Technology category

Mi Mini PC – The World’s Most Powerful Pocket-Sized PC

Change is constant and accepted by most people if not all. The Evolution of the digital computer has been continuous, technological advancement brought minicomputers, microcomputers, and even notepads. It also brought the invention of smartphones and tablets, but all these gadgets which have been in existence have different issues such as size, weight, ability to carry out specific functions well and many more. However, recently a Hong Kong-based researcher who goes by the name Leo Chung released to the public information about his project called the Mi Mini PC.

The Mi Mini PC

With the goal to put away tablets, personal computers, and laptops, the mini PC is simply a small version of the combination of a tablet and laptop. Don’t be fooled by the size; the Mi Mini PC will stand toe to toe with some modern laptops today. It has 128GB Solid State Drive (SSD) which can be upgraded to 512GB SSD for $50, and it comes with 8GB Random Access Memory (RAM) (most mid range laptops have 4GB).

Additionally the Mini PC has various ports found on a generic modern laptop such as the HDMI port which enables it to connect to a bigger screen, USB Type C port (yes, the same found on the new gadgets and the costly MacBook), and other USB ports. Talking of screens, the Mini PC is a touch screen gadget and has HD resolution of 1280*720 pixels. This versatile device comes with an impressive feature set, and it also includes USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and Ethernet. Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, dual-band WiFi, stereo speakers are also built in.

The board runs on the powerful Intel Atom 2.56 GHz processor. Capable of fitting in the palm of your hand, Mi MiniPC is paired with a wireless, foldable Bluetooth keyboard and features a 6,000-mAh battery with a six-hour power life for office presentations and long work days.

Some features of the Mini Pc include:

  • 5-inch Aluminium Case for the body.
  • Game Console specially designed for the mini PC which costs $20.
  • SD card slot.
  • 2.56Ghz Intel Atom x7- Z8750 Processor.
  • A power adapter.
  • Carrying pockets for keyboard and adapter

A lot of people might be worried about how a device so small can work efficiently. The mini PC has not only a pre-installed Android 5.10 Operating System (OS) but also a functional Windows 10 OS which means one can work on any windows program without difficulty. Its 8GB RAM and Solid State Drive ensures the device can manage and run several programs and applications simultaneously, and still capable of running some computer games as well. Another fantastic perk to the mini PC is that it allows you to choose your preferred operating system on startup.

The most significant advantage of the PC is that it is very portable and the fact that one can get all that is required for a laptop on a 5-inch sized device. The Mini PC also ends the story of overheating and whirring noises made by existent laptops. Due to its’ aluminium case and high – tech heat sinks, fans are now a thing of the past, therefore, making a solution for annoying whirring sounds.

The Mi Mini PC project is currently being crowdfunded over on Indiegogo which has raised over $1 million in backing already. Pre-orders are available with prices starting at $159 (US) and an expected ship date of September 2018. The standard package includes two carrying pockets, a cover stand, a foldable Bluetooth keyboard, and power adapter. Add-ons include an extra battery ($10), Android 7.1 Upgrade ($15), gaming controller ($20), 256GB SSD upgrade ($30), or 512GB SSD upgrade ($50)

Solid State Li-ion Batteries – High Energy-Dense Batteries Are Closer Than Before

The Interuniversity MicroElectronicss Centre (IMEC) is an independent research center which deals with nanoelectronics and digital technologies. Their headquarters are situated in Leuven, Belgium. Recently IMEC began to research and prototype Solid State Lithium-ion batteries. Solid State batteries are batteries which make use of solid electrodes and electrolytes. There have been a lot of research about Solid – State batteries, however, IMEC has moved from research to producing its first prototype.

Prototype Battery

The battery produced has an energy density of two hundred Wh/L, can be charged within two hours and can accept a charge of 0.5 C. This was achieved through the use of Solid State electrolyte. Nanocomposite electrolyte with high conductivity features was used. The electrolyte starts out as a fluid before solidifying. Unlike liquid electrolyte-based batteries, batteries based on Solid State electrolytes have “inherent safe operating characteristics.” Here’s a scenario: Throwing a normal battery against the wall might cause it to burn due to the liquid electrolyte which is flammable, however Solid State Lithium-ion batteries don’t have anything to burn because lithium is not flammable in its solid state.

