The Future Is Clearly Solar
Aug26

The Future Is Clearly Solar

With solar efficiency and popularity on the rise, energy-grabbing solar panels are beginning to pop up all over the place. Innovative solar-panel applications are becoming commonplace, like the solar-powered plane that can circle the globe and the road made out of solar panels in the Netherlands. Solar is an excellent and clean energy source that helps combat global warming, but the expense of the initial installation has slowed its progress in the market. Making Solar Energy a More-Accessible Option Efforts by state and federal administrations have made solar power increasingly affordable for average homeowners to install. White House officials recently revealed an ambitious plan to increase the presence of sustainable energy systems across the country. Yet, if solar energy is becoming more affordable and consumer demand is growing, what is preventing people from installing a system? The answer is alarmingly simple: how the panels look. More than a few people think solar arrays are downright ugly. The Dallas Morning News recently reported on why Texas residents were so resistant to solar panels in a state that could widely benefit from the technology. At least one real-estate agent voiced an objection saying that visually, solar arrays in people’s front yards were akin to clotheslines and broken-down trucks. Maybe it’s more about fear of change than a degradation in aesthetic appeal. A Clear Solution to Transparent Objections As usual, science has presented a solution. Several research groups have been working to develop clear solar panels. Sunpartner Technologies has developed a system that can effectively turn the screens of mobile phones into energy-collecting panels. In addition, researchers at Michigan State University have developed transparent photovoltaic panels that may be able to replace glass surfaces. Clear solar panels would open up the solar market even further, giving companies a way to install arrays so they are discreet, thus taking care of any objections about aesthetics. In the future, energy-efficient homes may have more sunroofs than clunky solar panels, and skyscrapers may rely on electricity generated from thousands of solar-powered windows. Cities could become their own power grid. Electric cars could run on energy gathered from solar-paneled windshields. Global warming is a real and serious threat to the environment. However, innovative solar-panel applications offer hope for a green and sunny future. What Do You Think? How would you like to see solar panels applied in your home or city? Let us know in the comments!...

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iSkin Wearable Tech: Putting Control in the Palm of Your Hand
Aug25

iSkin Wearable Tech: Putting Control in the Palm of Your Hand

Wearable technology is everywhere you look these days. Every morning, people strap on their smart glasses, smart watches, wireless bluetooth headsets, and activity trackers to monitor and enhance their daily activities. Wearing a watch or glasses may seem unobtrusive, but imagine if those commands were taken to the next level, where you could turn on a playlist with a snap of your fingers or answer a phone call by simply tapping your ear. A collaborative group of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics; Saarland University in Saarbrucken, Germany; Carnegie Mellon University; CNRS LTCI/Telecom-ParisTech in Paris, France; and Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, are now aiming to do just that—with a flexible, silicone-based, skin-mounted system called iSkin.   Researchers sought to enhance the human-computer interactions that have become nearly ubiquitous to everyday life by adapting touch-screen technology and integrating it with a soft, flexible, sensor overlay. The patches are created by sandwiching thin layers of conductive carbon and liquid silicone and tracing them into patterns that resemble tattoos. Current models are hardwired to computers; however, researchers are confident microprocessors could be integrated to create entirely wireless systems. Wearable technology is nothing new—Chinese mathematicians in the 17th century wore rings with miniature abacuses for quick calculations. Your great grandfather probably even carried a pocket watch. But as access to multiple devices and functions becomes necessary, making these sensors both flexible and stretchable allows for greater ease of use with minimal restriction to user activity. This innovation in wearable tech stems from research into “electronic skin” initially developed to make prosthetics function more closely to natural limbs by sensing temperature, contact, or pressure. The iSkin prototypes have been used to support single-touch functions or complex inputs such as sliders or click wheels, allowing users to answer phone calls, play music from portable devices, and adjust volume controls. While the devices are still in a prototype stage, the implications of this development are staggering. Medical-device manufacturers could utilize this technology to provide less-invasive or less-cumbersome controls for implanted devices such as insulin pumps or pacemakers. The team also believes the technology could be adapted to harvest energy directly from the human body through sources such as temperature or blood flow. Currently the silicone “stickers” are attached with a skin-safe, medical-grade adhesive, but encasing these touch sensors in silicone could mean further evolution from external, wearable technology to implanted, long-term devices that would react to simple gestures and actions. The iSkin development team has stated that there are no plans to further develop the prototype, but they are encouraging others to pick up where they have left off, leaving the door open for...

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How to Build a Better Off-Roader: Use SCIENCE
Aug20

How to Build a Better Off-Roader: Use SCIENCE

A group of French designers have developed a revolutionary new off-roader vehicle that resembles a mechanical arachnid on wheels. Designed by Pascal Rambaud, Jerome Arsac, and Thierry James, and built by french startup Mecanroc, the Swincar e-Spider uses pure physics to scurry nimbly over the toughest terrain. Off-Roader Designed with Science in Mind In physics, shifting the center of gravity is a simple way of enabling an object to turn a corner; think of a motorcyclist leaning into a curve. When more wheels are added to a vehicle, the ability to lean is traded for an increase in stability. Some vehicles, such as Toyota’s three-wheeled i-Road, use gyroscopes and a complex array of electrical sensors to restore the ability to shift the center of gravity and lean in to tight turns. The Swincar is ingeniously designed to work with the principles of physics to push the limits of off-road driving. The cockpit is suspended between four independent arms at points higher than the driver’s center of gravity. This allows the weight of the driver to swing outward around a curve, while a linkage to the wheels keeps them parallel to the angle of the cockpit. While the Swincar’s wheels will flexibly react to any obstacle, the human driver remains consistently upright throughout the drive.   Putting the “Fun” in Off-Roader “Function” Off-roading is the Swincar’s true calling. Each “arm” of the spider-like vehicle can function on its own, allowing for adaptive maneuvering over obstacles. The Swincar is capable of straddling large gaps and easily treks over separate, uneven tracks. The e-Spider is capable of traveling up and down steep 70% grades, and across grades of up to 50%. Each wheel is powered separately by a 1000w brushless electric motor, which is capable of charging whenever the driver hits the brakes. This energy saving touch can extend driving time up to four hours. Driving the Swincar is easy; the driver still uses a traditional steering wheel that turns the front and rear wheels in opposition to each other. A variant controlled by a joystick is in development. The new off-roader vehicle is electrically powered with a battery pack ranging from 2 to 6 kWh and can travel for approximately four hours on a full charge depending on the chosen battery pack. Max speed is currently 45 kilometers per hour (slightly less than 29 mph). Currently the Swincar carries a single passenger. Mecanroc is looking to develop a two seat off-roader vehicle. Although the designers have been developing the car for the past eight years, it is still a prototype car and not yet in production stages. Mecanroc is seeking for investors...

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Facebook and Google in a Race to Extend Global Internet Access
Aug19

Facebook and Google in a Race to Extend Global Internet Access

While most of us depend on the Internet to provide us with communication, information, and entertainment, much of the world’s population does not have Internet access. In some areas, there is insufficient infrastructure to provide such access. In others, potential users can afford neither Internet service nor the devices on which to access it. Up to 10% of the world’s population exists in these technological gaps, limiting entire community’s access to communication and information. This digital divide between the “haves” and “have nots” becomes more pronounced as Internet use continues to proliferate in the consumer and business world. Two giants of the Internet, Google and Facebook, are taking steps to make global Internet access a reality. Google Launches Project Loon Google is spreading Internet access through Project Loon, which entails launching huge, super pressure balloons, known as Nighthawks, approximately 20 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Using software algorithms, Project Loon is able to steer balloons to particular wind currents in order to create a comprehensive communications network. The balloons, developed by Raven Aerostar, are long-duration, high altitude balloons that have been designed to maintain consistent pressure despite temperature fluctuations. In March 2015, the Google team succeeded in keeping one Nighthawk balloon aloft for a record-breaking 187 days. The balloon circled the globe 9 times before being recovered in Argentina, and successfully endured temperatures as low as -75c (-103 F). The government of Sri Lanka announced that it was partnering with Google to have Project Loon provide comprehensive Internet coverage for the entire nation. Sri Lanka is a prominent example of a country under served by the Internet: the country has a population of 22 million but only approximately 2.8 million mobile Internet connections and 606,000 wired connections. Although there is no definite timetable for a launch of Project Loon in Sri Lanka, the country’s foreign minister estimates that the country will be covered in a few months. Facebook Takes to The Air With Aquila Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced via Facebook post that the company intends to deliver wireless signals from the skies using Aquila, a solar powered drone aircraft. The project will use lasers to beam wireless Internet access down to areas that currently lack service. Aquila boasts a wingspan of 42 meters, approximately the same as a Boeing 737, but weighs less than an automobile. The massive drone is capable of sending data at 10 gigabits per second from a distance of over 10 miles to “a point the size of a dime.” Perhaps the flashiest part of the Facebook project Internet.org, Aquila is designed to provide affordable Internet access to more communities around the world....

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High Storage Capacitors That Rival Batteries
Aug17

High Storage Capacitors That Rival Batteries

The race to build a better battery has been ongoing for decades. The advent of high functioning mobile phones and portable computers that require more power to perform their functions for any prolonged period of time has added a whole new level of intensity to the search for a battery with a longer charge life. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology may have reached a breakthrough in the development of energy storage devices. Contrary to what you might assume, the new device is not a better battery. Rather, it is a new capacitor dielectric material. The material is composed of a thin, hybrid silica so-gel film and self-assembled monolayers of octylphosphonic acid. The result is a capacitor with an electrical storage density that rivals some batteries. Batteries and capacitors work differently, and are usually used in tandem. Basically, batteries are energy sources that release energy into a device at a relatively constant rate. Capacitors, on the other hand, are passive devices that capture energy from a circuit, then release it. Capacitors can provide fast charge and discharge response, high energy storage, and power conditioning, but are generally not used for energy storage for any significant length of time. The silica so-gel material contains polar groups which are linked to the silicon atoms and the self-assembled monolayer of octylphosphonic acid on the nanoscale. The structure of the layers blocks the injection of electrons into the sol-gel material, thereby preventing excess current leakage. This allows for high breakdown strength and high energy extraction efficiency. The performance of the new dielectric material exceeds that of conventional electrolytic capacitors and thin-film lithium ion batteries. Professor Joseph Perry, one of the leaders of the research team, states that, although researches have been aware of these materials for some time, it is the first time he has seen them used together. He states it is also the first time he has witnessed a capacitor outperform a battery with respect to energy density. Said Perry, “The combination of high energy density and high power density is uncommon in the capacitor world.” The researchers will now see if they can replicate their work on a larger scale that works outside the laboratory and can be mass produced. If the researchers are successful, then the technology promises to have significant commercial use for products requiring more energy, such as electric cars, medical devices such as defibrillators, and smartphones. The research has been funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. It was initially reported on July 14th, 2015 in the journal Advanced Energy...

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