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Tiny ‘Artificial Sunflowers’ Bend Towards Light To Harvest Solar Energy

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Tiny ‘Artificial Sunflowers’ Bend Towards Light To Harvest Solar Energy

Depending on where you are in the world, the sun rises on one side, moves up, over your head, then sunsets down on the opposite side. Therefore, the light is always moving, and if you depend on it to generate power, then you might experience oblique-incidence energy-density loss.

To remedy this issue, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles and Arizona State University, have designed solar panels made from rows of tiny artificial sunflowers. The sunflowers automatically bend towards the light, allowing it to harvest a significant amount of solar power. This behavior is much like in nature, real sunflowers tilt their flowers to face the sun, heating their reproductive bits to attract pollinators.

This system could potentially be a solution for almost any system that experiences efficiency loss due to a moving energy source. For example, with rays from an overhead illumination source, the light coming in at an angle of around 75 degrees carries up to 75% less energy.

The researchers, Ximin He, and her colleagues say their system is a sunflower-like biomimetic omnidirectional tracker, dubbed ‘SunBOT.’ Each artificial sunflower has a stem made up of a material that reacts to light. An energy harvesting flower, made from a light-absorbing material used in solar cells, sits at the top of the stem. Each SunBOT is measured less than 1 millimetre wide.

When a part of the SunBOT’s stem gets exposed to light, it heats up and shrinks, causing it to bend and lean towards the light. Once the SunBOT is aligned with the light, the bending stops because the flower creates a shadow that gives the material time to cool down and stop shrinking.

The team tested the artificial sunflower to detect its harvesting capabilities by building a panel of SunBOTs, some of which possessed the bendy material and some that didn’t. The researchers found that the SunBOTs with the bendy-stems harvested up to 400% more solar energy than the non-bendy stemmed ones.

SunBOTs’ creators explain:

“This work may be useful for enhanced solar harvesters, adaptive signal receivers, smart windows, self-contained robotics, solar sails for spaceships, guided surgery, self-regulating optical devices, and intelligent energy generation, as well as energetic emission detection and tracking with telescopes, radars, and hydrophones.”

It seems the possibilities are endless with this new kind of technology! The researchers describe their study in Nature Nanotechnology.

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Innovation

It’s Finally Happening: Japan May Have Flying Cars In Three Years

A Japanese tech startup, the Tokyo-based company SkyDrive, now says it plans to launch the first commercial flying car taxi service by 2023.

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It’s Finally Happening: Japan May Have Flying Cars In Three Years
Photo Credit: TMU

(TMU) – Popularized most memorably by an air-borne DeLorean in Back to the Future 2, the vision of flying cars has been a persistent science fiction trope for many decades. However, the technological challenges and complications of social implementation have largely rendered the idea a no-go.

A Japanese tech startup, the Tokyo-based company SkyDrive, now says it plans to launch the first commercial flying taxi service by 2023. The company’s CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa goes further and even predicts that by the 2040s, there will be a trillion-dollar global market for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL).

According to Rajeev Lalwani, Morgan Stanley’s aircraft analyst, this market “could likely begin as an ultra-niche add-on to existing transportation infrastructure, similar to how helicopters operate today. They could later transform into a cost-effective, time-efficient method of traveling short to medium distances, eventually taking business away from car and airline companies.”

SkyDrive is one of over 100 flying car initiatives around the world – a race that includes Boeing Co., Airbus SE and Uber Technologies Inc. – but its plan is for a small two-seat vehicle with eVTOLs propellers in all four corners of the upper half of the craft, a design which Fukuzawa believes will enhance its safety. This battery-powered SD-xXX model would have a travel range of dozens of kilometres at 100 kmh (62 mph).

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

While there are still many sceptics who are cynical that these cars will ever get off the ground (so to speak), Fukuzawa imagines offering a flying taxi service to big cities in Japan, starting in the Osaka Bay area and slowly branching out. By 2050, he believes Japanese citizens will be able to take an air taxi to “any destination within the capital’s 23 wards in 10 minutes.”

“The two biggest difficulties,” he said in a recent interview“are getting it certified for commercial flights and ensuring the same safety and reliability as existing aircraft — and changing the social climate, by letting the general public know about this air mobility, and making them want to ride a flying car.”

If and when these hurdles are overcome, the air taxi (with the ability to vertically take-off and land) could revolutionize the travel industry, reducing traffic congestion in cities, assisting citizens during natural disasters, and increasing access to remote locations.

