The Possibility of Pliable Electronics

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Panasonic has recently developed a soft, flexible, and stretchable polymer resin insulating film which stretches 2.5 times its length and returns to its original shape. It can be folded and adapts to varying free-form surfaces, as to reducing existing design constraints.

The possibilities for this type of technology could be endless! For an example, it would enable the construction of soft and stretchable electronic devices that are adaptable to various forms such as clothing and the body. This would open the window to many wearable technologies, and make clothing “smart” clothing.

Overcoming the Numerous Challenges

Polyurethane and rubber materials need to overcome challenges associated with adhesion, heat resistance, and the fact that they are brittle. Panasonic’s insulating material, made of thermosetting resin, is, both flexible and stretchable.

Devices implemented on clothing or worn on the body should be made of materials that withstand repeated use and allow no change in mechanical properties even after repeated deformation. In normal circumstances, materials subjected to repeated stretch and restore would tend to degrade in mechanical strength and recovery performance. Going beyond simple softening, Panasonic employed a unique resin design technology that makes optimal use of the characteristic three-dimensional cross-linked structure of thermosetting resin. By relaxing internal stresses arising from stretch, the newly developed insulating material returns to its original shape and withstands repeated use

Usually, copper or other metal wiring would break when its base material stretches or contracts. Due to this problem, it is not easy to use metal wiring to form complex circuits. Furthermore, metal fatigue resulting from deformation makes it difficult to achieve metal wiring that withstands repeated stretch. Panasonic has developed a technology to combine a stretchable resin as a binder with a silver filler. The result is conductive paste that retains a conductive path, hence conductivity, even after stretch and restore.

It will be interesting to see where this technology’s future lies, and how it will evolve over time.

The Internet of Things in 2016

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For 2015, it seemed as though the world around us got a whole lot smarter. We are now experiencing “smarter” homes, cars, and things we use every day. What will 2016 bring?

Market demand shifts from consumer to enterprise

The IoT reached everyone’s consciousness in 2015 a little more than it did in 2014. For the coming year, many industries will want to get ahold of these IoT. Away from the slightly gimmicky consumer applications such as smart homes and intelligent vehicles, connected technology has the potential to truly reinvent a wide number of industries, which can benefit from a huge range of advantages provided by IoT technology.

“While the Internet of Things hype reached its peak in the consumer markets this past year, 2016 will be the year of IoT in the enterprise market. Currently, we are seeing a slump in sales for the once buzz worthy, consumer IoT devices, such as fitness trackers, whereas just the opposite is happening for commercial IoT products,” explains Jason Shepherd, director of IoT strategy and partnerships at Dell.

He continues: “As companies begin understanding the value of IoT, commercial IoT solutions will gain traction and the enterprise will emerge as the largest market for IoT adoption.”

The importance of security

All of these things, and all of the data they produce, will need to be secured, and safely stored, in order to ensure both businesses and customers stay protected. The new connected IoT world will also need to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make educated decisions about the products they purchase, including the level of security offered by new products and solutions.

Big Data will become more profitable, and even bigger

More and more data is being produced by the increasing number of devices connected to the IoT. Now the challenge is to determine what to do with it. It has been forecasted that there will be 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ used worldwide in 2016, which means there is a huge amount of ‘big data’ being created each day, all of which needs to be analyzed and stored.

This explosion is also creating a need for further investment in IoT infrastructure, as more bandwidth and power is needed to cope with all the information.

The communication between technology and humans

Wearable technology offers the most direct way for us to interact with the IoT, providing a wealth of useful information that can then be uploaded and analyzed.

Wearable technology can play a big part in industry, allowing workers to quickly visualize and analyze situations without the need to be in danger or at risk. Heads Up Displays (HUD), smart gloves, and wearable cameras all have the possibility to revolutionize working in a wide range of industries.

The evolution towards the “Internet of Everything”

The IoT could soon be directly affecting every point of our lives. From health to work to travel to entertainment, the possibilities are truly endless.

The Attack of the Drones

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This past Monday marked the first day that drone owners could register their drones with the FAA. And while it is expected that many drone owners think that they can get away with not registering, the program is somewhat of a success as the FAA has seen 45,000 registrations within the first 48 hours.

