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New 'gel' May Be Step Toward Clothing That Computes

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The pattern recognition process.

University of Pittsburgh researchers have designed a theoretical model of a material that can achieve computational pattern recognition through the use of an oscillating gel.

Credit: Yan Fang

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh has designed a theoretical model of a material that is capable of computational pattern recognition using an oscillating gel.

They say the combination of stimuli-responsive materials and unconventional computing could one day be used in wearable sensors.

This computational material is composed of a chemical gel overlaid with a piezoelectric element that continually expands and contracts in response to certain chemical reactions. When the gel oscillates, the mechanical motion is transferred to the piezoelectric beam, which generates a voltage.

The researchers say when multiple units of the gel are wired together, the electrical signals enable them to communicate and synchronize. By encoding the material with electrical polarities representing certain patterns of pixels, the system is able to recognize patterns in images.

The researchers note the gel's computing mimics processes seen in the human body, such as the retina's ability to compress visual information before sending it to the brain. Research indicates the material can analyze patterns in pressure, chemical stimulation, or light, with possible applications including shoe insoles and skin for robotic arms.

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