Engineers Design a Carbon Dioxide Cleanse for Earth
Jul30

Engineers Design a Carbon Dioxide Cleanse for Earth

By now, it’s an observable fact: the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere poses a serious threat to the environment. For the last decade, scientists have been working feverishly to develop cleaner sources of energy to help reduce the amount of CO₂ being added to the atmosphere—but it isn’t enough. Contemporary research and technology have fostered the idea of capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air as a way to achieve a cleaner environment. The development and, more importantly, implementation of clean energy sources will take time. Unfortunately, it may take more time than we, as a species, can afford. Companies, such as Carbon Engineering, are seeking more aggressive methods of removing CO₂ from the atmosphere to stall global warming. Direct air capture appears to be the only feasible way of removing the emissions of portable carbon dioxide sources like cars, trains and planes which account for 60% of the CO₂ in the air. Trees and plants perform a similar function to air capture: they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, in order to plant enough trees to reverse the build-up of CO₂, the amount of forested land would have to increase by a factor of 1,000. This would require repurposing viable agricultural acreage. Direct air capture can extract far more carbon dioxide than a one-acre tract of botanical land and can be installed in areas that have no agricultural potential, such as deserts. A prototype air capturing device has already been put to work at the University of Calgary. Air currents enter one end of the machine and pass over tightly corrugated PVC sheets which are saturated in a carbon dioxide absorbing solution. The packing material is shaped in a way that disturbs the air and ensures maximum surface exposure with the liquid. Once the air passes all the way through the prototype scrubber, more than 80% of the carbon dioxide has been removed and converted into carbonate salt. The prototype in Calgary currently collects more than 100 kilos of carbon dioxide every day. The prototype technology could be scaled up to 20,000 times the current size without making any major adjustments. At such a scale, the air capturing fans would be able to remove emissions from 300,000 cars per year. Air capturing has the added benefit of a usable by-product. The carbonate salts collected can be combined with hydrogen to produce hydrocarbons, such as gas and jet fuel. In essence, a scaled up air capturing system would have an overall ecological function that resembled the lifecycle of H₂O. Just as water evaporates, rises to the upper atmosphere, condenses and comes back down as rain;...

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NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful
Jul29

NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful

A collaborative team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCLA are making headway in the development of a new WiFi chip that would prolong the battery life of smartphones and wearable devices. The invention would have the potential to reduce the amount of power needed to send and receive data, allowing users to get more mileage out of their personal technology. The chip, developed by Adrian Tang of NASA and Mau-Chung Frank Chang, a professor at UCLA, would reflect an incoming WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, rather than the device generate a signal on its own. This would use 100 times less power than a traditional chip, thereby significantly extending battery life. For devices that are always on and always close at hand, like an Apple Watch or other personal device, holding a longer charge would be a powerful upgrade. “The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up),” Tang said in a statement. To transmit data, current personal devices send signals to a router, which subsequently responds with a brand new signal. In contrast, the new chip uses existing signals to reflect information back to any nearby router or cell tower, eliminating the need to send out a unique signal every time information is communicated. Not only does this save on battery power, but lab tests have achieved data transfer speeds of 330 megabits per second, up to the three times faster than traditional WiFi. Wearable devices and smartphones send and receive data in the same format that computers do: familiar strings of 1’s and 0’s. This chip utilizes a switch mechanism to transfer data. Incoming energy is absorbed by the circuit as a 0, and energy the chip reflects is sent as a 1. The switch mechanism inside the chip uses scant amounts of power and allows for fast transfer of information between wearable devices and other technology such as computers, tablets, and smartphones to receive data. The biggest remaining challenge for the team of researchers is to help the chip differentiate between communicated signals from the router or cell tower, and ambient background noise. In any application, the wearable device containing a wi-fi chip will not be the only object reflecting signals. Signals are bouncing off of walls, floors, ceilings etc., all the time. To combat this effect, Tang and Chang have developed a wireless silicon chip that will constantly sense, assess and suppress background reflections. The chip will have a...

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Digital Prototyping Drives Auto Makers to Build Faster and More Efficiently
Jul28

