What caught our attention outside the world of oil and gas this month
Nanomotors autonomously seek and repair cracks
Researchers at the University of California in San Diego have devised a synthetic self-repair system for electronics using self-propelled nanoparticles. These particles can autonomously detect and repair microscopic mechanical defects to restore the electrical conductivity of broken electronic pathways.
These nanomotors are made of spherical gold and platinum Janus particles – particles with two or more physical properties, allowing different types of chemistry to occur on the same particle. They are powered by hydrogen peroxide, as the platinum spurs the fuel to break down into water and oxygen, propelling the particles.
In tests, these particles moved over the surface of a scratched and broken electronic circuit containing an LED. When the particles encountered the scratch they became lodged inside it and bridged the gap, completing the circuit and re-lighting the LED.
Researcher Jinxing Li believes that these could be used to repair damage-prone electronic components such as conductive solar cells, as well as flexible sensors and batteries.
Engineers achieve Wi-Fi using 10,000 times less power
A team from the US’ University of Washington (UW) has successfully engineered Wi-Fi transmissions using 10,000 times less power than conventional systems.
Termed “Passive Wi-Fi,” the innovation is capable of transmission at bit rates of up to 11 Megabits per second (11 Mbps), the same as conventional 802.11b Wi-Fi signals. These can be decoded on any existing Wi-Fi-enabled device and, according to the team’s website, at ranges of between 30-100 feet (10-30 metres).
While this bitrate is lower than the maximum speeds of other Wi-Fi standards, it is around 11 times higher than Bluetooth. It also uses 1,000 times less power than rival energy-efficient data transfer methods such as Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee.
An 11-Mbps transmission consumed 49.28 micro Watts, according to the researchers’ website.
The key to achieving this was in reconfiguring the analogue components, the most power-intensive part of a conventional Wi-Fi transmitter. In Passive WiFi, these high-power functions are all handled by a single mains-powered device which generates the signal, while passive sensors simply reflect and absorb that signal using almost no power at all.
Passive Wi-Fi could enable major technological strides in sectors such as the Internet of Things (IoT), connecting devices which were previously too energy-demanding to afford power resources to conventional Wi-Fi. The team has suggested applications in monitoring systems such as microphones, cameras and proximity sensors.
The team has also stated that tiny passive devices could be as cheap as US$1 to make, offering an incredible range of potential connectivity applications.
Passive Wi-Fi is currently in the process of commercialisation by spin-off company Jeeva Wireless and could be seen on the market in the next 3-5 years.
RFMOD comes home with magic beans
A tiny bean-shaped sensor package from UK-based RFMOD holds a wealth of potential applications.
Inside each of the 45mm by 18mm, 3-D printed “beans” is a small circuit and a wirelessly rechargeable battery. This powers a sensor array which can monitor an impressive amount of environmental variables, including motion, temperature, air pressure, humidity and even some gas concentrations such as CO or CO2. The device also features a compass and gyroscope to provide readings on its orientation.
Data can be collected by these sensors and sent to other IoT nodes via low-power Bluetooth.
While the firm sees the potential in agricultural applications such as grain storage, there are almost innumerable possibilities beyond that, including wearable tech, control systems, asset and fluid monitoring and track-and-trace.
BeanIoT also comes with a programmable app, meaning owners and developers will be free to let their imaginations run wild.
Google breaks withrobotic arm
Google’s parent company Alphabet is putting robotics subsidiary Boston Dynamics up for sale.
The company has designed and built a range of autonomous robots, demonstrations of which have gone viral on the internet. But with most of its systems issued as part of military contracts, Boston Dynamics remains some way off a commercial product.
In addition, Bloomberg reported there had been considerable internal strife over how the division was run and how it had interacted with other Google subsidiaries since its acquisition in 2013.
For those reasons, Alphabet is now looking to sell. Toyota and Amazon have been tipped as potential buyers, though nothing has been confirmed.
Army engineers craft new fouling preventer
Engineers at the US’ Picatinny Arsenal claim to have developed a new surface applicant which could prevent fouling in its weapons.
The applicant, described as “durable solid lubricant” or DSL, prevents materials from sticking to a weapon’s surface. The lack of adhesion means that small vibrations, movement or recoil from firing is enough to knock any debris free.
Applied at the manufacturing stage, it could allow the US military to produce corrosion-protected weapons which rarely require cleaning or lubrication.
Patents are pending and further field tests will be conducted this summer, though the team hopes to begin production in 2018.