If you own a drone (or any model aircraft) that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds (including payloads like cameras), you now have to register with the FAA. Registration will be free until January 21. After that, it’ll cost $5. Registrations are valid for three years and if you don’t register, you risk penalties of up to $27,500 and even up to three years of jail time.

The FAA announced that “The agency has seen strong initial demand, with more than 45,000 registrations completed since the site opened for business Monday afternoon. According to industry estimates, as many as 400,000 small UAS could be sold during the holidays.”

However with 400,000 drones estimated to be sold and in addition to the number already available, 45,000 seems like a drop in the ocean but a good sign all the same.

Understanding the Evolution of the Universe Through 3D Printing

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When you think of the capabilities of 3D-printing technology, you might think of iPad stands, guitars, lawnmowers and cars. However, a physicist from the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe a little bit better. How it is structured, the evolution of cosmic structures within it, and galaxy formation.

“These problems in cosmology are very difficult to visualize, even using computer graphics,” said Miguel Aragón-Calvo, a visiting assistant researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “By 3D-printing them I am able to interact directly with the models and ‘see’ the problem at once. In some cases this results in ‘eureka’ moments.”

Aragón-Calvo is trying to develop an automated method to identify and track the cosmic web across time in computer simulations.

“This is usually done by identifying structures at different times and then somehow linking structures in adjacent times,” he said. “Current techniques using this approach are far from optimal.”

By 3D-printing a simpler 2D simulation and assigning the third dimension to time he realized that this was in fact the solution to his problem.

“Tridimensional cosmic structures can be easily identified and tracked as four-dimensional objects where time is taken as another spatial variable,” he said. “Even though I had visualized the cosmic web many times before in the computer screen, the solution only became obvious once I held the model in my hand.”

Aragón-Calvo believes that tactile information gained when holding a model of a problem in the hand plays an important role in how we understand the problem.

Netflix Plans to De-clog the Internet’s Bandwidth

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At peak hours, Netflix makes up a whopping 37% of all internet traffic in North America, which is a huge congestion problem. Now it appears that it may have found an answer.

Netflix has been quietly testing a new way to deliver all the streaming content on its servers, without sacrificing video-quality for movies. Each episode of “The Office” was encoded at several different qualities which could shift according to variations in a customer’s connection. That way it can max out on the actual quality the viewer sees without causing artifacts or pixelization. Years ago, when they adopted this algorithm, Netflix developed what’s called a bitrate ladder. Some of those gains come from changing that up and compressing things like cartoons down further and more efficiently, while making sure that things like action movies still get all the love they deserve.

Without seeing this plan in action, we can’t yet say whether the process truly makes for a better or worse viewing experience; maybe the difference is as indiscernible as Netflix claims. But that “one-size-fits-all” fixed bitrate ladder didn’t account for scenes with high camera noise film grain noise, meaning that even a 5800 kbps stream would still “exhibit blockiness in the noisy areas”.

Netflix is now busy re-encoding its entire library, which is a massive undertaking. Also on some slow connections the video quality often dropped to 480p. Previously, the same watcher would have just been able to watch the show with a resolution of 720×480, and still used more data.

As a whole, the new model should give Netflix customers better-looking content while using 20% less bandwidth.

The Future of Human Skin Detection Technology

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For the purpose of locating people in aerial search and rescue operations, color-image based systems are excellent, but simply fall short when it comes to differentiating between actual human skin and objects with similar hues. To overcome this problem, researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) have developed a novel two-dimensional feature space which uses the spectral absorption characteristics of melanin, hemoglobin and water to better characterize human skin.

Spectral imaging systems use information from the entire electromagnetic spectrum to provide digital images with much greater information per pixel than traditional cameras. Feature spaces in a spectral imaging system are vectors that numerically represent an object’s characteristics.

The AFIT research team used feature spaces to key in on specific constituents of human tissue by using a skin index concerned with how water and melanin’s presence in skin manifests at two different wavelengths in the near-infrared region. These changes would cut the overall cost of hyperspectral-based search and rescue systems to a seventh of what they currently cost.

