details - Centre for Adaptive Wireless Systems

with the
Cork Institute of Technology
Funded Masters and PhD positions
Research in design and development of
miniaturised electronic systems for structural,
mechanical, biomedical and chemical
Suitable for graduates in electronics,
mechanical/manufacturing engineering, physics
and related disciplines
“Smart System”: A miniature and unobtrusive electronic system comprising sensors,
data processing, decision making and communication, for example:
 a system that monitors temperature and mechanical stresses in a material
 a system that monitors and warns of excessive impact forces
“Smart Systems Integration”: Putting a smart system on or in an object so that it does
something useful, is reliable and does not interfere with the object’s ordinary
function, for example:
 putting the temperature and mechanical stress sensing system in wet concrete
to monitor curing
 putting the impact force sensing system in the base of a shoe so that it can
warn a person with arthritis or artificial joints of potential acute or
accumulated joint damage
The Smart Systems Integration Group (SSIG1), recently funded under the Irish
Technological Sector Research Programme, brings together research leaders from the
Department of Electronic Engineering and of Department of Manufacturing,
Biomedical and Facilities Engineering at Cork Institute of Technology (
with the objective of establishing CIT as a Centre of Expertise in Smart Systems
Integration. Smart Systems can enable entirely new applications and concepts across
many engineering and non-engineering disciplines. However, they require multidisciplinary expertise in sensors, electronics, mechanics and manufacturing both to
develop and to reliably integrate them into different applications.
We therefore invite applications for funded postgraduate research positions to work
on the four research projects described on the following pages. Successful candidates
will have honours degrees in electronics, mechanical/manufacturing engineering,
physics or related disciplines and will join a rapidly expanding community of 136
postgraduate research students at CIT, over 30 of whom are carrying out research in
the Electronic Engineering and the Manufacturing, Biomedical and Facilities
Engineering Departments. These Departments provide an excellent environment for
postgraduate study with opportunities for attending at conferences, placements at
other institutions and contacts with potential employers as appropriate. These
Departments have recently been awarded Delegated Authority to award degrees to
PhD level in recognition of the quality of their research and postgraduate supervision.
The research supervisors will be John Barrett, Martin Hill and Gerard Kelly who
between them have:
 65 years of experience in national and international R&D
 Expertise in microsystems; Electronic component and system packaging;
Electronic system design, systems integration and test; Micro- and macromechanical design and simulation; Reliability analysis
 Published almost 200 peer reviewed journal and conference papers
 Supervised and graduated 35 postgraduate students to masters and PhD
 Completed 55 nationally and EU funded large scale R&D projects and many
further projects directly supported by Irish companies
The SSIG is a Technology Group within the CIT Centre for Adaptive Wireless Systems ( )
Research Project 1: Smart System for Monitoring of Concrete Curing and
Structural Health. After concrete is placed, a satisfactory moisture content and
temperature must be maintained, to aid a process called curing. Curing has a strong
influence on the properties of hardened concrete such as durability, and strength. As
concrete cures, its temperature needs to be controlled as the curing reaction gives off
sizeable amounts of heat (and dries out) which in thick sections can cause cracking of
the concrete and cause reductions in its characteristic strength. This may require either
cooling the concrete via circulating water channels or conversely heating it for
specific periods of time if weather conditions are too cold particularly in the first few
days of the hardening process. Strength tests are carried out at 7 and 28 days. If the
target strength is not achieved by these tests then the concrete may need to be ripped
out and replaced which is extremely costly and exercise. The currently used approach
to sensing curing is to use optical fibre sensors but these are only able to sense stress
and cannot present a complete picture of curing. A smart sensor which constantly
monitors the shrinkage, moisture content and temperature of the concrete as it cures
and which could monitor and report the curing conditions of the concrete with time
would be of immense benefit to the construction industry in controlling the quality
and characteristic strength of concrete and in monitoring the structural health of RC
structures on an ongoing basis. Success here will open up opportunities for embedding
of wireless sensors in other materials and structures.
