David Kirkpatrick

October 16, 2008

Selling the “white space” for broadband — pro and con

On the pro side of the argument is the Federal government. Here’s a Technology Review article on the subject.

From the link:

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed opening up unused portions of the television airwaves known as “white spaces” to deliver wireless broadband service.

The proposal by FCC chief Kevin Martin appeals to public interest groups and many of the nation’s biggest technology companies, including Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which hope it will bring affordable high-speed Internet connections to more Americans.

“No one should ever underestimate the potential that new technologies and innovations may bring to society,” Martin said in a statement.

That article contains a few contrarian views, such as these two:

His plan could run into opposition from the nation’s big television broadcasters, which have argued that the use of the fallow spectrum to deliver wireless Internet services could disrupt their over-the-air signals. The National Association of Broadcasters had no immediate comment.

Shure Inc., a manufacturer of wireless microphones, has also raised concerns about interference with audio systems at concerts and sporting events.

For even more detail on the con side of this issue, check out this New America Foundation paper. This link goes to the summary with a link to the full report in PDF format at the bottom of the page.

October 14, 2008

Flash drive security

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:29 am

Hopefully you’re not hauling too sensitive of data around on a flash drive, but they are very handy and cheap. Here’s a Technology Review article on flash drive security out there.

From the link:

Flash memory drives, the size of your thumb, are dirt cheap and offer gigabytes of storage. It’s tempting to fill one of them with important computer files, clip it to a key chain and hit the road.

But what if you lose it while fumbling for change at Starbucks and the hacker in the corner finds it? This is not a good thing.

That’s where a new breed of flash drives comes in — chock full of military-strength encryption and passwords and keypad combinations that must be entered before the data can be accessed.

I put a few secure flash drive solutions to the test: Take Anywhere’s Pocket Safe ($59.95), the IronKey ($149) and TrueCrypt, a free software program that works with any USB flash drive.

Each had its strengths and limitations, but I liked the IronKey unit best, with its built-in Firefox browser, large storage space and powerful password protections.

October 10, 2008

Holographic disc from GE to eventually hold one terabyte

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:12 pm

And likely to be backwards compatible with older CDs and DVDs. This holographic disc news is a real storage breakthrough.

From the link:

Now researchers at GE Global Research, in Niskayuna, NY, say that they are closing in on a mass-market version that would be compatible with older DVDs and CDs–technology that GE says could reach the market in 2012. If the project pans out, consumers could hold vast video libraries on a few holographic discs alongside the regular DVDs in their living room.

Super adhesive nanotape

This bit of nanotech outperforms gecko feet and could aid climbing robots as well as hold electric components together.

From the link:

Developed by a group led by Liming Dai, a professor of materials engineering at the University of Dayton, and Zhong Wang, director of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at Georgia Tech, the adhesive is not the first made from carbon nanotubes. However, it’s much stronger than previous nanotube adhesives. Its branched structure more closely mimics the structures on gecko feet, which are covered with millions of microscale hairs that branch into many smaller hairs, each of which has a weak electrical interaction with a surface. These many weak interactions add up to strong adhesion over the area of the foot. Previously, researchers have shown that arrays of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes have similar interactions with a surface.

Science/AAAS

Gecko tape: Arrays of carbon nanotubes with a vertically aligned section (lower left) and a branched, tangled upper layer (lower right) mimic the structures of gecko feet but are 10 times more adhesive. Credit: Science/AAAS

October 9, 2008

Solar done thin, flexible and silicon

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:18 pm

Seems like solar is a very exciting industry right now.

Here’s the latest from Technology Review:

Conventional solar cells are bulky and rigid, but building lightweight, flexible cells has come with trade-offs in efficiency and robustness. A new method for making flexible arrays of tiny silicon solar cells could produce devices that don’t suffer these trade-offs. Arrays of these microcells are as efficient as conventional solar panels and may be cheaper to manufacture because they use significantly less silicon. The tiny solar cells could be incorporated into, among other applications, window tinting, and they might be used to power a car’s air conditioner and GPS.

October 3, 2008

Wireless at 10gbs — yes, gigabits per second

That is one smoking wirless connection.

From the Technology Review link:

There’s no shortage of demand for faster wireless, but today’s fastest technologies–Wi-Fi, 3G cellular networks, and even the upcoming WiMax–max out at tens or hundreds of megabits per second. So far, no commercial wireless system can beat the raw speed of optical fiber, which can carry tens of gigabits per second.