ADVANTAGES OF SOLID STATE ELECTROLYTES OVER FLUID ELECTROLYTES

A Solid State electrolyte has almost no degradation reaction left. Therefore it can last through ” hundreds of thousands of cycles.” Secondly, solid-state electrolytes are compatible with metal like lithium anodes thereby affording it the opportunity to obtain very high energy densities targets. This means that higher energy densities can be derived from Solid State electrolytes. Furthermore, fluid electrolytes based Lithium-ion batteries cannot perform well in extreme cold. Solid State electrolytes are capable of working under really low temperatures.

Another advantage is that the dense ceramic electrolyte prevents Li-dendrite shorting and overcomes thermal stability issues of currently used organic liquid electrolytes. The all-solid-state structure provides revolutionary dimensional tolerance and mechanical strength, decreasing packaging requirements and system weight.

Some of the potential applications of this will be :

  • portable electronics (such as laptops or cameras).
  • electric cars.
  • home storage systems for the smart grid.
  • future smart household appliances and autonomous robots.
MORE INFORMATION

IMEC hopes to achieve the development of a battery with an energy density of 1000Wh/L and charging time of 30 minutes (2C). The quest for solid-state batteries isn’t stopping with IMEC alone – MIT is in partnership with Samsung, and they have formed a team to work on Solid State batteries and electrolytes. The University of Maryland is also currently working on their own Solid State Lithium-ion battery. With the way things are going, it will not be long before liquid Lithium chemistry is completely replaced by Solid State electrolytes.

SOUNDCAM – The World First True Handheld Sound Camera for Everyone

Every day of our lives we get bombarded with different sounds around.  Loud music, radio, people talking on their phone, automobile, traffic, and those unknown late night quacking sounds. All of these sounds are what makes our day to day activities, and we have even gotten accustomed to most of them and rarely get disturbed by them. However, when an unwanted sound keeps popping into our life, altering our general state of mind and starts becoming a nuisance, we start looking for ways of finding the source of the sound in the hope of getting rid of it. The human ear does an excellent job of finding the source of sounds but can quickly get confused when their many sounds are popping around, or the sounds are slightly dense. Sound localization is a critical concept due to its numerous application and research has been poured into this. The team from CAE system are launching a first of its kind called SOUNDCAM that will allow one to visualize any sound source.

CAE Softwares and Systems, a Germany-based company, is launching SoundCam on KickstarterSOUNDCAM is the first camera that images sound and is affordable for everyone. The system is intuitive and as easy to use as a smartphone. SOUNDCAM locates sound sources in real time and immediately displays the results on the screen. SOUNDCAM visualizes complex acoustic information and creates a connection between hearing and seeing. Analyzing and understanding sound has never been easier! Not only does SoundCam does the job well, but it also comes cheap as compared to traditional acoustic cameras (could cost upwards of $100,000).

SoundCam Handheld Sound Camera

SOUNDCAM localizes every sound source. It is possible to analyze environmental noise, road traffic noise, aircraft noise, train noise, industrial noise, machinery noise, workplace noise, detect malfunctions or leakages, and evaluate vehicle emissions, home appliances, consumer electronics, and a million other noise sources!

The application of SOUNDCAM is endless. I remember sometimes ago; I notice a disturbing noise was coming from my car’s engine side when putting on reverse mode but goes off when on drive or other modes. This was always annoying, and when I took it to my mechanic, he wasn’t sure where the sounds were coming from. After guessing around and dismantling a few parts, still couldn’t find the source of the sound and he suggested to open up the whole engine to see if it was from inside the engine, well, of course, I wasn’t ready to allow anyone open up my whole engine without being sure of what he or she is looking for. I left the car like that until one day it either suddenly disappear or I got used to it that I didn’t observe it again. A perfect application of SOUNDCAM will have been in this scenario, SOUNDCAM will have possibly identified the location of the sound in a non-invasive mode saving hours of lost productivity, money, and precious time. SOUNDCAM can also find applications in buildings for detecting sound leakage in supposed sound-proof structures, in electronics, drones, noise analysis, factories, automobile testing and evaluation, military applications, and thousands of possibilities.

