New anti-gravity 3D printer
Most conventional, additive 3D printing technologies use materials and techniques that are affected by the laws of gravity as well as the smoothness and inclination of the working space. So they generally work on a horizontal surface, gradually building from the ground up.
Mataerial, a new 3D printer, uses an innovative extrusion technology that can neutralise the effect of gravity during the process of printing. This enables creation of 3D objects on any surface, on slopes or even hanging from the roof. Further, Mataerial creates objects by combining 3D curves instead of 2D layers, enabling greater control over the fabrication process and replication of exact stress lines of a custom shape. It is also possible to manufacture structures of almost any size and shape.
Inside: Mataerial has been developed through a collaborative research between Petr Novikov and Saša Jokić from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) and Joris Laarman Studio. It features a robotic arm equipped with a nozzle that extrudes a special, quick-drying polymer, which enables what the team calls anti-gravity modelling (patent pending). The polymers harden in mid-air and are not affected by gravity, so no support structure is required for these models. Movement capabilities of the robotic arm enable the device to create more natural 3D curves and larger objects than is possible with conventional 3D printers. The technology allows injection of colour dye in CMYK mode. It is possible to control the colour of the formed path.
Battery that charges up in half a minute
Some years down the line, you could be using cell phone batteries that charge within seconds, thanks to a little device demonstrated by 18-year-old Eesha Khare of Saratoga, California, at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where she won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of $50,000. The device is tiny, flexible and capable of holding more power than regular batteries, for a longer time. While Khare demonstrated the device to power an LED light, she claims it can be comfortably used within batteries for cell phones, roll-up displays, clothing or even electric cars. News reports claim that Google called her soon after her win, to discuss future plans!
Inside: Khare’s device is a solidstate, highly-efficient battery that can bend and fold. It can be seen as a supercapacitor designed and created with a special nanostructure that allows it to store significantly more energy while charging very quickly. These are used in most electronic devices to help regulate the flow of electricity.
Khare has demonstrated that supercapacitor can also be used as a battery. The teenager has managed to make her supercapacitor extremely small and fexible using nanotechnology. Apart from storing much more energy, the device also has a long life—it can handle 10,000 recharge cycles as against 1000 in the case of normal rechargeable batteries.
Wearable, skin-like heart monitor
Prof. Zhenan Bao and his team at the Stanford University have developed a tiny, paper-thin, extremely accurate sensor to monitor a person’s pulse. According to the university’s press release, the device is made by combining layers of flexible materials into pressure sensors, and is thinner than a dollar bill and no wider than a postage stamp. With this, it would be possible for doctors to continuously track heart health and detect cardiovascular problems accurately and quickly.
Inside: When you place your thumb on your wrist, you feel a constant beating, which is your pulse. Each of these beats is actually made up of two distinct peaks, which we cannot make out. The first is from your heart pumping out blood, and the second is from the reflecting wave sent back from the lower body to the artery system. The first is long and the second short; the relative sizes of these two peaks can be used by doctors to measure various factors of heart health, such as the stiffness of the artery.
The small and flexible device developed by Bao’s team is sensitive enough to monitor both the peaks. The device, which is to be taped on using a simple Band-Aid, has a thin middle layer of rubber covered with tiny pyramid bumps. Each mould-made pyramid is only a few microns in size.
When pressure is put on the device, the pyramids deform slightly, changing the size of the gap between the two halves of the device. This change in separation causes a measurable change in the electromagnetic field and the current fow in the device. The more the pressure placed on the monitor, the more the pyramids deform and the larger the change in the electromagnetic field.
When the sensor is placed on someone’s wrist, it can measure that person’s pulse wave as it reverberates through the body. Apart from the main peak and the recoil, the highly-sensitive device also detects another tiny bump in the tail of the graph, which could also be useful information.
Unmanned storm chasers
Storm chasing is a perilous job. As an alternative to manned aircrafts chasing storms to gather meteorological data, three teams of students led by Professor Jamey Jacob at the Oklahoma State University (OSU) have developed three concept storm-penetrating air vehicles (SPAVs) capable of penetrating thunderstorms right up to the super-cells that generate the tornado. If productised, these drones could collect data that would help storm trackers and researchers to understand tornadoes better.
