In what’s being called “a developmental shift for Ford,” the motor company has given their Millennial audience a challenge. More specifically, Ford’s challenging computer and electrical engineering students from the University of Michigan to grow it’s in-car connectivity and communications-and-entertainment system, Sync.
Ford hopes that the same twenty-something audience they are reaching out to via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, will bring cloud computing and social networking “to the dashboard.”
Recently, Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity Corp., revealed the technology his company is developing that will make the use of power cables and cords virtually nonexistent. Or so he hopes.
In July, Giler presented at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, England. He showed off an Apple iPhone and Google G1 phone that were able to charge wirelessly, as well as a commercially available television that operated sans power cables. Imagine it: a world where wires aren’t getting tangled at your feet or ugly cords aren’t draped across rooms. It’s possible, and Giler believes it can be used for technology ranging from phones to electric cars. You could drive your car into the garage and it would automatically start charging!
The technology is based on work by physicist Marin Soljačić at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and uses resonance to accomplish its goals. When two objects have the same magnetic resonance, they can exchange energy through their fields, which can then be turned into electrical power.
To accomplish energy transfer, the company uses coils that have the same resonant frequency. One coil is embedded in the wall/ceiling/floor and plugged into an electric source. The other coil is built into your device, whether it be a laptop, phone, television, etc. When the device is within range of the main coil, energy would begin to flow between the two devices automatically, and a voltage would begin to build up in the device, charging it up, no plugs or cords needed!
The technology is perfectly safe because it uses magnetic fields. Depending on the device, anywhere from milliwatts to kilowatts of power can be transferred between coils. And, it can be transferred over a range of centimeters to several meters. The energy is also transferable through most building materials (yes, it will go through the wall or ceiling) and can bend around metal objects that would otherwise block the magnetic waves.
While the idea of wireless transfer of energy has been around for a while (Nikola Tesla, an electrical and mechanical engineer who lived from 1856 to 1943, hypothesized we would one day be working electronics wirelessly), this demonstration of practical use is a huge step in the process, and this is the first time a company has unveiled plans to commercialize the technology. One day in the near future (WiTricity is saying possibly within a year and a half), we won’t have to fumble around with our power cords or desperately search for our phone chargers!
To learn more about the science behind WiTricity’s wireless powering, visit their website at www.witricity.com.
Computers. Big screen TVs. Air conditioners. The modern-day conveniences that many take for granted are starting to take a toll on our current energy grid. Demand has skyrocketed for the past few years and the grid is struggling to keep up. Blackouts and brownouts have started to occur with more and more frequency.
That’s where the smart grid steps in.
Smart grid technology is the new way of thinking. The concept has been around for years, but recently, smart grids have been touted as the environmentally friendly alternative when receiving your electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the current grid were just 5% more efficient, then the energy we’d save would equal eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions of 53 million cars. With the federal stimulus package specifically setting aside funds for green technologies, smart grids have gotten a giant helping hand in the form of political support. Already, cities like Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, have begun testing out the benefits of smart grid technology.
One aspect of smart grids is the automatic monitoring of systems. Instead of waiting for a customer call about a blackout, utility companies will be able to pinpoint and respond to problems faster. Smart grids also track energy consumption and mark periods of high and low usage. Companies will then charge variable rates on electricity consumption: more for higher demand periods and less when energy usage is at a low. Homeowners and businesses would have a “smart meter” to track when and how much energy they are using. Smart meters can also provide consumers with efficiency advice, real-time price information, and even coordinate household appliances so they automatically take advantage of non-peak hours, saving you money. Experts expect this to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability in service.
The smart grid is a two-way communication. Not only will it provide energy to consumers, but it will allow energy to be put back into the system. So the solar panels on your roof could be helping the neighbor down the street. This will allow greener energy producers, such as wind turbines, to be integrated into the system with greater ease.
While the smart grid system reality is still years away, companies and higher institutions of learning have begun to do their part to speed up the process.
Whirlpool announced that they plan to make all their electronically controlled appliances smart grid compatible by 2015, while working to create an open, global standard for appliances to transmit and receive signals by 2010.
The Illinois Institute of Technology is partnering up with the Galvin Electricity Initiative to bring a smart grid—called Perfect Power—to power the campus. IIT will be working on the grid through 2013 and predicts that it will pay for itself in savings within five years.
Even Google is jumping on the smart grid wagon. Currently in development, the Google PowerMeter will act as a liaison to smart meters, relaying users’ information about electricity consumption and what appliances are using it. Google employees have been testing out this new software, and Google hopes that they will be able to roll out the application to the public in the near future.
They’ve made electronics that can bend. They’ve made electronics that can stretch. And now, they’ve reached the ultimate goal: electronics that can be subjected to any complex deformation, including twisting.
Yonggang Huang, Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and John Rogers, the Flory-Founder Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have improved their so-called “pop-up” technology to create circuits that can be twisted. Such electronics could be used in places where flat, unbending electronics would fail, like on the human body.
Electronic components historically have been flat and unbendable because silicon, the principal component of all electronics, is brittle and inflexible. Any significant bending or stretching renders an electronic device useless.
Huang and Rogers developed a method to fabricate stretchable electronics that increases the stretching range (as much as 140%) and allows the user to subject circuits to extreme twisting. This emerging technology promises new flexible sensors, transmitters, photovoltaic and microfluidic devices, and other applications for medical and athletic use.
The partnership—where Huang focuses on theory and Rogers focuses on experiments—has been fruitful for the past several years. Back in 2005, the pair developed a one-dimensional, stretchable form of single-crystal silicon that could be stretched in one direction without altering its electrical properties.
Next, the researchers developed a new kind of technology that allowed circuits to be placed on a curved surface. That technology used an array of circuit elements approximately 100 micrometers squared that were connected by metal “pop-up bridges.”
The circuit elements were so small that when placed on a curved surface, they didn’t bend, similar to how buildings don’t bend on the curved Earth. The system worked because these elements were connected by metal wires that popped up when bent or stretched.
In the research reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Huang and Rogers took their pop-up bridges and made them into an “S” shape, which, in addition to bending and stretching, have enough give that they can be twisted as well. “For a lot of applications related to the human body—like placing a sensor on the body—an electronic device needs not only to bend and stretch but also to twist,” says Huang. “So we improved our pop-up technology to accommodate this. Now it can accommodate any deformation.
Movie characters from the “Terminator” to the “Bionic Woman” use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs. Off the screen, virtual displays have been proposed for more practical purposes-visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go.
Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.
“Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” says Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. “This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it’s extremely promising.” The results were recently presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of Parviz’s now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif.
There are many possible uses for virtual displays. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle’s speed projected onto the windshield. Video-game companies could use the contact lenses to completely immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. And for communications, people on the go could surf the Internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see.“People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about. Our goal is to demonstrate the basic technology and make sure it works and that it’s safe,” states Parviz, who heads a multi-disciplinary UW group that is developing electronics for contact lenses.
Ideally, installing or removing the bionic eye would be as easy as popping a contact lens in or out, and once installed the wearer would barely know the gadget was there, Parviz explains.
The prototype contact lens does not correct the wearer’s vision, but the technique could be used on a corrective lens, Parviz says. And all the gadgetry won’t obstruct a person’s view.“There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation,” Parviz states. Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens.