Tag Archives: Work & Play

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/

Playing Catch With Grover Is the Future of Video Gaming

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You would think after 42 seasons, the creative minds behind Sesame Street would run out of ways to educate and entertain kids.

Sesame Workshop has teamed up with Microsoft to create Kinect Sesame Street TV — one of the most innovative children’s video games we’ve seen in a while. With the help of the Microsoft Kinect sensor, it puts kids (and adults) into the game, letting them engage and interact with their favorite characters.

We were immediately impressed with the way the game offers simple instructions to help kids set up their position in front of the Kinect. Cooper, a new furry character on Sesame Street, created digitally just for this season, introduces himself and guides the user as they place themselves in front of a mirror. This is really helpful because kids have a natural tendency to creep closer to the TV as they play and talk to the characters.

And kids will play with them! There are eight interactive games that take kids through everything you would expect from a Sesame Street title. Elmo offers instructions on how to play with him and Paul Ball, another new character.

The characters introduce words; concepts like over and under, numbers, letters, and free play. But this play gets kids up and off the couch.

Our favorite game is playing catch with Grover. Typical Grover, he’s made a mess, dropped all his coconuts and needs help him picking them up. Kids make a throwing motion and toss them back, while he does silly things before catching them and putting them in his box. There’s no winning or losing here. If the child doesn’t respond, Cookie Monster simply comes along and picks up a coconut for Grover.

Elmo’s World is an augmented reality scene where kids are transported to Elmo’s play world, helping him water plants and touch the stars.

Kinect Sesame Street TV is available now on Xbox 360.

Check out the video to see it in action and let us know what you think about video games becoming this interactive. Does this make you more likely to let your kids play?

Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/18/playing-catch-with-grover-is-the-future-of-video-gaming/

How Footprint Recognition Software Can Revolutionize Zoology

Pawprint

New software can now ID an animal’s gender and age based just on a picture of a footprint.

This is how it works: Key elements uniquely identifying a footprint are marked on an image, as shown above with an Amur tiger print, prior to algorithmic classification.

Studying animal behavior in the wild usually starts with figuring out just where the wild animals are hiding. Field biologists can use a combination of methods for this, such as radio collars, aerial surveys, and camera traps to remotely monitor animal movement. However, to an expert eye, a well-preserved footprint can also reveal a surprising amount about an animal: its species, gender, age, even its individual identity.

The trick is being able to do the identifying accurately and quickly. Over the last decade, WildTrack, an organization founded by zoologist and veterinarian Zoe Jewell and her husband, Sky Alibhai, has been developing image processing software to detect physical footprint characteristics that are hard for an untrained eye to recognize. The organization’s software is being used to track a variety of animals in different habitats, including Amur tigers in Russia, tapirs in South America, and polar bears in the Canadian province of Nunavut.

Jewell and Alibhai call their method footprint identification technique, or FIT. Professional trackers photograph footprints (with a ruler for scale) and add GPS coordinates. The footprints are then loaded into software that allows WildTrack to match them to a large number of known footprints from captive animals of the same species. Algorithms compare elements of the photographed footprint against those in a database of animals whose age and gender are known.

Jewell and Alibhai got the idea for WildTrack while working with black rhinos in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. It has taken years of tweaking and tinkering to develop algorithms that reliably recognize footprints of a given species.

An ongoing challenge will be FIT’s reliability (it is currently 90 percent accurate at correctly determining the sex, age, and species). Nonetheless the technique is low cost, relatively easy to use, and noninvasive compared to radio collaring, which requires darting an animal. But FIT doesn’t work well with all animals yet, and is still very much in an experimental stage.

“The zebra hoof is a big challenge because it’s hard to mark different shapes. On the other hand, a cheetah or lion footprint, where you have four toes and a heel pad, there’s lots of complexity there, making it easier to identify individuals,” Jewell says.

Image: Jiayin Gu; Jennifer C.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/08/19/footprint-recognition-software/

10 Halloween Masks You Can Print at Home

Origotham

Write On! November Is National Novel Writing Month

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For aspiring Hemingways, right now is a particularly appropriate time to shake off the writer’s block and glue yourself to a keyboard, because November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. (No, I didn’t just make that up; it’s the official abbreviation.)

