Unlimited Source of Energy- As good as it Sounds

In recent decades, humans realized that fossil fuels are a finite source of energy that not only pollutes the environment but is also difficult to extract (it can even be dangerous). Because of this, there has been a huge increase in the development of new ways to extract energy from other sources such as solar, wind, geothermal etc. Following this trend, researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have developed a diode that generates electricity using infrared energy.

Not all sources of energy have been exploited by humans, and infrared energy is one of them. This was mainly because of the small wavelength of these waves which made it hard to harvest energy. Unlike, solar power or wind, infrared energy can be harvested 24 hours a day because it does not depend on day and night or weather conditions, and unlike solar power it is not limited only to the visible spectrum.

The diode works by using a rectifier (semiconductor diode) to transform alternating signals received by special antennas into electric current. The diode will harvest infrared radiation and waste heat from industrial processes and does this by transitioning quadrillionth- of- a- second wave signals into useful electricity.

The project leader Atif Shamim said :

There is no commercial diode in the world that can operate at such high frequency

that’s why they decided to use quantum tunneling to solve the problem. They used a bowtie- shaped Nano-antenna holding the insulator film between two metallic arms to generate the fields needed for tunneling. One of the researchers mentioned that one of the biggest challenges was working in a nanoscale that require precise alignment for it to work.

These new methods might be still less efficient than fossil fuels, but with the development of the technology used they could improve and be just as efficient, or even more. Additionally, the energy provided by the device is clean and comes from a renewable source. Infrared radiation is emitted all around us at all times and its estimated to be millions of Gigawatts per second. The device has already been tested and it successfully harvested energy solely from radiation and not from thermal effects, and as the project leader said “This is just the beginning- a proof concept”.


Bosch BMA400 – Did you thought accelerometers couldn’t get any better?

Accelerometers are used in almost all fields, and they have been growing in popularity in IoT and wearables. Nowadays, those devices require a of energy, and because of this, they need to be constantly charged or batteries need to be constantly changed which causes users to lose interest, or to be limited by this problem. Size might be a problem too because some MEMs (micromechanical systems) acceleration sensors are too big to be implemented in everyday portable objects. In June 2018, Bosch will unveil their BMA400, a sensor that extends battery life and has a huge range of capabilities in a small size.

BMA400 is capable of measuring tilt, orientation, tap/double tap, and step counting (with activity recognition) using a low- noise measurement of accelerations in three perpendicular axes. Additionally, the device only uses 10% of the energy current comparable devices use which makes it useful for applications where charging is impossible. For example, this device could be used for package tracking over long distances, saving power by putting itself on sleep mode until something happens (the package is mishandled) which could compromise the quality of the product inside the package.

Other applications include home automation (automatic air conditioning that considers status (open or closed) of windows and doors), security (burglar detection), and sports. The BMA400 includes an activity detection function that can differentiate between walking, running, and standing. All this could be applied into wearables, and because of its size it could be a game changer in hybrid smartwatches (traditional watch with added smarts in a discrete way).

BMA400 measure only 2 mm x 2 mm x 0.95 mm, and device data can be retrieved over longer intervals (FIFO buffer of 1kB). Other specifications include:

  • 12-bit digital resolution
  • Output data rate (ODR) of 12.5 Hz to 800 Hz
  • Supply voltage of 1.71 V up to 3.6 V

Complete list of specifications can be found in the official website.

This improvements in an already widely used technology could result in advances in thousands of different devices, and in the implementation of this sensor in devices where it couldn’t be fitted before. Improving battery means improving product usability which results in happy users who can now use their device for longer periods of time. Also, makers and hobbyists could now apply this technology to new devices using the increased battery life as an advantage.



Revolutionizing Electric Field Measuring Techniques

Nowadays, electrical fields are being used not only in electrical engineering, but also for industrial, weather forecasting, safety, and medical applications. As a result, the need for a precise electric field strength measurement device has become increasingly high, and many investigations have devoted their resources to creating such device. TU Wien has developed a small electric field sensor that is much simpler, and most importantly, it is less prone to distortion.

There are a lot of measurement systems in the market. However, most of them are big, depend on complex surrounding calibration procedures, or the device is grounded to provide a reference measurement. All these factors cause distortion that affects the measurement. Additionally, dielectric devices develop surfaces charges that also lead to distortion, and conductive metallic components can have the same effect.

The sensor made by TU Wien is made from silicon forming a small, grid shaped structure fixed onto a small spring, so that when the silicon is exposed to an electrical field a force is exerted on the silicon crystals causing the spring to compress or extend. Another grid was added to make these slight changes visible. The silicon grid is lined up, so when movement occurs, light can pass through which is then measured and used to calculate the electrical field. It can only measure strength not direction, and it can be used for fields of up to 1 k Hz.  The silicon structures are just a few micrometers in diameter making it much smaller than conventional sensors.

