Make (tiny) things go away

Invisibility Crystals Make Small Objects Disappear

Professor Snape beware — invisibility cloaks aren’t just for the microscopic anymore.

sciencenewsUsing natural crystals, two independent research teams have designed “carpet cloaks” that can abracadabra 3-D objects as big as an ant or a grain of sand seemingly into nothing. Up to now, making MORE

Posted on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 02:09PM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

New Scientist: Robot balances pencil with simple sensors

Can you balance a pencil on the tip of your finger? Probably not, but then you aren't a high-speed robot with artificial retinas. 

Researchers at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, built their pencil-balancing bot to demonstrate that sometimes too much information can make a task harder. Balancing large poles is a well-known exercise in robotics research, but scaling down to a pencil hadn't yet been achieved because robots couldn't react fast enough.

These previous robots were hindered by their video-camera vision, which required them to process a full frame of video to identify changes in their environment. The new robot uses a pair of silicon retinas that only react to sudden changes in illumination, transmitting a simple "on" or "off" response that reduces the need for complex data processing - an approach that mimics biological vision. 

Placing the two sensors at a right angle provides enough information for the robot to estimate the position of the pencil and react to keep it standing. 

Could this be the next executive toy - the most advanced pencil holder in the world? Video

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 11:09AM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

Evolving robots

Posted on Friday, January 21, 2011 at 02:42PM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

Andy Hertzfeld's Google News Timeline

If you haven't checked out this Google Labs project, check it out here. It lets you see Time covers, Wikipedia articles, and more, on a timeline, with some events going back as far as the 11th century.

Google News Timeline

I learned about it from a video by my friend Marty Wasserman, who does a series called "Future Talk." This one also features my friend Eileen Clegg, amazing graphical recorder.


Posted on Friday, November 12, 2010 at 07:52PM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment Chip-in-a-pill may be approved in 2012

by Lin Edwards

( -- Giant Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG, based in Basel, is developing a pill containing an embedded microchip, which it hopes to submit for regulatory approval in Europe within 18 months. The chip is activated by the stomach acid, and transmits information to a patch attached to the patient's skin, which then sends it on to a doctor via the Internet or a smartphone.

The first application of the chip-in-a-pill -- or as it is officially known, the Ingestible Event Marker (IEM) -- is expected to be for transplant patients, to help avoid organ rejection. A common problem that occurs after transplant operations is the dose and timing of taking anti-rejection drugs has to be monitored and frequently adjusted to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ, such as a kidney. The microchip would overcome this problem since it would closely monitor the patients to determine if the drugs are being taken at the right time, and in the correct dosage.

In January this year Novartis spent $24 million on securing access to the ingestible medical microchips technology, which was invented and developed by a privately-owned Californian company, Proteus Biomedical. Licensing the technology puts Novartis ahead of all its competitors. The Proteus microchip is capable of collecting a range of biometric data such as heart rate, body temperature and body movements, which may indicate if drugs are working as intended.

Spokesman Dr. Trevor Mundel, the company's Global Head of Development, said Novartis does not expect full clinical trials of the "smart pills" will be needed because the microchips will be added to existing drugs, and the company intends to carry out bioequivalence tests instead to show the effects of the pills are unchanged by the addition of a tiny microchip.

Mundel said the regulators had been encouraging and like the concept, but "they want to understand" how patients' privacy will be protected in a system in which information is transmitted via wireless or Bluetooth technology from inside their bodies, and which could presumably therefore be intercepted by someone other than the doctor for whom it was intended.

Mr Mundel said the first application for the technology would be for anti-rejection drugs for transplant patients, but added he sees "the promise as going much beyond that."

© 2010

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 08:22PM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

Home security robots coming to your place

My local paper, the San Jose Mercury news, has a neat piece on this trend:

When Robert Oschler, a programmer, leaves his home, he knows it is secure. And if he ever has cause for concern, he can open his laptop and survey the house through the eyes of his watchdogs.

"I don't have any pets. I just have pet robots, and they're pretty well behaved," Oschler said. "Fortunately I've never logged in and seen a human face."

His robot, a modified version of the Rovio from WowWee, has a camera, microphone and speakers atop a three-wheeled platform. From anywhere with a Net connection, he can send his robot zipping around the house, returning a video signal along the way.

"As creepy as it sounds, you could even talk to the guy and say, 'Get out of there. There's nothing valuable. I'm calling the police,' " he said. More

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 01:27PM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

New addition to the family

If you've been to COFES in recent years, you have met my grandson, Sam Miller, and his wife, Chelsea. Chelsea gave birth this morning to a beautiful girl, as yet unnamed! (Update: She is Eva Elise Miller.)


Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 01:54PM by Registered CommenterJoel | Comments1 Comment

Remote-controlled robots are here reports on a Mountain View, CA company and several others. Got $15k? You can emulate Steve Wolfram, and send one of these guys around to give talks instead of you.

Posted on Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 11:30AM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

Gesture-based computing gets serious

From the New Scientist:

I am at the headquarters of Oblong Industries, developers of the G-Speak gestural computing interface, and I'm about to trial its system for controlling computers through hand gestures.

