Category: Technology

FANTASTIC VOYAGE is closer to reality — with scallop microbots

In the 1960s science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, audiences thrilled to the idea of shrinking a submarine and the people inside it to microscopic dimensions and injecting it into a person’s bloodstream. At the time it was just fantasy and as fantastic an idea as its title suggested. Today, however, micro-miniature travelers in your body have come one step closer to reality. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with real micro-sized robots that literally swim through your bodily fluids and could be used to deliver drugs or other medical relief in a highly-targeted way…

The microrobots being designed by the team literally are swimmers; they are scallop-like devices designed to paddle through non-Newtonian fluids like blood and plasma (even water behaves in this way at a microscopic level). This means that, unlike swimming in water at a macro-level, these microbots need to move through fluid that has a changing viscosity depending on how much force is exerted upon it.

To do this, the microbots need a method of propulsion that can fit in their tiny bodies as well as take advantage of the non-Newtonian fluid in which they are moving. Importantly, the team is using a reciprocal method of movement to propel their microscallops; but generally this doesn’t work in such fluids, which is why organisms that move around in a biological system use non-reciprocating devices like flagella or cilia to get about.

However these robotic microswimmers actually take advantage of this property and use a scallop swimming motion to move around. The researchers call this process “modulation of the fluid viscosity upon varying the shear rate.” In simple terms, the micro scallops open and close their “shells” to compress the fluid and force it out behind them, which then propels them along.

The fact that the microrobot scallop has no motor to drag around contributes to its exceptionally small size – around 800 microns. This makes it miniscule enough to make its way through your bloodstream, around your lymphatic system, or across the slippery goo on the surface of your eyeballs…

The first and most obvious use would be delivery of medication. The authors are otherwise laid back about suggestions for the future. They’re confident today’s medical researchers are technically hip enough that there will be more potential uses for these microbots than any one team might ever invent.

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Autoblog’s Technology of the Year is the BMW i8

No one’s pretending this is a car for everyone – even if you can afford one. But, it’s proof of concept that a production vehicle can have dynamic levels of performance in combination with better than average fuel consumption.

i8 small
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The winner of Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year award was given this year for not just one technology, but for how a suite of technologies worked together to make one impressive vehicle.

The BMW i8 was named the winner Wednesday night at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles, just outside the Los Angeles Auto Show. Autoblog’s editorial staff agreed that the i8, which drew crowds of attention during our testing days, represents a future of driving that we can’t wait to see happen…

Ultimately, we picked the car that excited us the most. The BMW i8 has a throaty exhaust note when accelerating. It’s got carbon fiber, and a plug-in hybrid system that uses a small 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor. It has through-the-road all-wheel drive, and in Europe it’ll come with laser beams for headlights.

All that, and it’s a massive eye catcher. People stop and stare when they see this car, for good reason. It’s simply gorgeous. For a more in-depth look at the Car and Driver test, click here.

An engine governor holds top speed down to 155mph. 0-60 times are under 4 seconds. Yet, through the C&D testing cycle and track testing they averaged 24mpg. With an electric-only range of 22 miles, this critter can match the mileage of a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid IMHO.

Of course, the Ford ain’t $136K.

Sculptor, jeweler, Bonneville record holder with 1952 Buick


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Like many properties in Española, Jeff Brock’s yard is filled with old, beat-up cars, many of which haven’t run in decades…But a few do, like Bombshell Betty, a 1952 Buick Super Riviera that holds several U.S. land speed records.

Brock has pushed the souped-up vehicle to an average of 165.7 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a record for its class.

A jeweler and sculptor, Brock was successful at racing from the start, even though Bombshell Betty was his first car modified for racing.

He hails from Flint, Mich., and ran an electrical contracting business there that he sold to spend a year traveling the country on a motorcycle. During his travels, he found Northern New Mexico and made his home here 12 years ago…

Brock, a tall man with a solid build and tattoo-covered arms, speaks with a faint Midwestern accent. He says he’s funding his racing through the sales of his artwork…He sees racing as an extension of his art. “It’s about the satisfaction of the creation and the ability to power it under extreme speed,” he says…

In late 2008, he decided to build a car. He bought the shell of what would be become Bombshell Betty…The car had been side-swiped and was a crumpled mess, but today the sleek, silver Buick in his garage bears none of its old scars.

It’s also clear from the lack of headlights, lowered chassis and the air-swoop that resembles a rocket that Betty wasn’t built for regular roadways.

The salt flats are hot and unrelentingly bright. Brock had no idea what to expect. He hadn’t yet driven the car and just hoped it would be able to complete some runs without causing serious bodily harm. But in his first race, he broke a land speed record in his division — 129 mph…

Since then, he’s been back almost every year, tweaking Betty’s design every time and breaking more records in the process. He’s pushed Betty to speeds more than 36 mph faster in the intervening years and thinks she still has more in her. Most recently, he installed a back fin that helps reduce the air drag. Brock never knows if his engineering tweaks will work until he gets to Bonneville.