One way to achieve faster speeds is to harness the millimeter-wavelength frequency of the wireless spectrum, although this usually requires expensive and very complex equipment. Now, engineers at Battelle, a research and development firm based in Columbus, OH, have come up with a simpler way to send data through the air with millimeter-wave technology. Earlier this year, in field tests of a prototype point-to-point system, the team was able to send a 10.6-gigabit-per-second signal between antennas 800 meters apart. And more recently, the researchers demonstrated a 20-gigabit-per-second signal in the lab.

October 2, 2008

The time has come for flexi display tech

I’ve blogged on flexible display technology before (such as here in the middle of three news bits) and this is some exciting news from researchers at Sony and the Max Planck Institute.

The release:

Flexi display technology is now

Rigid television screens, bulky laptops and still image posters are to be a thing of the past as new research, published today, Thursday, 2 October, in the New Journal of Physics, heralds the beginning of a technological revolution for screen displays.

Screen display technology is taking a significant step forward as researchers from Sony and the Max Planck Institute demonstrate the possibility of bendable optically assessed organic light emitting displays for the first time, based on red or IR-A light upconversion.

The paper, ‘Annihilation Assisted Upconversion: All-Organic, Flexible and Transparent Multicolour Display’, makes feasible the design of computers that can be folded up and put in your pocket, the mass-production of moving image posters for display advertising, televisions which can be bended to view or, even, newspaper display technology which allows readers to upload daily news to an easy-to-carry display contraption.

All organic, upconversion multicolour displays have significant advantages when compared to the traditional technology used for projection displays and televisions. Namely UC displays are:

 

  • All-organic − transparent and flexible
  • Ultra low excitation intensity (red or IR)– less than 15 mWcm-2
  • Emissive display – no speckles
  • Coherent or non-coherent excitation allowed
  • High efficiency – at the moment ca. 6 %
  • Fast response times – ca. 1 µs up to 500 µs on request (LCDs have ms)
  • Almost unlimited viewing angle – up to the total internal reflection angle
  • Tailoring of emitted colours realised even when using the same excitation source
  • Multilayer Displays
  • Size limited only by the size of the substrates

 

With LCD-based projection displays, the liquid crystal acts as a filter for the light being shone through so when coherent excitation is used (e.g. laser diodes) the problems with speckles are serious. For this organic emissive UC displays, the organic molecules themselves emit non-coherent light in 4 (all directions) to produce an image.

Sony announced the development of flexible OLED display screens in 2006 but glitches such as size and resolution limitations, and the difficulty of structuring the organic compounds so as not to be distorted when bent, have stopped designs coming to market. This new technology for optically excited organic emissive displays hasn’t got this problem and gives further opportunities for new applications.

The research published today concludes through the use of a new structure and unique combinations for the organic compounds within viscous polymeric matrix, that there need be no size or resolution limitations for the new screens.

The researchers conclude, “To the best of our knowledge we demonstrate for the first time a versatile colour all-organic and transparent UC-display. The reported displays are also flexible and have excellent brightness.”

 

###

 

There is a small film of a prototype screen in action available.

Update — Technology Review covers this story here.

September 29, 2008

Nanotech helps in purifying water

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:52 pm

Yet another application of nanotechnology.

From the link:

Adding nanoparticles to a water purifying membrane can double its efficiency, according to a startup company based in Los Angeles. With global water usage on the increase and fresh water in limited supply, the company, NanoH2O, says its novel approach could make such purification technology a viable solution to a growing problem.

Reverse osmosis–feeding water through a semipermeable membrane to filter out impurities–is widely considered to be the most effective way to desalinate water. But it is very energy-intensive, and therefore expensive, because water has to be forced through the membrane under pressure. A key way to reduce the costs involved is to increase the water throughput for the same pressure. But for many years, improvements in membrane technology have been incremental at best, says Jeff Green, NanoH2O founder and CEO.

September 26, 2008

Stem cells from adult cells

I’m for stem cell research of all stripes, but it is encouraging that research is ongoing beyond just embryonic stem cells such as this application using adult cells.

This is good medical news. But no reason to not lift the asinine theocratic ban on US government support of embryonic stem cell research.

From the link:

Last year, researchers announcedone of the most promising methods yet for creating ethically neutral stem cells: reprogramming adult human cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This involved using four transcription factor proteins to turn specific genes on and off. But the resulting cells, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for their ability to develop into just about any tissue, have one huge flaw. They’re made with a virus that embeds itself into the cells’ DNA and, over time, can induce cancer. Now, scientists at Harvard University have found a way to effect the same reprogramming without using a harmful virus–a method that paves the way for tissue transplants made from a patient’s own cells.

September 23, 2008

Carbon nanotube coated electrodes increase efficiency

Good news for neurological devices. Coating electrodes with carbon nanotubes makes them much more efficient, longer lasting and less prone to side effects.

