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Carbon nanotubes for use in solar panels have increased efficiencies from 4.4% in 2007 to 8% today. What has held back further results is the tendencies for nanotube to clump together, short circuiting areas in the cell, which reduce their overall outputs.


Professor Angela Belcher and graduate students Xiangnan Dang and Hyunjung Yi, of MIT, have produced a biological fix to the clumping issue during manufacturing. They modified a bacteria infecting virus, called M13, that will attach to the nanotube and prevent them from clumping. The virus contains peptides that bind to the nanotubes which keeps them separate. One virus can control 10 nanotubes by 300 of its peptides. The team also modified the virus further to produce a coating of titanium dioxide (TiO2) onto the nanotubes. This is a major component of the dye-sensitized titanium dioxide solar cell. This allows for more of the electrons to move from the cell material, when hit by sunlight, into the conducting nanotubes to the collecting electrode. Additionally, the virus could also let the nanotube be used in a water based system that works at lower room temperatures.


The power conversion efficiency jumps from 8% to 10.6% with the virus process added. A 32.5% boost (to the original efficiency) over the many acres of solar farms could have a significant impact on future alternative energy usage. The hope is that the licensing of the virus will not immediately deter use.





pic via Matt Klug, Biomolecular Materials Group, MIT. MIT quote"In this diagram, the M13 virus consists of a strand of DNA (the figure-8 coil on the right) attached to a bundle of proteins called peptides — the virus coat proteins (the corkscrew shapes in the center) which attach to the carbon nanotubes (gray cylinders) and hold them in place. A coating of titanium dioxide (yellow spheres) attached to dye molecules (pink spheres) surrounds the bundle. More of the viruses with their coatings are scattered across the background.


At the Tufts University in Massachusetts, researchers are taking some cues from caterpillars for a new mode of locomotion. When startled, caterpillars curl up and fling themselves in a motion called ballistic rolling. The result is a fast moving, but unpredictable, transportation method for the insect, compared to its other slow means of getting around. The researchers set out to mimic this reflex.

The team constructed a soft-bodies, segmented, bot called "GoQBot." Constructed with a similar framework to its living counterpart, the GoQBot demonstrated that it can indeed perform a ballistic roll. The bot was fitted with 5 infrared detectors down its side to use with a high speed 3D tracking camera to model what is actually happening in few microseconds of movement. The researchers copy the caterpillars "nonlinear muscle coupling" in the 10cm long GoQBot, and in 100ms it can take off. Traveling at 0.6m/s, and 300rpm, it can traverse ~25cm every roll, or 125cm/s.

Once the other way of locomotion is re-produced, the legs/body, the GoQBot will become a rather versatile robot. Talking up the serviceability of the GoQBot, lead author, Huai-Ti Lin, from Tuft University said, "Due to the increased speed and range, limbless crawling robots with ballistic rolling capability could be deployed more generally at a disaster site such as a tsunami aftermath. The robot can wheel to a debris field and wiggle into the danger for us."

More control of the ballistic rolling is needed to make it practical and truly useable. In a state of emergency, like Huai-Ti Lin suggested, an unpredictable final destination of the bot would be gambling with the crisis.


Intel launched its first wave of silicon laser optics communication system, Light Peak, as a 10Gbps display connection on Apple laptops called Thunderbolt. Now they play to push the tech to 50Gbps for consumer consumption by 2015. Intel sees a need for higher display bandwidth for the coming post 2080p world. Luckily, they are placing a lot of legacy support in their Light Peak based products. The future 50Gbps link will support Thunderbolt, PCI-Express, and DisplayPort protocols. With Intel already showing 100Gbps in lab tests, this will not be the end of Intel's optical bandwidth push.


The first step for Intel is to combine the transmitter and receiver on to one chip, and reduce the fabrication size. At the moment, all of the photonics technology is produced using silicon manufacturing processes leading to lower costs. In other words, this is going to happen.



Wireless power coupling is getting a big push for adoption from a newly announced Toyota and WiTricity partnership. Back in December 2010, I wrote about WiTricity's power coupling via magnetic resonance. As a refresher; unlike traditional magnetic induction, direct contact or even close proximity is not needed with WiTricity's tech. The main benefit of WiTricity's offering is no need for coil alignment or close proximity. One WiTricity charging station, placed on a sidewalk, could charge a whole row of cars. That is a winning feature. The goal of the partnership is to foster widespread use of wireless EV charging stations. The, now, team has stated that this resonating technique is more efficient than electromagnetic-induction charging. The power transfer efficiency still drops with distance, though not as greatly. However some other companies are already offering wireless EV charging options that boast 80% efficiency and more, so Toyota better rush this to market. 

Every month or so, a new technology or announcement in EV technology pushes me ever closer to taking the all electric plunge. Once I see a WiTricity charging station somewhere, It will be time to buy an EV.

Anyone out there with an EV, how easy is charging for you?



Mona Lisa Comprised of Electronic Components - Source


I think we’re on the verge of the next artistic renaissance.  This time, instead of magnificent architecture, beautifully painted portraits, and the rise of humanism, I think engineering (specifically electrical engineering) will begin to define exciting new forms of artistic expression.  From Jeri Ellsworth’s PIR Art Project (a motion sensing, musical art installation), to Randy Elwin’s le dominoux (a new take on dominos and a 555 contest winner!), to my Sudosynth (a gesture-based music synthesizer), it’s clear that the overlap between electrical engineering and art can be sizeable.  With the advent of simple microcontroller platforms like the arduino, it’s become easier than ever for artists to try their hands at electrical engineering (or vice versa).  The New York Times recently had a great article about the usage of the arduino platform in museum and art exhibits:


Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit hasty to call it a renaissance, but I really do believe that the convergence of technology and art is going to completely transform the way we think about artistic expression.  I certainly don’t think every engineer should go around changing the title on their business card from “engineering consultant” to “professional artist”, but I do think the line will blur, and that’s a good thing!  I’ve seen first-hand all of the amazing things that can happen when artists, writers, and philosophers work with the geeks and the nerds; sometimes, the two become one-in-the-same.  That ability to collaborate is lost on most people unfortunately – engineers tend to assume that they are the problem-solvers, and that working with people who have very different viewpoints will just convolute the end goal.  This ability to collaborate with people who are so different from you is extremely important, and has the potential to lead to exciting new research in both the humanities and the sciences.  When large groups with different areas of interest come together, the result is often far more exciting than one developed by a single person with expertise in just one area.  One of my primary reasons for choosing to attend a large University like Cornell, as opposed to a smaller tech-only school, was that I figured I would get more opportunities to work with people who understood the world in a totally different way.  I’ve taken advantage of the wealth of liberal arts courses available to engineers, and they have seriously changed my outlook on life (as this post should demonstrate).  I’m hopeful that more schools will encourage engineers to expand their knowledge into areas where they wouldn’t normally feel comfortable.


Until two years ago, I had always assumed engineering was independent from all other disciplines – a lone occupation that focused on one thing: solving problems.  And while problem solving is extremely important, it’s not the only thing engineers can do. I’ve had the opportunity to expand my personal definition of engineering as I’ve been able to work with more and more people across campus.  In my time at college so far, I’ve collaborated on various engineering projects with Architects, Musicians, Urban Planners, Landscapers, Interior Designers, Business Majors, Economics Majors, Natural Resource Majors, Environmental Scientists, and many more.  I can easily say that the artistically- driven engineering projects that I have done have been the most fun, and have taught me a tremendous amount.


What’s more, working with people who are more artistically inclined than I am (it doesn’t take much) has given me a new appreciation for the people who make music, craft sculptures, and design our homes.  You don’t just become artistic overnight – It’s a highly honed skilled, just like engineering is.  Engineering and art can be very powerful independently, but they can do something truly spectacular when you put them together.


So what’s my point?  Form does not always have to follow function; allow yourself to pursue a functionally useless, but unique, project.  Try working with somebody who knows nothing about engineering – You will both probably have a lot to teach each other.  Who knows, you might be an artist and you never even knew it!


I almost forgot the most important part: when you do create your next masterpiece, put it online so the whole world can revel in the amazing things that art and engineering can do when they team up!


Texas A&M University's Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) are using a few different types of underwater robots to aid in Japan relief efforts. Starting in the Minami-sanriku coast on Aril 19th, the team is expanding the search throughout the Sendai area.


Regular human divers have a difficult, if not impossible, time navigating through murky waters. The bots being used have been fitted with special sonar sensors that allow them to move in the most extreme conditions. Sonar and video footage is returned via a tether, as well as control signals in the opposite direction. 3 bots are being used. The "Seamor" is a large suitcase sized bot, the AC-ROV is about the size of a shoe box, and the SeaBotix SARbot is somewhere in between. The SARbot is a battle hardened device used to often rescue people from trapped cars underwater.


Robotics and Engineering prowess are really being showcased in the midst of the Japan 2011 disaster. Just proving the world needs more engineers, more development, and more innovation to make everything easier, including crisis management. Exactly why Darpa wants to see more advancement in robotics.


CRASAR have also used robots in aid during WTC 911, Katrina, La Conchita Mudslide, and the Crandall Canyon mine collapse. See more at their site.




Pics via Seabotix and Texas A&M



Japan Robot Rescue News:

Robots in Japan's danger zone

US robots helping in Japan's recovery

Micro flying drone helping in Japan



The T-Hawk MAV (Micro Air Vehicle) is an "unmanned eye in the sky." Honeywell's T-Hawk is a lightweight small aircraft that can fit in a suitcase, and can be deployed in under 10 minutes. It can fly autonomously, via waypoints, or can be controlled manually. Onboard is a gimbaled camera that can be used in the day or night. It can travel up to 10,000 ft, move up to 50 MPH, and has a use time of 46 minutes. Very much inspired by that evil drone from Empire Strikes Back.



Currently the T-Hawk is being used by the military, extensive use in Afghanistan, and the above video shows its use at the Fukushima plant in Japan. Tokyo Electric Power company needed to get an overview of the damage in a highly radioactive area, and the T-Hawk was the best tool for the job. The damage looks severe. Let's hope the army of robots being sent into that area can help stop this ongoing disaster soon.




T-hawk is named after the "Tarantula Wasp." Below is a picture of one fighting its mortal foe.




The brain has a protective layer called the "blood-brain" layer that protects from outside intruders, like bacteria and other blood related intruders. Unfortunately, this layer also prevents the medical administration of drugs and therapy agents from passing though. Startup company Prefusion Technology (PT) wants to try a decades old idea in a slightly new way. Ultrasound has been used before to effect the blood-brain layer enough to let it open a bit. In the past this was only done through specialized equipment focusing the wave that could only open a small area. PT is not going to try using low-intensity ultrasonic waved to open the entire surface of the brain.


For brain tumor patients, chemotherapy requires various drugs applied directly. Often in vary intrusive ways, such as infusion pumps or surgical implants. Al Kyle, president of Prefusion Technology, says his method is "a kinder and gentler way of delivering therapeutics to the brain." Kyle also believes that his method will help prevent the spread of tumors since it effects the whole brain at once.