This method of measurement is new, Andreas Kainzs from the Institute of Sensor and Actuator Systems says that in the future they would be able to achieve even better results as the measuring technique matures. The sensor is a micromechanical systems (MEMs) that has the potential for replacing the measuring techniques used nowadays. This device is not only less prone to distortion, but also portable, easy to transport and capable of fitting into wearables. The prototype has can measure weak fields of less than 200 volts per meter. This means that in terms of measuring capabilities, this sensor can easily compete with those already in the market. The sensor is not currently being sold, and TU Wien plans on keep improving the device.


HoneyWell´s Small, High Performance Pressure Sensor

Honeywell is a technology company working towards connecting the world. They are currently working on connected homes, buildings, plants (such as refineries), warehouse, workers, aircrafts, vehicles, and healthcare while addressing challenges such as energy, safety, security, productivity, and global urbanization. To enhance product performance, Honeywell has designed a MicroPreassure board mount pressure sensor measuring only 5 mm x 5 mm.

Nowadays, the market is filled with low performance cheap sensors or high performance expensive sensors which do not meet the need for fully functional cheap sensors for industrial and medical applications. Honeywell’s MPR is a small piezo resistive silicon pressure sensor with digital output, and it is the smallest ported pressure sensor in the market. This device was designed to be easily installed and to work without the need for external amplification. MPR MicroPreassure sensor has amplification, compensation, and low power consumption. Additionally, the device has high accuracy, it is liquid tolerant, meets moisture sensitivity level 1 requirements, and it is durable (it has strong metal ports).

This device could not only help improve already existing technologies, but also it would allow for this type of sensors to be introduced in new objects such as wearables, or common objects for IoT applications. In medical industry the sensor can help reduce the size of bulky devices and may even allow the patients to own their own monitoring device at home. MicroPreassure was specifically developed for high volume applications such as appliances, non-invasive blood pressure machines etc. For circuit designers and engineers, this sensor gives the opportunity to reduce the size in all the devices by using less space in boards and PCBs.

It was designed to meet high volume requirements (250,000 units/year), so with a low production cost and a really good performance, designers can now include these sensors to reduce their device price and to give them optimal performance. The user will have access to 1.5% accuracy and 13 bits of effective resolution which makes the processes more efficient. As a result, depending on the design, the device may be less prone to errors, require less power, or make less noise.


Face Recognition Chip revolutionizing Smartphone Security

Back in 2007 Apple released the first generation of iPhone which is considered as the first smartphone as those we use today. Before that, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) dominated the market and some even included network connectivity, the ability to send and receive calls, and password unlocking. The iPhone inherited the ability to be unlocked with a 4-digit personal password which allowed users to protect their personal information (photos, contacts, etc.). As it evolved, so did the security concerns regarding stolen phones and the new gained ability of thieves to unlock them despite the password. As a result, smartphone security had to be improved, different operating systems opted for different solutions such as 6- digits passwords, patterns, and finger print unlocking.

Using finger print to unlock a smartphone is the latest security trend, and almost all smartphones in the market now posses that feature. It is not just safer, but also faster and more convenient for users. However, new researches from New York University and Michigan State University suggest that fake digitally composed fingerprints can easily fool smartphones. The latest iPhone comes with FaceID feature which uses a true Depth selfie camera to scan your face and unlock your phone. Infineon together with pmdtechnologies AG developed a 3D image sensor chip which makes the face unlock feature smarter, faster, and more reliable.

The chip is based on ToF technology which offers advantages in performance, size, and power consumption of mobile devices. The Real3 chip has 38,000 pixels with each one featuring the Suppression Background Illumination circuitry, and includes the receiving optics and VCSEL illumination in a footprint of less than 12×8 mm. It is tuned to work at 940nm infrared light sources which results in improvements in outdoor performance. The product was displayed at CES 2018, and the company claims that they are ready for mass production,

Face recognition is growing in popularity and market forecasts expect an increase to roughly 290 million units in 2019 in smartphones with 3D sensing functionality. This technology seems to be safe, but questions have arisen regarding functionality in different scenarios. For example, can a thief unlock your phone by forcefully pointing it at you? Can an accident victim have problems unlocking their phone? Can the police unlock your phone without a warrant? Smartphone face recognition is still unexplored territory that users along side with developers will have to figure out just as with any other technology. It also offers a wide range of opportunities for developers to make safer payment options.


milliDelta Robot- High speed and Precision in a Compact Design

Delta robots are machines with three arms designed to move at high speeds and perform precise tasks. The three arms are connected to a universal join at the base, and the device uses parallelograms that restrict the movement avoiding rotation. As a result, they can move in x, y, and z plane and have high acceleration because it’s made of a light material. They gained popularity in factories for assembly and packaging, so modern devices have been designed to move in more degrees of freedom at accelerations as high as 100 g picking up to 300 items per minute.

