Tag Archives: Tech

Building Cars Out of Batteries Isn’t as Crazy as It Sounds

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The high cost and limited range of electric vehicles can make them a tough sell, and their costliest and most limiting component are their batteries.

But batteries also open up new design possibilities because they can be shaped in more ways than gasoline tanks and because they can be made of load-bearing materials. If their chemistries can be made safer, batteries could replace conventional door panels and other body parts, potentially making a vehicle significantly lighter, more spacious and cheaper. This could go some way toward helping electric cars compete with gas-powered ones.

Tesla Motors and Volvo have demonstrated early versions of the general approach by building battery packs that can replace some of the structural material in a conventional car. Dozens of other research groups and companies are taking further steps to make batteries that replace existing body parts, such as body panels and frames.

The ability to use batteries as structural materials is currently limited by the use of flammable electrolytes, but researchers are developing safer chemistries that could be used more widely. The approach also raises several practical questions: can the energy-storing body panels be engineered so that even if they’re dented, the car will still work? And how expensive will bodywork be? However, automakers could turn to the approach under pressure to sell more electric vehicles and hybrids to meet stringent future fuel economy standards.

Batteries are the single most expensive item in electric cars, so making them cheaper would make electric vehicles cheaper too. But even without significant breakthroughs, new battery designs could make a car lighter.

One example is the way Tesla has designed the battery for the Model S. The metal casing that protects the battery also serves to make the car frame more rigid, reducing the overall amount of metal needed.

This month, Volvo demonstrated another approach using lithium-ion batteries, which are made of thin films of material that are rolled or folded up to form a battery cell. Researchers at the Lulea University of Technology in Sweden in collaboration with Volvo sandwiched these films between sheets of carbon-fiber composite. The resulting structure was used to replace plastic body parts and a small conventional battery on a hybrid version of the Volvo S80. (The car is a “stop-start” hybrid that uses a battery to make it possible to turn off the engine whenever the car isn’t moving.)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy is spending $37 million on projects seeking to use batteries as structural materials. (The program is called RANGE, which stands for Robust, Affordable, Next-Generation Energy Storage Systems). In two ARPA-E projects, researchers are figuring out ways to design battery packs to absorb energy in a crash to replace materials now used to protect passengers. For example, rather than packaging battery cells into a solid block, the cells could be allowed to move past each other in an accident, dissipating energy as they do.

Most of the approaches being explored so far still use conventional battery cells — the parts of the pack that actually store energy. If safer battery cells can be made, then this would provide even more flexibility in how a car can be designed. You wouldn’t need to enclose them in protective cases or regulate their temperature to prevent battery fires.

“When you’re not obsessed with protecting batteries, you can be a lot more creative. You’re not limited to the architecture of conventional cars,” says Ping Liu, who manages and helped conceive of ARPA-E’s RANGE project.

To this end, several researchers are developing new chemistries that don’t use flammable electrodes, so the batteries could be safely used as door panels. They’re considering replacing volatile electrolytes with less-flammable polymers, water-based materials and ceramics. Once they have a safer electrolyte, the researchers will look for ways to use the battery electrodes in a cell to bear loads.

Volvo has an experimental version of this approach that uses carbon fibers in composite materials to store and conduct electricity but also to strengthen the composites. The device was formed in the shape of a trunk lid. But it could only produce enough electricity to light up some LEDs, so it couldn’t replace the battery in an electric car or a hybrid. A newer version being developed at Imperial College in London replaces the epoxy that ordinarily holds together carbon fibers in a composite with a blend of stiff materials and ionic liquids that can conduct charged molecules. This forms a type of supercapacitor that could store enough energy to be used in place of a battery in a stop-start hybrid.

For electric cars and hybrids with larger batteries, supercapacitors don’t store enough energy. So to provide enough driving range, some researchers are developing lithium-ion batteries that use carbon fibers for one electrode, but use conventional lithium-ion materials for the opposite one. Others have developed a nonvolatile polymer electrolyte to replace conventional, flammable ones. The resulting material will make it possible to “do two jobs with one thing,” says Leif Asp, a professor at Lulea University. Several ARPA-E projects are taking this kind of approach.

