Harnessing the awesome power of the Sun isn’t just dependent on the efficiency of solar cells, but also on making them affordable. Current techniques aren’t exactly cheap, but researchers from Stanford University think they’ve made a bit of a breakthrough by producing a relatively inexpensive photovoltaic cell using nothing but carbon. We’re sure other scientists might disagree with the ‘world’s first’ claim, but those at Stanford think it’s a matter of language, and that these other pretenders are “referring to just the active layer in the middle, not the electrodes.” The team selected a trio of carbon types to use in their cell: a mixture of nanotubes and buckyballs make up the light-absorbing layer, while graphene is being utilized for the electrodes.
The carbon amalgam can be applied from solution using simple methods, meaning the flexible cells could be used to coat surfaces, although you won’t be seeing it smeared over anything too soon. The prototype only touts a “laboratory efficiency of less than 1 percent,” so it can’t compete with traditional solar cells just yet. Also, it only absorbs a slither of the light spectrum, but the researchers are looking to other forms of the wonder element which could increase that range. They are hoping that improving the structure of the cells will help to boost their efficiency, too. They might never generate the most energy, but the all-carbon cells can remain stable under extreme conditions, meaning they could find their calling in harsh environments where brawn is a little more important than status, or looks.
Dodging the issues of spectrum auctions and more cell towers, researchers at MIT have discovered that they can use an algebraic equation to improve data speeds by reducing dropped packets. It’s these dropped packets that can build up congestion across a wireless network, as devices attempt to recoup these missing data nuggets. But instead of sending typical packets, MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics created an equation that describes a series of packets. If a packet fails to deliver, then the receiving device is apparently able to “solve” the missing chunk, with the processing load on phones, routers and base stations apparently negligible.
The tech, which can also seamlessly transition a data stream between wireless internet and LTE, has already been tested on WiFi networks over at MIT; when two percent of data packets were dropped, speeds were boosted from 1Mbps to 16Mbps. If five percent of packets were being lost, the researchers then saw bandwidth increase from 0.5Mbps to 13.5Mbps. Companies are apparently already licensing the tech, although MIT isn’t revealing more on this just yet. Muriel Medard, project lead, said that there were currently “very severe inefficiencies that should be remedied before you consider acquiring more resources” — namely more spectrum and hardware, although the gains seen in these early tests are yet to be replicated in real life. There’s more on the science and development at the source link below.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego have devised new algorithms that can cut lithium-ion battery charge times in half, help cells run more efficiently and potentially cut production costs by 25 percent. Rather than tracking battery behavior and health with the traditional technique of monitoring current and voltage, the team’s mathematical models estimate where lithium ions are within cells for more precise data. With the added insight, the team can more accurately gauge battery longevity and control charging efficiency. The group was awarded $ 460,000 from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E research arm to further develop the algorithm and accompanying tech with automotive firm Bosch and battery manufacturer Cobasys, which both received the remainder of a $ 9.6 million grant. Wondering if the solution will ever find its way out of the lab? According to co-lead researcher Scott Moura, it’ll see practical use: “This technology is going into products that people will actually use.”
Filed under: Alt
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Built-in power supply? Check. Ability to survive anything? Check. Easy to control? Okay, anyone who’s had a cockroach as an uninvited houseguest knows that’s not the case. So, rather than re-inventing the biological wheel with a robotic version, North Carolina State university researchers have figured out a way to remotely control a real Madagascar hissing cockroach. They used an off-the-shelf microcontroller to tap in to the roach’s antennae and abdomen, then sent commands that fooled the insect into thinking danger was near, or that an object was blocking it. That let the scientists wirelessly prod the insect into action, then guide it precisely along a curved path, as shown in the video below the break. The addition of a sensor could allow the insects to one day perform tasks, liking searching for trapped disaster victims — something to think about the next time you put a shoe to one.
