Gas is Getting Greener with Clean-Burning Fuel
May29

Gas is Getting Greener with Clean-Burning Fuel

German automaker, Audi, claims to have produced high-octane gasoline from plants. The synthetic, clean-burning fuel, called “e-benzin,” is free of any petroleum products, the company said. The new green fuel is still being tested, but company officials expect to try it out in corporate vehicle fleets before eventually rolling it out to consumers. In the first step of the production process, Audi’s partner in the project, Global Bioenergies of France, produced isobutane in a gaseous form through the fermentation of glucose derived from corn and other renewable biomass sugars. Gaseous isobutane is not a fuel in itself, but the raw material can be refined further into fuels, plastics and other useful materials. After a conditioning and purification process, the gaseous isobutane produced in France was sent to Germany to be converted into pure, 100 octane gasoline suitable for automobiles, Audi reported. “To me this is a historic moment,” Global Bioenergies Chief Executive Officer Marc Delcourt said of the development. “It is the first time that we have produced real gasoline from plants.” Isooctane is already in use as an additive to improve fuel quality, but it could be a high-efficiency fuel in itself. Because it lacks sulfur and benzene, isooctane burns cleaner than gasoline refined from oil, according to Audi. “We’re bringing green-ness to a field that desperately needs green-ness,” said Rick Bockrath, vice president for chemical engineering at Global Bioenergies. “It’s basically how we’re moving away from an oil-based economy towards something that has a renewable, sustainable future to it.” After more testing, Audi expects to test its new plant power fuel in vehicle fleets. If all goes well, the green gas could be available to consumers “very soon,” the company said. The two partners in the project eventually hope to cut the biomass fermentation step out of the process altogether, and instead make e-benzin from water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and sunlight. Audi previously produced a batch of synthetic diesel fuel made from carbon dioxide and...

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Lily Robotics: The Camera Grows Up
May28

Lily Robotics: The Camera Grows Up

The selfie generation has found its mascot in a remote-controlled flying camera named Lily. Developed by Lily Robotics, Inc. with Henry Bradlow at the helm as Chief Technology Officer, Lily is a robotic camera capable of flying, following the subjects as they move, and documenting the action in stills or video format. How Lily Works Lily is a camera developed in the realm of the GoPro, but with a key difference—Lily is a completely hands-free operation. The user carries a pocket sized tracking device. Lily can maintain a distance as close as five feet or as far as 100 feet and retain the capability to track movement, take stills, or record video. Onboard features include an enhanced camera with image stabilization to aid in tracking users, ensuring appropriate focus and framing. The device is ready for action right out of the box. It does not require special procedures to set up or a bulky controller. Throw it up and let it go, and Lily will fly and stabilize itself in mid-air where it hangs awaiting further instruction. If the user is off and moving, Lily will also be flying and recording. Tech Specs The camera has similar capabilities to the GoPro Hero 3. It is capable of shooting high definition video at 1090p for up to 120 frames. A special onboard feature can even trigger slow-mo as the action intensifies, capturing the excitement in thrilling detail. For still photos, the camera is capable of shooting 12-megapixel images with a 360-degree panoramic view. The data can be streamed directly to your mobile device across a variety of platforms for real-time review, guaranteeing certainty that the perfect shot has been achieved. Lily weighs just 2.8 pounds and can travel as fast as 25 miles per hour.  With a maximum range of 100 feet from the user, a sleek waterproof casing, and battery life estimated at 20 minutes of use for every charge cycle, Lily is the perfect companion for any outdoor adventure. The body of this robotic camera is made of black polycarbonate with some elements rendered in brushed aluminum, keeping it lightweight for easy portability. The Prospects for Robotic Cameras In our image-focused society the camera will never go out of style, but technology will change the ways that these devices are implemented. Bradlow, the CTO of Lily, expects that the next version of Lily will account for these changing demographics. This robotic drone camera may become smaller, handier, and more feature-packed in the next versions. The Lily is currently available for preorder at a discounted price, inviting adventurous users to be among the first to experience this advancement in...

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Hong Kong Shames Litterbugs with DNA
May26