The milliDelta robot designed by Harvard’s Wyss Institute measures 15 mm x 15 mm x 20 mm which makes it lighter. As it weights less, the force needed to move it is smaller causing a huge increase in speed. The device uses piezoelectric actuators that allow the milliDelta to move at up to 75 Hz, and the precision is down to 5 micrometers. The developing team proved that milliDelta can operate in a workspace of about 7 cubic millimeters and has a payload capacity of 3 times its mass which helps optimize spaces in factories where thousands of these devices are used to perform tasks in sequence.

The robot was designed for micro- assembly and microsurgery. Many times, in medical situations speed is a key factor for saving someone´s life, and the milliDelta can achieve speeds that humans cannot. The device is clearly not a replacement for medical professionals, it is a tool to perform faster and more precise procedures. Additionally, the precision could allow for less invasive operations. For electronics manufacturing, the milliDelta is a game changer in time spent a production, and in mistakes made in assembly. This delta robots could be used for 3d printing which for some applications requires micrometer precision, and could reduce printing times significantly.

The device has proven to be 15 to 20 times faster than commercial delta robots, and even though it cannot do any heavy lifting it could revolutionize the industries mentioned before. Delta robots are expanding to new industries which means that we may soon see them performing completely different tasks at different situations while maintaining their characteristics properties such as smooth, precise, and fast movement. Harvard’s delta robot is not currently for sale.


World´s Smallest Wearable Made to Help Prevent Skin Cancer

Wearables are devices that incorporate and interact with different parts of our bodies and perform a specific task. The tasks can be to improve our health (count steps, heart rate etc.) or to make our life easier (GPS, smartwatches etc.). Technology industry has dominated the wearable market since its easier for a technology company to produce technologic devices, but other companies have joined the trend and now companies in the textile, fashion and medical industry started producing their own wearables with specific purposes. L’Oréal the world leader on makeup, cosmetics skin care etc. has now joined the race.

In a research project with Northwestern university, the world´s smallest wearable was created. Measuring less than an M&M in circumference and weighting less than a raindrop this device was designed to measure UV exposure of the user to reduce skin cancer by modulating their exposure to the sun. UV Sense has no battery, no moving parts, its waterproof, and it can be attached to any part of the body preferably a location with good sun exposure.

The device connects to an app that shows you the exposure you have had in a day or over a period. Also, the app can be configured to send notifications when users exceed daily safe sun limit.

According to the skin cancer foundation “Each year in the U.S over 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3 million people, and each year there are more new cases of skin cancer”, but with this device skin cancer could be prevented instead of treated. The researchers at Northwestern have received roughly 2 million grant from the National institutes of Health to deploy fingernail UV sensors.

The device is undetectable which will encourage people to use it, and as it requires no batteries, users do not need to worry about charging the device or forgetting to do so. This means that people can now be warned about sun exposure and will be able to take measures to prevent diseases with no effort at all. The same research team is also working on other devices that could help check other health aspects to increase awareness about different diseases and the daily activities that may cause them.


OpenMV- Machine Vision for Beginners

MV is the ability of a computer to see using analog to digital conversion and digital signal processing. The key characteristics that make a machine vision module better are sensitivity and resolution. These systems allow machines to see a broader spectrum of wavelengths such as x-rays, infrared or UV light. Nowadays, it is mainly used for object recognition, signature identification, material inspection, medical image analysis etc. Machine vision modules tend to be expensive which make them difficult to access for makers and hobbyists. OpenMV is a python powered machine vision module that aims at making MV accessible to beginners.

OpenMV was created by Hackaday user i.abdalkader and he worked towards making it affordable, small, open source and user friendly. It is programmable in python 3, and includes image processing libraries to make it easier. It is Based on STM32F ARM Cortex-M Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs) running at 168-216MH, and has an ATWINC1500 FCC Certified Wi-Fi module which can transmit data at up to 48Mbp. The image sensor used was a OV965x and a OV2640. Additionally, it has 512 KB of RAM and consumes 120 mA.

The libraries included give the MV the ability to detect shapes, faces, QR and barcodes, and it also has ORB key points detector, template matching with normalized cross correlation and more. The OpenMV includes I/O headers to connect shields to extend it´s capabilities. The IDE includes many features for image processing and it is based on QT creator. OpenMV has a micro SD card socket which allows for recording data, and the device measures 45 mm in length, 36 mm in width, 30 mm in height and only weights 16 g.