“The initial model will fly basically on autopilot, but it’s not 100% autonomous because a pilot would need to manoeuvre it in case of an emergency, for example,” Fukuzawa says.

With drones increasingly commercialized and self-driving cars poised to soon dominate the marketplace, one can imagine a drastically different cityscape in the near future that more closely approximates science fiction movies. While there are legitimate questions about the viability of Japan’s air taxi industry – much less whether that market can spread around the world – the ‘flying car’ prototype is certainly a marvellous technology to behold.

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Elon Musk: We Are One Year Away From Fully Autonomous, Self-Driving Cars

Elon Musk says we are essentially within a year of fully autonomous cars being a reality.

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Elon Musk: We Are One Year Away From Fully Autonomous, Self-Driving Cars
Photo Credit: TMU

(TMU) – Would you entrust your life to a car’s algorithmic intelligence? Would you curl up in the backseat and take a nap while your vehicle navigates hectic freeway traffic or busy intersections? Would you let your car be the designated driver while you have a night out on the town?

According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, we are essentially within a year of such technology existing, though he adds the caveat that it will likely take longer before the system is fully deployed and adopted.

Earlier this month, Musk announced the advance at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai. He has since elaborated during several podcast interviews.

To Cathie Wood and Tasha Keeney of ARK Invest in a podcast, he stated: 

“I think we will be feature complete — full self-driving — this year. Meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up and take you all the way to your destination without an intervention, this year.”

Musk added that you can expect to be able to take a nap behind the wheel if you want.

“My guess as to when we would think it is safe for somebody to essentially fall asleep and wake up at their destination? Probably towards the end of next year.”

Such technology would be a first-of-its-kind level 5 autonomous vehicle in which the car capable of handling all driver functions without human assistance or supervision.

Musk acknowledges that it is a difficult task. Currently, Tesla offers an Enhanced Autopilot feature that “guides a car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, including suggesting and making lane changes, navigating highway interchanges, and taking exits.”

“On a development level, [there is] no problem recognizing stop signs and traffic lights,” Musk has said. “But you do get ambiguity in some complex intersections with traffic lights. Like, which one’s the right light to focus on? Even if you’re a person, it’s not always clear. So that’s what we’re working on there.”

Technology experts and economists, citing multiple studies, suggest self-driving cars, or automated vehicles (AVs), will have massive beneficial effects on cities and human society.

AVs will free up an additional 50 minutes a day for human users, accumulating to an extra billion hours of productivity around the world. Perhaps even more importantly, AVs will dramatically reduce car accident fatalities (by up to 90% of the annual 1.2 million worldwide deaths), which will also save $190 billion in the U.S. alone.

AVs will also transform cities, leading to an 80% reduction in the overall number of vehicles, which will drastically reduce traffic congestion, free up new land, and lead to an overall reduction of pollution.

Tesla is currently in an AV race with other companies developing self-driving cars, including Waymo, Uber, Lyft, and traditional automakers. In 2018, Alphabet’s Waymo launched its robo-taxi service, though it was not fully autonomous.

AVs are expected to simultaneously usher in a new gold rush of consumer robotics and machine learning, including remote advanced sensing, hyperprecise positioning/GPS, image recognition, and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) development.

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Man Designs An Off-Road “Wheelchair” So That His Wife Can Go Places She Never Imagined

In hopes of getting his wife to see more, Zack Nelson created a hybrid wheel chair so she could go places she could not before.

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Photo Credit: Zacks Jerryrig

In the USA alone, there are around 2.7 million people who are bound to a wheelchair. Most of us take our abled bodies for granted at times. We don’t think twice when we climb stairs, or go for a walk in nature.

Meet Cambry, for almost all her adult life she has been wheelchair bound, unable to get around like her able-bodied friends, she’s been restricted to the pavement.

In hopes of getting Cambry to see more and be less restricted, her boyfriend at the time, Zack Nelson, created a hybrid wheel chair so she could go places she could not before. He merged two electric bikes and put a seat in the center. The best part was, it worked, and Cambry was able to experience a new found freedom thanks to the awesome creation Zack made for her.

The new spliced bike creation allowed Cambry to tackle obstacles that would normally be impossible in a regular wheelchair, and she could go on for miles without her shoulders hurting from pushing herself along.

