Smart Glass Sounds Cool—Keeps You Even Cooler
Aug14

Smart Glass Sounds Cool—Keeps You Even Cooler

A group of researchers, led by Delia Milliron, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, have developed a new and innovative way to save energy resources. They have produced a new kind of electrochromic window glass which is able to change color when an electrical charge is applied. The glass blocks near-infrared light from the sun which produces heat in addition to blocking excessive visible light. “Smart glass” is a concept which has existed in application for several decades. The term refers to glass which changes color to block visible sunlight. The cost of production has rendered the technology fairly obsolete, only appearing in expensive niche projects such as the new Boeing jetliner. Delia’s team has developed a way to make smart glass which not only blocks visible light, but can also selectively block the heat producing components of sunlight. She believes they have developed a prototype that works well enough that Heliotrope Technologies, a startup Milliron helped to co-found, will be able to begin a commercialized manufacturing process which will be cheaper and have a higher yield than current smart glass production processes.   The glass is composed of a framework of nanocrystals made of electrically conductive material in a glassy base material. The nanocrystals and the glass in which they are embedded have different but distinct electrical properties which change when an electrical charge is applied. The two materials work in tandem to control the passage of light. The nanocrystals can block 90% of near-infrared, heat producing light while the glassy material can transition between transparency and a neutral blue opacity which blocks 80% of visible light. In “cool” mode, the electrochromic glass can be applied to help buildings save energy during the summer, and vehicles can use less fuel to support environmental controls. The glass is able to switch between modes in minutes—much faster than any commercially available smart glass. Buildings which applied Milliron’s glass would potentially save thousands of dollars a year on air conditioning. It’s not hard to imagine the benefits of having glass that keeps you cooler on command. When can we expect to have access to this color changing technology? Jason Holt, president of Heliotrope Technologies, expects to bring their first products to market in...

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“Smart Insulin Patch” Could Bring Relief to Millions with Diabetes
Jul13

“Smart Insulin Patch” Could Bring Relief to Millions with Diabetes

A team of doctors and biomedical engineers at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University have developed a precise and convenient patch that could preclude the need of many diabetics ever having to give themselves insulin injections again. Injections can be painful, and if administered improperly, can lead to adverse health effects for the patient. Individuals with type 1 and advanced type 2 diabetes are required to frequently monitor their blood glucose level with finger pricks and control it with diet and insulin shots. An incorrect dose of insulin can lead to blindness, amputations, coma or even death. A “smart insulin patch” has now been developed that could make injections obsolete for most diabetics once human testing has been completed. The patch is small, smaller than the size of a penny, and it has more than 100 microscopic needles covering its surface, each of which measures glucose levels and contains it’s own supply of insulin. The patches can be placed anywhere on the diabetic’s body. They release glucose fast, and they’re made from nontoxic materials. When glucose levels get too high, the appropriate amount of insulin is released into the user’s blood. Factors such as a patient’s weight and sensitivity to insulin are accounted for to make sure that each person gets a safe level of insulin from the patch. They’re engineered to imitate beta cells that naturally produce insulin in the human body and recreate the functions of pancreatic cells. When beta cells sense that there’s too much sugar in the body, they trigger the release of insulin. Using natural materials, the researchers were able to create artificial vesicles that function in the same way. Successful trials of the patch have been performed with mice. The team discovered that glucose levels in mice were satisfactory stabilized within 30 minutes and remained that way for several hours. Mice are known to be  less sensitive to insulin than humans so the hope is that the “smart insulin patch” will be even more effective in people with stable glucose levels lasting longer than in the mice trials. The ultimate goal is to develop a “smart insulin patch” that diabetics would only need to change after a few days. Researchers are planning on moving forward with additional pre-clinical tests and then on to human clinical trials.   If the patch performs as hoped, it could result in the eradication of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia in diabetes patients. That possibility alone, could affect the lives of over 387 million diabetics across the...

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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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Will Your Future Car Be Programmed to Kill You?
Nov18

Will Your Future Car Be Programmed to Kill You?