SOUNDCAM consists of 64 microphones, an optical camera, an integrated data acquisition and analysis system, as well as a display and control unit with touchscreen and hardware buttons. The system displays high-resolution results in real time on it’s screen. The algorithm running on SOUNDCAM analyze the time delays it takes for a sound propagated to travel from its source to the microphone array and calculates the accurate acoustic pictures and videos in real time. The optical camera is used to generate the needed optical information, and optical and acoustic pictures are overlayed. These overlayed results are then displayed on the screen.

The SOUNDCAM device is battery powered and waterproof IP54 rated which means there is a possibility it can even be used underwater (of course at your own risk). It is powered by quad-core ARM A53 running at 1.2GHz speed with 1GB of RAM. The display is touchscreen removing the need for keyboard or mouse, but those can still be added through its onboard USB board which is as well used for exporting data from the device. It runs Linux out of the box with an optional Windows support available. It provides support for interfacing with a computer unit through its ethernet port.

SOUNDCAM is launched on Kickstarter with the SOUNDCAM early bird starting at a discounted 3,999 EURO, a 50% from the expected retail price. Shipping is expected to commence in late 2018 to early 2019. SOUNDCAM will revolutionize a lot of work and will save hours of lost productivity in troubleshooting sound localization problems which will inevitably save cost.

magnesium-metal batteries

Researchers From NREL Discovered New Method To Develop Rechargeable Magnesium-metal Battery

A team of researchers from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has discovered a new method for developing a rechargeable non-aqueous magnesium-metal battery. A proof-of-concept paper published in Nature Chemistry. It described how the scientists pioneered a method to enable the reversible chemistry of magnesium metal in the noncorrosive carbonate-based electrolytes and tested the concept in a prototype cell. The technology possesses many high potential advantages over conventional lithium-ion batteries. Some upgrades over Li-ion battery with this new kind of battery will be, higher energy density, greater stability, and lower cost.

magnesium-metal batteries
magnesium-metal batteries

NREL researchers Seoung-Bum Son, Steve Harvey, Andrew Norman, and Chunmei Ban are co-authors of the Nature Chemistry white paper, “An Artificial Interphase Enables Reversible Magnesium Chemistry in Carbonate Electrolytes” working with a Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry. The device enables them to investigate material degradation and failure mechanisms at the micro- to nano-scale.

Chunmei Ban, a scientist in NREL’s Materials Science department and corresponding author of the paper, said,

Being scientists, we’re always thinking: what’s next? The dominant lithium-ion battery technology is approaching the maximum amount of energy that can be stored per volume, so there is an urgent need to explore new battery chemistries that can provide more energy at a lower cost.

Seoung-Bum Son, a former NREL postdoc and scientist at NREL and first author of the paper, thinks this finding will provide a new avenue for magnesium battery design.

An electrochemical reaction powers a battery as ions flow through a liquid (electrolyte) from the negative electrode (cathode) to the positive electrode (anode). For batteries using Lithium, the electrolyte is a salt solution containing lithium ions. It’s also important to make the chemical reaction reversible for the battery to recharge again.

Magnesium (Mg) batteries theoretically contain almost twice as much energy per volume as of lithium-ion batteries. But previous research confronted an obstacle. The chemical reactions of the conventional carbonate electrolyte created a layer on the surface of magnesium that prevented the battery from recharging. The magnesium ions could flow in a reverse direction through a highly corrosive liquid electrolyte, but that blocked the possibility of a successful high-voltage magnesium battery.

The researchers developed an artificial solid-electrolyte interphase from polyacrylonitrile and magnesium-ion salt that protected the surface of the magnesium anode. This protected anode and significantly improved performance of the cell.

In addition to being more readily available than lithium, magnesium has other advantages over the more established battery technology. Firstly, magnesium releases two electrons which is higher lithium’s one, thus giving it the potential to deliver nearly twice as much energy as lithium. And second, magnesium-metal batteries do not experience the growth of crystals that can cause short circuits and consequently dangerous overheating and even fire, making magnesium batteries much safer than lithium-ion batteries.