The minds at Disney Research aren’t only interested in tracking your face — they want to map, shave and clone it, too. Through a pair of research projects, Walt’s proteges have managed to create systems for not only mapping, digitally reconstructing and removing facial hair, but also for creating lifelike synthetic replicas of human faces for use in animatronics. Let’s start with the beards, shall we? Facial hair is a big part of a person’s physical identity, a quick shave can render a close friend unrecognizable — but modern face-capture systems aren’t really optimized for the stuff. Disney researchers attempted to address that issue by creating an algorithm that detects facial hair, reconstructs it in 3D and uses the information it gathers to suss out the shape of the skin underneath it. This produces a reconstruction of not only the skin episurface, but also of the subject’s individual hairs, meaning the final product can be viewed with or without a clean shave.
Another Disney team is also taking a careful look at the human face, but is working on more tangible reconstructions — specifically for use on audio-animatronic robots. The team behind the Physical Face Cloning project hope to automate part of creating animatronics to speed up the task of replicating a human face for future Disney robots. This complicated process involves capturing a subjects face under a variety of conditions and using that data to optimize a composition of synthetic skin to best match the original. Fully bearded animatronic clones are still a ways off, of course, but isn’t it comforting to know that Disney could one day replace you accurately replicate your visage in Walt Disney World for posterity? Dive into the specifics of the research at the source links below, or read on for a video summary of the basics.
Harnessing the power of the sun is a tricky business, but even the past few weeks have seen some interesting developments in the field. In this latest installment, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California have figured out a way of making solar cells from any semiconductor, potentially reducing the cost of their production. You see, efficient solar cells require semiconductors to be chemically modified for the current they produce to flow in one direction. The process uses expensive materials and only works with a few types of semiconductors, but the team’s looking at using ones which aren’t normally suitable — the magic is to apply an electrical field to them. This field requires energy, but what’s consumed is said to be a tiny fraction of what the cell’s capable of producing when active, and it means chemical modification isn’t needed.
The concept of using a field to standardize the flow of juice isn’t a new one, but the team’s work on the geometrical structure of the cells has made it a reality, with a couple of working prototypes to satisfy the skeptics. More of these are on the way, as their focus has shifted to which semiconductors can offer the best efficiency at the lowest cost. And when the researchers have answered that question, there’s nothing left to do but get cracking on commercial production. For the full scientific explanation, hit up the links below.
Filed under: Science
A quintet of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation have envisioned a new internet architecture, one where features could be purchased à la carte. The proposed framework would allow users to fine tune their experience by choosing from a variety of connection services. Let’s say, for example, that a customer’s connection is fine for browsing the web, but it doesn’t pass muster for streaming content — a service dedicated to video delivery could be added to close the gap. “Ultimately, this should make the internet more flexible and efficient, and will drive innovation among service providers to cater to user needs,” report co-author Rudra Dutta told The Abstract. A piecemeal next-gen web is no easy feat, however, as it would require revamping the web’s infrastructure with new protocols for choosing particular features, completing payments and monitoring network performance. The group’s rough blueprint will be presented at a conference next week, but you can thumb through their short paper at the source.
Filed under: Internet
Solar cell development is typically a small numbers game, and a group of researchers at the University of Toronto have managed to eke out a few more percentage points in efficiency with a new record-breaking cell. Setting a high mark for this type of cell, the team’s Colloidal Quantum Dot (CQD) film harvests both visible and non-visible light at seven percent efficiency, a 37 percent increase over the previous record. The breakthrough was achieved by leveraging organic and inorganic chemistry to make sure it had fewer nooks and crannies that don’t absorb light. With the advantages of relatively speedy and cheap manufacturing, the technology could help lead the way for mass production of solar cells on flexible substrates. In the meantime, check out the source for the scientific lowdown.
Filed under: Science
Microsoft has never been shy in its assertions that the stylus has a place in modern computing, and researchers at the company are working on a new take on the device that would allow it to be used on almost any type of screen. Researcher Andreas Nowatzyk told MIT Technology Review that the concept, developed with his colleague Anoop Gupta, would use a camera embedded in the stylus to track the movement of individual pixels as the device slides across a screen. Mounted at an angle in the stylus, the camera would also be able to generate angle data based on how in — or out — of focus the pixels it’s seeing are, with all of the information transmitted back to the host computer wirelessly.
Of course, tracking its own motion wouldn’t do…