Innovative Self-Powered LED Bike Lights with the Xbat and the Revolight
Sep11

Innovative Self-Powered LED Bike Lights with the Xbat and the Revolight

Creativity and necessity inspire ingenuity and innovation. For years, many bicyclists have used dynamo self-powered LED lighting systems, but the technology could definitely use an upgrade. Many dynamo devices create noticeable drag on the bicycle wheels, are too heavy, and contribute to the wear and tear of tires. Cyclists have started to turn away from dynamo LEDs, opting for an unimpeded ride over the safety of a well-lit bicycle. Now, though, it’s becoming possible to have both. The Xbat Changes Everything Taiwanese company Sr. Eco (short for Sunrising Eco-Friendly Technology) has released their Xbat line of LED bike lighting, a name intended to emphasize that the product “eXcludes batteries.” The Xbat is self-powered like the dynamo devices, but doesn’t rely on friction to generate its energy; it instead uses dynamic induction to power its LEDs. Dynamic induction begins with pairs of magnets that have been attached to the bike’s tires. As the tires spin, the magnets pass by each other, generating energy with help from the conductive rim of the bicycle wheel. The energy triggers the hub generator (see below), which then uses the energy to power the LED lighting. Silent, Lightweight Safety The Xbat “hub” is the light itself, mounted with a lightweight generator and weighing only sixteen grams. While traditional self-powered LEDs can flicker or dim as the bicycle slows or stops, some Xbat models have a built-in capacitor that keeps the lights on for up to three minutes after the wheels stop spinning. This is a fantastic safety- and security feature that gives all the perks of wireless, battery-operated LED systems without requiring riders to change batteries. The dynamic induction technology has acute sensitivity, initiating the light almost immediately after the wheels begin to spin. It operates silently (another huge perk) and combines human power, environmental friendliness, and the perks of never having to switch off a light. The Future of LEDs The Revolights prototype, funded in part by a pair of Kickstarter campaigns and an equity investment on ABC’s Shark Tank, is perhaps the next generation of LED safety for cyclists. It is a lightweight, friction-free system offering 360° lighting. With safety as its goal, the Revolights prototype increases bike visibility from the side with LED light strips attached to the rims of the wheels. The Revolights LED system is a legal headlight that illuminates paths and signs. It also has a brake light that automatically brightens and dims as the bike changes speed. One of the most fascinating aspects of this invention is that the fork-mounted magnet and the accelerometer provide data to the LEDs so that they illuminate only when oriented at the front...

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LiFi and the VLC: An IoT Revolution
Sep09

LiFi and the VLC: An IoT Revolution

The long-awaited “Internet of Things” (IoT) may be one step closer to becoming a reality, all due to one unlikely source . . . light fixtures. Developments in LED lighting technology are making “LiFi” a brilliant and potentially industry-changing alternative to WiFi. Using the VLC to Communicate So what is LiFi anyways? LiFi is a technology that uses the visible light spectrum (VLC) to transmit data. It is similar to WiFi, but while WiFi uses radio bands to communicate its signal, LiFi relies on LED lighting. The LEDs can emit quick bursts of photons invisible to the human eye but capable of carrying data from the sender to the receiver (i.e., straight from the lights to your electronic device). Advantages of LiFi Technology If you’ve ever used public WiFi before, you know what it’s like to be on an overcrowded server: It’s molasses-slow, your pictures don’t load, and you can’t watch more than six seconds of, well, anything, before your phone freezes. LiFi addresses this problem by transmitting its signal via the light spectrum, which is 10,000 times larger than the radio frequency spectrum. With LiFi, even the busiest public spaces can become active, high-speed hotspots (and you can dive as deep into the Internet as you’re willing to go). Another advantage of LiFi is its security: The LiFi connection can only be accessed by users whose devices are in sight of the light emitting the signal. No longer will your neighbors be able to steal your WiFi; no longer will you have to deal with crawling download speeds. If they’re not in the light, they’re not on your Internet. LiFi is just starting to become viable for everyday use. For example, cars with LED headlights may soon be able to send and receive data to enable car-to-car communication about roadway hazards, etc. The cars would also send and receive data from other LED devices on the street grid (such as traffic lights and street lights) to create an entire network of active, fully connected devices. The “Internet of Things” Awaits The LiFi revolution may bring us one step closer to what entrepreneur Kevin Ashton called the Internet of Things. The term, which we mentioned earlier, refers to a network of everyday objects embedded with the hardware and software necessary to exchange data with each other. At its early beginnings, access to the Internet was limited to computers and workstations directly connected to local area or dial-up networks. Presently, we can access the Internet from personal devices such as mobile phones and smartwatches using WiFi networks; the LiFi revolution could take everything one giant step forward. Everyday objects outfitted with LEDs...

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Are 3D Printed Cars the Future of the Auto Industry?
Sep03

Are 3D Printed Cars the Future of the Auto Industry?

  3D printing technology has been available since the 1980s, but only recently have we seen it applied at an industrial capacity. In the past few years, 3D printing—sometimes called additive manufacturing or 3DP—has been used to construct apparel, medical devices, and even buildings. Now, the automotive industry has started to use the process to create 3D cars. 3DP vs. the Assembly Line: Racing for Pink Slips Henry Ford’s moving assembly line, implemented in 1913, revolutionized the industry and simplified mass production. However, over a hundred years later, the process for manufacturing automobiles remains largely unchanged. The now-dated system is expensive, requires extensive labor, and wastes an enormous amount of energy—even when building the “greenest” vehicles. This may all come to change very soon. A 3D printer, which is essentially a sophisticated industrial robot, manufactures an object from a digital file. The object is created by successively layering material until the entire object is created. 3D printing can be done with metals, plastics, and composite materials. The automobile industry has used 3D printing primarily for prototyping, so while there are a number of prototypes out there, they’re still mostly just ideas. Now though, some companies are using 3D printing to produce cars that are actually ready for a mass market. Swedish manufacturer Koenigsegg has produced a run of 300 high-performance vehicles with parts manufactured through 3D printing. 3D Printing and the Radical Reshaping of the Auto Industry Free from the assembly line, 3D printing promises to drive the future of automobiles and automated manufacturing facilities. Cars of the future will look different, obviously, but the real differences that 3D printed cars will offer include: Greater customization (e.g., built-in legroom for a taller car owner, orthopedic cushions for a driver with back problems, or a wider driver’s seat for a heavier driver.) Streamlined production (e.g., no excess scrap metal or material, fewer steps between concept and production, and less total material needed per vehicle.) Weight and safety (e.g., 3D printed cars are built with solid exteriors but honeycomb-lattice interiors, which increases safety and makes them lighter than today’s vehicles.) Energy efficiency (i.e., 3D printing saves significantly more energy than traditional manufacturing.) Car Manufacturing: A Numbers Game 3D printing may eventually level the automotive playing field to allow a new wave of companies to compete with larger manufacturers. The up-and-coming printing company, Divergent Microfactories, claims that their plants can produce up to 10,000 vehicles a year (compare to the 460,338 vehicles produced at Ford’s top-producing factory in 2011); small companies’ production capacities and competitive edge will increase as their technology improves. So, what do you think? Would you buy a 3D printed...

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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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NASA’s Jet Laboratory Helps Determine Extent of California Drought
Jul10

NASA’s Jet Laboratory Helps Determine Extent of California Drought

While the four year long California drought is making headlines worldwide, United States government researchers are trailblazing new ways to measure the scope and scale of the drought. Members of the NASA jet laboratory, the prestigious Jet Propulsion Lab, are using advanced technology to figure out exactly how, where, and why the drought is occurring and experts hope to use this information to predict the duration and severity of the drought Since the Sierra Nevada Mountains are the largest source of freshwater for the state of California, the snowpack levels in the mountains are of particular importance when it comes to monitoring how much fresh water the state can expect to receive each season. Winter levels of snow can help to predict how much water will melt and flow to the low-lands during the hotter seasons. The NASA jet laboratory is using an airplane known as the Airborne Snow Observatory to do flyovers of the snowpack to check levels. The plane is a turboprop Beechcraft King Airplane which has been specially outfitted with numerous devices that help scientists to measure the snowpack levels. The amount of snowpack contributes up to 70% of the total precipitation in California. The aircraft flies almost daily in areas in and around California and the American West. It uses a technology called Lidar—which is laser radar—to determine how deep the snow is at any particular level. The laser is able to scan the land 800,000 times per second. The rate to which the signal bounces back to the plane  is used to determine the depth of the existing snowpack. The depth of the snowpack is then used to figure out how much freshwater there will be. In addition, NASA also measures how much sunlight is being reflected by the snow using an imaging spectrometer. This is a control measure and helps to create more accurate data. Between the two data, NASA can tell water managers how much freshwater will be available and when it will be available. This can help to determine policy changes or cutbacks that may need to be made due to worsening drought conditions or whether commercial and residential areas can loosen those rules. For the first time in history, NASA is able to tell officials how much water will be necessary to end a drought in the US. Launched in 2002, the data collected by its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites showed that two of California’s main river basins were depleted by 4 trillion gallons of water each year from 2011–2014. Together, the data shows that California will need to replenish roughly 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from...

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New Technology Could Mean the End of Drunk Driving
Jun12

New Technology Could Mean the End of Drunk Driving

The US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has unveiled its prototype of a new way to prevent drunk driving deaths. DADSS, which is formally known as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, is an infrared sensor system built into the steering column of late model vehicles. It possesses the ability to immobilize a host vehicle when it senses a blood alcohol level exceeding .08 mg. The sensor detects the presence of alcohol through the breath and skin. No additional action needs to be taken by the driver; the sensor reads their BAC as soon as they step into the car. The results are equivalent to using a car breathalyzer, or field sobriety test. The difference with DADSS is that no human initiative is necessary to activate the vehicle immobilization safety protocols. High speed infrared technology is programmed to sense air particulate percentages instantly. “Education, awareness and enforcement have succeeded in dramatically reducing drunk driving fatalities, but the advanced technology of DADSS brings enormous potential to save even more lives.” —Anthony Foxx, US Transportation Secretary According to recent statistics, there are almost 10,000 drunk driving fatalities each year. The key to reducing, or eliminating this statistic, is the presence of a technologically advanced driver safety device that supersedes impaired judgments. Most people understand that existing devices for checking BAC before driving are accurate, but only have an impact if a driver chooses to test him or herself before driving. However, self-reliance of BAC monitoring is impractical in the real world. This is why the new DADSS infrared sensor is a breakthrough in stopping drunk driving incidents. DADSS is still in the prototype stages, but a big push by a partnership between the US government and the auto industry are working hard to finalize its design. Society can no longer rely on impaired drivers to monitor themselves before choosing to drive drunk. Infrared and high speed blood alcohol sensor technology is a powerful way to make the roads safer for...

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