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2017

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SIG says the new spec can deliver robust and reliable IoT connections, making full-home and outdoor use a lot easier to implement.

 

Almost every new mobile device features it but most of us really never think about it until there becomes a connection issue. I am, of course, talking about Bluetooth- the wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances. It’s been in its current form, version 4.2 since December of 2014 and has since been officially replaced by version 5.0 according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

 

The Group published a press release back in June detailing the new specs that make v4.2 look like antiquated technology, which includes quadruple the range in which devices can be connected, doubles the data transfer speeds and increases the data flow 8-times over. One of the areas that will not increase is the power consumption, using the same low-power IP connectivity as the previous version even though its core specs have increased.

 

The new spec also greatly benefits low-powered IoT devices, especially where range and broadcasting capabilities are a problem such as full-home and outdoor options. In these cases, broadcasting and receiving data from IoT devices such as remote sensing and data collection would benefit immensely as they typically feature small batteries that can provide power for weeks or months at a time.

 

Imagine too, walking through a smart-home and interacting with appliances, security systems, and lighting that wirelessly connect to a central beacon rather than multiple deployed nodes. Not only does that reduce the hardware needed but also saves on energy.

The spec features 2x the bandwidth, 4x the range, while sticking with the popular Low Energy of v4.2LE.

 

As it stands today, SIG expects the new 5.0 standard to be adopted by tech companies within a 2 to 5-month period, which matches up perfectly with the latest mobile device revisions, including the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 set to hit the market in roughly the same timeframe. We will no doubt also see 5.0 incorporated into new SoCs, development boards and add-on wireless modules, considering the technology benefits IoT devices. In fact, Nordic Semiconductor has already released a Preview Dev Kit that features the new technology-

 

Those looking for more information on the new Bluetooth 5>0 standard should check the Special Interest Group’s press release found here.   

 

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Researchers from IBM and ETH Zurich have developed a liquid battery that uses prior “flow” technology and applies it to small computer chips. Computer chips can be stacked with alternating layers of chips and flow batteries that would both power and cool them at the same time. (via IBM Research Zurich)

 

Heat is a byproduct of the work done by batteries, computers, and computer chips, and overheating is a problem that is often tackled with fans and various systems of ventilation. Now, scientists from IBM and ETH Zurich are approaching the issue of heat regulation by using liquid electrolyte systems to both power and cool these systems simultaneously. Flow batteries use two liquid electrolytes to provide energy through an electrochemical reaction that occurs when they are pumped to the battery cell from the outside through a closed electrolyte loop. Usually, flow batteries are used for larger scale stationary power systems like wind and solar energy because they are capable of storing energy in the two electrolyte liquids for a long time with minimal degradation, but now it is being applied to computer technology. The team in Zurich have developed “miniaturized redox flow cells” that use flow battery technology to cool the computer chips using the liquid electrolytes already involved in the flow cell which power the computer.

 

They team in Zurich managed to find two liquids that are effective as both flow-battery electrolytes and cooling agents that dissipate heat from the computer chips in the same circuit, and according to ETH Zurich doctoral student, they are, “...the first scientists to build such a small flow battery so as to combine energy supply and cooling.” The team’s battery has a measured output 1.4 Watts per square centimeter, which according to Fabio Bergamin of ETH Zurich News, is a record-high for its given size. Even after accounting for the power required to pump the liquid electrolytes to the battery, the resulting net power density is still 1 Watt per square centimeter. The battery itself is only about 1.5 millimeters thick so their plan would be to assemble stacks of computer chips with alternating layers of computer chip and their thin battery cell, which provides the electricity, and at the same time cools the stack to prevent overheating.

 

At the moment, the electricity generated by the redox flow cell batteries is too low to power a single computer chip, therefore, as Bergamin notes, their work must be optimized by partners in the industry in order to be used in a computer chip stack. The scientists identify that the flow battery approach has other potential applicability in things like lasers and solar cells, but above all, this team has demonstrated that small flow batteries are a concept worth exploring.

 

The video provided below shows how flow batteries use liquid electrolytes on a large scale

 

 

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Russian artist Vtol used his own blood as a power source for his latest electric sound exhibit. Vtol draws his blood onstage to help power his creation (photograph via Vtol)

 

Blood is a life source and important for our daily functions, but did you ever think it could power other things aside from our bodies? Russian artist Vtol (Dmitry Morozoy) showed just how powerful blood is with one of his latest projects. Titled “Until I Die,” Vtol built an electronic sound installation he powers himself with eleven “blood batteries.” The piece uses his blood as an electrolyte resulting in direct current batteries when mixed with metals like aluminum and copper. The blood powers an electronic synth module, which creates sound compositions and plays via a speaker.

 

To make this creation come to life, Vtol extracted and store under 1.2 gallons of blood over 18 months. Generally, it’s not good practice to store blood that long, so various manipulations had to be done to keep the blood’s color, chemical composition, homogeneity, and sterility intact. In the end, he gathered about 4.5 liters of blood, which was then diluted to produce 7 liters, which is how much the installation needs to run properly. For an even more dramatic effect, the last bit of blood needed for the installation was drawn from Vtol’s arm during the performance. And you thought getting blood drawn at the doctor’s office was bad.

 

So why go through the trouble? Just for the sake of art? Not exactly. Vtol explains that the performance is a “symbolic act.” Since he can power this device with his blood, he sees it as an extension of himself. There is literally a part of him in this creation, and that’s what he wanted. And what better way to show just how powerful and vital blood is? Here is an installation showing you how exactly blood works as an energy source. It’s something to think about the next time you hear about a local blood drive.

 

If you’re hoping to see this wild performance for yourself, you’re out of luck. The initial performance took place at the Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana in December 2016. Luckily, documentation of the event recently surfaced online. You can watch the mind blowing performance here. Chances are you won’t be seeing phones and tablets powered by blood in the future. But the fact that someone powered this device with such a vital fluid makes you change the way you think about blood.

 

 

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A pair of researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center (NYGC) have found a way to code information using nature’s storage system: DNA. Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski: the duo that worked on the DNA data storage technology. (image via New York Genome Center)

 

Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or DNA, is the material that composes all humans and almost every other living organism. It contains the instructions for how we are to be assembled and maintained, and is coded using four chemical bases: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine (C), and Guanine (G); A pairs with T and C pairs with G. These chemical base pairings are also connected to a phosphate molecule and a sugar molecule, which form what is called a nucleotide. DNA is in the form of a double helix, which looks somewhat like a ladder, where the chemical base pairings form the rungs, and the phosphate and sugar molecules form the strands that hold the rungs in place. This natural information storage technology has been adapted for other information storage purposes and has so far been used to encode a $50 Amazon gift card, a Pioneer plaque, an 1895 French film, a computer virus, a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon, and a full operating system.

 

The data from these various files were split into strings of binary code (zeros and ones), and using what is called an “erasure-correcting algorithm,” which are also called “fountain codes,” the strings were randomly packaged into “droplets,” which are then encoded using the four nucleotide bases in DNA. Although the binary storage of DNA is theoretically limited to two binary digits per nucleotide, and practically limited to 1.8 digits per nucleotide, Erlich and Zielinski package an average of 1.6 digits per nucleotide, which is still 60% more than any previously published method. The algorithm excluded letter combinations that were known to cause errors and supplied a barcode for every droplet in order to help reassemble the files later using DNA sequencing technology.

 

What’s more is that this form of coding, storage, and retrieval is extremely reliable. In total, 72,000 DNA strands, each 200 bases long, were generated and sent as a text file to Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco DNA-synthesis startup. Twist specializes in transforming digital data into biological data, and after two weeks, Erlich and Zielinski received a vial with the freshly-coded DNA molecules, and ultimately the files were recovered without a single error. This technology is incredibly important not only because of its compact nature but also because of its ease of replicability and resistance to degradation. Unfortunately, it is an expensive process, and therefore might not replace current data storage methods just yet, but it is definitely a promising leap in information storage technology.

 

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Hasbro introduces new Disney doll that allows you to program her dance routines with companion app. Parents will be glad to know that this doll can sing, dance, and say over 100 phrases (Photo via Hasbro)

 

With a live-action remake of the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast on the way, you can expect a new line of toys to come with it. Hasbro revealed a new Belle doll to tie in with the film ahead of Toy Fair 2017. It talks, moves, and dances all on her own, making it stand out from all the others Belle dolls. But it also does something else, teaches your kids how to code. In another attempt to take advantage of the code learning craze Hasbro’s newest doll lets kids create their own dance routines for Belle using a basic programming app. While they’re creating the dances, they’re also getting the hang of the basics of coding.

 

The doll is meant to appeal to all ages. There’s a connect the dots mode for younger kids where they create dance patterns by dragging their finger across the screen. If they press various shapes that appear on the screen, they can add some extra pizzazz to the routine. Older kids can take advantage of the more advanced block coding mode. Here, dance routines are manually created by dragging and dropping moves and commands into a long sequence.  Once the routine is done, it can be synched to the doll, which runs on batteries, over a Bluetooth connection.

 

As an added bonus, Belle can also say over 100 different phrases and even sings four songs from the original movie, like “Be Our Guest.” The doll will be officially available in fall right in time for the holiday season and will run you $120. This is one doll you want the kids to ruin or tire of after only two days.

 

All things considered, the doll sounds pretty cool, but will it actually get kids interested in coding? That remains to be seen. Many people believe the future of the job market relies on programming, so it’s understandable why you’d want to foster these skills at a young age. But it could also discourage them, especially if they have no interest in programming in the long run. This trend of apps, toys, websites, etc that want to teach kids coding may burn them out in the end. How many of you were forced to learn a skill as a kid? Did you enjoy it and continue practicing it? Probably not. What’s wrong with having regular toys that allow kids to be imaginative? On the other hand, it could play a role in encouraging girls to get interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, which is always a good thing.

 

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Researchers from the University of Maryland and IBM have pitted their quantum computers against each other to determine which is the superior technology. (image) An IBM Quantum Computer Chip. (via MIT Technology Review)

 

Quantum physics refers to the laws that govern and explain the behaviors of quantum particles (smallest possible discrete objects), and this branch of scientific theory allows for particles to exist in two physical states simultaneously (i.e. particle and wave). Essentially, quantum computers are to traditional computers what quantum physics is to classical physics. Whereas traditional computers use binary systems; coding bits as either zeros or ones, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can assume “superpositions” of both 0 and 1 simultaneously. According to Gabriel Popkin of Science, it is also possible to, “join the superposition states of many qubits,” which gives, “[Quantum computers] potential calculating power that grows exponentially with every added bit.” The quantum computing technologies of both IBM and the University of Maryland researchers are still in their infancy, but they both present promising, and unique approaches to a burgeoning technological field with potentially very wide practical benefits. Though, the states of the qubits are fragile such that small external disturbances can cause superpositions to collapse into either a 0 or a 1.

 

The quantum computer built by researchers at the University of Maryland is built around five ytterbium ions that are held in an electromagnetic trap and manipulated by lasers, and IBM’s quantum computer, on the other hand, essentially works through five small loops of superconducting metal that can be manipulated by microwave signals. IBM’s device is also the only quantum computer that can be programmed online by users through a cloud system, rather than exclusively by scientists in a lab.

 

This technological faceoff marks the first time that two different quantum computing technologies can be compared in an “algorithm-crunching” exercise, but the victor remains somewhat unclear. When it came to the competition, a set of standard algorithms was run on each device, and the outputs were compared to test the computers’ performance. IBM's quantum computer was faster but less accurate than that of the researchers from the University of Maryland. One test revealed that Maryland’s computer was 77.1 percent accurate, while IBM’s was only 35.1 percent accurate. However,  IBM’s was up to 1,000 faster than its competitor, so therein lies the ambiguity. Though, there is no need for a champion because, according to Popkin, “both labs are already working on more reliable next-generation devices with more qubits.” When it comes to advancing quantum computer technology, like many other things in life, there is no time like the present.

 

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The Freestyle uses a black LCD screen, stylus, and knobs that create stamps for the updated version. The new Etch-a-Sketch dubbed Freestyle (via Spin Master)

 

My immediate reaction to this toy was, "how could I do this with a Raspberry Pi?"

 

No matter how old you are, you’ve played with an Etch-a-Sketch at one point in your life. The toy has been a staple of childhood since it was first introduced in the late 50s. However, for years the design has stayed the same: red plastic frame, white knobs, and sand. Now, the toy is getting an upgrade to compete with today’s smart toys. The updated Etch-a-Sketch by Spin Master will replace the aluminum powder with a black LCD screen. Instead of turning small knobs to draw, you’ll use a stylus for your creations. However, don’t worry; you still erase all your mistakes the same way.

 

Dubbed the Freestyle, the board has a similar look to the LCD writer Boogie Board, which is no coincidence. Spin Master teamed up with Boogie Board to create the new design. It even uses the same technology as other Boogie Board products like Magic Sketch and Play N’ Trace. Though you no longer use the knobs to draw, the iconic white buttons are there. They are now rubber stamps that can add marks like stars and circles to the screen. No more drawing in a drab black and white. Your creations will pop with the vibrant rainbow colors.

 

Though the Freestyle isn’t out yet, some purists aren’t very happy with the new design. The Verge called it “half the fun of the classic…with none of the effort.” Admittedly, it’s strange to see the updated toy, especially when the original design has been around for so long. People who grew up with the original will most likely scoff at the Freestyle. But, Etch-a-Sketch has to keep up. Kids’ time is often spent in front of a screen whether it’s via phone or tablet. Today’s kids may find the new design more engaging than the old school style.

 

Freestyle drops this fall and will only cost you $20. Don’t worry purists, Spin Master isn’t getting rid of the classic design. The company will still sell the toy we all know and love. Anyone else feel like picking up an Etch-a-Sketch now?

 

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