RTFA. More interesting stuff about the car. And about Jeff Brock. A Renaissance man, New Mexico-style.

Tech giants lobby to curb NSA — before Congress gives away privacy altogther

Trade groups representing Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are pushing the Senate to pass legislation limiting National Security Agency spying before the Republican majority takes control of the chamber.

A coalition of Internet and technology companies, which also include Google and Twitter, support a bill the Senate plans to vote on Nov. 18 to prohibit the NSA from bulk collection of their subscribers’ e-mails and other electronic communications. Many of the companies opposed a Republican-backed bill the House passed in May, saying a “loophole” would allow bulk collection of Internet user data.

Members of the Consumer Electronics Association “have already lost contracts with foreign governments worth millions of dollars,” in response to revelations about U.S. spying, Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the group that represents Apple, Google and Microsoft, wrote in a letter sent to all senators yesterday.

The clock is ticking. If a final bill isn’t reached this year, the process for passing legislation would begin over in January under a new Congress controlled by Republicans, many of whom support government surveillance programs.

U.S. Internet and technology companies are confronting a domestic and international backlash against government spying that may cost them as much as $180 billion in lost business…

The issue emerged in June 2013 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed a program under which the U.S. uses court orders to compel companies to turn over data about their users. Documents divulged by Snowden also uncovered NSA hacking of fiber-optic cables abroad and installation of surveillance tools into routers, servers and other network equipment…

The Senate bill, S. 2685, would end one of the NSA’s most controversial domestic spy programs, through which it collects and stores the phone records of millions of people not suspected of any wrongdoing. In addition to curbing data collection, the legislation would allow companies to publicly reveal the number and types of orders they receive from the government to hand over user data.

RTFA for all the gory economic details. No, you won’t see any participation from tech companies dedicated to skimming the cream off the vat of money tied to the military-industrial complex. And you won’t find a clot of Blue Dog Democrats standing in line to vote for privacy.

Like their peers in today’s Republican Party, conservative Democrats aren’t likely to fight for the personal liberty they all blather about. The concept of “Libertarian” in Congressional politics is thrown around a lot. Mostly by hustlers who read one or two books by Ayn Rand. Perish the thought they stand up to be counted alongside ordinary citizens.

Remembering the engineer and mathematician — Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

Born in Austria in 1914, the mathematically talented Lamarr moved to the US in 1937 to start a Hollywood career. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, she was considered one of cinema’s leading ladies and made numerous films; however, her passion for engineering is far less known today. Her interest in inventing was such that she set up an engineering room in her house complete with a drafting table and wall of engineering reference books.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lamarr wanted to apply her skills to helping the war effort and, motivated by reports of German U-boats sinking ships in the Atlantic, she began investigating ways to improve torpedo technology. After Lamar met composer George Antheil, who had been experimenting with automated control of musical instruments, together they hit on the idea of “frequency hopping.” At the time, radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be detected and jammed by broadcasting interference at the frequency of the control signal, thereby causing the torpedo to go off course. Frequency hopping essentially served to encrypt the control signal because it was impossible for a target to scan and jam all of the frequencies.

Lamarr and Antheil were granted a patent for their invention on August 11, 1942, but the US Navy wasn’t interested in applying their groundbreaking technology until twenty years later when it was used on military ships during a blockade of Cuba in 1962. Lamarr and Antheil’s frequency-hopping concept serves as a basis for the spread-spectrum communication technology used in GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, Lamarr’s part in its development has been largely overlooked and her efforts weren’t recognized until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her an award for her technological contributions. Hedy Lamarr passed away in 2000 at the age of 85.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

207 mph on a bicycle – WTF?

Bravo to François Gissy for continuing to reach truly ridiculous velocities on his rocket-powered bicycle. The amazing Frenchman recently hung on for a series of runs at Circuit Paul Ricard where he bashed through his old record and showed a Ferrari who was boss.

We thought it was crazy enough last year when Nissy hit 163 miles per hour on his rocket bike down a stretch of French highway. Clearly, the cycle’s designer, Arnold Neracher, has kept hard at work on the project, though. In the latest runs, Nissy managed a top speed of 207 mph (333km/h), blowing last year’s results up in a huge puff of smoke.

The speed alone is impressive enough, but seeing how quickly he attains it makes the video truly mind-boggling. The cycle is little more than a white streak going down the track. For sake of comparison, Nissy also lines up for a drag race with the Ferrari to show what quick really looks like – this bike is truly a crotch rocket.

Woo-hoo!

Denmark on track for 100% renewable energy

Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.

Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?

Anyone at the TIMES realize what a wonderful context requires a question like this?

Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.

The trouble, if it can be called that, is that renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed. That is potentially a huge benefit in the long run.

But as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day.

That can render conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining…

The governments have offered short-term subsidies, knowing that if they force companies to operate these plants at a loss, it will be a matter of time before the companies start going bankrupt.

Throughout Europe, governments have come to the realization that electricity markets are going to have to be redesigned for the new age, but they are not pursuing this task with urgency. A bad redesign could itself throw customers into the dark, after all, as happened in California a decade ago…

Amazing. An adult supposedly knowledgeable about power generation, pricing and, yes, price manipulation – who apparently never heard of Enron. The corrupt company with even more corrupt capitalists at the helm who deliberately induced many of California’s so-called power shortages.

The government is…well aware that it needs to find a way out of this box. Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago…

So the trick now is to get the market redesign right. A modest version of reform would essentially attach a market value, and thus a price, to standby capacity. But Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, told me he was tempted by a more ambitious approach. That would involve real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

As Denmark, like other countries, installs more smart meters and smart appliances able to track those prices with no human intervention, one can imagine a system in which demand would adjust smoothly to the available supply. Most people would not care if their water heater were conspiring with other water heaters to decide when to switch on and off, as long as hot water reliably came out of the tap.

Has Mr. Gillis ever traveled, lived among ordinary folks in Europe? First time I ran into tankless hot water heaters was in Switzerland – in 1971. Prices gave been coming down as efficiencies rose – even for electric models instead of gas-fired. We installed an on-demand electric hot water heater in our home this summer for less than $400 for the unit. Our household electric bill is down 20-30%. Payback in one year.

Yet, even if Denmark can figure out a proper design for the electric market, it has another big task to meet its 2050 goal: squeezing the fossil fuels out of transportation…Mr. Petersen told me he still felt electrification of cars was the way to go, but the cars themselves were not really ready.

“We need longer range and lower prices before this becomes a good option,” he said. “Technology needs to save us here.”

Fortunately, there are more than one or two automobile manufacturers dedicated to resolving that portion of the questions asked. Builders ranging from Volkswagen/Audi/Porsche to Mercedes, Nissan/Renault, target less expensive electric cars with ranges extending 250 to 550 miles decades before the 2050 renewable electrification target date.

At the mid-price point and up for big luxury cars Tesla is already there.

An important footnote BTW. Save the arguments about “manageable” small countries vs what is needed to change over the United States. It can be done one state at a time, one region at a time. Denmark is bigger than a number of states. So is the size of that nation’s population.

The important bit is that the citizens and politicians are also smarter, sensible and willing to change. That’s the significant comparison.

HL Tau and its planet-forming disk


Click to enlargeALMA/C.Brogan, B.Saxton

ALMA image of young star HL Tau and its planet-forming disk. Notice the multiple rings and gaps. This means planets are now emerging in the disk, and they are in the process of sweeping their orbits clear of dust and gas.

Thanks, Mike, Ursarodinia – GMTA! :)

Cummins-Peterbilt ‘SuperTruck’ achieves benchmark 10.7 mpg

This article is several months old; but, just as relevant. Lots of creativity active in the space; but, no one with a critter like this, tested and traveling the country as a rolling testament to improved fuel economy for big rig freight haulers.

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Cummins and Peterbilt say tweaks to the big rig are a significant step forward all by themselves, considering a fully loaded, 64,000-pound class 8 truck like this would have been seen as OK if it netted 5.5-6.5 mpg just a few years ago.

Improvements for the SuperTruck include an average 75-percent increase in fuel economy, 43-percent cut to greenhouse gas emissions, and 86-percent increase in freight efficiency. These numbers were said to be “real world” indicators based on 24-hour, head-to-head testing running at 64 mph against a 2009 baseline truck.

Behind the SuperTruck program is the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) already working ahead of Obama’s latest mandates, and for which the truck was on display as a symbol of progress…

Gains were attributed to the Peterbilt Model 579 with “best-in-class” aerodynamic efficiency. The Cummins ISX15 engine converts exhaust heat to additional crankshaft-turning power, and the system is controlled electronically to maximize fuel usage. Of course a host of diesel exhaust after treatment is also employed.

Weight was also pared off of the big truck. Its 312-mile test route was the same course that saw just under 10 mpg for the first version of the Peterbilt SuperTruck two years ago.

At today’s diesel prices, Cummins and Peterbilt estimate an annual fuel savings of $27,000 over a 120,000 mile year.

Full disclosure, I own enough Cummins shares to pay for 2 new tyres for my pickup truck in dividends.

There’s an article over here from truckinginfo.com which delves into the details of many of the tweaks.

Ghost Peleton

 
In the public art performance Ghost Peloton, dancers and cyclists don LED lightsuits and hurtle through the dark in a jaw-dropping choreographed spectacle. The performance couples a night ride by LED-lit cyclists following the 2014 Tour de France route through Yorkshire, England, with illuminated dancing by performers from Phoenix Dance Theatre. The custom lightsuits worn by the participants can be controlled remotely, resulting in stunning synchronized patterns.

Ghost Peloton took place at the 2014 Yorkshire Festival, last summer, and was documented in beautiful night photography and a remarkable film. The performance is a collaboration of public art organization NVA and Phoenix Dance Theatre, in partnership with the transportation charity Sustrans.

Beautiful and creative — and great videography.

Thanks, Ursarodinia