News archive

This page is where older but generally interesting news articles are kept. It is occasionally pruned down so it is also a nice recap of the more noteworthy events in recent months.

100% efficient lighting devices

Incandescent light bulbs turn only 5% of the electricity they consume into light. Fluorescent lights convert up to 25% of energy as light, and solid state lighting devices up to 50%. Researchers at Arizona State University claim they've developed a 100% efficient organic lighting device. The solid-state lighting device is based on OLED technology and can be produced at low cost.

The new device would be of major benefit to the environment by conserving energy and natural resources, and could accelerate advances in semiconductor technology materials through improvements in low-power organic thin-film transistors. Thursday, 03 July 2008 at 09:08

Laser hard drives promise speed increase

Hard drives (HDDs) have advanced the slowest of all computer technology over the years. Dramatic increases in processing speed and graphics power are in many ways held back by the bottleneck created by HDDs. Lab experiments show that this could all change using laser hard drives, a technology that is 100 times faster than conventional drives.

Many are looking to solid state disks (SSDs) for increased speed. SSDs weigh less, come in smaller packages, make no noise, are more durable and use less power. At five times the price of their 1.8" HDD counterparts, however, researchers are still looking for alternatives. Researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen made a breakthrough by heating portions of a magnetic disk to change its polarity, recording binary data at rapid speeds.

While current laboratory experiments have been successful, a working prototype isn't expected for another 5+ years. Tuesday, 03 July 2007 at 21:58

The six, um, 80 million dollar man

Jesse Sullivan, 59, has earned the title of "Bionic Man", thanks to an $80 million research program. His earlier bulky arm was replaced by Proto 1, a fully integrated prosthetic arm. The arm can be controlled naturally, provide sensation and allows for a level of control well beyond current state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs.

Like a prop out of the cult Seventies sci-fi show, the The Proto 1 limb system includes a natural-looking artificial covering developed using photographs of the patient's native limb. It is driven using electrical signals from the muscles of the chest, activated by the patient's own thought-generated nerve impulses. The transfer of residual nerves from an amputated limb to unused muscle regions also allows for the natural sensation of grip strength and touch.

A second prototype is expected to be unveiled in late summer. It will have more than 25 degrees of freedom vs. the current 8, and the strength and speed of movement approaching the capabilities of its human counterpart. Tuesday, 03 July 2007 at 21:41

New toys read brain waves

A prototype toy, years in the making, incorporates brain wave-reading technology to make games more mentally stimulating and realistic. This prototype uses only a single sensor behind a Darth Vader mask, which lights up a matching light saber when the user concentrates. Big plans are afoot, however, to turn this proof of concept into more sophisticated devices that could revolutionise the way people play.

The biofeedback technology introduced by NeuroSky (the inventor) could eventually enable players to control avatars in virtual worlds with nothing but their thoughts. Toys with basic brain wave-reading technology are scheduled to debut later this year, and the makers already claim benefits such as improved mental focus.

The basis of brain wave-reading games is electroencephalography (EEG), the measurement of the brain's electrical activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. The price and size of EEG hardware are both shrinking, and first-generation headsets will retail for as little as $20. Thursday, 03 May 2007 at 22:30

Artificial 'snot' enhances electronic nose

Researchers at The University of Warwick and Leicester University have used artificial nasal mucus to significantly enhance the performance of electronic noses. A 10 micron thick coating of a polymer, normally used to separate gases within sensors, allows an electronic nose to tell apart smells previously challenging for the device.

A natural nose uses over 100 million specialised receptors that work together to identify the molecules they encounter. A thin layer of mucus dissolves scents, and identification of odour molecules is enhanced by the speed and time of arrival at the receptor. Commercial electronic noses, used in applications such as quality control in the food industry, use the same method using less than 50 sensors, and without the mucus.

Artificial mucus adds back the missing ingredient, offering improved odour discrimination and much shorter analysis times than conventional techniques, and the final device will cost less than $10 to produce. Wednesday, 02 May 2007 at 21:31

Black holes portals to other universes?