From the link:

Researchers led by Edward Keefer at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center developed a simple method for coating electrodes with carbon nanotubes. The coated electrodes were better at recording neural activity than were bare electrodes when implanted in mice and in a monkey. Importantly, the coated electrodes provided less-noisy recordings than bare ones did. They also required less power to operate.

And the nanotubes enhanced the electrodes’ ability to both record and stimulate neural activity more than any other coating previously reported. Today’s neural prosthetics are good at sending electrical signals but not at receiving them, says Ravi Bellamkonda, director of the Neurological Biomaterials and Therapeutics group at Georgia Tech. Thus, the batteries in deep-brain stimulators–implanted devices used to treat Parkinson’s–last only three years because the devices are constantly on. “You want to seeif the neuron is quiet,” says Bellamkonda. A feedback-enabled device that powered off when not needed could potentially use the same battery for a few more years.

In these scanning electron microscope images, electrodes coated with carbon nanotubes, like the one on the right, are more conductive and better at interfacing with nervous tissue. The electrode on the left is bare.

Neural nanotubes: In these scanning electron microscope images, electrodes coated with carbon nanotubes, like the one on the right, are more conductive and better at interfacing with nervous tissue. The electrode on the left is bare.

High-performance solar breakthrough

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:21 am

This is the latest in high-performance solar news.

From the Technology Review link:

A cheap new way to attach mirrors to silicon yields very efficient solar cells that don’t cost much to manufacture. The technique could lead to solar panels that produce electricity for the average price of electricity in the United States.

Suniva, a startup based in Atlanta, has made solar cells that convert about 20 percent of the energy in the sunlight that falls on them into electricity. That’s up from 17 percent for its previous solar cells and close to the efficiency of the best solar cells on the market. But unlike other high-efficiency silicon solar cells, says Ajeet Rohatgi, the company’s founder and chief technology officer, Suniva’s are made using low-cost methods. One such method is screen printing, a relatively cheap process much like the silk-screen process used to print T-shirts.

Update 9/23 — KurzweilAI.net dropped this item into today’s mail. Here’s that take:

Efficient, Cheap Solar Cells
Technology Review, Sep. 23, 2008

Suniva has developed 20 percent- efficient solar cells using lower-cost screen printing to add a reflective layer, with a goal of 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour — the average cost of electricity in the United States and far less than prices in many markets.


(Suniva)

 
Read Original Article>>

September 20, 2008

Maybe markets need the human touch

Here’s a Technology Review blog post on quantitative analysis and its role in the ongoing financial meltdowns.

From the link:

Much of what’s happening currently connects back to this: the application of incredibly complex mathematical and statistical techniques to financial markets. An article in yesterday’s Financial Times highlights how the failure of mathematical modeling to accurately foresee market behavior is now exposing even seemingly safe institutions such as AIG to the wider credit mess:

On a wider level, AIG failed to see how the fate of supersenior [pools of debt previously considered safe] could be linked to behaviour in other parts of the financial world. For what has made the price falls so vicious this year is that all the institutions that had previously piled this “boring” supersenior on their books have needed to sell at once. Hence the development of a vicious, downward spiral.

These institutions can hardly be blamed. This morning I spoke with Jiang Wang, a professor at the Laboratory for Financial Engineering at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He says that the models used by big financial institutions simply aren’t engineered to cope with the kind of severe conditions we are now seeing:

“Quantitative models/tools have served finance well at the micro level, such as valuation techniques, trading strategies, and specific risk analysis and product design. However, they are not at the level of capturing system wide risks and dynamics, and not intended to be. Much more work and data are needed here.”

Unfortunately, as the situation worsens, it becomes even harder to predict what will happen next.

September 18, 2008

Obama’s online outreach

Filed under: Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:16 am

Obama’s campaign is using a new online tool for get-out-the-vote efforts.

From the Technology Review link:

But the Obama camp recently upped the ante with a neighbor-to-neighbor tool.It aims to send supporters out to contact individual voters in their neighborhoods–presumably drawn from databases of current or former Democrats–and follow an Obama-provided script to ensure that the faithful get out and vote. The tool “might be a sign that not only is team Obama ahead in terms of the participatory Web, but that it has figured out how to use what they’ve learned online thus far to actually win votes,” Andrew Raseij, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, a conference and website about politics and technology, wrote me in an e-mail.

September 15, 2008

Plastic Logic to launch e-reader in 2009

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:22 am

Looks like very early 2009.