Inside: The SPAVs meet several preset standards. They are designed to be able to take-off from a traditional road even in bad conditions like 35km-per-hour winds with gusts up to 45 km per hour, fit inside a standard flatbed trailer, and fly for at least four hours at 1.5 km (5000 feet) without refuelling. They have also been designed to carry and drop one or more dropsondes (cylinders full of sensors) into the tornado for collecting data about temperature, humidity, wind speed and wind direction. Older forms of data collection use the Doppler radar, which provides information about moisture levels but not temperature gradients, pressure levels, etc. However, sensors in dropsondes should hopefully be able to collect more thermodynamic and meteorological information that could possibly reveal more about the nature of tornadoes.
OSU is negotiating with its partners, including the University of Colorado at Boulder to further these designs into full-fledged development.
40Gbps Wi-Fi technology
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology recently demonstrated a wireless technology capable of data uplink speeds of 40 Gbps at 240GHz frequency. This is roughly 137 times faster than the current 802.11n (Wi-Fi) standard, which supports speeds of up to 300 Mbps. In layman terms, it would help you transfer several high-definition movies wihin a second! The technology is also capable of transmitting across a large range of 1 km. The team showed the results by transmitting data from one skyscraper to another. Part of the European Millilink project, the research is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Firms like Siemens are also assisting in the research, hoping to commercialise the design in the coming years.
Inside: Wireless components fit into a single, small chip, making the technology suitable for use in smartphones, laptops and other mobile devices. The active transmitter and receiver design fitson a 4×1.5mm2 integrated circuit (IC), designed using special high-electron-mobility transistors.
The researchers managed to make the chip so tiny by using very high frequencies in the 200-280GHz band as compared to today’s 2.4 or 5GHz Wi-Fi. Higher frequencies mean smaller components, since a shorter wavelength can be picked up by a smaller antenna. Moreover, the number of bits that can travel over airwaves is inversely proportional to the wavelength. So a shorter wavelength means this high-frequency technology can push much more data too. The antenna also has excellent signal fidelity.
One of the team members explained in a press release that the new design showed low attenuation in this frequency range, which enabled broadband directional radio links. This makes the radio link easier to install than free-space optical systems for data transmission. It is also more robust in poor weather conditions.
Adaptable and flexible ‘soft-modem’
At the heart of NVIDIA’s Tegra 4i mobile processor for mainstream smartphones is its integrated i500 LTE modem that is capable of working through 100-150 Mbps of LTE data. NVIDIA’s i500 modem is based on the software-defined radio technology developed by Icera, which NVIDIA recently acquired.
The i500 is highly adaptable and flexible, making it easy for carriers and OEMs to update modem features and to take advantage of performance-improving algorithmic innovations in the field through over-the-air updates. The modem is also tiny—ust about 40 per cent the size of conventional LTE models—as it is designed with general-purpose deep execution processors. It is also multi-mode—it delivers 4G LTE Advanced and is backward compatible with LTE Cat 3, 3G and 2G too.
Inside: In conventional modems, most features are implemented in silicon, which results in a large die size and limited flexibility. The 500 overcomes these issues with software-defined radio technology, which not only spports the latest wireless protocols such as DC-HSPA+ and LTE but also provides the flexibility o being fully programmable to support next-generation interfaces and standards. The i500 is considered by many experts as the most software-based modem in the market, compared to similar claims from companies like Qualcomm.
In the case of the i500, the entire digital baseband is just one big platform, on top of which the software can be run. There is an external transceiver for down-conversion but beyond that it is pure software. The i500 uses TSMC’s 28nm high-performance, high-K metal gate processThe i500 features a small footprint and a high-performance process, yet conserves power by turning off blocks that are not in use—compared to a larger system-on-chip (SoC) with lower leakage. As a result, NVIDIA’s i500 claims a 40 per cent smaller die than Qualcomm’s MDM9x15.
The author is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai