Tag Archives: Technology

Conducting Elastic Fibers for Artificial Muscles and Electronic Devices

A study at the Dallas based University of Texas shows how scientists have wrapped electrically conducting carbon nanotube sheets around a rubber core to create super elastic fibers. In addition, these fibers conduct electricity and have some special electronic properties as well.

The elasticity of the fibers is phenomenal. They can be more than 14 times longer than their original lengths by stretching and the process is reversible. The fibers regain their initial lengths once the stretching force goes away. While the fibers can extend to 14 times their length, the electrical conductivity steps up by 200 times.

Scientists have conceived of several uses for these fibers. Their high elasticity and conductivity when they stretch could make them ideal for use as minute interconnects in electronic circuits. This could help in upgrading diverse applications like flexible charging cables for mobile devices, robots with longer ranges and trouble-free pacemaker leads.

These fibers are different from conventional fibers in a major aspect. The conductivity of the ordinary fibers falls when they stretch, because of the reduced area of cross section offered to the path of electricity. On the other hand, conductivity of the new fibers increases when stretched.

Dr. Ray Baughman, director of the Nano Tech Institute at Dallas, has authored a paper on the subject. He explains the enhanced elasticity is owing to the buckled structure that develops while the nanotube sheets wrap around the rubber core. Buckles form along the length and circumference of the fibers.

According to Dr. Zunfeng Liu, a research associate in the institute, the two dimensional buckling maintains the alignment of the rubber core and the nanotube. This prevents the resistance of the fibers from rising while they stretch.

Liu reveals that until now, no material has been able to function over so large a range of strain. This feature makes possible the creation of artificial muscles with rotational properties. Dr. Haines, a research associate of the university and a coauthor of the paper said that this aspect of the artificial muscles could be useful for rotating mirrors in optical circuits.

Scientific workers have found several other uses for the nanotube sheaths or elastomers. A particularly valuable device formed from the new material is a fiber capacitor. In this device, a thin coating of rubber covers a core of nanotube fibers. Over this, there is another sheath of nanotube fibers. The inner and outer nanotube layers form the two electrodes, while the rubber core serves as the dielectric.

Nan Jiang is a member of the scientific team working on the project. He demonstrated in the laboratory of the Nanotech Institute the manner of construction of these conductive elastomers in varying sizes, ranging from 150 microns to considerably larger sizes. The width of the rubber core determines the size.

The easy availability and low cost of the rubber cores make it easy for commercialization of the technology. Baughman’s team at the institute has developed a process that aims to convert the carbon nanotubes into large sheets. This could facilitate the fabrication of diverse applications with the elastic conducting fibers.

SOLI: The Final Interface is Your Hands

Finally, it is time to say good-bye to buttons and touchscreens. You need only wave your hands in thin air for controlling your gadgets. This game changer is a breakthrough from Google and is its project Soli. Soli makes it a thing of past to hit incorrect keys with your thumbs and you can conveniently forget swiping screens. The new gesture technology from Google is very precise and allows working on the smallest of displays.

Soli has small chips generating invisible radar to recognize finger movements. The chips are small enough so that they can be embedded into wearables and other devices. The deciphered finger movements are then translated into commands that computers can understand.

The system identifies delicate finger movements using the radar coming from tiny microchips. The system can use gestures to create touchpads, virtual dials and more as shown in the video above. Although there are camera-based sensors, such as Leap Motion, to capture gestures, they are cumbersome to set up requiring special hardware.

The inventor of this technology is Mr. Poupyrev, who heads the team of designers and developers at Google’s ATAP or Advanced Technology and Projects Lab in San Francisco. According to the Russian inventor, the beauty of Project Soli is the chip that can be embedded into just about anything and the use of invisible radar emanating from it.

Typically, police use the smallest radar for speed traps and even these are the size of a shoebox. The team had to struggle hard to shrink that radar to fit it inside a microchip. Although it took them 10 months, Mr. Poupyrev and his team were able to shrink all the components of radar down to millimeter size. They worked with Infineon, the German chipmaker and were inspired by the advances made in Wi-Gig, the next generation communication protocol for Wi-Fi.

Soli is a simple technology and the lack of cameras makes it easy to put wherever you want – in a toy, watch, wearable computer, car, furniture or anywhere. It is useful whenever people want to connect with devices. For example, Soli technology makes it possible to interact with objects in games making use of VR or virtual reality.

Since Soli makes it possible to replace a physical device, it works perfectly for Virtual Reality, as the field of vision of the user in VR is limited. The microchip uses radar to recognize movements of fingers. The chip radiates a broad beam radar for recognizing movement, distance and velocity. The radar uses the 60GHz spectrum and captures about 10,000 frames per second. The chip then translates the movements into commands that computers can understand.

