Sep 23, 2011
Show report: Nanotechnology for sport
Smart textiles, plug-in breath sensing for mobile phones and even fighting robots! Just a few of the applications up for discussion at Nano4Sport in London, UK.
Martin Kemp, theme manager of engineering applications for the UK's NanoKTN, wants to get the creative sector on board with nanotechnology. "It's about building bridges between two worlds," he said. Kemp and his colleagues are about to launch a Nano4design sub-group to introduce designers to micro- and nanotechnologies.
One designer looking to move into nanotechnology is Tom Waller, head of Speedo's Aqualab research and development facility. "The buzz words are biomimicry, superhydrophobicity and shape management," he explained to the audience. "In the water, skin will slow you down."
Speedo has been tremendously successful with its microtextured swimwear (94% of gold medal swimmers at the Beijing Olympics wore suits made by the firm) and the company is now reaching out for technical direction at smaller length scales. Waller pointed out that opportunities extend beyond fast suits. For example, 40% of Speedo's business is in goggles. He went on to add that the high-performance market is dwarfed by opportunities in "play and fun" and "health and well-being" sectors.
Health was a key talking point during one of the event's quick-fire technology pitches. Victor Higgs, CEO of Applied Nanodetectors, grabbed the attention of mobile phone owners with the firm's nano-enabled breath-testing chip. Higgs explained that the company can embed the sensor in portable devices to help asthma sufferers manage their medication levels. The detector responds to a range of biomarkers, including nitric oxide, which is used to track asthma. If you want to view the technology in action, the device will be on display at Innovate UK next month.
Nothing beats seeing an invention being put through its paces. Liz Mallen of Dow Corning had a great example of how demonstration kits are good for business. Thinking "beyond the chemical", Mallen called on the help of designer Chris Lefteri to promote Dow's silicone-based impact protection material dubbed DEFLEXION. The team created swatches to inspire product designers and the material's customer base jumped from one to more than 13 partners as ideas started to flow. Today, the energy-absorbing product can be found in knee pads for downhill bikers, in ski and snowboard wear, and even in rodeo jackets.
At the event, it was fascinating to see how ideas springboard from one application to another. P2i's water-repellent pulsed plasma technology, now used on golf shoes and trainers, started life as a treatment for battlefield clothing to protect soldiers from nerve agents. And there were other examples.
Xennia Technology's industrial inkjet printing kit has found success as a way of applying marbled effects to ceramic tiles, but the piezo-driven head is also ideal for dispensing nanomaterials in picoliters of fluid to enable flexible displays and electronics, to name just a couple of uses.
David Lussey, CTO of technology licensing firm Peratech, is no stranger to diverse applications. The firm was established in 1996 to exploit quantum tunnelling composites (QTCs) and the material can be found on the fingertips of NASA's space robonaut.
QTC is a class of material made from conductive filler particles combined with an elastomeric binder, with the unique ability to smoothly change from an electrical insulator to a metal-like conductor when placed under pressure.
Martial arts training
The pressure-sensitive material has been used to line the arms of a "fighting robot" designed for martial arts training, but can also be applied to make textile switches and affordable fencing jackets (more applications can be found on the Peratech website).
According to Lussey, this is just the beginning for QTC. He revealed that the composite can be formulated as a transparent material, which could open the door to pressure-sensitive touch screen uses.
• For more information on Nano4Sport and the soon-to-be launched Nano4Design sub-group, click here.
• Nano4Sport took place at IOM3 in London and was sponsored by Materials and Design Exchange (MaDE) and UK Trade & Investment. The event was organised by the NanoKTN in partnership with the Creative Industries and Materials KTNs.
About the author
James Tyrrell is editor of nanotechweb.org.