An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.
Thermoelectric materials work by converting differences in temperature into electric voltage. If two parts of such a material experience significantly different temperatures, electrons within it will flow from the warmer part to the cooler, creating an electrical current in the process. Using these materials, electricity could be generated by the temperature differences on the inside and outside of jackets
, within car engines
, or even between the human body and the air around it
... just to list a few examples. An international team of scientists have now discovered that an existing material, which behaves like a liquid but isn't
one, displays particularly impressive thermoelectric properties.
Japan’s Hitachi Kokusai Electric has developed a surveillance system that can automatically detect a face in either a provided photo or video footage, then search for that same face in other video provided by networked cameras. While such facial recognition systems have been seen before, this one is able to compare the target face against others at an astounding rate of 36 million faces per second.
Aerogels are among the lightest solid materials in existence, and are created by replacing the liquid component of a gel with a gas – this results in their extremely low density, and has earned them the nickname of “frozen smoke.” Now, scientists have created a new type of aerogel that is inspired by the feet of the water strider. The material is reportedly so buoyant, that a boat made from one pound (454 grams) of it could carry about 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of cargo.
Nobody likes potholes, but it often seems that they’re one of those hardships we just have to put up with until they get almost impassable ... after all, it’s a big deal to send out a road crew who will have to block one or two lanes of traffic for half an hour or more, while they risk being struck by inattentive drivers. Apparently, however, pothole-filling needn’t be such an involved process. Cities now have the option of using the Python 5000, which is a vehicle that is operated by one person from inside its cab, and that can patch a two-foot (0.6-meter) pothole in about two minutes.
When it comes to groups that work together to get a job done, ants have pretty much got the process perfected. That’s why computer scientist Marco Dorigo studied the creatures’ behavior, and created his Ant Colony Optimization
model – an algorithmic technique that can be applied to human endeavors, when efficiency is the order of the day. Scientists from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics have now applied these algorithms to a swarm of 50 autonomous shuttle robots working in a parts warehouse, in an effort to create a new and better type of materials-handling system.
Scientists have discovered that lignin, a plentiful byproduct of the pulp and paper industry, can be used to store an electrical charge. They've used the material to create a prototype lignin-based rechargeable battery, and suggest that it could one day be used as a less expensive, safer alternative to the precious metals currently utilized in battery cathodes.
Neurons, the nerve cells that send and receive electrical signals within the body, are one of those things that most of us probably don’t give a lot of thought to. Educational entrepreneurs Timothy Marzullo and Gregory Gage, however, think about them a lot. They think about them so much, in fact, that they’ve designed a gadget that lets anyone listen to the neural electrical activity of bugs, and conduct a series of interesting experiments. It’s called the SpikerBox, and oh yeah – in order to use it, you have to take the leg off of a cockroach.
Women will sometimes sacrifice the comfort and well-being of their feet, in order to wear fashionable shoes – it’s reached the point of becoming a TV sit-com cliché. The European ShopInstantShoe consortium, however, is looking to put an end to that scenario. No, the group doesn’t want to ban fashionable shoes, but it has been developing technology for making them more wearer-friendly. The result is a system that could be installed in shoe stores, which would allow women to get shoes custom-fitted to their feet, on the spot.
Scientists have succeeded in endowing graphene with yet another useful property. Already, it is the thinnest, strongest and stiffest material ever measured, while also proving to be an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. These qualities have allowed it to find use in everything from transistors
to anti-corrosion coatings
. Now, two materials engineers from Stanford University have used computer models to show how it could also be turned into a piezoelectric material – this means that it could generate electricity when mechanically stressed, or change shape when subjected to an electric current.
Ask someone to picture a robotic roving vehicle, and chances are they’ll think of something with wheels, like the Mars Rover. If an alien civilization were sending a craft to explore Earth, however, they might be better off using a boat – after all, the majority of our planet’s surface is covered with water. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, similarly has a pretty wet surface, as it contains lakes of liquid hydrocarbon. Wolfgang Fink, an engineer with the University of Arizona, has designed an aquatic rover for exploring those lakes.