Solar-powered skin could help prosthetics imbue sense of touch

March 23, 2017 by  
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Engineers from the University of Glasgow have developed a synthetic skin that could help amputees regain their sense of touch. Clad in graphene, a form of graphite just one atom thick yet tougher than steel, the “electronic skin” even uses photovoltaic cells to harvest power from the sun. “This could allow the creation of an entirely energy-autonomous prosthetic limb,” said Ravinder Dahiya , head of the School of Engineering’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies group and the author of a paper on the subject in the current issue of Advanced Functional Materials . Graphene and solar cells are ideal bedfellows because of the former’s unique physical properties, Dahiya said. The material’s optical transparency, for instance, allows 98 percent of the light that hits its surface to pass through. Graphene is also electrically conductive, which means it can channel power to sensors that measure attributes like temperature, pressure, and texture. “Those measurements mean the prosthetic hand is capable of performing challenging tasks like properly gripping soft materials, which other prosthetics can struggle with,” Dahiya said. Related: Thought-controlled robotic arm returns the sense of touch to amputees Because the new skin requires only 20 nanowatts of power per square centimeter, even the lowest-rated photovoltaic cell on the market will suffice. The energy generated by the skin’s cells cannot be stored at present, but the researchers are exploring ways of diverting any unused energy into batteries that can be drawn from at a later time. Beyond prosthetics, the breakthrough could fuel further advances in robotics—a boon for an increasingly automated world. “Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety,” Dahiya said. “A robot working on a construction line, for example, is much less likely to accidentally injure a human if it can feel that a person has unexpectedly entered their area of movement and stop before an injury can occur.” + University of Glasgow

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Solar-powered skin could help prosthetics imbue sense of touch

World’s largest artificial sun switches on in Germany

March 23, 2017 by  
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German scientists are hoping to shine new light on ways to generate environmentally friendly fuels. At the German Aerospace Center (DLR)’s Institute for Solar Research, they have flipped on a system called Synlight, which they describe as the largest artificial sun on the planet. Synlight is comprised of 149 huge spotlights, pouring out a light intensity around 10,000 times the solar radiation naturally found on Earth. Synlight’s 149 spotlights are similar to those commonly used in cinema projectors. According to DLR, “These enable solar radiation powers of up to 380 kilowatts and two times up to 240 kilowatts in three separately usable irradiation chambers, in which a maximum flux density of more than eleven megawatts per square meter can be achieved.” They create a brilliant array, which scientists hope will help them figure out how to best use the huge quantity of energy from sunlight hitting Earth. The experiment doesn’t come without a cost: Synlight sucks up as much electricity in just four hours as a family of four could use in an entire year, according to the Associated Press. It’s also housed in a specially built structure in Germany. Related: Norwegian Town Creates ‘Artificial Sun’ to Light Up Dark Winter Days The focus for Synlight researchers will be on solar fuels, according to DLR, which said scientists will zero in on developing manufacturing processes. Scientists will delve into new ways to create hydrogen , which isn’t found naturally but must be created by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, according to ABC News. The publication quoted the institute’s director Bernhard Hoffschmidt, who said the furnace-light conditions Synlight can produce – up to 5,432 degrees Fahrenheit – are crucial to experimenting with new methods of creating hydrogen. DLR said industrial companies, such as those in air and space travel, will be able to use Synlight to test components with the help of DLR scientists. Via DLR , ABC News , and the Associated Press Images via DLR

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World’s largest artificial sun switches on in Germany

Google Street View cars are helping scientists spot methane leaks

March 23, 2017 by  
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The Google fleet has been mapping cities around the world for years, making navigation easier for travelers. Now they have an important new responsibility: Google Street View cars will seek out natural gas leaks in urban areas. The data will not only help cities protect citizens from potentially harmful gas leaks, but also help cut accidental greenhouse gas emissions. The project was outlined in a new paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology . It’s a collaborative effort between Colorado State University researchers, the Environmental Defense Fund , and Google that involves attaching methane sensors to Google Street View cars. Related: Google Street View takes you inside the fiery depths of an active volcano The cars have been outfitted with special infrared lasers that can detect the amount of methane in the surrounding air in real time. Experiments found that the sensors had a range of about 65 feet, more than enough to detect leaks in urban settings where pipelines run beneath or near public streets. So far, the cars have found that there may be many more methane leaks in America’s major cities than previously believed. Cities with more modern pipelines were far less likely to have leaks, while Boston —the worst offender—was found to have thousands of leaks, resulting in a loss of about 1,300 tons of gas per year. Related: House Republicans move to make methane pollution great again While these aren’t necessarily a threat to public health or safety as long as the leaks are outdoors and natural gas can’t build up to explosive levels, they can wreak havoc on the atmosphere. Methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide, and leaks could seriously accelerate climate change if they aren’t addressed. Via The Washington Post Images via Wikipedia

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Google Street View cars are helping scientists spot methane leaks

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