Stanford University researchers have now created see-through lithium-ion batteries; when combined with transparent screens, keyboards, and circuitry, manufacturers may be able to create fully transparent electronic devices. So soon, rather than searching frantically for those set of keys you somehow misplaced, you can spend your time trying to find your see-through cell phone sitting right in front of you.
Scientists usually make devices like solar cells appear translucent by creating ultra-thin versions of their components. But this doesn’t work with a battery because its electrodes need to be thick enough to store a decent amount of energy. So, the Stanford researchers, in their study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (pdf), took a different approach: they created lithium-ion electrodes out of components too small for the naked eye to see.
Circuits drawn with the pen make LEDs light up and give a 3D antenna its juice.
Gel pens, beloved by middle-school girls, are good for decorating cootie catchers, evading laboratory ink analysis, and not much else. But if you replace that metallic ink with real silver, you get something quite remarkable: a pen that can draw functioning circuits on paper.
Engineers at the University of Illinois have built such a device and used it to put together several clever electronic doodads. Silver is a conductor, so it ferries electrons from a power source, like a battery, to an outlet, like an LED light, even when it’s just a line on a piece of paper instead of a wire. Once the silver ink dries, it’s as good as wire or printed circuits at conducting electricity, and it survives all kinds of mangling—researchers had to bed the paper back and forth 6,000 times to get the ink to begin to crack and flake off, in fact—so it could be used in situations where flexibility is key. And, of course, just to make cool stuff. Read More
If you see a five-foot-long, 145-pound robotic stranger roaming your neighborhood in the near future, don’t be alarmed. It may just be TI, your friendly, box-shaped power line inspector, who may soon be coming to a power line near you.
Created by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), TI–short for Transmission Inspection–is designed to tightrope along power lines in search of flaws. Since power lines aren’t designed to hold heavy robots, TI technically travels along shield wires, the metal lines that hang above power lines to shield them from lightning.
As TI plods along power lines, covering a few miles each day, he’s able to independently evaluate the data his sensors gather–and if he finds a glitch in the power flow, he calls it in via radio signal. In addition to the automatic mode, TI’s computerized “Cirque du Soleil” act can also be controlled remotely.
When it comes to perceiving power line flaws, TI is as good as human. Infrared sensors monitor hot spots on wires, while lidar-equipped sensors use scattered light to tell whether power lines are too close to tree branches or other menaces. On top of all this, TI also picks up on electrical disturbances and sports a topnotch optical camera for more in-depth scrutiny–especially handy for anyone enamored by still life portraits of electrified squirrels.
Once reserved for those who couldn’t pay their electricity bills or wanted to grow weed inside, snagging some free power via grappling hook is now a military operation. As described on the National Defense Education Network website, the Air Force has designed a “Bat Hook” which soldiers can heave into the air — action-hero style — to steal some juice from suspended power lines.
“We work very closely with Special Operations,” says Dave Coates, lead engineer on the project at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (in the video below, and as shown by Popular Science). Their request? “Is there a way that you could possibly give us something like Batman?”
The Bat Hook system, technically called Remote Auxiliary Power System (RAPS), pierces the power line’s insulation to draw current directly where it’s needed, to charge batteries on the ground, for example.
Power line, meet hook
Having the power shut off in your home due to lack of payments can really motivate you to pay your bills—or perhaps to begin siphoning electricity with a meat hook.
A recent report from Reuters describes a middle-aged man in Germany who has been stealing electricity from a high-voltage overhead transmission line using a run-of-the-mill meat hook. After getting cut off by the power company for not paying his bills, the energy thief decided he would acquire the necessary power on his own; he attached a meat hook to the end of a long cable, and hurled the hook onto an overhead power line 150 meters from his house. By routing some of the electricity to his meter box, the man powered his home illegally for an entire month before anyone noticed.
The car of the future may be no car at all, at least in the common sense of the word. Auto trailblazers have been hard at work coming up with designs for just about anything that will move us from one place to another on electricity, and some of the results are nothing short of remarkable. WebEcoist has a fantastic list of the most innovative electric cars that have appeared thus far.
A few of the highlights include a pair of moving pink bunny slippers designed by Tesla, a roadster designed by a Paris fashion house, a compact car made entirely of bamboo (a renewable resource), and a single-passenger electric coach that will protect us from the “post-apocalyptic wasteland” of toxic waste and pollution. There’s also the”Ecooter,” an enclosed scooter intended for short-distance driving in cities. We’re not even gonna touch that one.
Image courtesy of JapanProbe.