Ultrasound treatments often induced bleeding in the past. But PT have performed 5 successful animal tests as of 4-28-2011. They hope to end the preclinical animal tests as of late 2011 and move on to human testing.




pic via Al Kyle of Prefusion Technology



Professor Alice Parker and Chongwu Zhou of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering seek to create a full working model of the human brain.                   Parker began her quest in making a synthetic brain back in 2006. She says, " We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses per neuron?"


One of the challenges she faces is creating a circuit that mimics "brain plasticity," or the brains ablility to create new neurons and connections. Parker goes over this, "The human cortex is massively interconnected and the connections are always changing. That’s always been one of the biggest hurdles in trying to simulate neural functioning. But as technologies become smaller and less expensive, there is a possibility of constructing neural structures on the scale of the human brain.”


First things first, making a single neuron. The cost and size of electronics were always a hurdle for parker and the team, but recent developments in nanocarbon electronics have changed all that. Using carbon nanotubes, the team have successfully created a single neuron circuit. By the end of this current semester, Parker plans to have several neurons communicating with each other. After that only 100 billion more to make a synthetic brain.


Read more about this neuron here.




pics via USC (University of Southern California)


Library augmented reality

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 27, 2011


A library "page" is a person who puts books back on shelves, organizes, and makes sure every book is in the right location. Working as a "page" in a library is a tedious, task never-ending, job.  The process of organizing the books on the shelf, to make sure they are in order, is called "reading the stacks," for those who do not know. In decades, nothing has changed to help our weary pages.


Bo Brinkman, associate professor from Miami University, is attempting to change everything with his augmented reality (AR) app called ShelvAR. This AR system lets anyone use a phone or tablet to view a shelf, and it shows which books are out of place. The biggest challenges Brinkman admitted was tagging all the book with special AR codes. Like the Dewey Decimal System, Something like this will be attached to the spines as books are processed, I am sure. The next step is to increase the speed of the system, and widen the identification of the misplaced books. Great work, I look forward to seeing more on this one.


Library, sad, fact: All my nieces and nephews have no knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System. All of their research is done online now. A sad state of affairs, indeed.



As a kid, I played with electronics kits where you would plug in resistors or capacitors to light LEDs or turn motor. At the time, I had no idea what was going on with the electronics. Kits today, have not changed much. However, the concept from company B-Squares is exactly what I needed as a child. The company, founded my MIT graduates Jordan McRae and Shawn Frayne, is making a handful of "squares" that magnetically couple together in different configurations to perform various electronic functions. There are solar, rechargeable battery, LED, speaker, iPhone dock, and even Arduino squares that can be tinkered to do whatever the user can configure. The quick swapping of parts and the ability to chain various things together is quite a feature. I especially like the ability to group several solar "squares" together for powering gadgets, or gadget squares, I suppose. If the price is right, these will be the next magnet toys everyone gets for Christmas.


The Arduino square has great potential beyond the plug and play aspect of the whole design. Though, I wonder if the restrictions and limitations of the B-square concept will kill any true developments.


A micro-usb B-square would be a great adition.



When I first developed an interested in radio as a hobby, the only multiple access scheme in common use was frequency division.  The government would grant an organization, such as a towing company or police department, exclusive rights to use a particular frequency in a geographic area.  The government could only assign a frequency to an organization well outside the range of all other users.  This was inefficient for organizations with a low duty cycle, i.e. who most of the time were not transmitting. 


Trunking systems appeared in the late 80’s as a way to increase spectrum use efficiency.  Fifty users could share 10 frequencies in the same geographic area.  A central controller assigned users a frequency each time they transmitted.  This increased efficiency at the price of only allowing 10 users to transmit at any one time.


In recent years more powerful multiple access schemes have come into common use.  Regulatory authorities have opened up unlicensed ISM bands.  There is no licensing system to control who uses the bands so ISM-band equipment must incorporate a multiple-access scheme to share the channel.  Regulatory authorities limit output power and power density, but they do not specify a scheme to share bands. 


The popularity of the ISMs bands is a testament to the power of a laissez-faire approach to sharing radio spectrum.  Radios operating on these bands are commonly deployed in links running several miles (despite the rules limiting output power) controlling important systems such as municipal water and sewage systems and oil pipelines.  In these networks deployed in urban areas, I have seen cases where more than 50 Wi-Fi networks are visible.  This does not count non-802.11 frequency hopper networks, which are visible on a spectrum analyzer but not in a Wi-Fi sniff.  It is very possible when you are using a Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop to watch a 1Mbps video, the coffee-shop’s access point and all the users are seemlessly sharing the same frequency with a network monitoring the city’s water system. 


Wi-Fi’s most popular channel-sharing system is called enhanced distributed channel access (EDCA).  Before each transmission, a Wi-Fi node listens to the channel for a period of time called an inter-frame space, typically 16us to 79us, depending on the type of transmission.  If it does not receive acknowledgement from the receiving station, it listens again and re-tries the transmission after waiting a random amount of time.  The amount of backoff time could be anywhere from 0us to 9.2ms, depending on the type of transmission. 


This system does a remarkably good job of sharing the channel, even with non-Wi-Fi radio systems.  I have done tests with frequency hopping radios transmitting continually, without checking to see if the channel is busy first, on random frequencies throughout the 2.4GHz band.  A 20-MHz Wi-Fi channel takes up a third of the 2.4GHz band, and the EDCA system allows the Wi-Fi user to get 66% of the maximum throughput by transmitting only when the frequency-hopper is not using that particular 20MHz segment. 


The EDCA is not mandated by government regulation.  The frequency hopper transmitting without any regard to who might be using the channel is not breaking any laws.  I have worked on products based on the Wi-Fi standard that intentionally listen for less time before transmitting, re-try more quickly when they do not receive an acknowledgement, and use a higher signal threshold to consider the channel busy.  They want their system to work well, even if might possibly come at the expense to another system operating in the same area.  The self-interested motivation in not being too aggressive about taking the channel is that it can increase the number of collisions on my product’s Wi-Fi-like network. There is no self-interested reason apart from this for exercising restraint in taking the channel. 


Last year the FCC opened up new unlicensed bands in the “white space” frequencies of unused television channels.  Technology companies with an interest in providing broadband Internet access called for this decision.  It would be nice to create new rules that encourage efficient sharing of the spectrum in these new bands.  A facile solution would be to set aside portions of the bands where governments would mandate compliance with the Wi-Fi EDCA standard.  This is short-sighted, though, because EDCA is not the most efficient multiple-access scheme for all networks.  Rather, we need to create rules that are liberal but that provide incentives for self-interested devices to play nice together.  For example, networks might be allowed more liberal rules in some regard if they are more generous in listening for co-existing systems and avoiding interference with them.  This is a complex problem because the system must work for a wide variety of applications and must not accidentally encourage greedy behavior that complies with the letter of the rule but not its spirit.  Dr. K.J. Ray Liu suggests that classical game theory provides a framework to develop schemes to encourage selfless sharing of the band, even in the presence of malicious participants who want to monopolize the band or disrupt communications.  Developing a good system now is important because the rules in place for devices on the new ISM bands will have a long legacy.



SA Photonics Have released their High Resolution Night Vision System (HRNVS) to replace the decades old technology being used today. Former night vision systems gave airforce pilots a total field of view of 40 degrees, horizontally. SA Photonics HRNVS over doubles that to 82.5 degrees. 4 individual Intevac Model 11 EBAPS digital night vision cameras make up the system, capturing 1600 x 1200 pixels per. High speed digital image processing comes via Rockwell Collins Display Systems "Microcore" platform. The HRNVS also topples various other common issues with night-vision. The Halo Effect is completely reduced using proprietary technology. Each eyepiece of the HRNVS is a seamless panoramic display, that can be individually stowed. Digital image enhancement of the images is also an option. The user views through two eMagin SXGA (1280 x 1024) displays, boasting almost 4 megapixels per eye. The HRNVS shows a panoramic view of 82.5 degrees using binocular overlap. Each eye piece shares about 27.5 degrees of view.


SA Photonics concludes their introduction with future predictions. Wait a little while longer and get the 100 degree field of view with color displays.




pic via SA Photonics


Charity robot

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 26, 2011


University of Dundee, UK, student Tim Pryde attempted to experiment with charity collection with his robot called "Don-8r" (loosely pronounced "donator"). At the heart of the Don-8r is an array of PICAXE 18X chips, also known as a PIC16F88 loaded with a Basic Stamp P-Code interpreter. One PICAXE 18X controls the wheels, via a L293D motor driver, and has limit switches directly connected. And another PICAXE 18X is connected to the coin slot that instructs the other on what to do with a coin or coins are entered into the bot. A VMUSIC2 mp3 player is interfaced to a PICAXE 28X1 for all audio playback. A series of RGB LEDs are also connected to the various control boards. 8 AA batteries power the system by being configured into two groups of 4 supplying 6V.


The motors are from kits bought through a now discontinued magazine called Real Robots. Apparently, the magazine came with motors and such for building projects. Below is a picture of the wheel assembly Pryde received by contacting the former publisher of Real Robots. Looks handy, I am including the pic to see if anyone knows where to get the setup.



At the end of the video a person breaks the Don-8r, but an update on Tim Pryde's blog site states he forgives her. Also at the site, see the overall construction of the bot's materials and shape from start to finish. Side question, where is the charitable donations going?




Restoration Robotics' ARTAS System is equipped with a set of dermal punches used to set a hole in a patient's scalp for real-hair implants. The hair "creates its own blood supply... and is the only permanent solution." The ARTAS is a robotic hair implant machine that uses a variety of imaging sensors to assist in the procedure. In particular, the system can identify individual hair "units" for harvesting and re-implanting where needed. The ARTAS breaks through many limits that physicians face during surgery. The best part, what the ARTAS does leave no scars and the areas it effects, rapidly heal. As of recent, the ARTAS passed FDA approval for in-office usage. Restoration Robotics also boasts that the procedure can help grow new follicles in the areas worked on. I foresee someday soon, we could just stick our heads into a machine, and pull it out with lush, long, flowing hair. Until then, enjoy the punches ARTAS administers.



OLED Mikrodisplay mit Eyetracking Funktion_Presse.jpgoled-microdisplay-hmd.jpg


Company Fraunhofer IPMS brings a wearable OLED screen that can sense where the user in looking. The Head-Mounted Display, or HMD, is a monochrome OLED screen that the company has labeled the first bidirectional microdisplay. Inside the active matrix OLED screen are integrated photodetectors that allow the system to detect where the eye is looking. Since this display is being promoted as a Augmented Reality (AR) device, the real world can be seen through the HMD. Fraunhofer states that actions could be sensed through the user's "Gaze," as in holding one's eye on a target to activate it. They also said joggers could watch movies while they are out, which is not a good idea on a busy street. But still, I would not mind retaining the option to do so some day.