From the link:

This Wednesday, Cambridge University startup Plastic Logic, which is headquartered in Mountain View, CA, will open a factory in Dresden, Germany, that will produce about 11 million large, flexible electronic-paper display units a year. The displays will be used in an electronic reader that the company showed at the Demo conference in San Diego last week. The product, which is scheduled to be commercially launched in January, uses display technology from E Ink and backplane technologies that employ polymer electronics developed by Plastic Logic’s founders at Cambridge University

Plastic Logic is banking that there’s room on the market for another e-book, this one targeted at businesspeople who want to read documents and newspapers on a lightweight, robust device with a large display. Several portable electronic readers already on the market also employ the E Ink display technology and enable users to take thousands of pages of documents on the road. Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader have six-inch screens–about the size of a paperback book. The Readius, made by Polymer Vision–a spinout from Philips Electronics–is the size of a cell phone and has a rollable display that stows away.

September 12, 2008

A great solar idea

Integrating solar cells into roofing materials is a great solar power idea on many levels.

From the Technology Review article:

In an effort to promote the adoption of solar technology, United Solar Ovonic of Auburn Hills, MI, has teamed with a major roofing company to create a metal roof system that generates electricity from sunlight. The partnership offers seven different prefabricated systems, ranging in capacity from 3 to 120 kilowatts. Tests show that the solar roof panels are rugged and can withstand winds in excess of 160 miles per hour.

In addition to being more aesthetically pleasing than bulky rooftop-mounted panels, solar roofing materials can cut the cost of household solar installations by doing double duty, generating electricity while protecting buildings from the elements. “Ultimately, if you can use one product to do two things, you can save a lot of money,” says Cecile Warner, principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Center for Photovoltaics, in Golden, CO.

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) have been around since the late 1980s, Warner says, but only lately have they begun to see some success with large commercial and residential developments. Recent advances in flexible thin-film photovoltaic materials–such as those sold by United Solar–are allowing manufacturers to more easily integrate photovoltaics directly into the roofs and facades of buildings.

The solar system shown here (darker panels) integrates thin-film solar modules directly into a metal roof. Such systems offer cost savings in labor and materials and blend well with buildings’ designs.

Seamless solar: The solar system shown here (darker panels) integrates thin-film solar modules directly into a metal roof. Such systems offer cost savings in labor and materials and blend well with buildings’ designs.

September 10, 2008

Nanonets improve solar, too

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:20 am

I’ve blogged on nanonets and how they improve electronics and energy applications. Here’s a Technology Review story with more detail on how nanonets improve solar energy.

And as a bonus, with picutures!

From the second link:

One problem with solar cells is that they only produce electricity during the day. A promising way to use the sun’s energy more efficiently is to enlist it to split water into hydrogen gas that can be stored and then employed at any time, day or night. A cheap new nanostructured material could prove an efficient catalyst for performing this reaction. Called a nanonet because of its two-dimensional branching structure, the material is made up of a compound that has been demonstrated to enable the water-splitting reaction. Because of its high surface area, the nanonet enhances this reaction.

Researchers led by Dunwei Wang, a chemist at Boston College, grew the nanonets, creating structures made up of branching wires of titanium and silicon. Last year, researchers at the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, showed that titanium disilicide, which absorbs a broad spectrum of visible light, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen–and can store the hydrogen, which it absorbs or releases depending on the temperature. Other semiconducting materials have been tested as water-splitting catalysts but have proved unstable.

Nanonets, structures made up of branching titanium and silicon wires, are flat yet have a high surface area, making them more efficient at using solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel. The top image shows a nanonet magnified 50,000 times. At bottom, a flexible nanonet rolls up when poked by the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope. Both images were taken with a tunneling electron microscope.

Net reaction: Nanonets, structures made up of branching titanium and silicon wires, are flat yet have a high surface area, making them more efficient at using solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel. The top image shows a nanonet magnified 50,000 times. At bottom, a flexible nanonet rolls up when poked by the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope. Both images were taken with a tunneling electron microscope.

September 9, 2008

Venture capitalists putting money into green technologies

Cleantech companies saw VC investment grow by by 41% to over $960 million during Q2 2008.

From the link (the initial quote is from, Joseph Muscat, Ernst & Young’s Americas director of cleantech and venture capital.):

“I think what you’re seeing is sort of pent-up investments now in R&D,” he said of the company’s research, based on based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource.

Cleantech subsectors include alternative fuels, energy and electricity generation, energy storage, water, environment, industry-focused products and services and energy efficiency.

Clean Edge, an environmental research firm, said revenue in solar photovoltaics, wind, biofuels and fuel cells jumped 40 percent to $77.3 billion in 2007. The firm projects these four benchmark technologies will grow to $254.5 billion within a decade.