These new electrolytes and load-bearing battery cells are likely more than a decade away from being useful in cars, however. It will be difficult to ensure that the battery stores large amounts of energy and can also be strong enough as a structural component.

Asp says the first applications could be in portable electronics, where load-bearing batteries could replace conventional plastic cases. But if car components can one day be made out of such materials, then batteries could finally go from a limiting factor to a selling point.

Image: Flickr, Asier Llaguno

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/10/29/cars-made-of-batteries/

Oculus Rift Unveils New Virtual Reality Headset for Devs to Play With

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The second generation Oculus Rift will be available for game developers this summer.

Game developers interested in creating games in virtual reality will get an upgraded set of tools from the Oculus Rift team this summer, the company announced Wednesday morning.

The second-generation Oculus Rift development kit is available for preorder starting Wednesday for developers. The virtual reality headset, which began as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, now has 50,000 units in the hands of developers interested in creating games for it.

Oculus VR Vice President of Product Nate Mitchell said doesn’t resemble anything like consumers will eventually see, but is much farther along the company’s vision for virtual reality than the previous Oculus Rift model. A consumer version is still not under discussion, he added.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from our original vision,” Mitchell said.

The new Oculus Rift headset solves many users’ latency issues; it eliminates the motion blur problems that were easy to spot if you moved your head too quickly. It features a brighter, higher-resolution OLED screen with a 960 x 1080p resolution over each eye, rather than a 640 x 800p resolution over each eye on the current kit.

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A straight on view of the updated Oculus Rift.

The new headset also boasts improved positional tracking, part of the Crystal Cove prototype the company showed off during CES 2014. Mitchell said that such new features will allow developers to bring many more complex elements into games they produce for virtual reality, including text and UI layouts. Previously, both were previously very difficult to add.

The new headset will cost $350 for developers and will ship sometime in July of this year.

Virtual reality may be the belle of the ball at the Game Developers Conference this week. Sony also used the conference to announce its own virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 4, currently called Project Morpheus. Sony remained mum on setting a date for its headset to reach consumers.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/19/oculus-rift-second-generation/

Archos Beats CES Rush and Unveils Step-Counting Fitness Tracker

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Wearable fitness trackers are sure to be a big trend at the 2014 International CES next week, and Archos is beating the rush by unveiling its candidate a few days early. The Archos Activity Tracker is a wristband that can measure your steps, view your history and let you compete with friends.

Similar to the Fitbit Force, the Archos band has a small display that can relay basic data, like the number of steps taken in a day or the amount of calories burned. A full charge of the battery is said to last an entire week, and it charges via USB, just like the Nike+ Fuelband.

Of course, the Activity Tracker pairs with a dedicated app, which gathers the data from the band wirelessly. In addition to rendering the data graphically, the app will let you compete with up to eight people, similar to “teams” and small-scale social networking favored by other fitness-tracking ecosystems, such as Jawbone’s.

In addition to the wristband, Archos is planning a whole line of connected devices for unveiling at CES, including a connected scale, a blood-pressure monitor, a home weather station and a 7-inch tablet designed specifically for “smart home” applications.

No prices or release dates have yet been announced.

Screens: Coming to a City Block Near You

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Many of us spend several hours of the day face-down into our laptops. We navigate our cities and communities from the control panels of our smartphones. And at the end of the day, we cozy up with our flat screens or e-readers.

Although some people fight mankind’s preoccupation with and dependency on screen technology, it’s safe to say, the jig is up. We’re hooked.

And today’s major cities have begun not only to accept our gadget obsession, but to encourage it.

It doesn’t matter where you travel, these days. Where there’s electricity, there will be screens — waiting, encouraging and urging your interaction. Head out on the highway (so to speak) and you’ll encounter digital billboards, perfectly alternating advertisements to the flow of traffic. Take a brave trip to New York City’s Times Square, where you can interact with 40-foot-tall augmented reality LED displays. Hop in a TV-outfitted taxi and head out shopping, where store clerks await with mobile credit card readers attached to their iPads.

In fact, digital marketing strategies prove so successful that cities are integrating like-minded technology into their very infrastructures, whether through information services, artistic programs or transportation improvements.

