We get to hear about innovations with laptops, smartphones, earbuds, and the like all the time, but rarely about smaller smart technology. However, that’s what makes things like this new smart self-powered screw so exciting. Yep, you heard us—a smart screw.
If you’re wondering what could possibly be so interesting about a screw (smart or otherwise), that’s totally fair. But these smart screws, dubbed the Smart Screw Connection, have incredible potential for the future of bridges, wind turbines, high-rise buildings, amusement park rides, scaffolding, and more. Why? Because the hardware has built-in sensors that will send out alerts the moment they become looser than they were the moment they were installed.
In the past, inspectors had to go around and manually check these types of structures on a regular basis, looking for screws that are too loose, worn down, or in need of replacement. Now, if these screws do get more widely implemented, inspectors and technicians would only need to make visits when an alert gets sent.
Regular monitoring of structures like bridges (in fact, especially bridges) is paramount to keeping folks safe as they go about their daily business. While inspectors would likely still need to make the rounds to check on structures, having screws that can monitor themselves will likely save time and even money, as a preventative measure (you know, instead of just waiting for a bridge to collapse).
The Smart Screw Connection has a washer already attached to it that features a thin film of piezoresistive material; this creates electrical resistance whenever mechanical force is applied. What that does is cause the three head sensors to preload the force at three separate points whenever the screw is tightened. From there, when the screw loosens (aka, when that pressure decreases), a warning signal is sent.
The screw head also has a built-in radio module, designed to send wireless signals to a base station. The screws use the MIoTy wireless protocol—a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) protocol used in industrial deployments—to send these signals long distances, like to those inspectors.
The downside of the Smart Screw Connection is that each screw requires power in order to remain charged—just like your phones, tablets, earbuds, etc. do—so they can remain ready to send signals as needed. Researchers are suggesting energy harvesting (the thermoelectric effect) as a solution here; this allows the difference in temperatures between the screw head and its surrounding environment to generate power indefinitely.
The technology here is really profound, and holds immense potential for the future of construction and even consumer goods. Smart screws could be used in vehicles and any number of other projects and structures, and could even trickle down to the consumer level. It can be easy to ignore or overlook less flashy scientific progressions like a smart screw, but the technology’s implications are huge and will likely be able to help save lives. What’s not exciting about that?