A February report from the McKinsey Global Institute said an additional annual investment of $170 billion between now and 2020 could not only cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, but also provide investors with an internal rate of return of about 17 percent.

New avenues to invest in such technology could help boost investments.

Firsthand Funds created its Firsthand Alternative Energy Fund in October to give regular investors interested in alternative energy a place to invest their money, said Kevin Landis, who manages the new energy fund.

“We see kind of a gap in there in that there’s lots of venture capital funds out there but there’s not many mutual funds for people like you and me to put money to work in this,” he said.

It’s not all photovoltaics, wind or biofuels that are attracting investments either, Landis said.

Building automation, advanced lighting and improved insulation are “the here and now technology,” he said.

Modified bacteria improves cellulosic ethanol

I’m not completely sold on ethanol in any form, although switchgrass and waste biomass versions are much more appealing than food product biofuel.

If the technology is going to make it in practice, breakthroughs like this will help it get there.

From the link:

New genetically modified bacteria could slash the costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass, such as corn cobs and leaves, switchgrass, and paper pulp. The microbes produce ethanol at higher temperatures than are possible using yeast, which is currently employed to ferment sugar into the biofuel. The higher temperature more than halves the quantity of the costly enzymes needed to split cellulose into the sugars that the microbes can ferment. What’s more, while yeast can only ferment glucose, “this microorganism is good at using all the different sugars in biomass and can use them simultaneously and rapidly,” says Lee Lynd, an engineering professor at Dartmouth College, who led the microbe’s development.

September 5, 2008

Improving solar through stronger sunlight

Concentrating sunlight gets solar more close to competing with fossil fuels. Solar breakthroughs are really hitting the wire on a regular basis these days.

From the Technology Review link:

In his darkened lab at MIT, Marc Baldo shines an ultraviolet lamp on a 10-­centimeter square of glass. He has coated the surfaces of the glass with dyes that glow faintly orange under the light. Yet the uncoated edges of the glass are shining more brightly–four neat, thin strips of luminescent orange.

The sheet of glass is a new kind of solar concentrator, a device that gathers diffuse light and focuses it onto a relatively small solar cell. Solar cells, multilayered electronic devices made of highly refined silicon, are expensive to manufacture, and the bigger they are, the more they cost. Solar concentrators can lower the overall cost of solar power by making it possible to use much smaller cells. But the concentrators are typically made of curved mirrors or lenses, which are bulky and require costly mechanical systems that help them track the sun.

Unlike the mirrors and lenses in conventional solar concentrators, Baldo’s glass sheets act as waveguides, channeling light in the same way that fiber-optic cables transmit optical signals over long distances. The dyes coating the surfaces of the glass absorb sunlight; different dyes can be used to absorb different wavelengths of light. Then the dyes reëmit the light into the glass, which channels it to the edges. Solar-cell strips attached to the edges absorb the light and generate electricity. The larger the surface of the glass compared with the thickness of the edges, the more the light is concentrated and, to a point, the less the power costs.

September 3, 2008

Demandbase helps maximize web visitors

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:33 pm

Interesting technology from Demandbase, a San Francisco startup. Its web tool helps companies sort through the details of website visitors to help make follow-up calls and seek customers.

From the Technology Review link:

Demandbase Stream, which is aimed primarily at companies marketing to other companies, cross-references the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of computers accessing a website with publicly accessible information and data from business databases. On a ticker tape that runs along the top of a user’s screen, it shows the last 25 visitors to a website. If the user clicks on a visitor, the software shows her the name and location of the company that the visitor comes from, details about the company, and information about the visitor, such as the search terms that brought her to the site. Together, this offers clues about what the visitor might be interested in buying.

Detailed information is vital for spotting potential customers. Just knowing that someone from IBMvisited a website won’t help much, since Big Blue has offices all over the world. Demandbase Stream, however, shows which IBM office the visitor came from, and what departments are located there. This basic service is free, but the user can choose to access another tool provided by the company–Demandbase Direct–that digs up contact information for specific people for a fee. The software can ignore traffic from nonbusiness users by filtering out data from home Internet service providers like Comcast. It can also filter out traffic that originates from outside a given geographical area of interest.

August 26, 2008

Cloud computing brings security benefits

I’ve blogged on cloud computing before and this Technology Review article suggests the concept might be the best way to keep PCs virus-free.

From the second link:

Most people know better than to connect a computer to the Internet without first installing up-to-date antivirus software. But even the best software protection won’t catch every new virus, and performing a thorough system scan can require plenty of processor power, slowing some computers to a crawl.