Signing up is simple and free at NaNoWriMo’s website. Then, the race is on. The goal is for participants to write a 50,000-word novel before the clock hits midnight on Nov. 30.

For point of reference, 50,000 words is just over one word per minute for the entire month. But since we’re already a few days into November, you might have some catching up to do.

National Novel Writing Month

The event is run by a non-profit organization in Berkeley, Calif. As explained on NaNoWriMo’s website, which is a compelling work of literature in and of itself, the movement began humbly in 1999:

That first year there were 21 of us, and our July noveling binge had little to do with any ambitions we might have harbored on the literary front. Nor did it reflect any hopes we had about tapping more fully into our creative selves. No, we wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands. Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn’t have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists.

They must have gotten a lot of dates because the event has grown prodigiously. Last year more than 250,000 writers participated, of which nearly 39,000 finished novels. About 2,000 of the participants were grade-school students. All told, the 2011 class of NaNoWriMo logged more than 3 billion words of fiction.

To encourage writers to meet their goals, the organization provides several creative confidence boosters, such as pep talks from established novelists like Lemony Snicket. NaNoWriMo also has forums where writers can commiserate and offer support to one another.

While there are badges and banners for writers to use to spread the word about their participation, another way to do so is by tweeting.

Twitter is actually a big part of how the NaNoWriMo keeps people motivated to write. Using the @NaNoWordSprints handle, staff and volunteers from around the world set up “word sprints,” which are periods of time ranging from five minutes to an hour when participants are prompted to write continuously.

“The sprint leader gives people warning that a sprint is about to start, tells them how long the sprint will last, and offers an optional writing challenge for those who might be a little stuck and need a suggestion for something to write about,” NaNoWriMo’s community liaison Sarah Mackey tells Mashable. “The focused writing time is remarkably effective, and having that virtual community writing alongside you is another great motivation.”

Since there are various people all over the world leading the word sprints, they go on for about 20 hours each day.

There is already a long list of authors who have had their NaNoWriMo work published. So, whether you plan on writing about SpaghettiOs or Alphabet Soup, the time for procrastination is officially over. Brew a yourself a pot of coffee and show the world you’re the next James Joyce.

Image courtesy of Nicole Lee, via Flickr

BONUS GALLERY: Twitterature: 14 Connected Authors Worth Your Follow

Get Up to $400 For Your iPhone 4S

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Interested in trading in your iPhone 4S for an iPhone 5? Most of the popular smartphone-buyback services are offering good prices for Apple’s previous generation smartphone.

This can be a great way to recoup the cost of a new phone — especially if you aren’t eligible for an upgrade or are switching to another carrier.

The iPhone 5 announcement means that tons of older iPhone devices are about to hit the secondary market. As we’ve seen in the past, that flood of devices can lower the buyback amount companies are willing to pay for your device. If you’re interested in selling your device to a buyback service, lock in now, rather than later.

THE LATEST: iPhone 5 Unveiled | iPhone 5 vs. Competitors | More of iOS 6 | Thinner iPod Nano | iPod Touch With Siri | New iTunes | New iPhone Dock Connector | New Earbuds, EarPods

We looked at what the most popular buyback services are paying for the iPhone 4S. As of 8:30 p.m. ET, this is what we found:

iPhone 4S 64GB, AT&T or Unlocked

The 64GB iPhone 4S is the most expensive model, and that’s what we used to base our pricing on in this test.

The best offer we saw for the 64GB iPhone 4S is courtesy of eBay’s Instant Sale.

Instant Sale will pay $400 for a working, fully functional 64GB iPhone 4S. The device needs to be fully functional, have no physical damage and include the charger.

The popular trade-in service Gazelle will pay $350 for a 64GB iPhone 4S on AT&T. Earlier today, Gazelle was offering $400 for the same unit, which means that trade-in volume is already impacting buyback offers.

Like Gazelle, NextWorth is offering $350 for a 64GB iPhone 4Sat&t/). The device needs to be working and cannot have a cracked display.

Amazon’s Trade-In program will pay up to $391 on an Amazon gift card for a 64GB iPhone 4S. Amazon will actually pay $460 on a gift card for a “like new” iPhone 4S, but Amazon’s requirements for what constitutes “like new” is stricter than most other companies. It needs the original packaging and should be presentable as a gift.