An end to all disease, hoverboards, personalized trips to the moon, holographic television, and similar benefits of living in the “future” were all promised to us decades ago. Such future tech was supposed to be here by now. However, despite our hopes and noblest scientific efforts, few of these promises have yet been fulfilled. Still, there is one shining beacon in the promised land of tomorrow for those who might be losing hope. Driverless cars are soon to be here. Semi-autonomous cars are already on the open roads, allowing people to rely completely on computers for parking and other small tasks. Human transport will be dramatically altered when fully-automated vehicles finally hit the road en mass. Life on the roads will change, and the following are thoughts that might make it easier to grasp the full impact of the revolution. One obvious threat that science fiction writers have made their bread and butter for years; the car may be programmed to kill you at some point. This threat is actually very real. Vehicular traffic can present situations in which you could – if given the opportunity –  take action to save yourself or injure and potentially kill another party. When such decisions are left to a computer, self-interest may not always be the deciding factor. Computer software could be programmed to minimize the damage to the public at large, not necessarily sparing your life in the process. Engineers, and those concerned with the ethics of the emerging technology, have publicly stated that there is no easy answer when it comes to working with such control factors on these types of vehicles. One suggestion is placing emphasis on complete transparency by the manufacturers regarding such situations so drivers can know exactly what to expect under such conditions. Cars being operated strictly by computers could also significantly increase the world’s population. Fewer accidents on the roads means more people still living on the planet. If computers are saving the lives of the 1.2 million people who would otherwise die in traffic accidents, then there could be a serious problem. There are also economic concerns for drivers who own these cars. The more complex machinery is likely to make repairs to the vehicle dramatically more expensive. However, accidents will still happen and natural disasters will still strike. There are definite repercussions for lawmakers. Currently, legislative considerations are on the table in at least 10 states. It is also likely that these laws will vary from state to state, according to the vehicle. Automation does not necessarily dissolve personal responsibility and drivers will still be held responsible for the actions of their vehicle in...

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Will 3D Printing Bring Manufacturing Back to Cities?
Oct22

Will 3D Printing Bring Manufacturing Back to Cities?

Instead of waiting for political policy makers to lure clean manufacturing jobs back into domestic markets, some entrepreneurs have turned to the latest 3-D printing technology to take matters into their own hands. For example, Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder and CEO of Shapeways, has big plans for his 3-D printing start up. Targeting the “3-D printing as a service” niche, Shapeways opened the doors to its New York and Dutch locations in 2007 to creative designers of all types.  While most 3-D printing companies emphasize consumer and business equipment sales, Shapeways has designs to retool the manufacturing industry. When manufacturers transferred their jobs into foreign markets, they also seemed to outsource some of the engineering innovation as well. Gone was the interaction between designers and local manufacturers that often resulted in improvements throughout the prototyping phase. The vision for Shapeways is to bring back that close relationship between designers and manufacturers by establishing its factories in urban centers throughout the world. While Weijmarshausen does not give details about the capacity of its two outlets, he does say that the factories currently produce 1,500 items per day. He is confident that the Shapeway business model is flexible and scalable enough to take on mass production in the future. Weijmarshausen makes the case that 3-D printing factories like Shapeways inspire faster innovation among engineers and designers. These innovations have traditionally driven growth within free market economies. He also points out the benefits to the environment when items are produced domestically and do not require huge energy outlays for shipping and transport. While the concept of Shapeways factories are new, they already have a close competitor in the “3-D printing as a service” niche; the global shipping giant UPS. While some businesses will not extend their services to 3-D printing because of the current high cost of equipment, UPS has taken up the challenge in one of its stores in San Diego, CA. However, they are far from developing the service to include large scale manufacturing. In this way, Shapeways has a unique mission to bring manufacturing to designers’ own back yards. Since they already will have experience working in the 3-D printing niche, it makes sense that they will be able to realize the most benefits when the equipment prices decrease over...

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Holographic Displays Coming to Smartphones?
Jul22

Holographic Displays Coming to Smartphones?

Stereoscopic 3-D images can give many individuals an unnecessary headache. To look at images such as these, it takes extreme mental effort. When you focus on objects in your everyday life, your brain focuses on the same point that your eyes converge. With images such as stereoscopic 3-D images, each of your eyes is presented with a different image, and you have to focus on the screen where the image is supposed to be. Holograms are able to avoid the headache prompting images by producing light right in the spot where your eyes focus: The light goes through the specific point and hits your eyes in the same manner that it would if the object was a physical object. Holograms also have the advantage of being able to work from many different angles and do not require a pair of glasses to see them. Until recent times, holograms required huge projectors and screens or a particular angle for viewing, but Ostendo Technologies and Hewlett-Packard’s spin-off company Leia, have big plans of placing these types of images right in your palm of your hand and fitting in your pocket within a couple years. Many pixels need to be placed in a small space to be able to create this type of image, and the geometry of creating the  images is a difficult task. Having microlenses manufactured to place in front of the light-field display pixels is also problematic because the positions and shapes have to be in the right angle to have the beams at the correct angle. Ostendo’s 3-D images use 1 million little pixels on a chip that consist of Red, Green, and Blue layers of micro-LEDs that sit on top of an image processor that is made of silicon. The pixels are typically in the range of 5 to 10 micrometers on a side. By using the individual pixel layers, each pixel is able to send any color of light out that is focused in a thin beam. Many vertical waveguides deliver the light out from the layers and send it in the right direction. An image processor under each pixel allows for power to be saved and the overall computational load to be lightened. Leia is creating a 3-D image by placing a grid of gratings just behind an everyday LCD screen. The gratings direct the light below them in different directions which creates up to 64 viewing angles for a 3-D video or image. The ultimate goal is to create a system that would be easy to integrate with already existing screens or displays that are transparent. The first commercial product is scheduled to be...

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