New research from the Universityof Michigan suggests that computers could be better protected from viruses without sacrificing performance if antivirus software were moved from the PC to “the cloud”–a collection of servers that work seamlessly as one powerful machine. Using this approach, researchers found that they could detect 35 percent more recent viruses than a single antivirus program (88 percent compared with 73 percent). Moreover, using the distributed software, called Cloud AV, they caught 98 percent of all malicious software, compared with 83 percent, on average, for a single antivirus solution.

August 22, 2008

Wireless power demonstration

Intel wirelessly powered a 60 watt lightbulb in a recent demonstration. Electricity distributed through the air, rather than power lines, has been discussed, discarded and actively feared at various times in the past. Intel’s show may be the nudge that takes the idea to wider acceptance.

From the Technology Review link:

Imagine juicing up your laptop computer or cell phone without plugging them into an electrical socket. That’s a luxury that could be provided by wireless power transmission, a concept that has been bandied about for decades but is creeping closer to becoming viable.

Building off work unveiled last year by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, Intel Corp. on Thursday demonstrated how to make a 60-watt light bulb glow from an energy source 3 feet away. The Intel team did it with relatively high efficiency, losing only a quarter of the energy the researchers started with.

“That to me is the most striking part about it — transmitting 60 watts at 75 percent efficiency over several feet,” Intel’s chief technology officer, Justin Rattner, said in an interview. “The power pack for your laptop isn’t that efficient … it’s one of those things that’s almost too good to be true.”

Wireless transmission of electricity makes use of some basic physics. Electric coils that resonate at the same frequency can transmit energy to each other at a distance.

August 18, 2008

Day4 Energy offers more efficient solar cells

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:58 pm

Solar news is coming fast and furious these days. Here’s the latest — Day4 Energy says they’ve increased their cells efficiency.

From the Technology Review link:

By changing the way that conventional silicon solar panels are made, Day4 Energy, a startup based in Burnaby, British Columbia, has found a way to cut the cost of solar power by 25 percent, says George Rubin, the company’s president.

The company has developed a new electrode that, together with a redesigned solar-cell structure, allows solar panels to absorb more light and operate at a higher voltage. This increases the efficiency of multicrystalline silicon solar panels from an industry standard of about 14 percent to nearly 17 percent. Because of this higher efficiency, Day4’s solar panels generate more power than conventional panels do, yet they will cost the same, Rubin says. He estimates the cost per watt of solar power would be about $3, compared with $4 for conventional solar cells. That will translate into electricity prices of about 20 cents per kilowatt-hour in sunny areas, down from about 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, he says.

Other experimental solar technologies could lead to much lower prices–indeed, they promise to compete with the average cost of electricity in the United States, which is about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. But such technologies, including advanced solar concentrators and some thin-film semiconductor solar cells, probably won’t be available for years. Day4’s technology could be for sale within 18 months, the company says.

August 15, 2008

Yahoo rolls out Fire Eagle

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:23 am

Fire Eagle is a management system for location data and had only been available to invited users. The service is now open to everyone.

From the Technology Review link:

With Fire Eagle, Coates and Yahoo are betting that location-aware technology is going to be big. The sort of future that Coates envisions is one in which your location can be broadcast to any website, added to your blog, and used to help you search for friends, news, and shopping deals nearby–all with your permission, of course. Fire Eagle, Coates said yesterday, can be the single place that a person needs to visit to set privacy requirements and make sure that the right type of location information (exact address, neighborhood, city, state, and country) is being displayed where you want it.

Here’s how it works: if you go directly to the Fire Eagle site, you can manually set your location; if your computer, cell phone, or GPS navigation unit can find your position, you can have these gadgets send that data automatically to Fire Eagle. When Fire Eagle gets your location, it doesn’t do anything with it until you select the Web services to which you want that information sent. For instance, if you have it sent to Pownce, Fire Eagle will update your location in your activity stream. If you allow Fire Eagle to send your location to a service called Radar, it can show you news stories that occur within 1,000 feet of your position. And there are a handful of services that can use your location information to help you see which friends (who also use the services) are nearby.

August 14, 2008

Nanotubes help create stretchy conductors

This application of carbon nanotubes could feasibly lead to displays or even computers that are stretchable and can wrap around objects. This is an early step toward wearable computers and actual “walking billboards.” And there are many, many uses not even considered just yet.

These are very exciting times with all the innovation going on in many fields, nanotech being one of the more interesting because there is so much promise there and so many unknowns to be discovered. A lot of these developmentss really are science fiction coming to pass.

This Technology Review article covers the University of Tokyo research that led to the stretchable conductors.