It’s a year later now, and Cambry and Zack are not only married, but they have begun mass producing the “Not-a-Wheelchair” – the amazing off road vehicle has taken a year to perfect.

Choosing an adaptive off roader for disabled people doesn’t leave you with many options, the couple have said. They can cost as much as a regular car or are just insanely slow. Zack and Cambry came up with their design which is light and quick and comes with a long range, but it was not all easy and smooth sailing. Cambry explained:

“The toughest challenge when developing ‘Not-A-Wheelchair’ is the price. We wanted to create something that is affordable for everyone. Finding quality components, and a simple enough design at the cheapest price possible took quite a bit of time. But I think we have something now that everyone will be able to enjoy, at a fraction of the cost of other ‘off-road wheelchairs’ currently on the market.”

‘Not-a-Wheelchair’ is definitely not an indoor machine, so Cambry still uses her normal wheelchair for inside their home but any time she and Zack go to the park, or on a hike, she jumps in The Rig. “It’s silent, which means that we can all still talk and chat while she rides next to the group,” her husband explained.

During these trips, ‘Not-a-Wheelchair’ really showed what it’s capable of. “We have taken The Rig to Hawaii twice for testing. The bike has to be shipped with a freight company before we go, but we ship The Rig about a week before we fly out ourselves, and it’s waiting there for us when we arrive. All this travel was before COVID was a thing. Luckily, we also live near mountains and snow with long wide flat trails to try the bike out on.”

More info: notawheelchair.com | YouTube

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Bionic Eyes That ‘Surpass Biological Eyesight’ And Have Night-Vision Are Coming Soon

An innovation in bionic eyes is in development that could not only restore vision but actually surpass biological eyesight.

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Bionic Eyes That ‘Surpass Biological Eyesight’ And Have Night-Vision Are Coming Soon
Photo Credit: BBC

(TMU) – Will people with eyesight loss soon view the world through bionic vision? A new proof-of-concept biomimetic eye suggests the answer is ‘yes.’ Scientists and researchers say a new bionic eye innovation is in development that could not only restore vision but may actually surpass the optical sensitivity of biological eyesight.

The key, according to new research published in the journal Nature, is perovskite, a conductive, light-sensitive material commonly used in solar cells.

Researchers used perovskite to build tiny nanowire sensors occupying a curved aluminum oxide membrane, which collectively act as a 3-dimensional artificial retina. The nanowire sensors, several thousandths of a millimetre in length, simulate the photoreceptor cells found in organic human eyeballs.

Study co-author Zhiyong Fan says that for this proof-of-concept phase, the research team tested the visual information gathered from the bionic eye by using wires to replicate the brain’s visual cortex and then uploading that data to a computer.

Because of the extreme sensitivity of the nanowires, the bionic eye is quicker to react to light (processing 800-nanometer wavelengths) than an actual human eye. Researchers believe it is likely to also be more effective at image resolution and capable of night-vision.

According to Fan, the biomimetic eye will eventually surpass the range of vision of an average biological human eye:

“One more functional difference is that [the] human eye can only see optical wavelength range from 400 to 700 nm [nanometers]. However our current artificial eye can already respond to 200 nm ~ 800 nm wavelength range. In the future, if we choose to use a narrow bandgap semiconductor as photosensing material to build our artificial retina, then infrared light will be visible to the artificial eye.”

Incredibly, Fan added, “A human user of the artificial eye will gain night vision capability.”

The research team included scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, UC Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Human eyes operate like cameras, utilizing a single lens that affords us visual abilities 100 times better than insects, whose eyesight involves a compound of many tiny lenses translating light. Researchers sought to mimic this natural formula, even simulating the vitreous humour in a biological human eye with a “gel-like ionic liquid” that conducts energy into the artificial retina.

“Biological eyes are arguably the most important sensing organ for most of the animals on this planet. In fact, our brains acquire more than 80% of information about our surroundings via our eyes,” the researchers write in their paper.

“Particularly, the domed shape of the retina has the merit of reducing the complexity of optical systems by directly compensating the aberration from the curved focal plane. Mimicking human eyes, artificial vision systems are just as essential in autonomous technologies such as robotics.”

Interfacing with the human visual system still presents a challenge to this technology. Nevertheless, some scientists believe we’re no more than 10 years away from deploying bionic eyes. Combined with Elon Musk’s “neural lace” brain-AI merging technology, which he claims is only 4-5 years off, the 2030s could be a wild decade.

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