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April 6, 2011 Previous day Next day


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