Note: The HMD is monochrome. The second picture of a color screen is showing off the size of Fraunhofer's screens.                                             



pics via Fraunhofer IPMS



The Personal Robotics Group from MIT have started a webstore selling a modified "iRobot Create" they setup for $1,200 USD. Named "BiliBot," this robotics platform has an onboard Core i3 computer with 4GB of RAM, running Ubuntu with a pre-installed version of the ROS (Robot Operating System) with Kinect drivers. A specially modified Microsoft Kinect, running off of a battery, allows the Bilibot to see and navigate the real world. The bot also features a gear motor driven claw that can lift 3 pounds up 17 inches.


The Bilibot Project team was mostly inspired by the Kinect sensor, and what can be done with it. They even say that the $150 Kinect can replace $5000 dollars worth of other sensor equipment. Now, like Legos, they want to piece together the best of the newest innovations into one "affordable" package for all robotics research and education facilities out there. The goal is to get everyone familiar with robotics to the point where innovations are made every day.


This reminds me of years ago when I was lauded as a genius because I knew how to do some simple things with DOS and Windows. Few had computers of any sort. Then after everyone started using PCs and learning the OS, they were all at my prior lauded level. The same will happen when people get familiar with the more advanced robot tech.




Inspired by his daughter wanting him to build robot animals, Dr. Wei Wang, lead a group of PhD students to  create a robot for automated dinosaur exhibits. Why a dinosaur? Dr. Wei Wang received a triceratops sculpture from a Chinese film director, who made a film on how such creatures may have moved, and also insisted that Dr. Wang make robot version of the animal. Two influential people is all it took.


The linux driven robot is connected, wirelessly, to a host system that ultimately sends the movement commands. The joints are motor actuated, it has on board acceleration sensors (even though it moves pretty slow), 3-axis gyro sensor,  joint angle sensors, pan-tilt camera, and a passive compliant prismatic DOF on each toe. Named the FROG, Four-legged Robot for Optimal Gait, it was built at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Automation. The team plans on improving the speed and capabilities of the FROG.


Dr. Wang also admits that the FROG will never be able to compete against the BigDog, stating that the electric motors of his bot could not perform like the hydraulics of the other. That is ok to me. There is a Ferrari for one reason, and a Camry for another. Same for these bots.





The slightest disruption to a sniper rifle's aim is automatically adjusted to compensate by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's "Reticle Compensating Rifle Barrel Reference Sensor" (RCRBRS). With sniper rifles able to shoot a distance of 2 miles, the slightest angle of deflection will result in a growing margin of error the further the bullet travels. Also, as the rifle is fired, the barrel heats up also causing further error. The RCRBRS takes the guess work out of aiming, and has been proven to be 250 times more accurate than standard reticles. Lead designer, Slobodan Rajic, explains how the system works, "The optical fibers are designed to split the laser beam twice, sending one beam along the top of the rifle barrel and another light beam along the side of the barrel. Thus, we can measure both the vertical and horizontal barrel deflection." I would assume this is fine, as long as the inner bore and outer are concentric. The team also has added a laser-based bullet tracking system to give the shooter even more information about their shots.


It is scare to be a bad guy.




pic via Oak Ridge National Laboratory




Dr. Nishizawa Masahiro said, "last month our industry was destroyed by the earthquake, but not our technology," as he introduces his new projector screen that can be used in ambient light conditions. At Tohoku University, Dr. Nishizawa and team used a reflective layer and diffusion film. The projector is positioned below the screen and angled up, and the reflector later redirects the light to the viewer and the diffusion layer allows the image to be seen. All the while, other light either passes through the screen, reflected away, or absorbed so the viewer does not see it. The team says that using this screen in direct sunlight still has issues, but it is the next obstacle they will overcome. They plan to use this technology for outdoor signage, not just for the boardroom.


Larger panels will also be made in the near future, as the video shows seams between the current incarnation. Once this becomes available, here comes our projected  150-inch TVs and computer screens.




The speak sensing headset


University of Hull's James Gilbert, and his team, have developed a device that interprets facial movement to sound for people who have lost the ability to speak. The idea was to replace the voice-box, which is a valve fitted in the esophagus to give a form a speech, that tends to get clogged over time. The device used magnets placed in the mouth and on the tongue that generates a changing magnetic field that can be sensed by an external headset. The device will then recognize patterns and learn how each particular person moves to say each word. At the moment the device can recognize 50 words.


An interesting feature of the device allows the person to record themselves talking, before the operation or accident that causes the speech loss, and use their own voice for playback. Of course, any other voice can be used in the same way.


The team goal now is to reduce the size of the headset, use Bluetooth for sensor communications, and adjust the mouth based magnets in a way to provide more information.


I know many people who can "read lips." Why not try a optical lip reading method instead of magnets?




555 v The Microcontroller:

Posted by pjclarke Apr 20, 2011

555_CG_small.pngTo  co-inside with the results of the 555 contest ( 20th April 2011 - 9pm  EST ) I have decided to release what I said I would do. That was to look  at what is better, The 555 Timer IC or a Microcontroller? If you do not  know about the contest then you should head over to the site and see  the great work that's been done and also see what prizes are up on  offer!



element14 are proud sponsors of the contest and are giving away a  full copy of the Eagle PCB design tool along side lots of others  including my own firm ebm-papst UK Ltd who are giving away a fluke  meter.


Back  at the beginning of the year I was online when Jeri Ellsworth was  hatching the idea of the 555 contest. One of the things that was commented  on was that a Micro could do everything a 555 could, and better. So  over the last few months while everyone has been building there contest  entries I’ve been looking into seeing if a Micro can really out do a  555.


I  started off by looking at the LM555 and the NE555 data sheets and  picking out the key features. These were as follows (other ICs may  differ):


Supply  voltage of 4.5 to 16 volts, 3mA at 5V, 0-70’C working range, 8 pin and  about 100ns rise / fall time on output capable of 200mA. These devices  also cost between 42p and 62p (UK 1off prices).


So  then it came to select a microcontroller - I’m a big fan of Microchip  so had a look at the smallest chips they have. I started with the PIC10  range but after looking at pin outs, the device even when in a 8 pin  package only used 6 pins, so could not match all the pin functions of  the 555.


So my final choice was the PIC12F615 that has the following Spec:


Supply  2.0 to 5.5 volts, 1.1mA at 5 volts, -40 to 85’C working range, 8 pin  better than 100ns rise / fall response time with 100mA output pin. cost  wise I found the device for around 71p.


So  how did it compare - well first off the PIC12F615 is not pin  compatible, so you can’t go swapping out a 555 for a PIC. Its also very  obvious that the working voltage ranges are very different. The 555 is a  good fit for analogue circuits as well at logic 5 volts, but the PIC is  a pure logic device - obviously! While on the supply side of things -  we can see the PIC will draw less current than a standard 555, but I  have found 555s that will work with less current since my initial  selection.


Temperature  is always an interesting question with a 555 as they are know to drift  at extremes, however the PIC is much more stable and also has a better  temperature range. You could spec in the SE555 which will match the PIC  on temperatures, but then PIC could always play the +125’C card and  still out do it.


Functional  wise the PIC worked really well and I got almost identical results from  the standard circuits show in the data sheets. This was a Monostable  with a 1ms output and a astable of 1kHz and 75% duty. In fact at 5volts  there was nothing to select between them. However the PIC took  programming time and is consumed with just doing this role. Also I felt  the ADC inputs would not as sensitive as the comparators in the 555’s as  I was only seeing +/- 19mV steps.


I  then for may last tasked asked myself, could I use my PIC12F615 in the  projects I have seen entered in the 555 contest. To be honest I’d have  to say no. Why? well the voltage the PIC can work at just did not match  that of some of the entries, its not sensitive in my view and its more  expensive and difficult to use as you have to generate code.


Therefore  I can say that Jeri was 100% right in saying that the 555 can not be  replaced by a microcontroller. Yes you could in some cases and it may  even be better in some cases but on the whole there is no real reason to  use anything other than a 555 Timer IC.


I've not seen the results of the contest at the time of writting this blog post - but want to wish everyone the best of luck and to say that the entries have all been really good.! They have been great to look at and have given me lots of ideas for project os my own. Well done!



At the McGill University, the world's first intubation robot is being used on real patients. This robot inserts a tube into a patient's trachea (windpipe), the act is called intubation. The robotic system is called the Kepler Intubation System, or KIS, and was developed by Dr. Thomas M. Hemmerling, processor of anesthesia at McGill.


Dr. Hemmerling says that the process of inserting a tube into a patients' airways is a difficult and complex maneuver that requires much experience and mastery. Dr. Hemmerling goes on, "Difficulties arise because of patient characteristics but there is no doubt that there are also differences in individual airway management skills that can influence the performance of safe airway management. These influences may be greatly reduced when the KIS is used."


The KIS allows the operator to operate a mounted video-laryngoscope with a joystick from a remote console. Anesthesiologists can easily see what exactly is happening in the throat of the individual patient, and easily make adjustments to the intubation. Dr. Hemmerling's last statement, "We think that The Kepler Intubation System can assist the anesthesiologist’s arms and hands to perform manual tasks with less force, higher precision and safety. One day, it might actually be the standard practice of airway management."





Aluminum powered RC car

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 19, 2011


Inspired by the film Back to the Future's Delorean that could run off garbage, Professor Xavier Salueña and student Aleix Llovet, from ETSEIAT, have patented a RC car that runs off of aluminum. Working off of a reaction of aluminum and sodium hydroxide, hydrogen is produced. From there the hydrogen moved through a vinegar filter with water to remove any hydroxides. Then the hydrogen passed through a silica gel ball filter to remove moisture. And then the hydrogen enters an onboard fuel cell where electricity is produced from the combining with oxygen. The result, an RC car that can go 30km/h for 40 minutes with a full tank of aluminum. The leftover residuals of the reaction is water and aluminum hydroxide, which can be reused.


The team made the website "dAlH2Orean," as in Delorean, showing off their invention. They claim that current fuel cell cars cost €2,400 and also require an electrolyser for an additional €1,500. The dAlH2Orean is estimated to cost around €800. Purchase options not available just yet.


Adopting this concept for larger vehicles is the 2 inventor's next step. They are currently working with other companies to study other possibilities.




Military microwave cannon

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 19, 2011

BAE Systems, a US Defense contractor, is now testing a High-Powered Microwave (HPM) weapon on sea fairing ships and targets. This device can be pointed at a target, or in the general direction of the target, and effectively knock out electronics in its cone of fire, within range. BAE states, "BAE Systems is developing the High-Powered Microwave (HPM) to provide a means to shut down small boat engines at tactically significant ranges."


BAE's manager of business development, John Perry, touts the worth of the HPM, "the value of the HPM would be its fan of radiation, displacing the need for accuracy, and knocking out up to 30 small boats at a time — allowing other weapons to take it from there. “If you can knock out 50-75% of the engines in a swarm, you can then concentrate on the remainder with lasers or kinetic [weapons]."


Not sure about the effects of the human beings shot with this weapons, but it most likely is not a good thing. Although it has been tested, the final shape and design has not been released. Future electromagnetic wars sounds a bit friendlier, and welcome, in my opinion.



quantum -teleport - big.jpg

"The teleporter" in the lab of Professor Akira Furusawa at the University of Tokyo


Professor Elanor Huntington and PhD student James Webb from the University of New South Wales are the first to repeatedly teleport uncorrupted quantum data from one point to another. In the past, anyone attempting this would experience changed or missing information passing through similar channels, and the process was slow. Huntington's observed quantum teleportation happened much faster. The team stated that any type of communication can be transferred through this conduit.


Much like the Schrodinger's Cat paradox, the communicated quantum data sits in superposition, in two states at once. (In the cat's case, alive and dead.) Huntington stated that the data can be sent via a beam of light, "and it’s a powerful way to represent and process information."


Although the word teleport is used, this does not imply faster than light travel. (instantly moving the quantum data from point A to B is not possible, but this development is quite fast.)


Huntington says what the next step is, " This process means we will be able to move blocks of quantum information around within a computer or across a network, just as we do now with existing computer technologies." Quantum computer now has the framework, the future is so close.
When the first quantum processor is made, today's supercomputers will be an irrelevant joke.


The experiment was conducted in the laboratory of Professor Akira Furusawa at the University of Tokyo.




William Fisher (via University of Michigan)


University of Michigan researchers have discovered a way to use a lesser property of light for the production of electricity. Light has weak electric and magnetic components that most have ignored as an important effect. But it was not passed over by Professor Stephen Rand of the school's engineering departments. Rand found that if the light is intense enough, while passing through a non-conductive material, will produce a magnetic field 100 millions time stronger than previously measured.


Doctoral Student William Fisher explains, "It turns out that the magnetic field starts curving the electrons into a C-shape and they move forward a little each time. That C-shape of charge motion generates both an electric dipole and a magnetic dipole. If we can set up many of these in a row in a long fiber, we can make a huge voltage and by extracting that voltage, we can use it as a power source."


Rand states, " This could lead to a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation." Current solar cells absorb light and produce electricity and heat, with only a maximum efficiency, at the moment, of 10%. Rand's magnetic solar effect is also producing a 10% efficiency, but only a small fraction of the heat, and with only glass focusing and fibre optic guides. In other words, no silicone.


Testing will be done with laser light at first, but later with sunlight. The university is seeking patent protection of the intellectual property this has created. Seems to be a lot of  rushing to the patent office these days.




pic via Webster's dictionary


Hu's electrolysis device


Like the recent discovery in electrolysis and fuel cells, yet another group has made a major discovery in the hydrogen production game. Professor Xile Hu of French school EPFL.LSCI and his team have discovered a more inexpensive catalyst to aid in the production of hydrogen from water. Currently, the electrolysis process of water in sped up with the aid of platinum. Hu and team, by chance, found that a Molybdenum Sulfide film works as the best known non-precious catalyst for electrolysis. Due to the first-to-file patent laws, the team has just registered the innovation despite one fact. Xile Hu explains, "Thanks to this unexpected result, we’ve revealed a unique phenomenon, But we don’t yet know exactly why the catalysts are so efficient.” The team seeks to better understand the observed phenomenon.



Models of Harvard's Platinum Free Catalyst


Combined with something like Harvard University's all-ceramic thin-film solid-oxide fuel cell, doing away with the biggest hurdle in hydrogen adoption will be traversed.  However, Harvard's fuel cell is set up to work with methane. In particular, in place of platinum, solid oxide lanthanum strontium cobalt ferrite and yttria-stabilized zirconia are used. The key benefit is operating the fuel cell at about 300 C, as opposed to the conventional 800 C temperatures fuel cell build. The Harvard team is experiencing 5 mW/cm2 in experiments at room temperature.


If all this research pays off, hydrogen vehicles will be immediately adopted globally. Keep in mind, bottle water it going up in price too. Will we ever win?




pics via their respected schools


Computer model of the SketchSET device

Inspired by the Etch-a-sketch toy, Professor of physics and astronomy, Jeremy Levy has developed a device that can draw nano-meter circuits onto the interface of a crystal of strontium titanate and a 1.2 nano-meter layer of lanthanum aluminate. Like the toy, the surface can be erased for use in a new sketch. Dubbed the SketchSET, LEvy produced the first single electron transistor of oxide-based materials. The "island" can house up to 2 electrons, giving states one 0, 1, and 2. Not only is the transistor extremely sensitive to electrical fields, it also has ferroelectric states in the absense of power. Cut the power, the island can then retain it last condition, with electrons or without, 1 or 0. The transistor material is also sensitive to pressure changes at the nano-scale, possibly resulting in nano-charging or force sensing.


Levy works from the Pitt's School of Arts and sciences, and his project is funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research's Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) program. These other schools are also in on this 5 year effort: Cornell, Stanford, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Michigan, and UW-Madison.




pic via the University of Pittsburg


Vacancies surrounded by blue particles in the picture above.


Another graphene discovery shows graphene's magnetic potential. In an atom thick graphene sheet, there is a common defect of missing atoms, dubbed "Vacancies." Michal S. Fuhrer, of the University of Maryland, has discovered that the vacancies have a magnetic moment, a small magnetic field. The magnetism also creates an additional electrical resistance in the surrounding atoms at low temperatures, known as the Kondo Effect.


Fuhrer hypothesizes that many magnetic moments could be coupled via the Kondo effect, causing all of them to line up in the same direction. He continues, " The result would be a ferromagnet, like iron, but instead made only of carbon. Magnetism in graphene could lead to new types of nanoscale sensors of magnetic fields. And, when coupled with graphene's tremendous electrical properties, magnetism in graphene could also have interesting applications in the area of spintronics, which uses the magnetic moment of the electron, instead of its electric charge, to represent the information in a computer."


Spintronics may lead to future solid state devices. Motorola has already produced memory based on this principle called MRAM, Magnetoresistice random access memory.  No charge pump is needed with MRAM. Which leads to faster operation, lower power consumption, and a long lifespan. (Via Wiki.)




pic via University of Maryland


The Navajo Green Economy Coalition. Photo by Wahleah Johns.


The Native American Navajo Nation is making a major switch from fossil fuel to green energy, fast. The "Peabody Energy" company employed most of the Navajo Nation through coal mining. Coal is the main source of Navajo reservation electricity. Coal was mined, and sent to the Peabody power plant through water aquifers in the form of a coal/water mixture. As of 2005, water resources were depleted, and Peabody was looking into using local drinking water to move the coal. Protest mounted, and the 2005 Clean Air Act lawsuit shut down the mining operations at the Black Mesa mine. Unemployment has been high since then.



Black Mesa coal slurry pipeline


The Navajo Nation passes the Green Jobs Act in 2009. Through the newely established Navajo Green Economy Commission and Fund, federal and local fund are being used to create green jobs, sponsor green projects, and make jobs for the youth. This marks the first Native American nation to pass such a law, and the first to step into the green industry.


Also released was a guideline for creating green businesses on the reservation, including business plans. Although they toolkit is fairly simple, it is sure to grow in complexity over time. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.




Coal fun fact : The USA possesses the biggest coal reserves in the world. Which amounts to over 1/4 of the planet's coal.


Spiroscout image from Asthmapolis

Asthmapolis is taking asthma research to a modern level. In the company's latest product, Spiroscout, GPS and WIFI capabilities are built into an inhaler. Each time the patient uses the inhaler, the position and time in recorded and submitted to a central computer. That is, if it has a data connection at that time. A better understanding of what causes asthma, where it is a growing issue, air quality of various locations, and overall trends is expected. Automatic logging is sure to replace Asthmapolis' other product, "Mobile Diary and Website," where people manually log all their asthma attacks. However, the Spiroscout let the user also download all the collected info into the same Diary/Website.


The cap of the inhaler contains the circuit board, battery, and some indicator lights. The inhaler lasts 2 days on a single charge. A wall adapter or USB port is needed for charging. Spiroscout will ship in the second half of 2011. I hope to see more portable medical monitors in the near future.





When I was in college, I had an idea to use all the surplus "SIMM" memory in single storage device. I had a lot of modules laying around. A few months later, the first USB flash drive hit the market. I dropped the idea.


But we all still have a lot of left over memory of other sorts that should be combined to create something useable. Designer Fang-Chun Tsai of Yanko Designs has come up with a device, The Collector, that will combine all the left over, unused, micro-SD cards into a single USB flash drive. This is just a concept, keep in mind. As designer states about swapping SD cards out of the device, "Not sure how it deals with partitioning unless there are some smarts built-in to deal with hot swapping."


This is a concept that should be made. I have a variety of micro-SD cards not being used right now on my desk. (a 4GB and two 8GB cards)


Let's take another level. How about a USB/SATA/PCI-E board that will allow for any and all forms of  memory to serve as a single "harddrive." That includes all the SIMM and DIMM modules we all still hold onto for some reason. Maybe my original idea will see the light of day as well.





Yanko Designs is action-packed with amazing concepts that will definitely inspire you. For example, a standard size rechargeable battery that is also furnished with a USB port to also power different types of electronics.



At the University of Surrey's Centre for Vision, Student Zdenek Kalal has made his thesis on machine vision. He introduced his "Predator" camera system to university scrutiny, and went on to win several competitions. The camera is able to track an object and capture how it looks in different orientations and angles. Over time the Predator, software, learns more about the object and improves its over all tracking ability of the object. It can do this with faces, which makes it immediately important for security purposes. At the moment, the system works with a simple webcam.


For the curious and ambitions, you can download source code for Kalal's project at this website.


I'm sure we will see more of this technology in the near future.



IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland, has come up with a novel way to cool solar panels, increase their power output , and make drinking water from seawater. The solar cells they used are Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) cells, where lens are used to focus light onto the energy generating surface. Reaching temperatures over 120 °C is not unlikely. When hot, the photovoltaic cells work far less efficiently. What IBM has done is create a series of "micro-channels" etched into the surface of the cells and pump water through. Acting like a radiator, or water cooling cpu device, water cools the cells and deposits the heated liquid into a desalination system. There water is heated further, evaporated, and separated from the salt components.


The clean water portion of the system is more of a concept, while the micro-channel solar cells are the core of the research, keep in mind. With the water cooling features, CPV cells have been shown to operate at 70 - 90 °C with up to 5000 times the solar radiation focused on it. Which, according to IBM, is 5 times as much as CPV cells can handle.


No word on the actual returns of the cell, except for maintaining the optimal performance of each CPV cell. Pumping the water through, may in the end, have diminishing returns in practical use. 



Steaming_Pool.jpgWhile taking a brief ski vacation to Jackson Hole, WY I couldn't help but notice the marketing that they put up about how green their resort is.  It got me wondering – how hard would it be to build a hill for enthusiasts that is sustainable?  When I say 'for enthusiasts' I mean a place that doesn't bother with man-made snow and focuses only on what's important: 4 fast, high lifts on a solid mountain with killer runs and a warming hut at the bottom that serves nothing but chili, hot chocolate, and whiskey.  After all, if we're going sustainable we'll need to cut out the energy-hungry pleasantries like heated swimming pools exposed to the open air.


Since there is no ski-palace or snow machines to worry about powering, the biggest energy hog will be the 4 lifts.  Why 4?  Because at this sustainable ski sanctuary there will need to be between 2 and 4 peaks involved, ensuring lots of terrain for me to practice my slightly controlled form of falling.  For this article, I used the most serious lift I could find data on – the Mechi Chal at Chepelare in Bulgaria.  This lift will cost about 740kW to run, and give you 718m in altitude over a distance of 2.8km along with mid-way loading.


At 740kW each, the total power consumption of the lifts would be nearly 3MW.  Ouch.  Given the outputs of current alternative sources, that's a tall order.  How tall?  For starters, all of the alternative power systems are intermittent and cannot be relied upon to prevent stranding lift riders to freeze on the chairs.  Infrastructure (either diesel or grid power) would need to be always available, resulting in infrastructure redundancy.  There goes any chance at cost savings.  But if capital expense is not a factor, what would it take to power these chairs?



There are some days that you get off the lift and the wind is harsh enough to make it feel like you're wearing nothing at all.

“... nothing at all ....nothing at all ...nothing at all”     -Stupid Sexy Flanders

What better place to stick a giant wind turbine than in a ton of wind?  Given the proposed 3-peak setup, it would be possible to put up a 1MW turbine on each of the peaks.  While there are the Critics of mountaintop wind, there are examples of wind generation at resorts including Jiminy Peak and Grouse Mountain.  Even with their success, one must wonder how well wind turbines can withstand the nasty storms that tear through those high mountains.  With the snow, ice, hail, wind, etc... there will undoubtedly be down time due to maintenance or just plain freezing.




You might have heard people say “There are no friends on powder days,” – well, there isn't any sun either.  There is one existing example of a surface list that is powered by solar energy, but it's a tow-line that is really only suitable for a bunny hill.  Since the article only specifies total energy output in kWh over an unknown time frame, one can only assume a nominal power output in-line with the surface area and low levels of sun available in the mountains.  We'll just knock that one off right now.



A small hydro system sounds pretty good – getting 3MW of water flow in the mountains doesn't seem unreasonable, even if using a run of the river system.  Whistler is an example of a hydro-powered ski resort with its 33GW hydro plant capable of offsetting all of their energy needs.  Granted, hydroelectricity will severely limit the locations where this ski hill could be located, and require that the dam be operated by workers, but what kind of water source would be needed?  According to this powerpoint from the Canadian government, the equation for a small power system can be approximated as:


Power (kW) = 7 * Head (m) * flow(m^3/sec)


Therefore, a 3MW system requires the product of water flow and head height to be 428 m^4/sec.  Not impossible, but I would assume the places that have a mountain with great snow and terrain near a river that runs year-round with these specs to be very remote indeed.


It seems that there are too many significant challenges to making the skier fully sustainable – both economic and technological.  However the green initiatives continue with resorts generating what they can such as Aspen's multi-faceted generation/conservation approach.  In the meantime, power consumption is no reason to stay home!  That monster 740kW lift can move 2000 people per hour, therefore it costs only 370Wh per ride.  On an excellent ski day of 20 runs, that's a total energy cost of 7.4kWh, or about the same as 14 hours spent in front of a 500W TV.  So find a hill that still has snow and tear it up before season's end!


Of course, these are all broad generalizations and non-specific calculations for the sake of a thought experiment.  I'd love to hear calculations based on better numbers or other technical challenges I haven't thought of in the comments!


Weigh a whole locomotive

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 13, 2011

Weighing large loads, as in trucks, trains, machinery, product, in the excess of 20 tons is a difficult process. Current processes require the item being measures to be placed on a scale individually. In the case of trains, each car is measured individually.


This is all about to change. Centre d'Etudes Nucléaires de Bordeaux-Gradignan (CNRS / Université Bordeaux 1) has developed a new weighing system for locomotives that is unparalleled in speed and accuracy. A steel weighbridge is placed at the level of the rails and acts as the scale itself. An analog electrical signal is read from the system and a weight derived. What is unique about this scale, measurements can be taken while the train is moving. Accuracy is within 0.5% of the actual value.


CNRS has patented the technology, and hopes to apply it to other areas in the hauling/lifting industry.




When  it comes to writers, they need isolation and quiet to focus on their  work. This is the common thought when it comes to writers. People  generally respect that standpoint. Software engineers are writers too,  right? They need quiet and isolation for the majority of time to work as  well. One Java developer works from home for long hours on his  programs. He has said, "I can't be at the office being distracted every  few minutes. I'll get nothing done." What he needs is a place to create,  focus, and work. The same requirements apply to anyone who creates,  even embedded engineers.



Recent  studies have shown that for a worker it takes about 30-45 minutes to  get into "the zone" and focus on the tasks at hand. This is particularly  the case with writers and engineers. Once distracted, is it common to  jump back into the groove? No, the studies show that it takes another  30-45 minutes to return to the original task. So, within an hour and a  half, with one distraction, an engineer does zero work, in the most  extreme cases.



Distractions  come in many flavors. For example, I remember one job I had I was  working on software and hardware for a solo project. The office I was at  was recently remodeled with the low-walled cubicles that would let  everyone see each other. The down side was, we could also hear each  other. I was working on a rather sticky aspect of my project one day,  and the people around me were pretty free of responsibilities. For  almost half that day I had to listen to two people behind me talk about  sharks. Yes, the great fish. I could not concentrate at all. I just  ended up pecking away at my project, essentially giving up for the day.



Any  form of communication allows someone to interrupt. IM, text messages,  email, and of course, phone calls all pull us away from the task at  hand. Anyone who gives tips on ways to manage distractions  at work  always say," turn off your phone and emails, so you can stay focused."



An  engineer friend of mine tells me how he refuses to answer his desk  phone anymore. He said it used to ring about every 15 minutes. It was  either customers who had his direct line, or other co-workers passing  off a customer to him. "That isn't my job," he always angrily confides.  "I am there to do electrical engineering. Design, build, and finish  projects. Not to answer phones or have people constantly stopping by to  talk to me about nothing." He told me he would, at times, take  schematics and his netbook to a store room in the office to hide from  people and distractions.



Studies  reveal that the average worker is distracted 73 times a day. It is  probably less for engineers, but assuredly, not by much. With the 30  minute adjustment period for undertaking tasks, engineers could end up  accomplishing nothing in a day. I can't could the number of times that I  have heard someone say, " I got nothing done today. Too many  distractions."



Every  job I have ever held had this issue. And as I climbed up the echelon,  becoming more critical to projects, distractions have turned into major  stumbling blocks. In fact, I have done my fair share of contract work  from home, or my workshop. There, I accomplished so much more, and so much  faster that it is almost night and day in comparison. Has anyone tried  both in an office and at home? How did the schedule fair in both  situations?



Can you testify to distractions interrupting your progress significantly?





For a deeper look at this issues, read Maggie Jackson's "DISTRACTED: THE EROSION OF ATTENTION AND THE COMING DARK AGE"



Switching from high-pressure sodium lighting to energy efficient LED solutions, can be a costly upgrade for many companies. What if they are free?


LED supplier and UK company, Totalight, is going to see if people will take their lamps for free. They are offering their new GU10 dimmable indoor 5.3W LED lamps to replace 50W GU10 halogen lamps. One caveat, the receiving company must pay a portion of the energy savings they experience back to Totalight over a period of 2 years. All that is needed, it a quote of the average bills experienced pre-LED and they work out a percentage in what is saved. After 2 years, the lamps are owned.


Totalight admits that the free 2 year payback period will gross more money than if the receiving companies just buy the LED luminaries directly. It is a case of pay for it all now, or over time. Totalight just wants to provide different payment models to suit the individual company. Totalight managing director Mark Blanchfield passionately explains the reason for this offer, "we shoulder the initial outlay to give the customer a no-cost way to switch and save, which has zero impact on their cash flow... we smash any reluctance caused by the high purchase price seen currently in the LED market.”


These lamps are made of 85% reusable components. Totalight's further effort to help the environment.



The best way to keep jobs within one's own respected country is lower the wages for each worker. It is unfair, but what if the worker is not human, or even alive. Have a factory of robotic workers, that are not even getting paid, is the best way to stay competitive.



Global company, ABB, has announced a concept robot that could possible replace assembly line workers. The bot, FRIDA, is a two arm robot with similar size and capabilities of a human. At the core of the bot, is ABB's IRC5 robot controller. The controller automatically performs operations the quickest it can, despite whatever roundabout way it was told to perform. It comes with what they call a "Flexpendant," a touchscreen that can load custom interfaces for controlling the robot in any way the user would like. FRIDA is billed as mountable wherever it is needed, and even has a handle for easy transport. Several prototypes are being tested at the moment. A great concept for replacing workers, but I am sure it will ultimately come with a hefty price tag. A $100,000 robot is much more costly than their $4,000 a year human counterparts.



Why does some of the coolest technology start out being used for directly or indirectly killing people?

Advanced virtual worlds and simulation software, to train pilots and soldiers.

Remote piloting of aircraft, for unmanned attack drones.

Wearable energy generations devices, to aid soldiers in the field.




Now it is augmented reality. Instead of giving people updates on their social network, it is being used to call in air strikes. A recent DARPA initiative will give soldiers an easier way to request air support. Working with video goggle maker Vuzix, a 3mm thick lens system is being worked on. The lens will be a optical waveguide that will produce images onto holographic film. They want the glasses to tell each soldier what aircraft in the air is carrying ordinance wise, where the plane is located,  to better assist quick battlefield decisions. The teams also hope that this will eliminate friendly fire situations due to uninformed ground personnel who can not see a large picture of what is happening around them.


Communication wins battles.





Cambridge Consultants recently announced the development of their 3D imaging, handheld, radar system called "Sprint" to see into walls. The device will can look through most materials, create a map of what is inside, and be moved along the surface to get a larger image. The potential use of the Sprint is ultimately locate items of interest, such as explosives, contraband, etc.


The Sprint does not require additional equipment on the other side of the scanned object, unlike similar products. Sam Pumphrey, Senior Consultant at Cambridge Consultants, explains, "Whereas other options, such as backscatter x-rays, are cumbersome, expensive and power hungry systems, and conventional radar systems have been difficult to interpret, Sprint’s use of radar and processing technology makes it possible to look inside an opaque object or surface from one side safely, cheaply and quickly in a low power, handheld device."


This device is to be used as a compliment to Cambridge Consultants' "Prism 200" device, another handheld scanner that will allow for deep scanning rooms and building to view movement inside. The difference being the Prism 200 can see more of what is behind the wall but with less detail in the image, while the Sprint constructs a highly detailed image but at a much shallower depth.


Let's hope out neighbors do not acquire this tech, ever.





Nokia will be showing off their latest input device, the "Nenya" ring, at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. The ring consists of a permanent magnet with poles at opposing sides. The wearer can turn the ring in 8 different positions, which will indicate different types of input. The position of the ring is read with a wrist-worn 3-axis magnetometer, HMC5843, sampling at 25Hz, and a Bluetooth radio. "Clicks," input actuating, is done by pointing the ring finger down, away from the bracelet.


magent ring.JPG


The bracelet, which contains the magnetometer and Bluetooth radio, is not the most decorative, Nokia admits. Plans to incorporate the technology into a wristwatch or jewelry is planned. I would like to suggest cufflinks or a button on a sleeve instead. The ring also give false positives when the wearer is moving. The ring and wrist sensor are very susceptible to damage from magnetic sources, like a credit card or magnetic data storage. Protection and increased accuracy is also being worked on by Nokia. Despite its failings at the moment, it looks like it will be a fun gadget.





