Chinese researchers have developed a microbot that can repeatedly jump across the surface of water without tanking. The researchers team from School of Chemical Engineering and Technology was led by Prof. Qinmin Pan. They used a porous, highly repellent nickel foam coating so that the strider-like bot’s legs are able to stay afloat with every 14cm leap it makes, despite it weighing as much as 1100 water striders.

Bio-inspired microrobot (Image courtesy: http:// scientificearthconscientious6.files.wordpress.com)
Bio-inspired microrobot (Image courtesy: http://
scientificearthconscientious6.files.wordpress.com)

Scientists have reported a number of advances toward tiny robots that can walk on water. Such robots could skim across lakes and other bodies of water to monitor water quality or act as tiny spies.

However, even the most advanced designs—including one from Pan’s team last year—can only walk on water. Real aquatic striders actually leap, notes Pan. It’s difficult to make a jumping robot because the downward force needed to propel it into the air usually pushes the legs through the water’s surface. To overcome the challenge, Pan’s group used nickel foam coating to build a true water-striding robot.

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Flexible batteries promise ‘foldable’ electronics
You have already heard about flexible displays, printed circuits, memory and even chargers. Scientists have now created a flexible battery that can be folded, bent and distorted in a host of different ways. These batteries promise thinner and lighter smartphones, tablets and e-book readers that could be flexible and hold more capacity. You could roll up these devices for easy storage in your pocket.

A team of researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) is behind the new flexible solidstate battery. This rechargeable lithium-ion battery (LIB) retains its energy level even when folded, spindled or mildly mutilated. It is actually printed on a thin film. Applying battery material to rollable displays has been a major cause for concern for gadget manufacturers thus far. This breakthrough is likely to change the way we think about surfaces and screens.

The research team is currently investigating a laser lift-off technology to facilitate the mass production of flexible batteries and 3D stacking structures to enhance charge density of batteries.

Microchips to replace humans in drug testing
There have been debates about testing drugs on animals or any other living creature. Well, here comes a solution that will put the problem to an end. Scientists from Harvard University and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of USA have developed a microchip that can now be used for such tests. This microchip is a small translucent device, which can be used as a human organ for testing drugs.

According to reports, this single device can bring together ten organ-chips in order to enable study of the effect of a particular drug on the whole body. Every organ on this microchip is made using clear flexible polymer. It also consists of hollow microfluid channels that are lined by living human cells. It is these human cells that allow scientists to study the impact of any drug on human organs. Since the device is translucent, it allows researchers to easily view the response of the organs to a drug.

Harvard University has successfully designed microchips that mimic lung, heart and intestine.

Digital iris that fools biometric scanners
At the recently held Black Hat Security Conference by academics in Spain and the US, a new technique of recreating iris images using the digital codes that are stored in databases and used by iris-recognition systems to identify people was shown. Interestingly, the replica images could even trick the commercially graded iris-recognition systems.

“The idea is to generate the iris image, and once you have the image you can actually print it and show it to the recognition system, and it will say ‘okay, this is the (right) guy,’” says Javier Galbally, who conducted the research with colleagues at the Biometric Recognition Group-ATVS, at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, and researchers at West Virginia University.

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Earlier, researchers could create wholly synthetic iris images with the characteristics of real iris images. Though the images fooled iris-recognition systems into thinking they were real irises, they were not quite useful in impersonating a real person.

“But this is the first time anyone has essentially reverse-engineered iris codes to create iris images that closely match the eye images of real subjects, creating the possibility of stealing someone’s identity through their iris,” mentions a report by Threat Level.

Transparent solar cell
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed a see-through solar cell for windows that generate electricity. According to the researchers, it is an advance toward giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. In other words, these transparent solar cells could one day be used to build solar windows or even sun collecting smartphones.

The UCLA team says that the new kind of polymer solar cell produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells almost 70 per cent transparent to the human eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current.

Scientists are said to be investigating polymer solar cells for their potential in making unique advances for broader applications. Several such applications would be enabled by high-performance visibly transparent photovoltaic (PV) devices, including building-integrated photovoltaics and integrated PV chargers for portable electronics.

Homemade satellite all set for space
After working for years on a homemade satellite cobbled together from electronics store parts, Song Hojun is all set to launch it into orbit later this year.

“Making a satellite is no more difficult than making a cellphone. I believe that not just a satellite, but anything can be made with the help of the Internet and social platforms. I chose a satellite to show that symbolically,” The Telegraph quoted the South Korean artist as saying.

Song’s internship at a satellite company inspired him to start the Open Satellite Initiative. He was lucky enough to get space professionals from Slovenia to Paris for all the required information he needed with the launch. Also, he had a small electronic business running and had enough support from his parents who helped him with funds.

Homemade Korean satellite (Image courtesy: http://uk.reuters.com)
Homemade Korean satellite (Image courtesy: http://uk.reuters.com)

“The cubical OpenSat weighs 1 kg and measures 10 cubic centimetres. It will transmit information about the working status of its battery, the temperature and rotation speed of the satellite’s solar panel. Radio operators will be able to communicate with the satellite. If all goes well, it will repeat a message in Morse code using its LED lights at a set time and location,” the report by The Telegraph said.

Song has plans to launch the satellite from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan in December with another satellite.

Programmable T-shirt
Say hello to tshirtOS—a programmable T-shirt that displays whatever you want (tweets, Facebook statuses or pictures of your cat). The T-shirt has a built-in screen for displaying tweets, Facebook posts or Instagram pictures. The “100 per cent cotton T-shirt” is washable too! The microprocessor on the T-shirt wirelessly connects to an iOS app on your iPhone, allowing you to control the display.