Voxos – A Glass That Allows Listening With Your Bones

In the last few years, we have seen an increasing interest in smart glasses. Some analysts believe that in the next few years, smart glasses will be at the center of consumer and business electronics in the same way that smartphones are today. Companies and Startups like Google, Intel, Vue, Vuzix, and many others have all come up with their smart glass initiative, and even Apple has many smart-glasses patents with possibly over hundreds of engineers working on that field. One of the challenges that come with smart glasses is that they usually don’t always look socially acceptable, and most are always geeky like. Voxos is hoping to change that, by building a smart glass that looks like every-day regular glass.

Voxos Smart Glass

Voxos on the surface looks like your typical eyeglasses, but there is more to it. Voxos is a smart glass that allows to listen to music without actually plugging in an earphone or headset. The smartness in Voxos comes from its built-in bone conduction technologyBone conduction uses the natural vibrations of a person’s bones — such as skull, jaw, and cheekbones — to hear a sound. So, the bone conduction technology works by vibrating sound through your skull opposed to straight into your ear like standard earphones. This means you can hear your environment while listening to Music, Podcasts, Map Navigation, Audio Assistant, Google Maps, Audiobooks, Fitness Apps and more at all times without being disconnected from their surroundings.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Technological advances in mobile technology and improved data streaming have increased access to on-demand streaming music. The number of paying subscribers has highly increased in the last five years. Music lovers are gearing up for better musical experience going for high-quality headphones, noise-canceling headphones, and earplugs. These accessories are becoming more common while offering an all-encompassing musical experience but this might be coming at an extreme price—and that price just might cost one their life. Studies have shown that a number of accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones are on the rise. Aside from potential accidents that could be caused by putting on an earphone, another concern is ear-infection causing germs from sharing ear-phones or from not changing the headphone sponges. Voxos, on the other hand, has less of these concerns. Voxos takes bone conduction to the next level and creates the safe and convenient alternative to ear plugin headsets, especially for outdoor activities.

Voxos Smart Glass Parts

Voxos are designed to be worn during extensively long periods, and they can last a whopping 10 hours of active playing. Voxos connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and works with most apps. Voxos is integrated with a touchpad on the right side and will allow the user to interact with the main function of the phone by just swiping or tapping the glass. It also comes with a USB interface for charging the inbuilt battery and two buttons for parring mode, volume up, and volume down activity.

With it’s generic and sporty look Voxos fits with every outfit and it’s waterproof. The perfect fit makes wearing it not only fashionable but also convenient. Voxos is indeed great for drivers, but it is also perfect for others, such as cyclists, pedestrians and anybody on the road!

Even though the bone conducting technology in Voxos is already existing in some other smart glasses, we expect in the near future that Smart glasses will improve to the point of becoming mainstream in both everyday life and in the enterprise. And the direction for smart glasses is already being set in leading-edge smartphones like Apple’s iPhone X.

Voxos smart glasses are currently not available, but you can sign up on the company’s website to know when it will be available and even get a 40% off your purchase. Voxos is expected to launch an Indiegogo campaign very soon and possibly a Kickstarter one as well.

UPDATE 07/05/2018: They just launched an exclusive pre-campaign on Indiegogo where they have a special discount only for a few days.

Google Bristlecone, The Race To Quantum Supremacy

On Monday, March 05, 2018, research scientists from the Google Quantum Al lab whose goal is to build a quantum computer that can be used to solve real-world problems, presented their latest quantum processor called Bristlecone at the annual American Physical Society meeting in Los Angeles.

Qubits or quantum bits are merely the quantum analogue of classical binary bits. Two of the most critical challenges researchers face in their journey to achieve quantum supremacies are error rules and subsequent scalability, this is because qubits are unstable and can be unfavorably affected by noise and can only maintain one state for less for one hundred of microseconds.

Researchers from Google have calculated that a system with 49 quantum bits, a circuit depth exceeding 40 and a two-qubit error below 0.5 percent can “comfortably demonstrate” quantum supremacy. Quantum supremacy is the point where quantum computers can run certain algorithms faster than a classical computer ever could. This has been the dream of many major tech startups and companies including Microsoft, IBM, and Intel.

Bristlecone is Google’s newest quantum processor

Every Bristlecone chip has 72 qubits which might significantly reduce the error rates associated with qubits; however, Google believes quantum computing is not all about qubits. The research team further backed this belief with what they wrote in a blog post:

Operating a device such as a Bristlecone at low system error requires harmony between a full stack of technology ranging from software and control electronics to the processor itself.

The guiding design principle for Bristlecone is to preserve the underlying physics of Google’s previous 9-qubit linear array technology which demonstrated low error rates for readout single-qubit gates to 0.1 percent and most importantly two-qubit gates to 0.6 percent as its best result. This device uses the same scheme for coupling, control, and readout, but is now scaled to a square array of 72 qubits. Therefore they chose a device of moderate size to be able to demonstrate quantum supremacy in the future, first investigate and secondly order error-correction using the surface code to facilitate quantum algorithm development on actual hardware (quantum computers).

Right now, Bristlecone has crowned Google – King of Quantum Computing, a title which previously belonged to IBM because of their 50 qubits chip. However Bristlecone did not just crown Google, it also shortened the race for quantum supremacy as we know it, which Google is “cautiously optimistic” about winning. Despite Google leading the race in Quantum Computing, the ultimate goal of Quantum Supremacy is still far off and might not be surprised if companies like IBM pull something up in the near future.

IBM just unveiled the ‘world’s smallest computer’

by @ theverge.com

The computer is 1mm x 1mm, smaller than a grain of fancy salt, and apparently costs less than ten cents to manufacture. To be clear, the picture above is a set of 64 motherboards, each of which hold two of this tiny computer.

IBM claims the computer has the power of an x86 chip from 1990. That puts it exactly on the edge of enough power to run the original Doom (the original README.TXT for Doom says a 386 processor and 4MB of RAM is the minimum). Hopefully IBM will be more forthcoming with benchmarks in the next five years, and I’m looking forward to repurposing this chip’s LED as a one pixel display.

3D Printed Clip-On Turns Any Smartphone To A Household Microscope.

Smartphone microscope as the name implies is basically a microscope which is compatible with a user’s smartphone. They mostly made up of a soft pliable lens and uses the smartphone’s camera. Smartphone microscopes have been in existence before, they are based on the use of external LEDs and usually get powered from an external source, these attachments have been quite larger and more cumbersome than the phone itself, but a group of Australian researchers has developed a microscope attachment that doesn’t require an additional power supply or external light sources which is actually based on 3D printed material alone.

The Researchers from the ARC Center of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) have developed a 3D printable “clip-on” that will allow anyone to turn their smartphone into a fully functional microscope. Thinking about the weight and cost of the pre-existing smartphone microscopes, they have made a dual-mode mobile phone microscope which uses the onboard camera flash and natural light present at the scene where the microscope is to be used. If a sample is placed two focal lengths in front of the objective lens, an image is formed two focal lengths behind the tube lens.

The invention of this microscope will make sure that people unable to afford pre-existing microscopes due to the cost of the external electrical appliances to be added during assembly can now work on their research as long they have a smartphone and the 3D printable microscope. They can examine different samples ranging from plant cells to animal cells. The smartphone microscope’s design consists of a 1x magnification imaging system that is created by placing a mobile phone camera lens in front of the mobile phone’s internal phone camera module.

The difference between the 3D printable microscope and other smartphone microscopes is the illumination system of the 3D microscope since it has been designed with internal illumination tunnels. The entrance of the tunnel is placed over the camera flash. Light from the camera flash travels through the first tunnel, reflects diffusely off of the end of the tunnel and then travels back into another tunnel that is aligned to the optical axis of the objective lens and camera module.

This 3D printed based microscope has the ability to work in two different modes: the brightfield and darkfield imaging modes respectively. During the bright field mode, the microscope creates diffuse transmission illumination without the aid of an external reflective object behind the sample thereby reducing weight and cost procured upon the addition of an external electrical object. However darkfield imaging is made possible when the ambient light illuminates the sample using the sample’ glass slide. The microscope attachment is capable of viewing objects as small as 1/200th of a millimeter, making it significantly more effective than its more predecessors.

The 3D printers microscope needs only one assembly step and can be used by anyone with access to a 3D printer as the microscope clip can be printed using most makers set of 3D printers. You can get the 3D designs here if you are interested in printing out your own.

