by David Crane
German textiles/carpet manufacturer Vorwerk & Co. Teppichwerke GmbH & Co. KG and semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies AG (also based in Germany) have joined forces to create the world’s first (at least publicly known) smart carpet or "thinking carpet". The Infineon Thinking Carpet is basically a carpet-embedded sensor network/sensor system that has the potential to literally revolutionize structure/building/installation security. Any building/structure where a high level of security is required is most likely a good candidate for the technology, including numerous government buildings and secure installations like The White House (U.S. Secret Service take notice), CIA headquarters and satellite offices, NSA headquarters and satellite offices, FBI headquarters and satellite offices, the Pentagon, nuclear power plants, etc.–you name it.
If you need to secure it, you probably want to set up an invisible Infineon Thinking Carpet motion sensor grid/pressure sensor network inside it, and perhaps even integrate it with…
automatically-activated or remote-controlled security systems that can deal with the threat or protect the principle even before an armed security element can respond–combine a passive system with active countermeasures. Since the sensors are embedded in the carpet, they’re totally invisible. The sensor-riddled carpet looks just like any other carpet, so the intruder won’t know he or she’s being tracked. Pretty cool.
DoD and the U.S. Army have actually been working on smart textiles for awhile now as part of the Soldier Nanotech program. MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is heavily involved with this effort. Smart textile tech is already operational. Sensatex, Inc. is a textile engineering company based out of Bethesda Maryland that specializes in smart textiles. They already have a smart textile shirt in production called the Smart Shirt.
However, that’s clothing, and we’re here to talk about carpet (at least, today).
DefenseReview isn’t alone in its enthusiasm for the technology. Here’s what Marc Perton had to say about the Infineon Thinking Carpet at engadget.com, a little earlier this year (February 2005):
"Forget about card scanners, access codes and ID badges. For businesses that want security and stealth, the answer may well be the ‘Thinking Carpet’ German carpet company Vorwerk Teppichwerke has teamed up with Infineon Technologies to come up with a prototype rug that uses embedded sensors to do everything from demarcate off-limits areas to sound alerts if intruders enter through a window. The system involves a combination of old-fashioned pressure-sensitive sensors (you know, the kind they’ve used in supermarket doors for ages) and modern microprocessors that can control the sensors and track movement throughout an installation. The system can even shut off sensors selectively if part of the carpet gets wet, with adjacent units picking up the slack. Pretty impressive, but what we really want to see is a floor that fights back, a shag rug that grabs an intruder by the feet and doesn’t let go."
Defense Review couldn’t agree more. In fact, DefRev has some pretty creative ideas for an integrated active countermeasures/security system to go along with the Vorwerk/Infineon technology.
Click here to visit the original engadget.com page containing Marc’s blurb entitled "Infineon develops ‘thinking carpet’ that tracks movement".
The following information on the Vorwerk/Infineon Thinking Carpet/Smart Carpet comes directly from the Vorwerk & Co. Teppichwerke GmbH & Co. KG company website:
"Future requires Visions
Visions stand at the inception of achievements that make their mark. Even when such visions – like the dream of flight – turn into "mere" standards later on. The future has always offered fantastic opportunities to make people’s visions a reality. Vorwerk Teppichwerke, the manufacturer of creative carpet solutions with a history of tradition and headquarters in Hamelin, and Infineon Technologies AG, an innovative company in the field of semiconductor technology with headquarters in Munich, are currently working on realisation of the "Thinking Carpet", a vision of the future. After two years of research work, the two companies presented the prototype of an electronically networked, high-tech carpet for the first time from the 19th to the 23rd of October at the international "Orgatec" trade fair in Cologne, Germany. Intended is that the "Thinking Carpet" soon take over "intelligent" functions towards controlling alarm, climate control, regulatory or guidance systems technology.
Carpet with superior technology
In office buildings, these days we already encounter sensors and other components equipped with microelectronics every step of the way: as trigger mechanisms in contact-free WC fixtures, in code-card locks on the doors, or as daylight sensors for room lighting. The technology now being driven ahead by Vorwerk and Infineon foresees equipping textile flooring for the office of tomorrow with artificial intelligence to be able to supplement or even replace either conventional systems or those with a limited functional capability. "On the one hand, the uniqueness of the ‘Thinking Carpet’ is going to lie in the invisible, simple and space-saving placement of sensors for the widest variety of functions, functions for which optically visible devices are still being utilised today", is how Johannes Schulte, chairman of executive management at Vorwerk Teppichwerke, explains the advantage of this new technology. He goes on to say that "in addition, microchips which have been integrated into the flooring, networked with each other and are computer-controlled can register several, even different sensory signals at the same time, and then analyse them correspondingly. If the installation expenditure is kept low, a system like this would be distinctly more effective than conventional combined systems."