Hong Kong Shames Litterbugs with DNA

An innovative advertising campaign in Hong Kong is using DNA technology in a unique—and perhaps somewhat creepy—way. To help reduce littering, a non-profit organization called Hong Kong Cleanup is publicly shaming litterbugs on billboards around the city. Those litterers aren’t sitting down for portraits, though. Instead, DNA found on chewing gum, cigarette butts and other trash is used to produce close approximations of what the litterers look like. The process is known as phenotyping, and it’s remarkably accurate in predicting a person’s appearance. Ogilvy, the advertising agency behind Hong Kong Cleanup’s Face of Litter campaign, teamed up with Parabon Nanolabs of Virginia to produce the portraits. The work is performed in conjunction with the Department of Defense, which is primarily interested in the technology for use in criminal investigations. Of course, the public doesn’t see the behind-the-scenes work that’s involved in producing the portraits. Rather, they are simply confronted with random images of people who have been “busted” carelessly tossing garbage onto the streets of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Cleanup hopes litterbugs will feel so ashamed of themselves that they will think twice before littering again.   The way in which they portraits are produced is fascinating. First, trash is retrieved from the street. It is then sent to a genotyping lab, where it is processed to produce a set of data using DNA retrieved from dried saliva. Incredibly, only a nanogram of dried saliva is needed to make a digital portrait of a person’s face. Next, the data is processed using special machine-learning algorithms. These algorithms produce snapshots of phenotypes, or traits, that may translate into what a person looks like. Algorithms focus on what are known as highly heritable traits, or traits that aren’t affected by environmental variability. These include things like skin color, eye color, hair color and face shape. The technology can’t account for age, but the ad agency estimates this based on the type of litter that’s processed. For instance, people between the ages of 18 and 34 are most likely to chew gum. While the campaign was designed to shame litterbugs, Ogilvy received permission from everyone whose trash they used. In the future, though, who knows? Campaigns like these are just the beginning. As the technology improves and becomes more ubiquitous, it’s sure to prompt many privacy concerns. If it can strictly be used for good, however, it’s sure to have a positive...

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The First Self-Driving Semi
May22

The First Self-Driving Semi

Self-driving cars have been in the public consciousness for some time. Most people are enthusiastic about the concept, but what about large trucks like tractor-trailers? Daimler-Chrysler’s Freightliner Inspiration, a D-C 18-wheeler, is the first autonomous semi-truck in the world. Due to the size of these vehicles, public opinion is apt to be a bit less favorable. Considering the benefits autonomous semis bring to the table — improved fuel efficiency, safety and cost-effectiveness, to name a few — chances are that people will come around sooner or later. At any rate, they have a good decade to get used to the idea. The Freightliner Inspiration is strictly designed for use on freeways, where short- and long-range radars help it maintain a safe distance from other drivers. A stereoscopic camera reads lane lines to keep it safely within its lane. If the truck encounters problematic driving conditions like icy roads, it notifies the driver to take over. If that doesn’t happen within five seconds or so, the truck gradually slows until it stops completely. Additionally, the truck will not pass slower vehicles on its own; that will also be up to the human driver, if one is present. Daimler-Chrysler intends to put the truck through more than a million test miles of various conditions and geographic locations before putting it into actual service, and that will take at least a decade. Regardless, officials within the trucking industry are eager to put the technology into use. The shortage of qualified drivers is one reason for the urgency; the American Trucking Association predicts a shortage approaching 240,000 drivers by 2022. Safety, of course, is another issue. In 2012, nearly 4,000 people were killed in the more than 330,000 large truck accidents that occurred in the U.S. Incredibly, around 90 percent were caused by human error. There are other benefits that go along with self-driving semis too. Down the line, one truck with a human driver could lead several other driverless trucks, saving huge amounts of money in terms of manpower and fuel. Not surprisingly, truck drivers aren’t thrilled about the news, but the implementation of this technology is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point. While the idea of massive trucks cruising along freeways may freak out everyday people a little, public opinion is sure to swing in its favor by the time these trucks are ready to hit the nation’s...

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Freight Farms Is Revolutionizing Urban Gardens
May05

Freight Farms Is Revolutionizing Urban Gardens

Founded in 2010 by Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara, Boston-based Freight Farms is poised to revolutionize the urban garden. Capitalizing on the growing trend toward locally sourced foods, Freight Farms provides a turnkey solution to those who want to grow large amounts of produce in a limited space. This facilitates everyone from the home gardener (albeit one who may be a bit more dedicated than the average backyard hobbyist) to large-scale wholesalers supplying the local restaurant and hospitality industries—and everyone in between. Requiring no more than a plot of level land large enough to accommodate a 40′ x 8′ shipping container, Freight Farms’ “Leafy Green Machine” (LGM) is capable of producing as many as 2,500 seedlings and 4,500 mature plants at a time. This enormous capacity is made possible by their use of a vertical tower growing area. Instead of growing in horizontal rows, plants grow from hanging towers of hydroponic pods, each lit by a patented LED lighting system that, according to the company’s website, “mimics sunlight and delivers the optimal wavelengths for uniform plant growth.” The container is equipped with two hydroponic nutrient delivery systems – one “ebb-and-flow” system for seedlings and a drip setup to support mature vegetative growth –  and environmental sensors that control temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. Water quality is measured and controlled through temperature, pH, and EC sensors. Users can set parameters and receive notifications about system performance. Naturally, all of this can be monitored and controlled via the included 4G hotspot and your iOS device. (Really, is there anything that CAN’T be controlled by your phone or tablet these days?) Climate tracking, surveillance, and data logging all help make food safety and transparency a breeze. All you have to do is plug it in and start growing! Built by contract engineering and manufacturing firm Columbia Tech, the LGM is a truly scalable solution, perfect for those who want to grow (pun intended) beyond the capacity of a single unit. Because the system is built using stackable shipping containers, each self-contained unit is capable of being placed securely next to or on top of each other, greatly enhancing efficiency and output per square foot. Urban gardens and local restaurants may want to take notice…...

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