Ring fun fact: The name Nenya is from JR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Nenya was one of the 3 strongest "Rings of Power" next to "the one that ruled them all."



pics via Nokia

I used to think portable solar power as a novelty, a useless gift gadget, not a necessity. That all changed on a trip to the beach. I left the 4G data connection on my phone, and within a few hours the battery was drained. Like many people today, I suffer from digital anxiety. I must check my various email and social network accounts on a more-than-I-should basis. At that point, I realized, I need a solar charger.



Goal Zero offers a 7-watt portable solar panel, dubbed "the Guide 10 Adventure Kit,"  that sports a 12V direct charge adapter, USB port, and a 6.5V direct charging cable. It is also compatible with standard AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. It is small enough to fit in a, large, pocket. When folded it is 6x9x1 inches in volume. At $140 USD, it is a must for all who worry about their devices power, on the go, in the remote.



For the vain, a Ralph Lauren solar backpack, in the RXL sports line, is yours for $800 USD. For what you gain in style you lose in power output. The backpack outputs a lack-luster 3.45-watts.


There are many options for portable solar power. What makes these two stand out is the built in support for today's devices.  For example, for $800 I could get a Global Solar 62-watt 12V foldable solar panel. However, many additional adapters/regulators would be needed to get a simple USB port for power. Not something I want to lug around. Small and compact is the goal for all technology.


Although I like the backpack, the Adventure Kit is my solar pack of choice. Plus, $140 in nothing for peace of mind, and checking my email at the beach.




DIY Home Solar Kit, easy

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 12, 2011


Grape Solar kit


Want to power your home with alternative energy to the point where you are giving back to the grid? Maybe even make a little money back in the process? A solar kit, from Grape Solar, will be available from Costco around mid-year. Several options are available, 880W, 2300W, 3680W or 5060W. Kits will range from $3,600 to $18,000, and will come with a 25-year warranty. The kits are designed to be expanded as the user sees fit. The potential to be self sufficient has never been easier.


Take the base 5060W kit.

At about 6 hours of useable sunlight a day under ideal conditions, the output of the panels would be in the range of 30kW (6*5060). The average 4 bedroom home uses between 30kW to 60kW of power each day. So, with energy saving practices, it is entirely possible to return some energy to the grid.


Not feeling like DIY, Grape Solar stated that they have over 5,000 workers who can help install the systems and provide support. Federal and State incentives are also available in most areas for green energy production. Keep in mind, buying these kits will be like paying for the electricity all up front. With the average monthly electric bill per house being $100, the 5060W kit will pay for itself in 15 years. But you will make a small impact on carbon emissions.




As far as I know, I’m the only element14 Do-It-Yourself blog writer who’s still in school.  Considering my unique position, I intend to use these blogs as means for sharing news and engineering ideas not only in their relation to the electronics industry, but also as they relate to the “next generation” of engineers.  We have some serious tasks to face as my generation takes on the world of engineering – global warming, running out of fossil fuel, increasing global population, and many more things should be able to keep us busy for some time.


You’ll notice that I listed some of the greatest problems that face the planet today.  Are engineers really the ones responsible for solving those problems?  I’m not sure.  Many people would point to politicians and world leaders as the ones who need to address the huge problems that we face.  And while I certainly don’t want to imply that all politicians do their job poorly (many are making a huge difference), there is no doubt that the governments of the world could be doing a significantly better job of fixing what ails our planet if they skipped the bureaucracy and actually worked together towards a common goal.  Obviously, this is never going to happen… so that leaves the engineers.


Why engineers?  Why not CEOs, small business owners and that guy who works at the supermarket by your house?  Engineers possess the unique ability to identify a problem, analyze it, and work together until a solution can be fashioned.  The mere existence of sites like element14 is proof that engineers are problem-solvers.  We get together, experiment, and build things.  When was the last time you heard of some senators discussing their budget plans in an online forum?


That brings me to my next point, and this one is aimed at those of you who are either still in school, or between jobs.  If you went to school for engineering, get a job in engineering!  You have a unique ability, specialized training, and the ability to solve problems that others simply cannot.  Don’t get me wrong, we need those others too – engineers can’t do everything.  But, plenty of people went to business school – let them handle working for the banks, while the engineers focus on the problem solving that the world so desperately needs.  Dave Young, another element14 blogger, wrote a great post about Engineers going into finance recently.


How do we reform engineering education to ensure that my fellow electrical engineering students actually pursue jobs in socially beneficial engineering?  I wish I had a perfect answer to that question, but unfortunately I don’t.  I have very mixed feeling about the education I’ve received so far, and to be honest, I can understand why many of my classmates are pursing summer internships at banks instead of engineering firms.  The vast majority of my classes do not make engineering seem like a glamorous profession.  If I didn’t know any better from working on my own projects, I’d gather from my classes that being an electrical engineer consists entirely of solving differential equations, doing seemingly useless 14-hour problem sets, and cramming useless equations into my head for use on an upcoming timed exam.


Thankfully, not all my classes are like that – I have some really great professors, and I tend to excel in my project based classes because I have the opportunity to put my own creative twist on an open-ended problem, as is the case with “real world” engineering work.  So, here’s my public service announcement to universities, professors, etc:  You will produce much better engineers if you allow your students to pursue their own projects within the realm of a reasonable course outline.  The basics are important, but there needs to be a point where the basics give way to a project based curriculum where students can learn all the amazing things that they can do as the world’s next generation of engineers.


My generation has quite the to-do list to face, and the only way we’re going to get everything done is if we have a critical mass of engineers who can really make a huge impact.


I recently designed a sensitive circuit similar to those used in the front end of high input impedance meters such as an electrometer.  The design goal was to determine relative changes in capacitance on the order of 50fF.  To keep the 'variable capacitor' from getting swamped out, the circuit took advantage of sensitive measurement techniques such as using a unity gain buffer to create a guard signal for shielding.


After a bit of troubleshooting and solving layout issues, the circuit had one last problem – 60Hz noise.  But how was it coupling into my signal?  Immediately I thought of the power supply feeding the sensitive circuitry and dove in head first on the noise hunt.  At least until my co-worker walked out and accidentally turned off the lights.  Right before I blurted out a lighthearted but snarky comment along the lines of “Just because my circuit doesn't work yet doesn't mean I don't exist!” I saw that the noise disappeared!  No lights = no noise.  It seemed the glow of the skin-bleaching overhead fluorescents was the noise source, not the board's power supply.


Probing around inadvertently gave me another accidental hint – the noise changes depending on where my hand is positioned over the circuit.  At first I disregarded the effects of my hand as an antenna that only tuned the noise, similar to the iPhone 4 signal problems that occurred when a user's hand was too close to the antenna.  Then I noticed it wasn't like normal noise tuning where the position of a hand might only tweak the noise on the output -- I was able to eradicate the noise if I completely covered the circuit.  And cardboard could yield the same effect as my hand.  So it wasn't even electrical – it was visual!


Visual noise pointed me in the direction of the phototransistors on the board.  Sure enough, when they were covered the noise went away.  I knew it couldn't be the PT's circuit since that part of the design was left untouched in this revision.  But a glance at the new wiring harness showed the problem –  a missing connection to the PT's emitters.  The floating emitters were able to wreak havoc on my sensitive signal every time the base of the transistor got hit with light.  A quick skywire to make the connection, and I was able to have a circuit that worked in the mood-crushing ambiance of  overhead lights!

PT circuit.jpg


At the end of this problem, I was struck by two funny things.  First, as engineers we are always looking for problems in difficult but interesting places such as the sensitive input node.   Second, if I wasn't paying attention to the little things I would have missed big time saving hints, for example the scope when the lights went off and the nuances of my hand waiving.


My lesson that day?  Mouth closed, mind and eyes open.  Can't re-learn that one enough.  What about you?  What strange hints have you found by paying attention?  Tell us about them in the comments!


Lab image of the tube cell structure



Solar cells are about 8% efficient in converting light to energy, at least between the hours of 10AM and 2PM. Researchers, led by David Carroll PhD, from Wake Forest University (WFU) say there is more to the sun's energy that we can see from sunrise to sunset. Infra-red radiation from even the dimmest light conditions, can be collected through new solar thermal panels. The team, at WFU, have created an array of clear tubes, 5mm in diameter, filled with oil mixed with dyes, that lay flat within a panel. The panels then draw heat from the visible light and infra-red radiation. The mixture absorbs the heat and a "spray-on" polymer photovoltaic element , on the backside of the panel. In comparison, these solar thermal panels have been shown to be 30% efficient. Not only do they generate electricity, but can also be used to warm the home. In some cases, cost savings up to 40%. The team plans to build the first square meter solar thermal cell in the summer.



Do they heat the house too much in warm weather conditions? At least this alternative energy system does not drain the world of its kinetic energy.


m-1103-61 332.jpgm-1103-61 289.jpg

The Tablet



Brigham Young University students have built an eye-tracking tablet computer to help aid people with disabilities at the behest of Digital Systems . The final product is a Windows 7 tablet that is 2 inches thick with a 14 by 10 inch face. The internal computer system is built from the ground up. The built in eye tracking capability comes from EyeTech, similar to their TM3 tracker.


The major benefit of the students work, is the price of the system. They say that some similar devices cost in the excess of $14,000, while their project comes in at about $1,500. EyeTech is taking the prototype created by the students as a basis for future tablets. The ultimate place for this tablet will be third world countries where teaching the disabled can be a challenge.


I believe that every senior/final design project should be fostered and sponsored by a company, similar to this BYU, EyeTech collaboration. As you can see, the hard work will continue to be improved upon and eventually benefitting the world.


I thought of this as I stripped a few relays out of my senior design project I has laying around in a cardboard box for years.




Sensors shown underneath a skull


Electrocorticography (ECoG), placing sensors underneath the skull, directly on the brain. Data is taken intrusively right from the brain's surface. Several people have already undergone the implantation of sensors for the study of Epileptic Seizures. A recent patient move the "Space Invaders" gun in 1 dimensional plane effectively.


Now researchers are seeing in this same technology can be used to control a cursor on a computer screen. A group of 4 patients were asked to think of sounds, phonemes, "oo", "ah", "ee" and "eh." The brain-waves were recorded for those thoughts. Patients were asked to think of those sounds to move a cursor in the 4 directions it could go. Results shown that the cursor placement was accurate and repeatable.


Lead researcher on the project, Eric Leuthardt, states that a large mesh of sensors is not needed for machine interfacing with the brain. A 4mm x 4mm sensor would suffice. Research continues at the Washington University in St. Louis.


More here.