A Heat Switch for Controlling Heat Flow Path in Electronic Systems

Schematic of the thermal switch showing the (a) ON-state with the liquid metal droplet bridging the heat source and sink and (b) OFF-state with liquid metal removed from the channel. (c) Side view image of the fabricated thermal switch device. (d) The ON and OFF thermal resistance circuits based on a 1-D heat transfer model.

A switch is a fundamental part of most electrical and mechanical devices; mechanical switches can be used to select gears in a car’s transmission or used to unlock a door; electrical switches can turn the lights in a room on and off;  semiconductor uses to route logic signals within a circuit or control bigger devices. But what about heat flows? Can we possibly control the route of heat in a device? A Thermal Switch? Well, a thermal switch is an electromechanical device which opens and closes contacts to control the flow of electrical current in response to temperature change. A Thermal switch controls the flow of current concerning the temperature change, but this doesn’t actually control the flow of heat.

Heat flow is very important to engineers, and the heat movement in a device can profoundly affect the system performance and reliability especially in an electronics system. Engineers have long desired a switch to control heat flows, but many challenges exist in the creation of such a switch. Researchers from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new technology that allows users to turn heat flows “on” or “off.” This is a great development and it’s going to impact on future electronics systems.

Heat Flow from Hot to Cool Region

“Heat flows occurs whenever you have a region on higher temperature near a region of lower temperature. In order to control the heat flow, the team engineered a specific heat flow path between the hot region and cold region and then created a way to break the heat flow path when desired” claims William King, the project co-leader and a professor at the department of mechanical science and engineering.

This technology became possible based on the principle of the “motion of a liquid metal droplet,” adds Nenad Miljkovic, assistant professor in the same department who also served as a project co-leader. “The metal droplet can be positioned to connect a heat flow path, or moved away from the heat flow path to limit the heat flow.”

The team demonstrated the technology in a system modeled after modern electronic systems, giving the potential of being deployed to our everyday devices. On one side of the switch was a heat source representing the power electronics component; on the other, liquid cooling for heat removal. When the heat switch was on, the team managed to extract heat at more than 10 W/cm2, but as soon as the heat flow was turned off, they saw a drop by nearly 100X.

According to King, the next step for the research will be to integrate the switch with power electronics on a circuit board. A working prototype will be produced later this year. The research was published in a recent edition of the journal Applied Physics Letters.

Phantom v2640 - the world's fastest video camera

Phantom v2640 – The World’s Fastest High Speed Camera Captures 303,460 fps

Vision Research‘s latest addition is the new Phantom v2640 model to its array of products. This is seemingly the world’s fastest video capturing camera, able to record up to 11,750 fps in color and HD or 25,030 fps in monochrome. The maximum resolution is 2,048 x 1,952 pixels with up to 6,600 fps.

Phantom v2640 - the world's fastest video camera
Phantom v2640 – the world’s fastest video camera

At maximum resolution, it can only manage 6,600 images per second but this is enough to provide smooth x100 slow motion replay. HD (1920×1080) mode offers reduced resolution but accomplishes an impressive 11,750 fps. Things can get really breathtaking in monochrome ‘binning mode’ where up to 25,030 fps are possible. Playing the footage at the standard 24 fps gives out at more than a thousand times slow motion.

Apart from scientific applications and materials research, the capabilities of the camera would make it valuable for recording low-frequency sound events in high resolution. One obvious application could be making it a useful tool to study the movement of a bass speaker or subwoofer cone to determine membrane stability and surface resonances. Although it would not be quite fast enough to do the same job for tweeters operating at the upper limits of audibility. There is a special very high-speed mode in the camera which pushes up the frame rate up to 303,460 fps, providing images with a 1792 x 8 pixels format. This would be enough to record tweeter membrane movement but only along a very thin slice of the motion.

This camera is a technical marvel. A pixel rate of up to 26 Gpx/second suggests there are some fairly extreme high-speed electronics, resulting in a data rate reaching way in the GB/s range. As a result, the camera requires a massive internal frame-buffer to record footage of more than just a few milliseconds. Regards this, there is up to 288 GB of RAM installed which is enough to capture at least 7.8 seconds of footage. There is also a fast Ethernet interface of 10 Gb/s and other alternative data transmission connections. Battery operation is available but not necessarily too practical because the camera draws 280 Watts of power. Availability and pricing information is not available yet.