Creating New Technology to Understand Cancer Growth

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Engineers at the University of Toronto are “unrolling” the mysteries of cancer… literally. They have developed a way to grow cancer cells in the form of a rolled-up sheet that mimics the 3D environment of a tumor, yet can also be taken apart in seconds. The platform offers a way to speed up the development of new drugs and therapies and ask new questions about how cancer cells behave.

The difficulties of studying cancer cells in a traditional petri dish are well known. Growing tumors in petri dishes is a standard approach for this kind of work, but it has a problem: in a real tumor, cells near the center of the mass have less access to oxygen and nutrients, and these subtle differences are tough to replicate in a flat dish. Another approach, growing cancer cells on building blocks made of porous sponge, results in a 3D model with differing oxygen levels but leaves researchers with discontinuous blocks of cells to keep track of.

The rolled-up cancer strip, on the other hand, is essentially a 3D model that can be laid out in 2D. Its cells get less and less oxygen along the strip on a smooth gradient towards the center of the device, making it easier to analyze. Because of this, it can also be a boon for basic research into what makes a normal cell turn cancerous.

Personalized cancer treatment is a growing field. At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, fruit flies are being modified to have the same genetic defects as individual cancer patients, so they can be tested for cancer treatments that might work on the patient.

Social Media’s Benefit Magnified in Wake of Paris Attacks

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Following the horrific attacks in Paris that has claimed more than 100 lives, people around the world took to social media looking for their loved ones. Social media has put forth tools to help people in times of crisis.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, and it has activated it five times in the past year after natural disasters.

Twitter kept followers informed by highlighting top news tweets, as well as well wishes posted by people around the world. It also turned into a message board Friday night with information to help people in Paris get to safety. The hashtag #PorteOuverte or “open door,” became a vehicle for offering shelter to those in Paris who needed it. Twitter has revealed that 1 million tweets were associated with the hashtag in 10 hours. The hashtag #StrandedInUS gained a lot of traction in the United States to help French people whose flights had been canceled.

Be Comfortable at Work with the Altwork Station

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Maybe you slouch in your chair. Maybe you have tried to make using a standing desk a habit. Maybe, your preferred working position is curled up on a sofa. The California startup Altwork has what may be the solution: the Altwork Station.

While adjustable sit/stand desks have been done before, the Altwork Station takes things to the next level: it’s an integrated workstation combining seat, desk, and monitor stand, and it’s all electrically controlled to support not just sitting and standing but also a horizontal position: you lie back with your monitor or monitors above you. The keyboard and mouse stay affixed to your desk through the magical power of magnets.

At the push of a button, the desk can tweak the position of everything or fully shift back into sitting or standing. As the back moves, the monitor moves with your eyes, the desk moves with your hands, and the back headrest shifts slightly in or out to best support your head.

It’s available now to pre-order for a still-steep discounted price of $3,900, but once that promotional price period is over, the Altwork Station will increase to an eye-popping $5,900. The company says its trying to price things in the same realm as a really high-quality mechanically adjustable desk alongside a similarly excellent chair and a monitor arm, but no matter how you slice it that’s a lot of cash.

Ultimately, it’s a product that’s hard to recommend to most normal people, but it’s also a fascinating engineering study. It’ll be interesting to see if Altwork can find an audience with this product — and if it does, hopefully it can bring some of this technology to more people at a lower price point down the line.

Google Investing in African Wind Power

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Recently, Google announced its newest investment: a wind power project in Kenya that, when completed, will be the continent’s biggest wind farm. The agreement includes buying a 12.5% stake in Africa’s largest wind project, Kenya’s Lake Turkana, from Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

The 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind park is set to about 15% of Kenya’s electricity needs, based on current generation capacity. The nearly $1 billion wind project offers the scale of infrastructure that international organizations say Africa needs for the continent to unleash its vast economic potential. Annual economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade, and an increased energy production would boost growth even more.

Google so far has committed $2 billion to 22 clean energy projects, including the continent’s largest solar project in South Africa. The company sees a big opportunity in fast-growing markets with rich renewable energy resources, and the Lake Turkana project would help reduce Kenya’s reliance on fossil fuels and emergency diesel generation.

Google and Vestas have previously cooperated on the 270-megawatt Alta Wind Energy Centre in southern California and the powering of a Google data center in Finland.