Once Project Soli becomes reality, in the future we will be able to control devices such as fitness trackers and smart-watches only by our finger movements and will not require smart-phones as of now. Very soon, you may simply be able to snap your fingers to switch on the lights in your room and to vary its intensity by twirling your fingers.

SSD, Magnetic or Hybrid Drives

Earlier, when we did not have much of a choice, PC storage options were limited to the largest capacity hard disk drive one could afford. Those days are long gone and today the average customer has to juggle between selecting different types of storage media apart from their capacity. Although it is fairly important to select the most optimum storage medium for a specific application, each of the drive types has their own advantages and disadvantages.

Magnetic hard disk drives have long been the default storage component for both desktop and laptop computers. Although the latest magnetic drives are very much advanced and better performing compared to their brethren from yesteryears, their underlying technology has remained mostly unchanged. Magnetic hard drives essentially consist of stiff magnetic platters rotating at high speeds paired with read/write heads travelling over their surface to retrieve or record data.

Magnetic hard disk drive technology is mature. Manufacturers now make highly reliable drives that users can purchase at much lower prices as compared with other storage options – most magnetic hard drives cost only a few cents per gigabyte. Moreover, they are available in relatively high capacities, going up to 4TB. Modern magnetic hard drives connect via the SATA or Serial ATA interface and do not require any special software for the operating system to recognize them. In short, magnetic hard disk drives are dirt-cheap, simple to operate and spacious.

However, the disadvantage with magnetic hard disk drives is their low storage or retrieval speeds compared to the SSDs and Hybrid products. The read and write speed depends on how fast the platter rotates – a 7200-RPM drive is faster than a 5400-RPM drive, but both are significantly slower than SSDs or even hybrid drives.

If you are just an average PC user sticking mostly to using mail, browsing the Web, and some amount of document editing, a standard magnetic hard disk drive should serve you fine.

SSDs or Solid State Drives are so called because unlike the magnetic drives, they do not have any moving parts – they are typically nonvolatile NAND flash memory. Although most SSDs connect via the SATA interface, there are PCI Express-based SSDs that offer ultrahigh-performances. SSDs store data and file just as any other drive does.

Since SSDs do not have any moving parts, they can operate at blazing speeds such as 500MB per second on average accessing data in just a few milliseconds. Compare this with the speed of a magnetic hard disk – 200MBps with access times just a shade below 8ms. In short, with SSDs you have a much snappier and a much more responsive system. With SSDs, everything is faster – boot times, application launch times and file-transfer speeds.

Without moving parts, SSDs are not susceptible to damage or degradation due to movement or vibrations. The two disadvantages with SSDs are their cost per gigabyte and their read/write life. At present, they cost about $1 per gigabyte.

Manufacturers offer Hybrid drives as a go-between. These are mostly magnetic hard drives with some SSD thrown in. The most frequently accessed data is stored in the SSD. That makes for high speed while the cost is kept low.

The latest in wireless charging technology

Although battery technology has improved many times over, mobile devices remain always hungry for power, thanks to the demands from always-on wireless, GPS, hi-performance audio and video along with the ever-increasing applications and nearly constant use of the mobile devices. People are looking for more convenient and accessible ways of charging their mobile gadgets. That has led to the availability of wireless charging systems, where one needs only to place the mobile device on the charging pad for an effective charging. The demand can be estimated from the fact that more than five million wireless charging devices were shipped in 2012, with a forecast of more than 100 million more to ship by 2015. Apart from smartphones, these numbers include MP3 players, digital cameras and other mobile devices.

Foremost among wireless charging technologies is the technique offered by Qi (pronounced as “Chee”). Using a wireless charging pad and a properly equipped mobile device, the intention is to create an international standard for interoperability. A conglomerate of nearly 200 organizations including phone manufacturers, semiconductor suppliers and wireless service providers came together to form the Wireless Power Consortium. They released the Qi open standard in 2009. Since then the market has over 350 types of Qi-compliant devices. Among them are the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4, which can be equipped with after-market receiver sleeves suitable for Qi wireless charging. The Qi wireless charging pads are available off the shelf at eBay and Amazon. Other manufacturers who are directly integrating Qi into their devices include Google Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia 920, LG Optimus LTE2 and phones from Panasonic Eluga.

