Conventional batteries have a cathode at one end, an anode at the other, and an electrolyte in between -- a design that limits the speed that energy can flow. Now, Amy Prieto from Colorado State University has created a new battery from a copper foam substrate, coated with negative electrode for the anode, then coated in a solid electrolyte, with the rest is filled in with the cathode -- significantly increasing the surface areas, while decreasing ion travel distance, and, hence charge time. While still in early development, the new design could lead to higher energy density and faster charge times than lithium ion, with the added environmental bonus of using non-toxic chemicals, like citric acid instead of the sulphuric acid currently used in car batteries.
This year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, automakers Toyota and Audi have shown their visions for automated driving. Both implementations differ from Google’s fully-autonomous car project, which highlights integrated software mapping. Toyota showed off a Lexus LS 600 equipped to take control away from the driver only when an accident is predicted. Audi showed off a self-parking car, and alluded to an autonomous system that could be turned on to join self-driving motorcades for highway driving. Of course, I love autonomous cars -- because I want to drive while texting and drinking whiskey in a school zone. Now, it’ll be a little bit safer.
Duncan Haldane from the University of California, Berkeley, has presented VelociRoACH, a four-inch cockroach-inspired robot capable of running at 2.7 m/s, making it one of the fastest legged robots in the world. The legs are thin, C-shaped springs that rotate fifteen times per second, and for stability, three of the six legs are touching the ground at all times. The robot can also climb obstacles by slamming into them and popping up and over. A cockroach? This is the most disgusting and revolting robot in the world, but only because I haven’t finished my robot Honey Boo Boo’s Mom. Yet.
Robots locate endangered whales
Autonomous marine gliders operating in the Gulf of Maine in early December successfully located nine endangered right whales, enabling an advisory to boats in the area to decrease speed to help avoid a collision. Gliders are programmed to periodically dive and listen for calls of sei, fin, humpback and right whales, and then surface, and transmit the results via satellite. The Gulf of Maine was previously suspected of being a right whale winter mating area, and the gliders reported the whale song within hours of hitting the water.
Miniature X-ray scanner
X-ray machines are generally big and heavy, but now Scott Kovaleski and his team from the University of Missouri have developed an x-ray scanning device roughly as big as a pack of gum. The device works by exposing a piezoelectric crystal of lithium niobate with an alternating current, which causes mechanical vibration. By adjusting the current to ten volts at forty kilohertz, and installing tiny wire points on the crystals, the vibration generated an electric field equivalent to one hundred thousand volts, which is enough to produce x-rays. With x-ray scanners this small, can we please build my x-ray glasses already? I’m still mad at that cereal box’s false advertising.
White House rejects Death Star
By law, the White House must respond to any petition submitted with at at least twenty-five thousand signatures, and in December, a petition was submitted with over thirty-four thousand online signatures urging construction of a Death Star. Now, Paul Shawcross from the White House Office of Management and Budget has responded in a document entitled, “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For.” Sadly, due to the estimated $850 quadrillion price tag, the petition was rejected. Shawcross also cited that we already have an international space station, pointing out, “That’s no moon!” I agree -- we can’t have a death star diverting resources away from worthy government programs, like my proposed genesis device. Trekkers unite!