From the link:

To make the stretchable polymer conductive, Someya’s group combined a batch of millimeter-long, single-walled carbon nanotubes with an ionic liquid–a liquid containing charged molecules. The resulting black, paste-like substance was then slowly added to a liquid polymer mixture. This produced a gel-like substance that was poured into a cast and air-dried for 24 hours.

The benefit of adding the nanotubes to a polymer before it is cast, says Someya, is that the nanotubes, which make up about 20 percent of the weight of the total mixture, are more evenly distributed. And because each nanotube is about a millimeter in length, there’s a high likelihood that in aggregate they will form an extensive network that allows electrical charge to propagate reliably throughout the polymer.

Previously, researchers have added micrometer-length carbon nanotubes to polymers, says Ray Baughman, a professor of materials science at the University of Texas. Most often, they would simply coat the polymer with nanotubes. Baughman says that Someya’s work is exciting, but he notes that he would have expected that adding higher percentages of carbon nanotubes to polymers reduces their stretchiness.

According to Someya, the initial air-dried nanotube-polymer film is flexible but not that stretchable. In order to improve its stretchiness, a machine perforates it into a net-shaped structure that is then coated with a silicone-based material. This enables the material to stretch much farther without compromising its conductivity.

A researcher stretches a mesh of transistors connected by elastic conductors that were made at the University of Tokyo.

Malleable matrix: A researcher stretches a mesh of transistors connected by elastic conductors that were made at the University of Tokyo.

August 13, 2008

A123 Systems announces IPO

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:37 am

A start-up with a battery to challenge lithium-ions has announced its initial public offering. A123 Systems has commercialized materials developed at MIT.

From the link:

A123’s success so far is due to its ability to develop ways to manufacture its nanostructured materials. The company’s competitors might solve similar problems themselves and produce batteries that could outperform A123’s. A123 has responded by investing heavily in research and development.

Here is the company’s release on the IPO news:

 A123 Systems, Inc.

A123 Systems Files Registration Statement for Initial Public Offering

WATERTOWN, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A123 Systems, Inc. announced today that it has filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to the proposed initial public offering of its common stock.

The joint book-running managers of the proposed offering will be Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated and Goldman Sachs & Co. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated will serve as co-lead manager, and Broadpoint Capital, Inc. and Lazard Capital Markets LLC will serve as co-managers.

A registration statement relating to these securities has been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission but has not yet become effective. These securities may not be sold, nor may offers to buy be accepted prior to the time the registration statement becomes effective. This press release shall not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy, nor shall there be any sale of these securities in any state or jurisdiction in which such an offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful prior to registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such state or jurisdiction.

Once available, a preliminary prospectus relating to these securities may be obtained from Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated, Prospectus Department, 180 Varick Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10014, telephone: 866-718-1649 or by emailing prospectus@morganstanley.com and from Goldman Sachs & Co., Prospectus Department, 100 Burma Road, Jersey City, NJ 07035, telephone: 212-902-1171, facsimile: 212-902-9316 or by emailing prospectus-ny@ny.email.gs.com

About A123 Systems

A123 Systems develops and manufactures advanced lithium-ion batteries and battery systems for the transportation, electric grid services and portable power markets. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Massachusetts, A123 Systems patented Nanophosphate technology includes nanoscale materials initially developed at and exclusively licensed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

All-nanowire loaded chip

Just after blogging on UC Berkeley’s recent research gift from Applied Materials, this story appears in the inbox. The university has created the first integrated circuit using nanowires as both sensors and electronic components.

This technology has a lot of possibities, even beyond silicon chips.

From the second link:

Nanowires make good sensors because their small dimensions enhance their sensitivity. Nanowire-based light sensors, for example, can detect just a few photons. But to be useful in practical devices, the sensors have to be integrated with electronics that can amplify and process such small signals. This has been a problem, because the materials used for sensing and electronics cannot easily be assembled on the same surface. What’s more, a reliable way of aligning the tiny nanowires that could be practical on a large scale has been hard to come by.

A printing method developed by the Berkeley group could solve both problems. First, the researchers deposit a polymer on a silicon substrate and use lithography to etch out patterns where the optical sensing nanowires should be. They then print a single layer of cadmium selenide nanowires over the pattern; removing the polymer leaves only the nanowires in the desired location for the circuit. They repeat the process with the second type of nanowires, which have germanium cores and silicon shells and form the basis of the transistors. Finally, they deposit electrodes to complete the circuits.

University of California, Berkeley, researchers were able to create an orderly circuit array from two types of tiny nanowires, which can function as optical sensors and transistors. Each of the circuits on the 13-by-20 array serves as a single pixel in an all-nanowire image sensor.