At Apple’s Reuse and Recycle website, powered by PowerON, the company will offer a $345 gift card for a 64GB iPhone 4S.

Note: With the exception of Amazon and eBay Instant Sale, Sprint and Verizon iPhone 4S models go for significantly less than their AT&T counterparts.

Other Models

The buyback price for other models will depend on carrier and location. eBay Instant Sale, at the time of this writing, is offering the highest cash buyback amounts for most phone models.

Amazon.com is offering a better buyback price for some models; however, users need to keep in mind that they will be paid with an Amazon gift card, not cash.

Gazelle, NextWorth and Apple all vary depending on when you lock in your deal and what model you are trading in.

A number of services are also offering good rates for iPhone 4 trade-ins.

Are you going to sell off your old iPhone? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, hocus-focus

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/13/iphone-4s-trade-in/

10 Halloween Cards for the Ghoulish Geek

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6 Arduino Gadgets You Can Build at Home

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When it comes to awesome electronics, most of us simply wait for companies to create cool things and then decide whether or not a gadget is worth our hard earned cash. But thanks to open source platforms like Arduino, anyone can build some of the coolest gizmos from scratch. These are 10 of the most amazing homemade toys, appliances and gadgets that you can build in your own living room.

1. ArduPilot

Project homepage: DIY Drones

The military has thrust the idea of robotic aerial drones into the public consciousness, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many home gadget gurus want one of its very own. The ArduPilot is the perfect kit for such a project, and for a relatively meager price you can turn virtually any radio-controlled plane into a surveillance tool — or simply shoot some amazing high-altitude video.

2. Electronic Pong Game

Project homepage: Arduino Pong

Pong is one of the most beloved and classic video games of all time, but chances are you’ve never built your own version. Arduino Pong lets you create a custom version of Pong which you can plug right into your television and enjoy for yourself. The game is very basic, but if you’ve ever played Pong, you know exactly what to expect. Now if only we could build our own version of Super Mario Bros…

3. Mind-Controlled Nerf Gun

Project homepage: Mindbullets

Everyone can agree than Nerf guns are awesome. But what could possibly make them even more awesome? Being able to fire the brightly-colored darts and bullets just by thinking it. The Mindbullets project lets you do exactly that, and it’s just as amazing as it sounds. By combining the brainwave-sensing NeuroSky headset and some Arduino hardware, your run of the mill Nerf gun will be turned into an unstoppable, foam-dart-shooting machine.

4. Tweeting Houseplant

Project homepage: Botanicalls

Ever wish you could actively communicate with your houseplants? This Arduino kit by Botanicalls not only lets your plants speak to you, but also to the world at large. Using probes that can sense the level of moisture within a plant’s pot, the hardware can send tweets letting you know the plant needs watering. If the plant gets particularly dry, a more urgent tweet will also be sent. It can even sense if the plant is being overwatered, ensuring that you’re keeping your green thumb in check.

5. Turn-Signal Biking Jacket

Project homepage: Instructables

Biking is a great way to get some exercise, not to mention flex your fuel-saving muscles, but safety is always a concern when you’re sharing the road with cars and trucks. This amazing Arduino-powered biking jacket lets you level the playing field when you’re on the open road by embedding working turn signals right on your back. With a mobile power supply and two buttons to control the bright arrows on your back, you’ll never have to worry about letting those on the road know where you’re going.

6. Arduino Air Guitar

Project homepage: Instructables

We’ve all played a little air guitar in our times, but regardless of how cool we might think we look rocking out to our invisible instrument, we’ve never heard a single note played as a result. That all changes with the AIRduino guitar, a virtual guitar gadget that uses sensors on each of your fingers to play actual music as you strum the invisible strings. It’s a ridiculous cool idea, and it appears to work fantastically. We only hope you don’t actually need to know how to play a real guitar in order to create some excellent tunes.

This article originally published at Tecca
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/25/diy-arduino-gadgets/

Think Your Dell Laptop Smells Like Cat Pee? You Aren’t Alone

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Over the past couple of months, people who have purchased a Dell Latitude 6430u have noticed something unusual about their new computers. Namely, that they seem to emit an unbearably awful stench — as if “assembled near a tomcats litter box,” as one user on the Dell hardware support message board put it. (And you thought your noisy laptop fan was bad.)