For the time being the project partners have defined three functional sectors for application deployment in alarm, climate control and guidance technology. Appropriate modules are currently being optimised and minimised for this purpose so that they can be integrated into the carpet backing later on in a chip size of about only seven square millimetres. For instance, pressure sensors act towards reporting an alarm as soon as people enter a security zone. In the process, intelligent software solutions are able to analyse the signals, even individually. Thus an alarm is triggered, for example, only when traces of movement commence on a window or an emergency exit, but not at free-access entrances. Security zones can be individually defined and individually controlled on a time-frame basis as well. As soon as registered signals are additionally relayed to a security control centre, the point of alarm (break-in or fire) can be localised precisely in a matter of seconds. Besides this, pressure sensors in the carpet can also be utilised as door-openers and light switches, or as electronic counters for people, too.
In combination with shatterproof LED modules, the "Thinking Carpet" becomes a controllable guidance system. For example, in this case light-emitting diodes in the carpet mark the shortest route to an emergency exit. The combination of different sensory functions (pressure, temperature and motion) can additionally enable the detection of people lying motionless on the floor, triggering a call for emergency help. The "Thinking Carpet" thus becomes a life-saver for people in need of assistance, for example after a fall.
A self-organising network of robust microchips is responsible for the capturing and processing of data in the "Thinking Carpet". In this case, self-organising means: If a sensor fails for some reason, the neighbouring processors can use their own positioning to look for a new connecting route which circumvents the defective region and maintains functionality. This also makes it possible to cut the carpet, replace segments or add new ones at any time. The sensors involved are built into a textile material, the so-called secondary backing layer of the carpet, and are linked to one another via fine wires. A special backing construction was developed by Vorwerk specifically for this purpose.
Despite high-tech, a "completely normal" carpet
The semiconductor technology necessary for the new carpet was developed by the laboratory for application technology at Infineon’s research department. The developers at Vorwerk were responsible for creating a backing construction which integrates the entire technology invisibly and safely into the carpet, yet at the same time guarantees the merits of a textile flooring 100 per cent in terms of its suitability for the contract business, and regarding the look and feel. All of this has been achieved in the prototype. Existing processes for the secondary backing layer were modified for this special application. Initial production trials using identically built components have already been conducted with success. The experiments also revealed information about the behaviour of the microchips under the influence of heat, pressure and torsion. In terms of its appearance, the "Thinking Carpet" has been conceived as a "completely normal carpet" whose high-tech functionality is not seen at first glance. The technology is going to be able to be effected in nearly all carpets. And there are no limits when it comes to creativity in the construction, colour and design.
Comfort with 100% safety
The carpet can be supplied with power via any conventional outlet. Special, very flat plugs are currently being developed so that the carpet can be installed without a visible seam and so that production widths can be linked to each other without interrupting the network. The operating voltage is 12 volts. Depending on the desired dispersal of detected signals, a "Thinking Carpet" carries from one to 25 sensors per square metre in its backing. With a maximum density of 25 sensors per square metre, the carpet currently requires 2.5 watts of power per square metre, though that figure can be reduced considerably. One single computer connection can thus provide for spaces containing up to 100 square metres. Great attention is paid to safety thereby: The special backing construction assures that no danger of injury exists whatsoever, even if the carpet is damaged. In cases where the carpet comes into contact with wetness, an intelligent safety system makes additionally sure that a short circuit does not render the entire intelligent network useless. Wet areas are instead automatically shut off, then put back into operation after they have dried.
For Johannes Schulte, the realm of possibilities for the project is nearly boundless. "With the ‘Thinking Carpet’, the basis has now been successfully laid for an eagerly expected revolutionising of textile flooring, for high-tech design in the contract business that points towards the future", as Schulte says. For Vorwerk, this project deals for the first time with expanding the areas of application for carpets far beyond the basic uses and design-related advantages of textile flooring. Johannes Schulte goes on to add that "an ‘open technology’ stands behind the concept of this new high-tech carpet, open in almost all directions. And that’s the reason why the dialogue with interested groups from the practical side is especially important now, in order to develop the project – together with the skilled trades – beyond already defined areas of application in the direction of further need-oriented and cost-effective solutions for practice in the field".
The research project "Thinking Carpet" is part of the so-called "Technology Lifestyle Solutions" series initiated by Infineon – applications for everyday life into which electronic functions are integrated. The intelligent carpet belongs to these solutions just as much as clothing containing integrated electronic functions.
Dr. Werner Weber, director of the technology lab at Infineon, estimates that "about two years of further development are going to be necessary until the ‘thinking carpet’ attains market maturity. Building on the knowledge gained at the Orgatec, in the coming year we are going to increase differentiation in the areas of application even further, and by 2007 we could bring integrated silicon chips whose size has been distinctly reduced, and yet still contain all necessary functions, to the series production stage."
By the way, the first customer is going to be Infineon AG itself. The planning calls for installing the first square metre of carpet later on in an experimental room at the new Infineon headquarters near Munich."