rely on
only a couple of electrodes. In particular, they might find applications in “haptic” (touch
systems. One idea is to use ER fluids to develop Braille readers and

writers. Another is to use them as
dampers in prosthetic devices.


Existing haptic devices rely on MR fluids. More than a dozen prototype artificial knees, based on MR
fluids, are already in use. MR fluids are also used in one type of drive
wire forklif
t truck to impart a
sense of rigidity and stiffness to the steering. And carmakers are looking into the use of MR fluids to
impart the sensation of road resistance to drive
wire vehicles, where the steering wheel has no
mechanical connection to the whee
ls of the car. (The physical sensation of the road is an important

component of driving, but is missing in drive
wire systems.) Smart fluids could thus be used in
haptic devices ranging from joysticks for gaming to instruments for remote surgery.

The be
nefits of smart fluids are also becoming apparent to the makers of digital cameras. Although the
technology is different, the benefit is similar: using a fluid in place of mechanical parts enhances
control and reduces the number of bits that can break. Cam
era designers are finding that, as cameras

become ever smaller, and are integrated into mobile phones and portable computers, the friction
between the moving parts of the lens is increasingly problematic. So lenses based on smart fluids
could have widespre
ad appeal. They would also be more resilient than traditional lenses, which could
be particularly useful in portable devices.


Look smart

Varioptic, a firm based in Lyon, France, and Philips Electronics, a consumer
electronics giant based in
the Netherland
s, have both developed tiny lenses based on smart fluids. (The two firms are currently
involved in a patent dispute over the technology.) Both firms' designs rely on an effect called
“electrowetting” where the application of an electrical field alters the
surface tension of a liquid. As with

other kinds of smart fluids, the effect is not new, but was seen as a curiosity until recently.

Two non
mixing fluids are placed in a short tube with transparent end caps. One is an aqueous (water
based) fluid, the oth
er a transparent oil. The internal surfaces of the tube wall, and one of its end caps,
are coated with a water
repellent coating that causes the water
based fluid to form itself into a
hemispherical mass at the opposite end of the tube, where it acts as a
spherically curved lens.


The shape of the lens is adjusted by applying an electric field across the hydrophobic coating,
reducing the surface tension and making the coating less hydrophobic. The water
based fluid is then
less repelled by the walls of the t
ube, which makes the lens change shape. By increasing the applied
electric field, the normally convex surface of the lens can be made completely flat or even concave.
This allows the lens to adjust its focus. Using two smart
fluid lenses in combination, it

is possible to

make a zoom lens.

Varioptic recently announced that it has licensed its technology to Samsung of South Korea, for use in
phones, handheld computers and other devices. With tens of millions of camera
phones sold
each year, that could
carry smart fluids into the consumer mainstream. But however they end up being

whether in cars, buildings or mobile phones

it appears that smart fluids have a solid future

ahead of them.