No matter how long you’ve lived in a community, it’s next to impossible to memorize every bus route, subway stop and train schedule. And let’s not even get started on traffic detours.

Companies like Urbanscale aim to seamlessly integrate city services and information into interactive displays throughout cities. In partnership with Nordkapp, Urbanscale developed the concept for Urbanflow touchscreen stations, which appear like giant smartphones and beckon city dwellers and tourists with targeted city maps. But they’re far from limited to walking directions alone; the stations share hyperlocal services and ambient data, such as traffic density and air quality reports. Local experts can even contribute their own input and knowledge of the surrounding area, making for a rich digital stockpile of up-to-date information.

While solutions like Urbanflow provide information for a wide range of location-specific issues, many cities have opted for a more targeted approach, specifically, for improvements in transportation.

Developed by MIT SENSEable City Lab, EyeStop represents the cutting edge in “smart urban furniture.” The concept looks like a futuristic bus stop, complete with efficient and easy to read e-ink message boards, weather alerts and even email access. Powered by sunlight, the unit’s environmental sensors would also detect air pollutants and weather changes. Plus, the EyeStop glows at different intensities as nearby buses approach.

Prudence Robinson, partner strategist and research fellow at SENSEable City Lab, explains why the team chose certain design features for the EyeStop. “Parametric design has been foreseen so that every shelter perfectly fits its site,” she says, “maximizing sunlight exposure for photovoltaic cells and providing adequate shading to the users.”

While some cities are implementing completely new and innovative systems, others are looking to upgrade to intuitive tablet technology already ubiquitous in everyday life. New York City launched a pilot program to replace 250 nearly obsolete pay phones with tablet screens that provide information on local attractions, city maps, public transit updates and even Wi-Fi.

And mobile credit card payment service Square proposed that the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission embed iPads into 30 of its cabs. Not surprisingly, the tablets would also be equipped with Square technology, which would enable passengers to pay with credit card, sign the screen with their fingers and even email the receipt to themselves.

But screen technology doesn’t always necessitate strict utility. A huge priority for many cities is public art that demonstrates aestheticism and usefulness.

Take MIT’s Light Bridge Project, composed of Panasonic Electric Works’ NaPiOn infrared motion/proximity sensors. The sensors activate colorful LED lights that interact with pedestrian movement. Depending on the type and amount of traffic, the lights alternate between different programs of patterns and colors, using proximity sensors, cameras, buttons, microphones and mobile phones. The project’s aim is to marry traditional lighting concepts with reactive urban screen solutions.

Increasingly, artists are also finding inspiration in digital. At this year’s Philadelphia International Flower Show, creative media agency Klip Collective partnered with GMR Design to design and build an ethereal “wave wall,” essentially a giant sloping dome of screens. On it, they projected a “calming display of undulating projection waves of sea creatures and flower blossoms.” Nearby, a Hawaiian temple featured multidimensional video-mapped animations that taught curious visitors about Pele, Hawaii’s female fire god.

But what happens when an artist requires a colossal canvas? (No, we’re not talking murals.) Increasingly, multimedia artists are turning to available city infrastructure to project their visions. And they’re not thinking small, that’s for sure.

In New York City, artists are using video mapping technology to project multidimensional scenes and characters onto skyscrapers, often using nothing more than a laptop, a portable generator and a projector. When passers-by spot giant dancing monkeys on the side of a wall, they instantly react — and sometimes interact, mimicking the animated movements. Furthermore, the contours and crannies of a building are far from a hindrance — they actually contribute to the 3D effect, as if an image were leaping off the “screen.”

Video mapping and projection technology are mobilizing large groups of people to get to know their surroundings. Some installations even encourage spectators to interact with these large-scale screens as if they were games. People in Lyon, France, celebrate the Festival of Lights with an installation called “The Urban Flipper,” a type of digital graffiti, which when projected on the side of a theater, creates a giant, interactive game of pinball.

In the Netherlands, 3D mapping company NuFormer debuted what it calls “mocapping,” a combination of 3D video mapping projection and live motion capture technology. It projects animated light onto a rectangular building, effectively transforming the structure into a futuristic spaceship-like scene. What’s more, the character in the scene asked questions of and responded to spectators. Thus, each performance was different.