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CuteCircuit, the company behind tshirtOS, plans to soon conduct product tests. It will start mass producing the smart-shirts depending on how many folks register interest.

The tshirtOS includes audio playback via a headphone jack. The camera used is claimed to be the smallest in the world. It measures just 2.5×2.9×2.5 mm3 and comes from Omnivision. However, it captures at a resolution of only 32×32. The display consists of 1024 ultrathin RGB LEDs, which all connect back to a small PCB that has Bluetooth, USB, an accelerometer and a pair of headphone sockets.

Artificial photosynthesis system
Japanese electronics maker Panasonic has developed an artificial photosynthesis system that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic material (called formic acid) at an efficiency of 0.2 per cent. This development will make it possible to realise a simple and compact system for capturing and converting wasted carbon dioxide from incinerators and electric generation plants, according to the company.

The efficiency is said to be on a comparable level with real plants used for biomass energy. What makes this artificial photosynthesis system simple and efficient is the application of a nitride semiconductor.

“We found that a nitride semiconductor has the capability to excite the electrons with enough high energy for the CO2 reduction reaction. Nitride semiconductor has attracted attention for its potential applications in highly efficient optical and power devices for energy saving. However, its potential was revealed to extend beyond solid devices; more specifically, it can be used as a photo-electrode for CO2 reduction. Making a device structure through the thin film process for semiconductors, the performance as a photo-electrode has highly improved,” the company says in a release.

Computer that can print 3D drugs
While learning about the concept of 3D printers, Lee Cronin, the leader of a team of 45 researchers at Glasgow University, mulled over turning such a device into a universal chemistry set that could make its own drugs.

“What Apple did for music, I’d like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs,” The Guardian quoted Cronin as saying.

Cronin is now working on a 3D printer worth £1,200 that would work on a molecular level to print drugs. The 3D printer uses a bathroom sealant as the primary substance to print reaction chambers of precisely specified dimensions, connected with tubes of different lengths and diameters. To this setup, the printer could then inject system reactants, or chemical inks, to obtain sequenced reactions.

Almost all drugs are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, as well as agents such as vegetable oils and paraffin. “With a printer it should be possible that with a relatively small number of inks you can make any organic molecule,” says Cronin.

Glowing fingerprints: the future of forensics
It looks like everything glows in the future, including the fingerprints left behind at the crime spot. A team from Zhejiang University led by Bin Su from Hangzhou, China, has come up with a direct, fast and simple method to make fingerprints visible at high resolution.

Electrochemiluminescence is the phenomenon that makes it possible to light up fingerprints. In this phenomenon, application of an electrical charge causes a chemical formula to enter an excited state. The formula returns to its ordinary state by expelling the surplus energy as light.

Phys.org explains in a report: “The researchers use a small glass plate coated with indium tin oxide or just a piece of stainless steel plate as the electrode. A fingerprint is transferred to this plate and then a solution containing the reactants is added. In the places where the fat-containing components of the fingerprint cover the plate, the electrode is inactive; the electrochemical reaction cannot take place, and no light is emitted. This produces a negative image of the fingerprint that can be recorded with a CCD camera.”

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According to the researchers, this method makes both fresh and old fingerprints visible without destroying them in the process of pointing them out. The fingerprints are so well-resolved that you can easily make out fine details like the branching and ends of lines, and even the tiniest features like the distribution of pores in the grooves.

Solar-powered train twice as fast as airplane?
Ever imagined a train that surpasses an airplane in speed? Elon Musk, chief executive officer, Tesla Motor, has disclosed plans for a new green vehicle that could transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco—the two California cities—in as little as 30 minutes. If ‘Hyperloop’ successfully achieves this, it would surpass not just a bullet train but also an airplane in speed. Currently, the fastest way to travel between the two California cities is by plane, which takes about an hour.

According to a report by InHabitat, Musk recently discussed the new transit system at the first ever PandoMonthly event in Santa Monica, California. The system would be entirely powered by solar energy.

“We could actually make it self-powering if you put solar panels on it, you generate more power than you would consume in the system. There is a way to store the power so it would run 24/7 without using batteries,” Musk was quoted as saying.

DNA code can shape gold nanoparticles
University of Illinois researchers have found that DNA code, which holds the genetic code for all sorts of biological molecules and traits, can direct the shape of gold nanoparticles—tiny gold crystals that have many applications in medicine, electronics and catalysis.

Led by Yi Lu, the team published its findings in the journal AngewandteChemie.

Due to their unique physicochemical properties, gold nanoparticles have found wide applications in both biology and materials science. Shape and size of a gold nanoparticle largely determine its properties. So it is pertinent to tailor the properties of a nanoparticle for a specific application.

“We wondered whether different combinations of DNA sequences could constitute ‘genetic codes’ to direct the nanomaterial synthesis in a way similar to their direction of protein synthesis,” said Zidong Wang, a recent graduate of Lu’s group and the first author of the paper.

The researchers are now mulling over investigating how DNA codes direct nanoparticle growth. They also plan to apply their method to synthesise other types of nanomaterials with novel applications.

Analog Devices launches design contest
Analog Devices has launched Anveshan 2012—a system-level design contest for final-year electrical and electronics engineering students across India. The contest gives engineering students an opportunity to showcase their innovation, product design and problem-solving abilities.

Registered student teams will be invited to submit proposals for the prototypes of innovative electronic solutions across industry verticals like medical, infotainment, home security, surveillance, robotics, automotive, green energy, process control, instrumentation and consumer. Five to ten innovative proposals will be shortlisted and teams will have to build prototypes using at least three components from Analog Devices.

Analog Devices will fund the project development and also provide required samples and evaluation boards. Three of the most innovative and novel projects completed will be recognised as the winners.

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