This week, Google announced Project Loon, an effort to deliver internet connectivity to sparsely-populated rural areas using a network of balloons equipped with radio frequency communication. Coming from the high-risk research arm Google X, the pilot project in New Zealand will use solar-powered balloons with variable buoyancy that will navigate by adjusting altitude to find winds moving in the preferred direction. And also this week, in an unrelated announcement, Perseus Telecom is seriously considering a line of balloons stretching across the Atlantic Ocean for high-speed securities trading, that uses microwave transmission for its faster speed relative to todayÆs satellite and fiber-optic communication. So this week was a good week for internet on balloons.
Contact lens display
Move over, Google Glass! Researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science, together with Samsung, have attached an LED to an everyday soft contact lens, to create a simple one-pixel display. The device is wired with a very flexible combination of silver nanowires sandwiched between sheets of graphene, which yields a lower electric resistance than each material in isolation. The device was tested on rabbit eyes, and showed no irritation after five hours of use. I guess Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol wasnÆt an unrealistic, unbelievable waste of time after all, and I owe my brother an apology. That is unacceptable.
Plane and train combo
The +cole Polytechnique FTdTrale de Lausanne in Switzerland has invented ClipAir, a system that detaches an airplane fuselage from its wing system, allowing it to function as a railroad car. The system could allow passengers to board a car at a train station, which rides to an airport and attaches itself to wings and flies away. The system could also be used to allow the plane to be powered by fuel types that conventional planes canÆt use and that require heavy tanks, like liquid hydrogen. Boarding a plane at a train station? IÆd miss the best part of air travel -- freaking out the Rapiscan machine operators. I smile at them like this.
Liquid-free lithium batteries
Scientists from the US Department of EnergyÆs Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created a completely solid lithium-sulfur battery with about four times the energy density of todayÆs lithium-ion batteries. Conventional batteries have a liquid electrolyte that conducts ions between the cathode and anode, but also causes them to break down. The new batteries combine a sulfur-based cathode, a lithium anode and a solid electrolyte that avoids the dissolution problem. And while the experimental batteries yield only half the voltage of conventional lithium ion, they have eight times the milliamp-hours per gram, for a combined four times the energy density.
Kilometer elevator cables
At 828 meters, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is currently the worldÆs tallest building, but getting to the upper floors requires changing elevators at around 500 m -- the maximum height of todayÆs elevator cables. Now, Finnish company Kone has developed UltraRope, a 4 mm thick, 4 cm wide tape with a lightweight carbon fiber core that could one day hoist an elevator a kilometer high. The UltraRope is already in use for 333 m deep mineshaft elevators in Lohja, Finland. Thousand-meter elevators? IÆm not worried about the length of cables, but the length of awkward silence. Dude, you whistle Zippadeedoodah a third time, and I stop you with force.
Interplanetary robot submarine
The European Space Agency has vague plans to send a mission to JupiterÆs icy moon of Europa sometime around the year 2030, in order to explore liquid water oceans and search for signs of life. Now, Jonas Jonsson, a researcher from Upsalla UniversityÆs Angstrom Space Technology Centre in Sweden, has designed a miniature robotic submarine for the mission, called Deeper Access, Deeper Understanding, or DADU. The tiny device, about the size of two soda cans, is equipped with sonar, laser and temperature sensors, and also has a high-res video camera. I say, if there is intelligent life on Europa, please donÆt let them see this picture, mentioning anything like ôProbing for alien life.ö ThatÆs how interplanetary wars get started.