I find myself surrounded by a cage of metal scaffolding, which houses the system's 16 near-infrared motion detectors, as John Underkoffler, Oblong's chief scientist, boots up the system. I'm amidst three large screens, and above me three projectors beam images onto them. A fourth overhead projector, pointing onto a white table, serves as a fourth screen. Underkoffler insists that the G-Speak is targeting hardcore number-crunchers, not gamers, but the rig looks like it would be more at home in a rock club than an office.

Underkoffler hands me a pair of black gloves with tiny reflective balls attached to the back of every digit except the pinky. The gloves help a camera follow my hands but add to the feeling that I'm about to start a performance. Yet again, Underkoffler stresses this is serious computing, before adding that: "The goal is to get rid of the gloves entirely, and we're not far from that."

Read more

Posted on Friday, August 13, 2010 at 10:26AM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment

Stanford U.: New solar energy conversion process could revamp solar power production

Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil. 

Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels - which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises - the new process excels at higher temperatures.

Called 'photon enhanced thermionic emission,' or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies.

"This is really a conceptual breakthrough, a new energy conversion process, not just a new material or a slightly different tweak," said Nick Melosh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research group. "It is actually something fundamentally different about how you can harvest energy."

And the materials needed to build a device to make the process work are cheap and easily available, meaning the power that comes from it will be affordable.

Melosh is an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and is senior author of a paper describing the tests the researchers conducted. It was published online August 1, in Nature Materials.

"Just demonstrating that the process worked was a big deal," Melosh said. "And we showed this physical mechanism does exist, it works as advertised."

Most photovoltaic cells, such as those used in rooftop solar panels, use the semiconducting material silicon to convert the energy from photons of light to electricity. But the cells can only use a portion of the light spectrum, with the rest just generating heat.

This heat from unused sunlight and inefficiencies in the cells themselves account for a loss of more than 50 percent of the initial solar energy reaching the cell. 

If this wasted heat energy could somehow be harvested, solar cells could be much more efficient. The problem has been that high temperatures are necessary to power heat-based conversion systems, yet solar cell efficiency rapidly decreases at higher temperatures.

Until now, no one had come up with a way to wed thermal and solar cell conversion technologies.

Melosh's group figured out that by coating a piece of semiconducting material with a thin layer of the metal cesium, it made the material able to use both light and heat to generate electricity.

"What we've demonstrated is a new physical process that is not based on standard photovoltaic mechanisms, but can give you a photovoltaic-like response at very high temperatures," Melosh said. "In fact, it works better at higher temperatures. The higher the better."

While most silicon solar cells have been rendered inert by the time the temperature reaches 100 degrees Celsius, the PETE device doesn't hit peak efficiency until it is well over 200 degrees C.

Because PETE performs best at temperatures well in excess of what a rooftop solar panel would reach, the devices will work best in solar concentrators such as parabolic dishes, which can get as hot as 800 degrees C. Dishes are used in large solar farms similar to those proposed for the Mojave Desert in southern California and usually include a thermal conversion mechanism as part of their design, which offers another opportunity for PETE to help generate electricity, as well as minimizing costs by meshing with existing technology.

"The light would come in and hit our PETE device first, where we would take advantage of both the incident light and the heat that it produces, and then we would dump the waste heat to their existing thermal conversion systems," Melosh said. "So the PETE process has two really big benefits in energy production over normal technology."

Photovoltaic systems never get hot enough for their waste heat to be useful in thermal energy conversion, but the high temperatures at which PETE performs are perfect for generating usable high temperature waste heat. Melosh calculates the PETE process can get to 50 percent efficiency or more under solar concentration, but if combined with a thermal conversion cycle, could reach 55 or even 60 percent - almost triple the efficiency of existing systems.


The team would like to design the devices so they could be easily bolted on to existing systems, making conversion relatively inexpensive.

The researchers used a gallium nitride semiconductor in the 'proof of concept' tests. The efficiency they achieved in their testing was well below what they have calculated PETE's potential efficiency to be, which they had anticipated. But they used gallium nitride because it was the only material that had shown indications of being able to withstand the high temperature range they were interested in and still have the PETE process occur.

With the right material - most likely a semiconductor such as gallium arsenide, which is used in a host of common household electronics - the actual efficiency of the process could reach up to the 50 or 60 percent the researchers have calculated. They are already exploring other materials that might work.

Another advantage of the PETE system is that by using it in solar concentrators, the amount of semiconductor material needed for a device is quite small.

"For each device, we are figuring something like a six-inch wafer of actual material is all that is needed," Melosh said. "So the material cost in this is not really an issue for us, unlike the way it is for large solar panels of silicon."

The cost of materials has been one of the limiting factors in the development of the solar power industry, so reducing the amount of investment capital needed to build a solar farm is a big advance.

"The PETE process could really give the feasibility of solar power a big boost," Melosh said. "Even if we don't achieve perfect efficiency, let's say we give a 10 percent boost to the efficiency of solar conversion, going from 20 percent efficiency to 30 percent, that is still a 50 percent increase overall."

And that is still a big enough increase that it could make solar energy competitive with oil.


Provided by Stanford University (news : web)

Posted on Monday, August 2, 2010 at 06:14PM by Registered CommenterJoel | CommentsPost a Comment