Proposed approach: While MST sensors have been developed for temperature,
mechanical stress and moisture, the corrosive nature of wet concrete needs to be
particularly considered here in addition to the thermomechanical stresses. Packaging
and encapsulation materials will therefore have to be selected with these in mind and
tested for reliability in concrete. Temperature and stress sensors can be sealed in a
metal enclosure (with the stress sensors monitoring deflection of the enclosure sides.
A conductivity sensor on the outside of the case could be used to monitor moisture. It
is likely that inductive coupling of data will be more effective than RF transmission
through concrete.
Research Project 2: Foot Impact Forces If you suffer from arthritis in the leg,
medical advice for how much activity you can undertake is to “keep going until it
hurts”. However, pain equals damage and an earlier need for joint replacement. Since
the forces on the joints arise from impact, bending and twisting forces on the foot, if
we could integrate a smart system into footwear to measure these forces on a
continuous basis without interfering with natural gait, it might be possible to alert the
wearer to excessive acute or accumulated forces before damage is done. Such a
system could also be used to diagnose arthritis. The challenge is to make the impact
monitoring system small and flexible enough to allow natural flexing of the shoe or
boot while still being robust enough to withstand the wide range of stresses to which it
will be exposed. Solving this problem would open up opportunities not only in, say,
sports footwear but also anywhere that a completely flexible, robust Smart System is
Proposed approach: Use low-profile, flexible electronic assemblies distributed
throughout the upper, sole and heel of the shoe/boot. Transmit to a watch or similar
worn on the person.
Research Project 3: Smart System for ENT Surgery In the Department of
Electronic Engineering at CIT, researchers have carried out work with ear, nose and
throat (ENT) surgeons at the South Infirmary Hospital in Cork on using drill acoustic
signature analysis to identify if the drill is approaching critical underlying structures
(aural, optic and facial nerves, sinuses, brain) during drilling of the temporal bone of
the skull. This work, done with a large conventional microphone, has indicated that
the position and amplitude of the main frequency peaks of the acoustic signature do
correlate with bone thickness and the work has been published in one of the world’s
leading ENT journals. To take this research further, the researchers need a “smart
drill” integrating acoustic, vibration and force sensors transmitting at a high data rate
to a signal processing unit for real-time analysis. The challenge here is how to make
such a Smart System small and light enough that it does not interfere with drilling
while at the same time making it robust enough to withstand the mechanical forces of
handling and drilling. Success here will open up opportunities in the much wider
applications in smart mechanical machining and in machine wear monitoring for
preventative maintenance.
Proposed approach: Integrate the sensors and essential local signal conditioning
near the tip of the drill using the maximum possible miniaturisation compatible with
mechanical robustness. Integrate more complete signal conditioning and
communications electronics in the body of the hand grip.
Workpackage 4: Smart Systems for Liquids MST sensors for measuring the
parameters of water, chemicals and other liquids have been the subject of widespread
research. Could we develop a floating smart sensor for liquid monitoring? According
to research done by the CIT Centre for Adaptive Wireless Systems in association with
the Irish Marine Institute, such sensors, appropriately distributed, could enable fine
mesh wireless sensing networks for pollution event monitoring in fresh and sea water.
The main challenges are to allow the sensor to contact the liquid without it being
exposed to mechanical damage and for wireless signals to be sent out while protecting
the rest of the smart system. Both surface monitoring and at a depth of 1 to 2 metres in
needed. This implies a floating main unit with a suspended deep sensor – an
interesting systems integration problem indeed! There is also the requirement for a
high level of “intelligence” in the Smart System and a good battery capacity as it will
have to function autonomously without maintenance. It will also need to be cheap
enough to allow deployment in large numbers. We will liaise with CAWS and the
Marine Institute on this application. Success here would open up opportunities
wherever remote monitoring of liquids is required.
Proposed approach: Use selective encapsulation to seal the electronics while leaving
the sensing surface of the sensor exposed on the underside of the floating Smart
System. Suspend a weighted deep sensor on a cable. Transmit data using an antenna
in/on the float for the Smart System.