The objects scientists think are black holes could instead be wormholes leading to other universes, a new study says. In studying what a wormhole might look like, authors T. Damour and S. Solodukhin discovered that it would mimic a black hole so well that it would be virtually impossible to tell the difference.

Wormholes are warps in the fabric of space-time that connect one place to another. If you imagine the universe as a two-dimensional sheet, you can picture a wormhole as a "throat" connecting our sheet to another one. The other sheet could be a universe of its own, with its own stars, galaxies and planets. Matter would swirl around a wormhole in the same way as for a black hole, since both objects distort the space around them in the same way.

Space travel via wormhole does have its downsides – depending on the wormhole’s shape, it could take billions of years for things to pop back out after falling in. The oldest wormholes in the universe may not have had time to spit anything out yet. The delay gets smaller with decreased size, down to a few seconds for microscopic wormholes, making two-way communication a possibility. Tuesday, 01 May 2007 at 13:32

100% efficient lighting devices?

Researchers at Arizona State University claim they've developed a 100% efficient organic lighting device. Manufacturing cost is expected to be low, leading to environmental benefits through the conservation of both energy and natural resources.

Incandescent light bulbs turn only 5% of the electricity they consume into light, fluorescent lights are 25% efficient, and to date even solid state lighting devices lose 50% of their energy input. The new solid-state device, based on OLED technology, has the simplest structure yet reported and achieves nearly 100% internal quantum efficiency.

This research work has been published in Advanced Materials under the name "Excimer-Based White Phosphorescent Organic Light-Emitting Diodes with Nearly 100% Internal Quantum Efficiency". Tuesday, 01 May 2007 at 06:46

Air car promises zero pollution, low running costs

Amid years of engineering effort to bring a compressed air car to market, the MiniC.A.T compressed air car is now on the verge of production. Cost-effective mass production is made possible by a recently signed partnership with Tata, and the car will run at about a tenth of the cost of a petrol car.

At a cost of less than one Euro per 100 km, its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km, or 10 hours of driving). This makes the MiniC.A.T perfect for cities where 80% of motorists drive less than 60 km. The car has a top speed of about 110 km/h.

Refilling the car can take place at adapted petrol stations, where compressed air is administered in a process that takes under three minutes. Due to the absence of combustion, and consequently of residues, changing the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 50,000 km.

The temperature of the clean air expelled by the exhaust pipe is between 0 - 15 degrees below zero, which makes it suitable for use by the internal air conditioning system with no need for gases or loss of power. For more technical detail check out the air car web site. Tuesday, 20 March 2007 at 06:45

Surf the solar system on magnetic fields

Flare riding is described as "one of the most exotic and exhilarating sports in existence, and those who can dare and afford to do it are among the most lionised men in the galaxy". Closer to home, future spacecraft may one day surf the magnetic fields of planets, taking previously unfeasible routes around the solar system.

A proposal funded by NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts aims to develop an electrically charged craft that does not need rockets or propellant of any kind. It is based on the fact that magnetic fields exert forces on electrically charged objects.

Satellites could charge up by firing a beam of charged particles into space, or by allowing a radioactive isotope to emit charged particles. A charged satellite would be gently pushed by Earth's rotating magnetic field, enabling it to change orbit and even escape to interplanetary space. Those aiming for lionisation, however, may have to wait a while longer. Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 23:04

"Bionic eye" gives hope to profoundly blind

Profoundly blind people could get their best shot yet of restored vision with a more advanced "bionic eye", new scientist tech reports.

Trials of the new retinal prosthesis will begin shortly, following the success of a 2002 prototype that has enabled six blind people to see again. Within a few weeks all test subjects could detect light, identify objects and even perceive motion again, going well beyond initial expectations to sense light and dark. Patients must have some functioning ganglion cells, however, as well as a fully-functioning optic nerve.

Users of the prototype wear camera-fitted glasses that transmit video to a pocket-sized computer in order to process image information. The computer then transmits images to a tiny electronic receiver implanted in the wearer's head. Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 22:35