Tag: Invention

The Best (And Worst) Invention Of All Time

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Plastic is a surprisingly recent invention, and it’s become completely ubiquitous in our society. It’s solved a ton of problems and made our way of life possible. It also might be killing us.

Invisibility Cloak Might Enhance Efficiency Of Solar Cells

solar panel

Success of the energy turnaround will depend decisively on the extended use of renewable energy sources. However, their efficiency partly is much smaller than that of conventional energy sources.

The efficiency of commercially available photovoltaic cells, for instance, is about 20%. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now published an unconventional approach to increasing the efficiency of the panels.

Optical invisibility cloaks guide sunlight around objects that cast a shadow on the solar panel, such as contacts for current extraction. Energy efficiency of solar panels has to be improved significantly not only for the energy turnaround, but also for enhancing economic efficiency.




Modules that are presently mounted on roofs convert just one fifth of the light into electricity, which means that about 80% of the solar energy are lost. The reasons of these high losses are manifold. Up to one tenth of the surface area of solar cells, for instance, is covered by so-called contact fingers that extract the current generated.

At the locations of these contact fingers, light cannot reach the active area of the solar cell and efficiency of the cell decreases.

“Our model experiments have shown that the cloak layer makes the contact fingers nearly completely invisible,” doctoral student Martin Schumann of the KIT Institute of Applied Physics says, who conducted the experiments and simulations.

solar panel

Physicists of KIT around project head Carsten Rockstuhl, together with partners from Aachen, Freiburg, Halle, Jena, and Jülich, modified the optical invisibility cloak designed at KIT for guiding the incident light around the contact fingers of the solar cell.

To achieve the cloaking effect, the scientists pursued two approaches. Both are based on applying a polymer coating onto the solar cell. This coating has to possess exactly calculated optical properties, i.e. an index of refraction that depends on the location or a special surface shape.The second concept is particularly promising, as it can potentially be integrated into

The second concept is particularly promising, as it can potentially be integrated into mass production of solar cells at low costs. The surface of the cloak layer is grooved along the contact fingers. In this way, incident light is refracted away from the contact fingers and finally reaches the active surface area of the solar cell.

solar panel

By means of a model experiment and detailed simulations, the researchers demonstrated that both concepts are suited for hiding the contact fingers. In the next step, it is planned to apply the cloaking layer onto a solar cell in order to determine the efficiency increase.

The physicists are optimistic that efficiency will be improved by the cloak under real conditions: “When applying such a coating onto a real solar cell, optical losses via the contact fingers are supposed to be reduced and efficiency is assumed to be increased by up to 10%,” Martin Schumann says.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Gecko-Inspired Robot Has Grippers That Help Could Clean Up Space Debris

robot

In space, grabbing onto things is hard. A new robot that uses grippers inspired by gecko feet could solve that problem, helping clear up the mess of debris that orbits Earth.

The toaster-sized device can grip, hold onto and move around even large, smooth surfaces in microgravity, on both flat and curved objects.




To do this, it uses a “dry adhesive” material created by Hao Jiang at Stanford University in California and his colleagues.

In an environment where an accidental nudge can send something flying and space debris can be travelling faster than the speed of sound, agility is key.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Your Old Cell Phone Can Help Save The Rain Forest

illegal logging

Topher White spends a lot of time walking in and thinking about the forest, and how quickly we’re losing it. So much so that he’s gotten a black eye from being smacked by flying tree branches.

But that’s just a small example of what the engineer is willing to endure to stop global deforestation. Founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Rainforest Connection, White has developed a simple but ingenious strategy: using old cell phones to listen for the sound of destruction.

Forests are disappearing worldwide, and fast: Swaths half the size of England are lost each year. The Amazon has lost close to one-fifth of its rain forest cover in the last four decades.




“I didn’t know any of this stuff when I started,” says White, who began his journey in 2011, when he traveled to Indonesian Borneo to help dwindling gibbons.

“I just kind of thought it was about protecting the small areas and animals,” “But no, [deforestation is] actually one of the biggest contributors to climate change.”

Topher White

So he has developed a system in which he rigs a cell phone to stay charged by solar cells, attaches an extra microphone, and listens. From there, the device can detect the sounds of chainsaws nearly a mile away.

And believe it or not, cell phone reception often isn’t bad in the rain forest. When you’re up in the canopy, “you can actually pick up a signal from pretty far away,” says White.

It’s not just about listening for logging. The same technology that can pick out the buzz of a chainsaw can pick out the sounds of specific birds, which is why White sees the forest recordings as a potential science tool.He is urging biologists and ecologists to use his monitoring system anywhere, whether it’s a remote forest or a park in London.

He is urging biologists and ecologists to use his monitoring system anywhere, whether it’s a remote forest or a park in London.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

This Repair Tape Is Strong As Steel And 100 Times Stronger Than Duct Tape

FiberFix

Fix It Wrap is fiberglass tape with a high resin content impregnated onto a very strong high weave fiberglass cloth.   Think of it in terms of thread count.

Fix It Wrap has a higher thread count creating a much stronger tape.  Add strong resin and you have an steel like repair tape.

Perfect for repair of just about anything.  It holds better, seals better, sticks better than traditional fiberglass tape.




FixIt Wrap is water activated. Simply submerse the roll of FixIt Wrap and remove excess water. Wrap directly over the break and DiamondWrap will start to harden.