Squared away: University of California, Berkeley, researchers were able to create an orderly circuit array from two types of tiny nanowires, which can function as optical sensors and transistors. Each of the circuits on the 13-by-20 array serves as a single pixel in an all-nanowire image sensor.

August 11, 2008

Potential battery storage breakthrough

If this Texas-based firm is right on the science, this is a major breakthrough in battery life. EEStor says it’s prepared to do battle with lithium-ion batteries, possibly besting the current technology’s energy density by three times.

From the link:

A Texas startup says that it has taken a big step toward high-volume production of an ultracapacitor-based energy-storage system that, if claims hold true, would far outperform the best lithium-ion batteries on the market.

Dick Weir, founder and chief executive of EEStor, a startup based in Cedar Park, TX, says that the company has manufactured materials that have met all certification milestones for crystallization, chemical purity, and particle-size consistency. The results suggest that the materials can be made at a high-enough grade to meet the company’s performance goals. The company also said a key component of the material can withstand the extreme voltages needed for high energy storage.

“These advancements provide the pathway to meeting our present requirements,” Weir says. “This data says we hit the home run.”

Also from the link:

Despite its critics, EEStor has won support from some significant corners. In addition to Lockheed Martin, venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is an investor, and former Dell Computer chairman Morton Topfer sits on EEStor’s board.

The company is also in serious talks with potential partners in the solar and wind industry, where EEStor’s technology can, according to Weir, help put 45 percent more energy into the grid. He says that the company is working toward commercial production “as soon as possible in 2009,” although when asked, he gave no specific date. “I’m not going to make claims on when we’re going to get product out there. That’s between me and the customer. I don’t want to tell the industry.”

 

Cooling plastics

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:54 am

This is a tech that looks like it ought to have some widespread applications across a lot of manufactured product groups. A plastic that cools itself in response to electric fields.

From the link:

Thin films of a new polymer developed at Penn State change temperature in response to changing electric fields. The Penn State researchers, who reported the new material in Science last week, say that it could lead to new technologies for cooling computer chips and to environmentally friendly refrigerators.

Changing the electric field rearranges the atoms in the polymer, which in turn govern its temperature; this is called the electrocaloric effect. In a cooling device, a voltage would be applied to the material, which would then be brought in contact with whatever it’s intended to cool. The material would heat up, passing its energy to a heat sink or releasing it into the atmosphere. Reducing the electric field would bring the polymer back to a low temperature so that it could be reused.

In a 2006 paper in Science, Cambridge University researchers led by materials scientist Neil Mathurdescribed ceramic materials that also exhibited the electrocaloric effect, but only at temperatures of about 220 °C. The operating temperature of a computer chip is significantly lower–usually somewhere around 85 °C–and a kitchen refrigerator would have to operate at lower temperatures still. The Penn State polymer shows the same 12-degree swing that the ceramics did, but it works at a relatively low 55 °C.

The polymer also absorbs heat better. “In a cooling device, besides temperature change, you also need to know how much heat it can absorb from places you need to cool,” says Qiming Zhang, an electrical-engineering professor at Penn State, who led the new work. The polymer, Zhang says, can absorb seven times as much heat as the ceramic.

Films of a specially designed polymer, just 0.4 to 2.0 micrometers thick, can get colder or hotter by 12 °C when an electric field is removed or applied across them.

Cool spool: Films of a specially designed polymer, just 0.4 to 2.0 micrometers thick, can get colder or hotter by 12 °C when an electric field is removed or applied across them.

August 5, 2008

Browser-based document tech

Filed under: et.al., Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:03 pm

I’m not sure this isn’t a solution in search of a problem given we already have PDFs and other decent document formats, but hey, I’m all for better ways to share and read documents online:

A new tool for embedding documents on Web pages is cropping up on sites as diverse as the storage service Drop.io; LabMeeting, a social network for scientists; and the Obama campaign’s official blog. Launched earlier this year, the format, called iPaper, is technology from Scribd, a company that hopes to become the sort of clearinghouse for documents that YouTube is for videos. With iPaper, the company offers a browser-based system for viewing documents that retains their original formatting and can be employed by the 98 percent of Internet users who have installed Adobe Flash.

Although most Web pages are documents, they often don’t display consistently from one browser to another, and it can be awkward to navigate through a large document if it’s displayed as a series of connected pages on the Web. Alternatively, when individuals want to share documents with each other, they can have compatibility problems. For example, the new .docx format created by Microsoft’s Office 2007 can’t be accessed by many other programs, including earlier versions of Office. One traditional method to solve both of these problems has been Adobe PDFs, which preserve formatting and can be opened by most computer users.

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