Some video mapping art even seeks to change the perception of architecture itself, as if a building were made of hundreds of moving television screens. The following video shows how design collective URBANSCREEN created optical illusions in the “sails” of the Sydney Opera House. Motion graphics are projected onto the white surfaces, which dimple with movement like actual sails. It’s the festival’s most public event, inspiring attendees and visitors citywide.

Whether to inspire or educate, cities around the world are implementing smart screens for tech-eager residents. Hopefully, they’ll encourage us to take a breather from our self-isolating smartphones and tablets for a moment to interact with the communities and residents around us.

Have you encountered public screens, whether introduced by city governments or artists? How is your city welcoming the latest in responsive screen technology?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/12/urban-screens/

Government Lab Reveals Quantum Internet Operated for 2 Years

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One of the dreams for security experts is the creation of a quantum Internet that allows perfectly secure communication based on the powerful laws of quantum mechanics.

The basic idea here is that the act of measuring a quantum object, such as a photon, always changes it. So any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping that the receiver can detect. That allows anybody to send a “one-time pad” over a quantum network which can then be used for secure communication using conventional classical communication.

That sets things up nicely for perfectly secure messaging known as quantum cryptography and this is actually a fairly straightforward technique for any half decent quantum optics lab. Indeed, a company called ID Quantique sells an off-the-shelf system that has begun to attract banks and other organisations interested in perfect security.

These systems have an important limitation, however. The current generation of quantum cryptography systems are point-to-point connections over a single length of fibre, So they can send secure messages from A to B but cannot route this information onwards to C, D, E or F.

That’s because the act of routing a message means reading the part of it that indicates where it has to be routed. And this inevitably changes it, at least with conventional routers. This makes a quantum Internet impossible with today’s technology

Various teams are racing to develop quantum routers that will fix this problem by steering quantum messages without destroying them. We looked at one of the first last year. But the truth is that these devices are still some way from commercial reality.

Today, Richard Hughes and his team at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico reveal an alternative quantum Internet, which they say they’ve been running for two and half years. Their approach is to create a quantum network based around a hub and spoke-type network. All messages get routed from any point in the network to another via this central hub.

This is not the first time this kind of approach has been tried. The idea is that messages to the hub rely on the usual level of quantum security. However, once at the hub, they are converted to conventional classical bits and then reconverted into quantum bits to be sent on the second leg of their journey.

So as long as the hub is secure, then the network should also be secure.

The problem with this approach is scalability. As the number of links to the hub increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to handle all the possible connections that can be made between one point in the network and another.

Hughes and co say they’ve solved this with their unique approach which equips each node in the network with quantum transmitters—ie lasers—but not with photon detectors which are expensive and bulky. Only the hub is capable of receiving a quantum message (although all nodes can send and receiving conventional messages in the normal way).

That may sound limiting but it still allows each node to send a one-time pad to the hub which it then uses to communicate securely over a classical link. The hub can then route this message to another node using another one time pad that it has set up with this second node. So the entire network is secure, provided that the central hub is also secure.

The big advantage of this system is that it makes the technology required at each node extremely simple—essentially little more than a laser. In fact, Los Alamos has already designed and built plug-and-play type modules that are about the size of a box of matches. “Our next-generation [module] will be an order of magnitude smaller in each linear dimension,” they say.

Their ultimate goal is to have one of these modules built in to almost any device connected to a fibre optic network, such as set top TV boxes, home computers and so on, to allow perfectly secure messaging.

Having run this system now for more than two years, Los Alamos are now highly confident in its efficacy.

Of course, the network can never be more secure than the hub at the middle of it and this is an important limitation of this approach. By contrast, a pure quantum Internet should allow perfectly secure communication from any point in the network to any other.

Another is that this approach will become obsolete as soon as quantum routers become commercially viable. So the question for any investors is whether they can get their money back in the time before then. The odds are that they won’t have to wait long to find out.

Image via iStockphoto, muratkoc

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/05/06/government-lab-quantum-internet/

Google Glass Will Have Automatic Picture-Taking Mode

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project-glass-demo-600Google co-founder Sergey Brin revealed one of the features of Google Glass — the upcoming headset/eyewear device the search giant is developing — in an email to followers today.