The issue first came to light when a user — called three west — complained about it on the aforementioned message board in June, and since then, it has only gotten more embarrassing. Apparently, cleaning the keyboard — as Dell initially suggested — did nothing to alleviate matters, and several other users began to chime in with their own concerns about the smell.

“I thought for sure one of my cats sprayed it, but there was something faulty with it so I had it replaced,” user horcheta wrote about a month after the thread was first created. “The next one had the same exact issue. It’s embarrassing taking it to clients because it smells so bad.”

As see on the thread, the Dell team appears to be taking the allegations very seriously — Senior Technical Consultant Steve B has been communicating with thread members since August and seems to believe they’re close to determining where the problem lies. On Oct. 14, he posted:

We really appreciate everyone’s patience as we work thru this issue. The problem has been resolved and the past few weeks I have been waiting on engineering to release detailed information on a root cause and resolution. We are currently waiting on final engineering failure analysis for a definitive root cause which is expected to come any day now. Once we have this, we can make an official comment. In the meantime, I’ll provide a few details of what we do know.

  • The smell was related to a manufacturing process that has now been changed

  • The smell is not in any way related to biological contamination

  • The smell is not at all health hazard

  • If you order an E6430u now, it will not have the issue

  • As soon as we have final engineering failure analysis, more information will be posted on how to immediately resolve the issue. We hope to have the information this week so please keep watching this thread.
    So hey, it could be worse! Your computer might smell like urine, but it’s not actually urine.

    Of course, that didn’t do a whole lot to quell the frustrations of those who’d been saddled with the stink for months without any reprieve. “So when you write that the ‘problem has been resolved,’ do you mean that when I open my computer it will no longer smell like a pack of well hydrated feral cats have used it for target practice resolved, or do you mean that you have resolved the mystery of what has caused the problem?,” user holysmokecp asked.

    On Twitter, Steve seems to be pretty confident that he’ll have some kind of update for all of us in the coming week. Now that the story’s been picking up steam, — a number of British news outlets have already covered the thread — maybe they’ll be able to devote more time and attention to finding a solution. Although it also does means that more people are going to jump onto the thread with false information and ridiculous cat jokes.

    Image: Flickr, Meg_Nicol

    This article originally published at Geekosystem
    here

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/10/30/dell-cat-pee/

    U.S.S. Enterprise Spatula Is Flippin’ Awesome

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    Product name: U.S.S. Enterprise Spatula
    Price: $17.49 on ThinkGeek
    Who would like this?: Trekkies with a partiality to pancakes

    Your mother may have taught you not to play with your food (“It’s rude! You’ll make a mess! Your sister still has cranberries in her hair from last night!”) But she never said anything against playing with utensils in the kitchen, right?*

    Nerdy novelty site ThinkGeek created a Star Trek-themed spatula that’s modeled after the famed U.S.S. Enterprise. The just-what-it-sounds-like contraption is six inches in diameter, with BPA (Bisphenol A)-free silicone and a zinc alloy metal handle.

    It works just as well as any other spatula, but it doubles as a toy, so it’s perfect for any Star Trek fan with a knack for cooking. Plus, it just looks awesome.

    *Exception: Knives

    Video: YouTube, ThinkGeek

    If you’re looking for the full Trekkie dining experience, Tumblr page Food Replicator posts weekly recipes of the series’ most infamous dishes, including Bularian Canapes, Senarian Egg Broth and Seska’s Mushroom Soup. They’re easy to follow, and include ingredients you can find here on Earth, so it’s a good jumping-off point for you and your flipping machine.

    Tumblr not your thing? There are also several books on the market with all the Trekkie recipes you can imagine. The Star Trek Cookbook, for one, is available for $17.96 on Amazon.

    And there’s no shortage of other swag, either. ThinkGeek has a long history of selling Star Trek merchandise, ranging from pajamas to jewelry to shot glasses. You can customize your own, sweet bachelor/bachelorette pad, too, so that special someone is especially impressed when you invite him/her over for dinner.

    Try one, two or all of them — it’s bound to be a job majQa’ either way. You can boldly go to ThinkGeek for more details.

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    Image: PandaWhale

    BONUS: 8 Romantic Gifts for Space Lovers