A Qi wireless charging system is available as a single-position, guided placement or a single-position, free placement. For those who want to charge more than one device at a time, there is the Qi three-position charging pad. The single-position guided placement is the cheapest type where the user can charge only a single mobile that he has to set in a specific position. The single-position, free placement is a little more expensive, as the user does not have to lock the mobile to the charger in any particular position. The Qi charging sleeve is very inexpensive and can be fitted to several models of mobiles.

The wireless charging standard makes it simpler for the consumer because of the ease of interoperability. Only a single wireless charger is enough for all devices in the household. Imagine that you are visiting the local coffee shop that has a Qi wireless charger. While enjoying your coffee, not only can you sample their free Wi-Fi, but make use of their wireless charging, without any concern about the compatibility of your device.

Qi works on the principles of magnetic induction between two coils. The charging pad holds one of the coils, which acts as the transmitter. The other coil is positioned inside the mobile device, usually just under the battery cover. Maximum power transfer requires one transmitter for each receiver, less than 4 cms of separation between the coils and a specific positioning of the mobile in relation to the transmitter. Qi chargers overcome the last limitation by providing more number of transmitter coils.

Are OLEDS better than LEDS?

Chances are, you still own a TV that is bulky, has a picture tube and is kept on a table. Well, with advancing technology, TVs have become slimmer and lighter, can hang on the wall and do not have a bulky picture tube.

The new TVs have an LCD or a Liquid Crystal Display in place of the earlier picture tube. Now, unlike the picture tube, LCDs have no light of their own, and have to be lit with a backlight. Until recently, most LCD TVs were backlit with plasma discharge tubes or CCFL lamps.

The CCFL lamps are placed directly behind the LCD panel and this adds to the overall thickness of the TV. Another newer method of lighting up the LCD panel is with LEDs and these are placed all around the panel, just beneath the bezel of the screen. Some models, especially the larger sized TVs place the LEDs behind the panel.

According to the TV manufacturers, LED models provide a better contrast (difference between black and white parts of the picture). This is because LEDs can be turned off completely to render a complete black portion. With CCFLs, there was no turning off, and the blacks produced were not so deep.

With further advancement of technology, there is a new kid on the block, called OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diode. This is a thin layer of film made from an organic compound which emits light in response to an electric current. Unlike an LCD, an OLED screen needs no backlighting, making it the thinnest of all the screens for a TV; a screen, which can be rolled up.

Other advantage of OLEDs is its very high switching speed, which produces practically no blur when there is fast movement in the picture. Moreover, OLEDs can be switched off to produce black color, and there is no leakage of light from the neighboring OLEDs. This allows OLEDs produce the highest dynamic contrast among all the displays. Does that mean OLEDs are better than LEDs?

As the technology is relatively new, there are some primary difficulties that OLEDs face today. The first is OLEDs are still not as bright as LEDs are, and that makes them harder to see in sunlight or even in broad daylight. Additionally, with the present structure of the OLEDs, producing blue light is harder. This makes the images just passable.
Another issue with the OLEDs is their lifespan. At present, the OLED has the shortest lifespan among LED, LCD and other technologies commonly available on the market. The average lifespan of an OLED is only 14,000 hours, which means if you watch eight hours of TV every day, the OLED screen will last only five years.

Although OLEDs are good at displaying high contrast, they hog quite a bit of power when displaying all whites. Moreover, similar to the old cathode ray tubes or picture tubes, OLEDs are prone to burn-in, meaning if you let the picture remain static for long, a shadow of the picture remains on the screen.

The last disadvantage of OLEDs is their prohibitive cost.

Tracking sleep, activity & food – the Jawbone UP app

Imagine being able to track every calorie you burn, every calorie you consume and every minute you are sleeping? We came across the Jawbone UP and are just amazed at the capabilities this app possesses. It needs to be coupled with the UP wristband to function (available on their site for about $129 or on ebay for less than $100). The app is compatible with iPhone and Android.

Here’s some of the amazing features:

Sleep and nap tracking – it tracks your sleep including the amount of light sleep vs deep sleep.

Power Nap – need a power nap? UP will let you get one in and wake you up after the perfect amount of sleep is achieved (26.5 minutes according to the UP web site).

Smart Alarm – UP will wake you up at the best possible time in your sleep cycle – this will help you feel more awake and refreshed.

Food and Drink Tracker – helps you keep track of what you eat and drink to get the whole picture of your health.

Activity Tracker – UP tracks every calorie you burn, every activity you do.

There are many more features (like a mood tracker) that you can also monitor but the bottom line is that this system helps you keep track of every bit of your lifestyle and delivers information to help you live a healthier life and encourages you to keep moving forward. Sound interesting to you? We’re hooked! We love the idea and are placing our order today for our first one. We’ll keep you posted on our experience with it.