Copying a post he had shared to followers of Project Glass on Google+, Brin said he was trying out a new feature of the product that automatically takes a photo every 10 seconds. Brin said he had the mode engaged while he was driving in Montana, with the device sending all the pics to his Google+ account via instant upload.

Browsing the images later, Brin picked one he thought best captured the beauty of the Montana landscape. The image has just 512 x 384 resolution — less than a megapixel — though that that’s probably not an indication of Google Glass’s capabilities. It could be an aspect of the auto-photo mode, using lower resolutions so storage isn’t taxed that much. Here’s the photo:

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In the message, Brin emphasized that Glass allowed him to take pictures as he drove without distraction. He also talked about the vision of Project Glass. “We started Project Glass believing that, by bringing technology closer, we can get it more out of the way,” he wrote. “Whether you’re exploring a new city, hiking in the woods, or playing with your kids — Glass allows you to enjoy and share life’s moments without being tied down by technology.”

It appears only attendees of Google I/O who signed up for Google Glass received the email. On the Google+ post, however, Brin encourages followers to leave a comment and provide feedback on the project. He also promises that Google has some “great things” coming the next few months. He’ll have a tough time topping his spectacular skydive at the I/O conference.

Although it was first reported Google Glass would go on sale before the end of 2012, Brin himself has said it’ll be ready for consumers by 2014. Developers who were interested in receiving one of the prototypes were asked to commit to paying $1,500 for each one, though that figure has no bearing on what the retail price will be.

What do you think of the latest news about Google Glass? Does automatic picture taking sound like a feature you’d use? Share your thoughts in the comments.

BONUS: The Long and Winding Road to a True Heads-Up Display

Nokia Announces Windows Phone 8 Version of City Lens App

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After coming out of beta last week, Nokia‘s augmented reality app, Nokia City Lens, is due for another update with plenty of new features.

The upcoming Windows Phone 8 version of the app, which will work on Nokia’s Lumia 920 and 820 smartphones, is set to debut 3D icons, as well as the option of filtering search results to only show those in your line of sight.

Some WP8-specific features will also be added to the app, including the ability to pin to start any category, and to customize the menu by adding your favorite searches.

Perhaps most importantly, the app will work in both landscape and portrait modes.

Nokia has yet to comment on the exact release date of its newest version of City Lens.

Would you download the app? Tell us in the comments below.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/11/nokia-city-lens-windows-8/

Google to Launch New Devices, Android 4.2 at Oct. 29 Event

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Google will unveil several new devices and a software update at its scheduled Oct. 29 press event, according to a company video leaked from an all-hands meeting.

The Next Web is reporting Google has distributed an internal video that details and confirms speculations about what might be revealed at the upcoming event.

The video reportedly discusses the launch of a 32GB version of the Nexus 7 tablet, as well as one with 3G support. It also indicates Google is working with manufacturer Samsung to release a 10-inch tablet called “Nexus 10” that will run Android 4.2 (“Key Lime Pie”), and a Nexus smartphone manufactured by LG.

Meanwhile, the new Android 4.2 mobile operating system will include a panoramic camera option and “tablet sharing” capabilities, which would allow more than one user to access the device with his own set of email and apps — similar to how a family or business can switch between user settings on a Windows computer.

Earlier this week, Google sent invitations to the press for an Android event to be held in New York City. Although the invitation didn’t detail what might occur, the tagline — “the playground is open” — suggests it will have to do with Google Play, the company’s newly-rebranded Andriod Market.

The news came as Microsoft prepares for its Windows Phone 8 launch event, which will also be held on Oct. 29 — and Apple gears up to unveil its rumored 7.85-inch iPad on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Google’s new Samsung tablet is reportedly being filed under the name “Codename Manta.” The device is expected to have a 2560×1600 pixel resolution and 300ppi, which is greater than the iPad’s 264ppi.

Meanwhile, the 4.7-inch Nexus smartphone manufactured by LG is said to tout a quad-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm APQ8064 Snapdragon processor, a 1280×768 display, 2GB of RAM and 16GB storage.

BONUS: 10 Free Android Apps You’ll Use Every Day

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