Similar with the TurtleBot, Kondo Robot seeks to give an affordable home experimenting robot to the masses. Their offering, an intimidating spider like robot with 6 legs called the KMR-M6. To reduce costs, a clever leg appendage uses 2 servos and a mechanical spring actuator. Legs can be purchased separately so the ambitious can build their own multi-leg creation. Attach a Microsoft Kinect to this "hexapod" robot, and Turtlebot may have to roll aside. The KMR-M6 can navigate over complex and rough terrain. The low center of gravity will also keep it from tipping. At the center of the KMR-M6 bot is a Kondo RCB-4HV controller powered by a 10.8V 800mAh Ni-MH battery from ROBO. Available in May for $880 USD. Although Kondo Robot is based in Japan, a fairly extensive community is available for aid, support, and design examples.




Stock image of the honeycomb graphene structure


Graphene is almost assuredly poised to replace silicon based devices in the future. From low cost, faster electron movement, to cooling effects, and now showing of a transistor that can operate at 155Ghz. IBM showed off its record breaking graphene transistor as of April 7th, 2011, defeating their previous record of 100Ghz set in February of 2010. IBM conducted the research to make a high-performance RF transistor for a DARPA project. The gate length of this new transistor in 40 nanometers, down from 550 from the 2010 demonstration.


The main issue with why graphene has taken over for silicon is the energy gap of the material. Graphene, at the moment, does not have a deep enough ratio to create and on-off digital switch.  However, the constant flow of energy makes graphene excellent at processing analog signals. According to IBM researcher, Yu-Ming Lin, "Graphene's high electron speed allows for faster processing of applications in analog electronics where such a high on-off ratio is not needed."


Our 155Ghz computers still await more research in gaphene, but IBM is definitely showing off a little glimpse at the future.



When I was young I was fascinated by solar power. It seemed like we were only years away from having a significant amount of our power coming from alternative sources. Now more than thirty years later it seems things haven’t changed all that much. We have a tendency to explore alternatives when times are tough but quickly lose interest when the situation improves. According to the US Department of Energy for 2009 only 8% of power was from green and renewable energy sources ( In time I am sure that the percentage will increase but I’ve decided to try and make an impact, even if minor, on my own.


Where I live the power goes out with a fair amount of frequency during the active spring and summer storm seasons. Sometimes it goes out for hours, sometimes days. If I find alternative sources that help me get off the grid it means I can be less dependent on the unreliable power from the local energy company while decreasing my carbon footprint.


I started researching a combination of photovoltaic, wind and biodiesel generation for my power needs. The first challenge is figuring out how large of a supply is needed. I’ve seen people buy the largest generator they can afford, and I usually point out that they should consider how many hours it will run on a gallon of fuel. Having all that extra power becomes a disadvantage when you are burning through fuel at a higher rate.


Knowing how much power is needed is the first step in determining an alternative energy solution for your home. A similar challenge occurs when trying to come up with solutions for lowering your power usage. Just switching to compact florescent bulbs throughout your home will not have a drastic impact on your power bill if those lights do not get used regularly. You need to know what is consuming power, when and at what volume to develop an alternative energy solution.


To get a better understanding of how much power I am using I purchased the TED5000-G energy usage monitor from The Energy Detective ( This unit has several interesting features including a web interface where you can monitor usage in real-time and it can also interface with the Google power meter project.


The unit itself uses two inductive AC amperage clamps that are attached to the main lines coming into the home breaker panel. It is capable of measuring power usage down to per second resolution. I find monitoring the usage and seeing the various patterns fascinating. It makes it easy to see how much power is used by different devices as you turn them on and off in the home. You can also identify “vampire power” devices, as many electronics still have power draw even when they are “off”.


From the TED5000-G data, I can tell that on average I am using .9 Kwh of power when I am home and awake. At night that is closer to .5 Kwh and as low as .3 Kwh when I am away from home. I am still doing further research, turning off and unplugging devices to find those that are drawing power that I am not aware of. Having this information is extremely useful. It means that when I start shopping for power generation equipment, solar, wind, and a generator, I know exactly how much power I use on average. I can turn on the devices I would like to have running and use that as a benchmark of how much power I need and how much I would like to have.


The TED5000-G is not too expensive at $200, but there are other devices that can give you the same information. For individual devices and outlets there is the “P3 Kill A Watt” which will let you track how much power you are using at that outlet. This is an especially interesting device because of the various hacks found online that expand its capabilities (


The same inductive power measurement used by the TED5000-G is available in hand-held units usually referred to as inductive current clamp or clamp meters.  It is possible to find handheld units units from several sources in a range of prices and features, for example the Fluke 321/322 ( In true DIY spirit you could build a similar unit using inductive AC current sensors. These sensors along with proper amplification can feed the current usage data into an Arduino, or other microcontroller, where it could be recorded or transmitted via WiFi or XBee radio.


Knowing how much power you use and how much you will need is the first step in coming up with an alternative energy system that can meet your power needs.


Do you know how much energy you are using in your own home? Have you done your own alternative energy project? Are you powering your house “off the grid?” If you have I would love to hear about it.



At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland, 3 beautiful new "Green"  homes are being built,  that no one can live in. Instead, the homes will serve as a testing facilities for green and fire-safe building practices. Dubbed a "Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility," they are to generate more power than they consume. This is done through the solar energy modules, energy efficient appliances, and lighting. A computer will control the homes, and attempt to simulate if people actually lived in the homes.


Across the rooftops of the same campus, 2,500 new solar modules are being installed. Potentially producing 700 mega-watts per year, enough for 67 homes, NIST hopes to get a better understanding of what to expect from photovoltaic modules and arrays.


I'd volunteer to live in those homes, in the name of science, of course.




pic, Net-Zero Energy House, via Building Science Corporation for NIST



Concept playground developed by Hyundai Engineering & Construction seeks to teach playing children about clean energy. Called "The Natural Energy Park," it contains several different examples of clean energy.


-An adjustable solar panel can be moved, via levels, to collect more light and in spin an optical illusion disk faster or slower.

-In the highest point of the playground is a secret lab, where a wheel can be spun to generate electricity that lights up a "Benjamin Franklin kite" just outside.

-Pedal a cycle and light up some signs. And also a pedal power radio.

-A seesaw turns a waterwheel.

-A pinhole camera displays a focusable image of what is on the other side.

-And two way "videophone" periscope lets kids see and talk to each other using a tube and mirrors.

-A magnetically levitating airplane can change via a lever.


All in the act of playing, they get lessons in technology and clean energy. This park won the design team the "Red Dot Design Award" in the green category. Never too early to make a good impression.



Pic via Red Dot



Bart Gysen, in his effort to obtain a PhD, has been working with a team of researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands), to develop an active electromagnetic suspension system for automobiles. The team demonstrated the current version at December 2010 Future of Electric Vehicles conference in San Jose.


Controlled by an onboard computer, the suspension system received signals from an accelerometer and other sensors to adjust the shock accordingly. In a normal suspension, shocks respond to the surface of the road like a mechanical linkage, and has a slower response than this electromagnetic prototype. The Eindhoven suspension responds in a matter of micro-seconds, eliminated swaying in curves, and helps reduce over overturning due to abrupt steering. Lab results show a 60% increase in overall "ride quality."


Gysen - "An ambulance fitted with this system will be able to transport patients quickly and free of disturbing road-surface vibrations.”


Overall, a complete system uses approximately 500 watts. Gysen - "Hydraulic suspension systems use four times as much power. And the consumption of our system can probably be reduced still further by optimization. This is only the first version.”


The shock consists of a passive spring, control unit, electromagnetic actuator, and batteries. The shocks also generates electricity from road vibration. If the system fails, the passive spring and magnets in the shock will provide a conventional ride.


More importantly, each shock's high can be adjusted on the fly. This is sure to be a new favorite in the car mod scene.





As motorcycle is to automobile, so is the Martin Jetpack to airplanes. The concept by, student, Glen Martin was conceived in 1981. Getting validation from the University of Canterbury's Mechanical Engineering Department, a successful prototype that exceeded the "Bell Rocket Belt" flight time of 20 seconds was built in 2005. This set the platform for public demonstrations in 2008, which ignited the media world.


The jetpack is based on a twin propeller design to gain flight, very similar to "light helicoptors." Plenty of safety features a built in, roll cage, auto stabilization, parachute, and avoidance systems. Now after 2,500 successful test flights, 100 combined engine hours, the Martin Jetpack is ready for public consumption. 43 minutes of Individual flight, at a time, can be gained for $100,000 USD. No pilots license is needed, however a Martin Aircraft training program is required. Waivers soon to follow as well.


The jet pack is being pushed for military and civil defense use. A unmanned, UAV, version is also in the works.


A remarkable 30 years of development soon to give a lot of people what they always dreamed of, a personal jet pack.



Nothing makes a complicated device popular like opening up further development to the public. Take the Android or iOS phones and tablets, inexpensive or free software development lead to an explosion of popularity.


Willow Garage (WG) has set out to try something similar with robotics in 2006. Founded by Scott Hassen in an effort to advance robotic development through the offering of an open-source platform for hardware and software tinkering. Beginning with the PR2, a large robot with limbs and mobility. But at $400,000, not the most useful for the general populace. While working on the PR2, WG engineers built the Texai Remote Presence System. This allowed the engineers to interact at a distance.



Now, WG, has released the TurtleBot. This robot is a very simple design based around the iRobot Create platform, a Roomba like bot made for developers. A Microsoft Kinect is the main vision sensor. And the core is an Asus 1215N (Netbook), Dual core Intel Atom, 2GB Ram. Although, it looks like anyone can build one for themselves, WG will have development support, libraries, and a community for the TurtleBot. Coming in at around $1200 when released, for the ambitious, it is a decent value.





Fuel cells have catalysts that rapidly wear to the point of inhibiting the production of electricity, resulting in a limited use of the technology. The catalyst, Carbon Black, corrodes, and the porous nature of the material does not allow for the complete exposure of all the platinum catalyst.


Engineers Jan Schroers and André Taylor at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science have created a new fuel cell catalyst made of nanowires, lasting 2.4 times longer than current cells. These nanowires are made of "bulk metallic glass" (BMG) and have a high surface area. Schroers and Taylors nanowires are 13 nm, 3 times smaller than carbon black particles. And the cylindrical shape also give the nanowires more surface area per volume. This exposes more of the catalyst, hence producing more electricity. According to the team, normal catalysts lose 60%  activity every 1,000 cycles, and the BMG retains 96% of the function over 1,000 cycles.


"BMG has all the same properties of a metal but with the amorphous nature of glass,” said Taylor. The BMG nanowire alloy can blow molded into complex shapes using a hot-press method, says Schroers. BMG nanowires also conduct electricity better than carbon black, and even carbon nanowires.


Taylor, concludes, "It's a real step toward making fuel cells commercially viable and, ultimately, supplementing or replacing batteries in electronic devices."


The team is currently working on a fuel cell small enough to work in a laptop or cell phone.


Read the abstract here.