Digital Prototyping Drives Auto Makers to Build Faster and More Efficiently

For decades, vehicle manufacturers have used prototypes as a way to test and refine new models before putting them into full scale production. However, those test cars are an expensive part of the development process, with each taking as much as $1 million to create. Advances in digital simulation have motivated many manufacturers to take a closer look at a faster and less expensive way to evaluate new models. Jaguar Land Rover recently began mass production of the Jaguar XE, which was designed and developed without using any prototypes during aerodynamic testing—the first mainstream model to do so. The company wants to eliminate all physical prototypes from the process by 2020. Greater processing power has allowed more widespread use of computer-aided engineering in vehicle manufacturing, as computer simulations have increasingly replaced the physical testing process that is typically expensive, time consuming, and often inaccurate. Annually, car manufacturers spend about $10 billion on prototype construction. According to Exa, the software company that worked with Jeep Land Rover on the XE, General Motors constructed 170 prototypes during testing for its latest version of the Chevrolet Malibu. Manufacturers could reduce the amount spent on prototype testing by a third with the use of simulation technology. In addition to seeing the three-dimensional renderings of an initial design, engineers can take the vehicle around a virtual test track and place it in other situations such as a parking lot. Approximately 80 percent of problems found during physical testing can be eliminated through simulation. Car makers are under pressure to reduce cost in the manufacturing process as well as meet demands for reduced emissions, and to add innovative connected technologies, as well as autonomous driving features. Another advantage of digital prototyping is that the technology is expected to bring down the car industry’s snail-pace development process, that can take as long as four years, and keep up with rapid prototyping by new rivals such as Google, Tesla, and Apple. Not all vehicle manufacturers will immediately turn to virtual prototyping, as the technique is expected to meet resistance from engineers. Many purists feel that one cannot properly judge a vehicle’s performance until it can be physically seen. German manufacturer Daimler continues to pour huge amounts of money into wind tunnel testing its cars. Some automotive designers, such as Chrysler LLC,  are combining simulation technologies with clay models to satisfy the need to see a prototype in its physical form before committing to the design. Manufacturers must also prove that they have crash-tested at least 10 cars to satisfy safety requirements. The new digital design trend seems to be inevitable. As the technology advances, more manufacturers will...

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3D Printer to Construct Steel Foot Bridge in Amsterdam
Jul22

3D Printer to Construct Steel Foot Bridge in Amsterdam

MX3D, a Dutch research and development organization, is working in partnership with several companies including Autodesk, and Lenovo, to make their ambitious 3D printing project a reality. The combined talents of these firms will attempt to construct a pedestrian bridge across a canal in Amsterdam using 3D printing technology. The engineers at MX3D have worked to create robotic printers that will be capable of executing the job autonomously. The robotic printers’ six-axis arms have welders on each tip that will essentially “draw” the steel structure from each side of the canal. 3D robotic printers use various types of metals, such as aluminum, bronze, copper, or steel for construction. The printers create the structures in the air without the need of traditional support structures, such as scaffolding because the builds are sequential and can be constructed in any direction. The MX3D printing technology will differ from current 3D printing technologies in the sense that it prints “outside the box.” Currently, 3D printed objects are limited by the size of the printing space. Large objects are printed piece by piece and assembled later. By utilizing this new six-axis robotic approach, neither design nor function will be hampered or confined to a square box. The robotic application will take 3D printing to a whole new level of design, and the potential for the MX3D application is limitless as it enables 3D printers to produce practical, life-size constructs. Engineers expect that construction will begin by 2017. There were a some growing pains during the developmental stage of the printers. MX3D engineers have dealt with the printers generating “worm-like” globs, welding machine explosions, clogged nozzles, and the robot got disoriented. Multiple testing sessions finally produced an operational robotic printer that was able to create the structures. The bridge structure is designed by Autodesk project engineers and will employ a proprietary software program. It will synchronize with the technical development of the bridge, giving due consideration to the bridge’s location. The completed bridge will be 24 feet in length, made of a steel composite created at the University of Delft, and will have a superior tensile strength. It will also be functional and is expected to handle normal foot traffic. MX3D envisions a time in the not too distant future when advances in future technology will foster the development of robotic concrete printers too, in the hopes that the 3D printing of significant structures such as buildings will be possible....

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Innovative Converter Chip Benefits Solar Energy
Jul16

Innovative Converter Chip Benefits Solar Energy

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston recently invented a new converter chip that is able to harness up to 80% of electricity that passes through it while remaining energy efficient. The chip’s high capture rate is revolutionary and it has a range of potential innovative applications such as utilizing solar cells to power or charge electronic devices. The way the new converter chip works is ingenious. Dina Reda El-Damak, currently a graduate student at MIT and the author of the first related paper on the project, describes the chip as a more efficient and adaptable version of previous converter chips. When combined with technology like a solar cell, the new power circuit can power sensors and charge a battery with its excess power. The battery can then be used to provide power when input from an energy source is not available. The DC/DC converters and circuits are integrated into the new converter chips. These help to regulate the input and output voltage, and work to protect the battery systems while they are being charged or used. This “integrated startup block” creates the conditions necessary for the system to be used even if the output of the device is unregulated. The chip is innovative due to its range of operation (1 microwatt to 10 nanowatts) which significantly reduces the input energy needed to power the chip. Systems using this new chip, for example a cell phone, will have less stress on their batteries that would be able to power other system functions or even recycle excess energy for a net gain in efficiency. This chip has huge potential in the growth of “The Internet of Things” (IoT) which aims to digitize our traditionally analog devices like thermostats and refrigerators, and make them controllable online. These sensors and chips could be a low power, low cost alternative that would allow for data collection without a huge power load on the existing system. They can also be used to power small sensors that would not adversely affect the aesthetic of the device or make it difficult to use for consumers. Since the chips need little power and can be integrated with solar cells, they could eliminate the need for replaceable batteries. Proposed technologies, such as smart cement that would transmit information about traffic patterns, or streetlights that record environmental conditions like air quality, could now become a reality. Until now, an efficient power source was one of the major obstacles to making these concepts possible. Thanks to the minds at MIT, a connected future may be closer than we...

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