A team of researchers in France has taken a major step towards powering our devices with rechargeable batteries based on an element that is far more abundant and cheaper than lithium. For the first time ever, a battery has been developed using sodium ions in the industry standard "18650" format used in laptop batteries, LED flashlights and the Tesla Model S, among other products.
Most of the keyboards we're familiar with are actually rather complicated pieces of hardware, usually invlolving springs and wiring for dozens of keys, but scientists at the University of Auckland in New Zealand have developed a streamlined, programmable keyboard using a soft, flexible and stretchable type of rubber known as a dielectric elastomer.
A new process in the development of atomically thin materials could advance the development of transparent LED displays, efficient solar cells and tiny transistors. Engineers at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found a simple method to fix the defects common to the promising films, called monolayer semiconductors.
They say that where there's smoke there's fire, but when it comes to electrical systems, by the time the smoke is detected, it's often too late. To raise the alarm early, a team of researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences have developed hybrid sensors that detect gases given off by overheated plastic cables before too much damage can occur.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin may have found a solution to one of the key problems holding back flexible, bendable electronics and soft robotics from mass production. Electronic circuits tend to crack and break when repeatedly subjected to bending or flexing, but a new self-healing gel may automatically repair these flaws as they develop.
You've probably noticed that solar panels sitting on people's roofs appear to be broken up into grids. These grid lines are actually metal contacts and, although they're necessary for conducting the electrical current generated by the underlying semiconductor, they reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the semiconductor layer. Now researchers at Stanford University have developed a way to make these reflective metal contacts almost invisible to incoming light, thereby increasing solar panel efficiency.
The lithium-ion batteries that power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles carry a relatively low individual chance of failure, but the sheer quantity in use everyday means the risk of something going horribly wrong somewhere in the world is quite real. Looking to safeguard against such events, a team of scientists has developed a smart chip that can be embedded inside these batteries to monitor their health, offering a warning when it is at risk of catching fire or exploding.
Nearly five years ago, Iain Sinclair Designs launched a credit card-sized compact camera concept called the Poco Pro. Though it generated quite a bit of interest, component supply difficulties meant that the project quickly ran aground. Now Iain's son, Grant, has updated the design and launched an Indiegogo to bring the new Poco to production. Built around a Raspberry Pi compute module, the pocket-sized "supercomputer" can be a bike-mounted actioncam, hi-res music player, handheld gaming console and portable web browser.
In what seems like the most unlikely of unions, a team of scientists at the Linköping University Laboratory for Organic Electronics are working to combine flowers, bushes, and trees with electronics to produce a breed of botanical cyborgs. Led by Professor Magnus Berggren, the researchers have used semiconductive polymers to create the key components of analog and digital electronic circuits inside a rose plant.
With a few notable exceptions, you'd be forgiven for thinking that laptop audio circuitry is something of a manufacturing afterthought, with decisions on such things made at the very end of the design process when there's very little money left in the pot. Plugging a pair of top drawer headphones into a notebook's (often cheap and cheerful) audio out jack can therefore be a little disappointing, leading many music lovers to look to the USB ports for help. Though some USB digital-to-analog converters and headphone amps can be a good deal bigger than the laptop they're connected to, and have a suitably large price tag to match, smaller options are available. The successfully-crowdfunded ZuperDAC from Zorloo, for example, is about the size of a USB thumb drive and supports audio file resolutions right up to 24-bit/192 kHz. We've spent the last few weeks diving into our hi-res FLAC and WAV vault for some lossless easy listening.