Michal Prywata & Thiago Caires with the AMO Arm


Canadian Ryerson University students have made an inexpensive, mind controlled, prosthetic arm geared towards amputees. Students Michal Prywata and Thiago Caires created what they call the AMO Arm, The Artificial Muscle-Operated Arm, using compressed air at the core of limb's actuation. The arms movement is powered by a small tank of compressed air worn separate. By doing this, the limb only costs a fraction of their electrical counterparts. The brain control of the limb comes in a non-intrusive headset the operator wears. This will save patients hundreds of thousands of dollar in operation costs compared to other limbs that wire to nervous systems. They claim, in a short amount of time and practice the wearer can move the limb as they wish.


Software to drive the prosthetic took approximately a year t develop, while the prototype of the actual are was constructed during a 72 hour design session. And the project won the 2011 Ryerson Engineering Competition, and went on to win many other prizes at other Canada based engineering events.


The team have started their own company, Bionik Laboratories Inc, and are seeking 3 patents. Ryerson's Digital Media Zone has also helped the fledgling company gain even further fame. And the team is continually improving the AMO Arms. The next step feedback of what the arm is touching to gauge pressure of holding, such as an egg vs. a brick.


A great achievement for students who have not even graduated yet. Good work!




pic via Ryerson U.


Open-Source Guitar

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 7, 2011



Zoybar community project by Kevin Rupp has taken the open-source electric modular guitar to another plane. The base guitar has been combined with a Korg Kaossilator synthesizer, pocket pod, and a wireless transmitter from Line 6. One man bands rejoice.


The Zoybar was started and founded by Ziv Bar IIan as a starting place for musicians or companies can easily build their own instruments. The base design of the Zoybar is available for download on their site. All CAD files, parts lists, and assemblies are free under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 License. 3D drawings are available for converting to production code.


As in the example above, community members add, change, enhance their systems. However, if you are not one for complete DIY, or do not have a machine shop, kits for the base guitar or bass are also available, but not cheap.


Zoybar's mission statement says it all, "Sharing ideas and creating in a co-creation environment brings a new era in the music instruments evolution."




Robotic Media Center

Posted by Eavesdropper Apr 7, 2011


Reeti, a new robot home media center computer, seeks to bring a lot in a small package. Reeti's major feature over any other media device is its anthropomorphic appeal. Expressions are "endless," programmable, and alterable via an iOS device. The bot contains touch feedback, two microphones, and two HD cameras capable of 3D video all for the purpose of interaction.


Reeti is an open-platform running Ubuntu. Aside from the base applications, users are free to develop for the device. Pre-installed open-source libraries, and SDK, and middleware is provided to aid in application development. They really want people to like this bot.


Its core tech give it a lot to like. The processor is an Intel Atom Dual core at 1.8Ghz. 2GB DDR3 ram, Blu-ray reader, DVD burner, USB 2.0 and 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 1.3, 7.1 Audio, and Nvidia ION 2 HD and 3D round out the rest of its core features.


Into developing, watching movies, and robots? Reeti is just for you. Make a Netflix app when you get one.





Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Maryland, have taken a step towards demonstrating the potential of future atom based electronics, or Atomtronics. The concept is to use the flow of atoms to perform similar to current electron based circuitry.


Using lasers to manipulate 100,000 super-cooled sodium atoms, in Bose-Einstein condensate form, the team was able to coax the formation of ring like shapes, when cohesive, patterned movement was achieved. In other words, the current flow of atoms. Researcher, Kevin Wright, was able to induce flow for 40 seconds. Four time longer than any other experiment of a similar nature.


The pinched off circle in the picture is an attempt to slow down the atom current flow. Similar to the Josephson Effect of two weakly coupled supercoductors.


See the abstract here.




pic via NIST



A shocking statistic, 40% of all U.S. waste is from construction. Only 20% of that is recycled, and tons of raw material is just packed back into the earth. ZenRobotics looks to change that recycling figure. Their "Recycler ZR M2" can identify useful, recyclable, waste and sort it from the main stream. Using an array of sensors, like visible spectrum camers, NIR, Haptic, transillumination, 3D laser scanners, weight, and metal detectors to accurately sort the waste as it passes down the ZR M2's chambers. The device can also remove unwanted materials from the bit of interest, as in concrete from a support bar or electronics from a steel cabinet.


The ZR M2 is already being use in a testing atmosphere, and has learned to identify up to half of the construction waste. This will undoubtedly save in raw material resources and landfill expenses.


Lead researcher at ZenRobotics, Tuomas J. Lukka, said he envisions "the robot could one day sort household waste as well."





EV charging stations are not on every corner, like all electric car drivers would wish. Being able to plug in anywhere is not an option for most. New York based Leviton has just announced a portable charger that can be used anywhere a common 15A plug is available. The "Evr-GreenTM 120 Level 1 Portable Charger" is small enough to be stored in the EV, light enough to be carried. The business end of this charge is compliant with all major plug in vehicles, aka SAE J1772TM compliant.


Like all level 1 charging devices, there is only so much that can be drawn from a single phase, 15-20A, 110-125V AC plug. With level 1, full charging can take up to 20 hours. However, even if only 1 - 8 hours can be drawn, it would aid in extending the range to the next location. I am officially much less reluctant to purchase an EV.



pic via Leviton


pic via Georgia Institute of Technology


Georgia Institute of Technology's Dr Zhong Lin Wang has announced the first commercially viable nanogenerator at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. After a long period of research Zhong Li Wang's team have boosted the output of the generator to the point of being able to power LCDs, LEDs, and laser diodes. Power comes from the bending and straining of Zinc Oxide (ZnO) nanowires. The pizoelectric nanowires are 1/500th the width of a human hair. 5 layers of these nanowire bundled together, on a  1 square cm flexible polymer chip, can produce 3V at 1mA when actuated.


Zhong Li Wang talking of places the generator may be employed, "personal electronics devices powered by footsteps activating nanogenerators inside the sole of a shoe; implanted insulin pumps powered by a heart beat; and environmental sensors powered by nanogenerators flapping in the breeze."


The team's goal is to increase the power output, and hoping for industry adoption within 3 to 5 years. The US Military, Department of Heath, National Institutes of Health, and National Science Foundation are funding the project. I hope to use the tech much sooner.



Medical robots using the latest technology always impress me. Although I am not fond of watching real surgery, these two video show the Intuitive Surgical's "da Vinci" robot being used to fold a tiny airplane and origami crane are quite impressive. The dexterity of the robot's interface and effortless movement reassure me that my future operations may be more successful than I was thinking.


The da Vinci has a high definition 3D display capable of 10x magnification. The instrumentation has 7 degrees of movement and nearly eliminate all tremors, produced my human hands, providing fluid motion. Just watching the videos show how lifelike and precise the arms operate.


Fun fact, these da Vinci machines cost approximately $1.5 million US Dollars. It better amazingly fold paper.




I taught myself origami in the 4th grade, so I pitted my skills vs the da Vinci. (vs crane folding video above.)



A windfarm in Spain


As of March 2011, wind power accounts for 21% of the electricity demand in Spain. Which made it the #1 source over nuclear (19%) for the first time. Although this is an achievement, and Spain in setting records in green technology, it is coming at a very large price.


Despite the environmental impact, the financial repercussions are catching up. The renewable energy produced in Spain is heavily subsidized by the government since it can not compete with the cheapness of more traditional fuels. Unfortunately the subsidize are paid by Spain's citizens. According to professor Gabriel Calzada of King Juan Carlos University, the bill to the citizens has turned out to cost $774,000(USD) for every "Green Job" created.


Meanwhile, job losses experienced through the hike is energy prices are causing a loss of 2.2 jobs per every Green Job. For example, Spain's Acerinox SA, a major steel fabricator, has decided to move many jobs to South Africa and the U.S. due to the domestic energy prices.


This issue has effected several other countries as well, and is poised to hit the United States via President Obama's $20 billion dollar green energy incentive. Let's hope something can be learned from Spain's wins and losses.




U.S. Patent Office


This is a forewarning to any future patent seeking engineers, better rush the idea to the patent office now. The new "America Invents Act," aka the Patent Reform Act of 2011, seeks to replace the First-to-Invent system to the First-to-File practice.


The change works like this, regardless of when a product is invented, the patent goes to the first person who files the idea. With the original first-to-invent policy, if anyone invents something, they are given a 1 year grace period from a provable inception moment to perfect their product and start the patent process. The new first-to-file clearly favors those who know the patent process and have the capital to file sooner. In other words, large corporations can finish a project much faster than a single person, and will get the patent. For the record, the rest of the world uses the First-to-File options, and the United States is the last to holdout for the inventor.


The act has already passed the House of Representatives vote, and awaits the Senate vote. If it passes, I think the free share of ideas and design talk will grind to a stop. It will be a sad day indeed.




One down side to open source projects is they are open to inspire others take the idea to market. Protection is limited. Nothing can be done.


However, it does inspire a certain degree of technological progress. Gaurav Manek has posted an entire open-source iPad and Microsoft Kinect controlled RC car complete with code and schematics. He used an off the shelf Arduino control board to send signals( via serial) to the RC car's radio controller, where motion commands are interpreted. At the moment the car still needs to be tethered to a PC to receive the signals. Likewise, the HTML5 web application and the Kinect both stream their respective serial data through the same conduits. Manek plans to make the whole serial emulation chain wireless in the near future.


Based on the ease of this project, phone/tablet controlled RC vehicles are sure to gather on the horizon. In the meantime, follow the link and grab the code. Looks like a fun weekend project.


Great work Gaurav Manek, I hope to see more.



Harvard Univerity's Ph.Ds Ludovico Cademartiri and George M. Whitesides have announced a way to electrically extinguish flames at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Their idea is based on a 200+ year old observation that electricity can used to manipulate a burning flame's motion and also completely snuff it out.


A major component to this ability comes from the way carbon particles in soot react to electrical fields. The team found that the effect can control heat intensities and distribution of the flames. Although the team does not have a clear view of what is actually occurring in the reaction, they still built a portable "flame-tamer" device that firefighters can use. The device contains a 600-watt amplifier. Cademartiri believes that the power required would be far less, more like 60-watts. Best to err on the side of caution. The business end of the device is much like an electric baton or taser, where the firefighter would "zap" at the offending flames.


The team see that this technology would be best used in confined quarters, like vehicles, planes,  and rooms. I wonder what this "flame-tamer" would do to all the electrical gadgets it zaps.




ps. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (U.S. Department of Defense) and the U.S. Department of Energy funded this study.



University of Illinois at Urbana-champaign professors William King and Eric Pop have taken nanometer-scale temperature measurements of a grapheme based transistor and discovered a new cooling properties of the substance. At the points where the graphene touches metal contacts the thermoelectrical cooling effects outstrip that of the resistive heating, and ends up cooling the graphene transistor.


Thermoelectrical cooling effects, for those who do not know, is similar to the Peltier-Seebeck Effect. A temperature differential is created by applying higher voltage to a component where two different metals are connected at two different junctions in a circuit. See the Wiki here. Heat was absorbed faster by the metal than the graphene could produce, in this case.


A great discovery as graphene shapes up to become a major ingredient of our future electronics. Further studies of graphene, nano-tubes, and other nanomaterial is planned by the team.




pic via Alex Jerez, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Showing an atomic force microscope top scanning graphene surface