After 10 minutes FixIt Wrap hardens like steel. You’ll be back to work in no time.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Light Your Home With These Fascinating Fire-Imitating LED Lights

Add some ambiance to your home or yard with this creative LED flame 🔥 bulb that looks almost like magic.

Emitting a 1300K True Fire Color temperature, this simple bulb puts a new spin on typical lighting by appearing as a fully lit torch.




The Flame Flicker emits a 1300K True Fire Color, which maker CMB Technology designed to replicate a fully lit torch.

Once installed, you can orient the fiery light bulb to flicker upward or downward, as well as dim or intensify its output.

If you’re not into the fidgety look of the flame flickering, you can also set the bulb to burn in a stable lighting mode.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Robotics Are Helping Paralyzed People Walk Again

ROBOT

Artificial intelligence software combined with a robotic harness could help spinal injury and stroke patients walk again. Clinical trials are underway.

Rehabilitation programs for spinal cord injuries or strokes usually have patients walk on treadmills at a steady pace while harnesses support their weight to varying degrees.




In the new study, researchers sought to develop a system that better mimicked the conditions that people might experience during everyday life, where they would have to move in more than one direction and vary their gaits.

The idea is to provide the most appropriate environment for patients to be active during training,” says study co-author Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL. “The goal of this rehabilitation is to have patients repeat natural activities for an extended amount of time.

The scientists developed a robotic harness that uses cables to control the amount of upward and forward force that patients feel while also permitting them to walk forwards, backwards, and side to side.

stroke

This robotic harness was controlled by software that personalized the multidirectional forces that each patient experienced depending on their specific problems.

In order to customize patient experiences, this system relied on an artificial neural network, where components known as artificial neurons are supplied data and work together to solve a problem.

The neural net can then alter the pattern of links among those neurons to change the way they interact, and the network tries solving the problem again.

Over time, the neural net learns which patterns are best at computing solutions, an AI strategy that imitates the human brain.

As part of a clinical trial of this “neurorobotic platform,” the researchers experimented with 26 volunteers recovering from spinal cord injuries or strokes, whose disability ranged from being able to walk without assistance to being able to neither stand nor walk independently.

After the volunteers walked roughly 20 meters using the neurorobotic platform to familiarize themselves with the apparatus, three patients with spinal cord injuries who previously could not stand independently could, immediately after such practice, walk with or without assistance.

stroke

Four of 10 patients with spinal cord injuries who previously could only move with crutches or a walker could, immediately after such practice, do so without assistance. Similar or even superior findings were seen with stroke patients, the researchers say.

Furthermore, after a one-hour training session with the neurorobotic platform, four out of five patients with chronic spinal cord injuries who previously could only walk with the assistance of a device experienced significant improvements, such as increase in speed, the researchers say.

In contrast, the same amount of time on just a treadmill actually impaired the ability to walk without robotic assistance in one patient.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Airbus Conquers Physics With A Funky Super-Fast Helicopter

airbus-chopper

Emergency workers and the obscenely rich love helicopters, and for good reason. Unlike airplanes, whirlybirds can take off and land almost anywhere, making them just the thing for tight spots and urban areas.

The drawback, though, is speed. Choppers are slow.

While Gulfstream’s G650 private jet streaks along at north of 600 mph, conventional choppers like the police or your local traffic reporter might use maxes out around 160 mph. Quick, but not that quick when talking about flight.

Airbus thinks it found a way of closing the speed gap without sacrificing a helicopter’s inherent advantages: add wings and props to create an aircraft that can take off and land vertically, hover, and cruise at a heady 250 mph.

Airbus calls it the Racer, for Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft.




The idea is to find a way around the physics that limit the speed of a conventional helo. With any helicopter, the top rotor provides lift as the blades slice the air.

When the helicopter is flying forward, air moves around the the blade spinning in the direction of travel faster than it does around the retreating blade on the opposite side, causing something aerodynamicists call dissymmetry of lift.

The faster you go, the more severe the effect and the less stable the helicopter. Aerodynamicists know how to compensate for most of that, but the challenge mounts as the blades approach the speed of sound. An advancing blade hitting the sound barrier creates aerodynamic instabilities engineers cannot compensate for.

So Airbus engineers added two short wings extending from each side of the fuselage. The wings meet at a point and support a rear-facing prop driven by the engines turning the main rotor.

airbus-chopper

In forward flight, the wings provide additional lift, and those small props provide additional propulsion. All of this allows the helo to achieve higher speeds without pushing the main rotor into an aerodynamic red zone.

“The concept of compound helicopters, using one or two pusher fans and small wings along with the main rotor, is not new,” says Mo Sammy, director of the Aerospace Research Center at Ohio State University. “What could be new is the claim of efficiency and affordability, if materialized.”

Although every futuristic aircraft seems to include electric motors these days, Airbus is sticking to a tried and tested powertrain here. Two Rolls-Royce turboprop engines power the main rotor and auxiliary propellers.

Airbus Helicopter

However, Airbus is exploring a “stop-start” system that will shut down one engine during low speeds or light loads. Think of it as “eco” mode for the sky.

Airbus sees a market for its machine that could rival private planes for city to city transport among jet setters in a hurry. Emergency services could benefit, too a higher top speed could mean a shorter flight to hospital.Airbus hopes to make the first flight in 2020. Commercial service could follow five to 10 years later. Just enough time to start saving up.

Airbus hopes to make the first flight in 2020. Commercial service could follow five to 10 years later. Just enough time to start saving up.

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Pass it on: Popular Science