Few prototypes are already on pre-order for beta testing for $65 dollars on this website, they will only be selling about 10-30 of them. It has already been funded in Kickstarter with a huge success in 2015. Some applications might include drone flying, thermal/night imaging, line detection etc.

For beginners, this device could be a game changer for learning about machine vision, and creating projects. The easy to use IDE helps the user understand and code, but at the same time its open for users to modify and create as they see appropriate. The Wi-Fi module expands the capabilities and possibilities for using it, and the fast USB computer communication makes the device easy to work with. For an advanced use it has a long way to go, which includes improvements in image detection and analysis. The complete version is still not on sale, and a date has not been announced, but the project keeps being improved to provide users with a completely functional device and IDE.


eVscope – Reaching for the stars as never before

Humanity has always been trying to reach for the stars, this lead to huge scientific developments that got the man into the moon, rovers into mars and a lot more. NASA often unveils photographs of space objects with bright colors and high definition, but these photos are taken using millions of dollars in telescopes and image software. Most amateur telescopes give blurry, opaque images (if you get to see anything at all). As a result, astronomy amateurs are often disappointed because of their high expectations regarding what they would see in the telescope. The company Unistellar optics combined two different technics to create a telescope that could fulfill hobbyist expectations.

As only a very small amount of light from stellar objects reaches earth, it’s important to collect as much light as possible which can be done with a lens (or mirror with a large diameter), or by exposing a photographic film for a long period of time. Nowadays, astronomers don´t use photographic film anymore because electronic cameras can take hundreds of pictures and overlap them to make one bright picture. However, the equipment to do all this can be expensive (professional camera, good telescope, mirrors with huge diameters), and they can also be complicated because of the need for a very dark sky, certain weather etc.

The eVscope (enhanced vision) made by Unistellar optics has a built in high quality image sensor, and instead of lenses an eye piece with an OLED display is used. Additionally, it has a computer controlled mount and drive, all in modest dimensions. It costs about 1300 dollars and works by taking short exposures and staking them in real time to simulate a larger instrument.

This device has already been tried by many amateur astronomers, and university students with very positive results. Also, the eVscope has an autonomous field detection which makes it easy for learners to pinpoint specific places, and with the smartphone connection capabilities people can save and share their pictures, and unlike other telescopes it is portable and autonomous. Currently, Unistellar optics has a Kickstarter campaign for this product with more than 2000 backers. eVscope is 100 times more powerful than a classical telescope and could change the way people see the sky and learn about astronomy.


New Small Form Factor PCs from Asus- CES 2018

CES is one the largest gathering places for people in the technology industry for introducing their new products and understanding the new technology trends. Asus is one of the biggest hardware, and robotics companies to be attending. This company will be displaying their small form factor solutions: PB40, PN40 mini PCs, Chromebox 3, and thinker board S. The main goal of this products is to offer a small and versatile product without compromising quality and performance.

The first one, PB40 mini PC gives its users the possibility to have the power of a computer with a portable size. It can support up to an 8th generation Intel Pentium processors, it has 6 USB 3.1 type-C ports, and support for VGA, COM, HDMI, and display. It comes in two variants N5000 quad core with burst frequency up to 2,7 GHz or J5005 quad core with burst frequency up to 2,8 GHz. It is also offered without a fan for silent operation.

Asus PB40

Just as the PB40, the PN40 is powerful, and small (not as powerful as the PB40). It’s ideal for home and business usage weighting 1.54 lbs. and measuring 114 x 114 x 49 mm. Also, it has a wide range of connectivity options including USB 3.1 for fast data transmission.

Asus PN40

The third one, the Chromebox 3 is the new successor of Chromebox 2 (released in 2016). It can support up to an 8th generation intel core processor and a DDR4 2400 memory. This new version has graphics and power improvements. Memory will be available in 4, 16, 32 and 128 GB, and wireless connectivity is dual band 802.11 ac WIFI and Bluetooth. Additionally, an audio jack, card reader and USB 3.1 connector will be included.

Chromebox 3

The last one, Tinker Board S maintains the same size and component placement as it´s previous version, but offers greater durability, stability, and improved user experience. It has on board 16GB eMMC storage, a microSD slot, HDMI-CEC-ready (allows users to control tv and Tinker Board with the same remote control), on board power on pin, audio jack, and enhanced I2S pin.

Tinker Board S

The PB40, the PN40 and the Chromebox 3 are expected to be on the market in the second half of 2018 with a price yet to be announced. The Tinker Board will be launched on the first quarter of 2018 at a starting price of $79.99. Comparing to previous versions, connectivity issues have been improved, but the memory could be better. These devices offer a lot of power in a small size which is an advantage for consumers, industries, and makers.