Researchers in the US have scaled up a new low-cost system that could provide efficient cooling for homes while using very little electricity.
The team has developed a roof-top sized array, built from a highly reflective material made from glass and polymers.
In tests, the system kept water around 10C cooler than the ambient air when exposed to midday sunlight in summer.
The approach could also be scaled up to cool power stations and data centres.
The system is based around what’s termed a cooling meta-material, which is essentially an engineered film not found in nature.
Last year, researchers at CU Boulder in the US published research on the extraordinary properties of the new film, which reflects back almost all incoming light from the Sun.
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But it also has another cooling trick that makes it quite special. If you use the film to cover water, it allows any heat in the liquid to escape into the air.
So when the heat escapes and is not replaced because the material deflects away sunlight, temperatures drop rapidly.
Now the scientists have improved the system and and built and tested a 13-sq-metre array of panels, that’s small enough to fit on most rooftops.
“You could place these panels on the roof of a single-family home and satisfy its cooling requirements,” said Dongliang Zhao, lead author of the study from CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The global race towards superfast “fifth generation” mobile internet, known as 5G, is entering a key phase. The trouble is no-one knows exactly which technologies will be best for offering such a service. But one telecoms firm may just have had a light-bulb moment.
At its headquarters in Slough, O2 has installed an unusual demo. It’s a room where a wireless internet connection is provided not through wi-fi, but li-fi – a system that transmits data through light waves rather than radio waves.
The mobile operator thinks the system may help to offer 5G speeds in certain locations where getting coverage from an outdoor mobile signal is difficult.
‘Li-fi 100 times faster than wi-fi’
Harald Burchardt of pureLiFi, the firm behind the tech, says ceiling spotlights in the room have been spaced evenly so that their downward, cone-shaped beams can connect to a light-receiving dongle plugged into a tablet computer.
“We’re using the light itself,” he tells me, gesturing at the bulbs above. “These are flickering at billions of times a second, naked to the human eye.”
Li-fi can offer data speeds of up to eight gigabits per second (8Gbps) – about 400 times faster than the average broadband speed in the UK.
You need only walk a few steps out of the room and the signal drops. Inside, it stays ultra snappy.
Within the ceiling, the light bulbs have been connected to access points that are wired to the internet. If you didn’t know that, though, you’d simply think you had walked into a well-lit room. It’s a much more market-ready version of the technology demonstrated to the BBC four years ago.
So why is O2 considering li-fi as a potential way of offering 5G-style mobile connectivity in indoor spaces?
“Targeting indoor coverage is a real challenge,” explains Brendan O’Reilly, O2’s chief technology officer.
This is because it is harder for high-frequency, short wavelength 5G radio signals to penetrate walls and windows than 4G radio signals. Despite ostensibly being faster, the 5G signal may actually be less accessible in some places as a result.
“Li-fi could be part of a 5G solution. It provides good data rates,” says Mr O’Reilly.
“I don’t think we’ll see O2 necessarily offering to make light bulbs themselves, but as part of a solution to a connectivity problem I can see li-fi playing a role in that.”
Li-fi could extend mobile connectivity into those hard-to-reach indoor spaces. Or li-fi bulbs could replace streetlights in well-lit urban areas to provide high-speed connections to densely packed crowds of people.
Last year, Harald Haas, who coined the term “li-fi”, published a paper in which he described the technology as a game-changer for 5G, listing a number of potential applications.
It might connect “internet of things” devices dotted around a building via light, he argued, offer connectivity to driverless cars moving along roads, or bring super-fast wireless internet to devices in data centres.
And Mr O’Reilly suggests that hospitals could easily hook up healthcare devices to the local network without having to rely on over-burdened wi-fi networks or relying on potentially hazardous cables.
Prof Dimitra Simeonidou at the University of Bristol says li-fi could help in places where radio-based connectivity is challenged – such as in train tunnels.
“When you are having the train go through the tunnel there is very little space around it, so that will definitely disturb radio signals,” she explains.
Providing a seamless mobile signal to passengers on a train journey or to those using an underground rail network could be made possible with internet-enabled tunnel lighting, she says.
But li-fi is not ready to light up the 5G roll-out just yet.
“To make it work sensibly, it needs to be a bit like wi-fi, it needs to be ubiquitous,” says Prof William Webb, independent consultant and author of The 5G Myth.
“It needs to be in-built to lots and lots of devices.”
For the O2 demo, a dongle was plugged into a tablet to receive the li-fi signal. But for the technology really to take off, these light-reading sensors would have to be built in to devices – a considerable obstacle.
And the most obvious drawback is that your phone won’t be able to pick up a signal if it’s in your pocket or bag. But given how much time we spend staring at our small screens, maybe this wouldn’t be such an issue.
Prof Webb believes wi-fi networks could be capable of handling demand, despite that being an occasional frustration.
“It isn’t really a pressing problem,” he says.
His scepticism is echoed by Sylvain Fabre, an analyst at market research firm Gartner. He and his colleagues have been tracking the development of li-fi products and their adoption, but they are yet to see a big impact.
“There aren’t many vendors and there are very few installations,” he tells me. “It will be hard to go to economies of scale and get prices to drop.”
But that isn’t stopping O2 and others from exploring the possibilities.
It might only take one engineer to change a light bulb – but Harald Haas and pureLiFi will need a lot more than that to change the world of wireless connectivity.
A growing number of tech analysts are predicting that in less than 20 years we’ll all have stopped owning cars, and, what’s more, the internal combustion engine will have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Yes, it’s a big claim and you are right to be sceptical, but the argument that a unique convergence of new technology is poised to revolutionise personal transportation is more persuasive than you might think.
The central idea is pretty simple: Self-driving electric vehicles organised into an Uber-style network will be able to offer such cheap transport that you’ll very quickly – we’re talking perhaps a decade – decide you don’t need a car any more.
And if you’re thinking this timescale is wildly optimistic, just recall how rapidly cars replaced horses.
Take a look at this picture of 5th Avenue in New York in 1900. Can you spot the car?
Now look at this picture from 1913. Yes, this time where’s the horse?
So how will this latest transportation revolution unfold?
The driverless Uber model
First off, consider how Uber and other networked taxi companies have already changed the way we move around. In most major cities an Uber driver – or one of its rivals – is usually just a couple of minutes away, and charges less than established taxis, let’s say £10.
Add in the low cost of recharging batteries compared to refuelling and you’ve got another dramatic reduction in costs.
And it’s worth noting that the cost of electric vehicles is likely to continue to fall, and rapidly. As they become mainstream, returns to scale will drive down costs. That’s the logic behind Tesla’s $5bn (£3.8bn) battery plant, the so-called “Gigafactory”.
How does this affect our £10 journey?
It brings another dramatic reduction. Fully autonomous electric taxi networks could offer rides at as little as 10% of current rates.
At least that’s what tech prophet Tony Seba reckons. He and his team at the think-tank RethinkX have done more than anyone else to think through how this revolution might rip through the personal transportation market.
‘Transport as a service’
We’ve now cut our £10 fare to just £1.
Mr Seba calls the idea of a robo-taxi network “transport as a service”, and estimates it could save the average American as much as $6,000 (£4,560) a year. That’s the equivalent of a 10% pay rise.
And don’t forget, when the revolution comes you won’t be behind the wheel so now you’ll be working or relaxing as you travel – another big benefit.
You still think that car parked outside your flat is worth having?
What’s more, once this new model of getting around takes hold the benefits are likely to be reinforcing. The more vehicles in the network, the better the service offered to consumers; the more miles self-driving cars do, the more efficient and safer they’ll get; the more electric vehicles manufactured, the cheaper each one will be.
Don’t worry that rural areas will be left out. A vehicle could be parked in every village waiting for your order to come.
And range anxiety – the fear that you might run out of electricity – won’t be a problem either. Should the battery run low the network will send a fully charged car to meet you so you can continue your journey.
You’ve probably seen headlines about accidents involving self-driving cars but the truth is they will be far safer than ones driven by you and me – they won’t get regulatory approval if they are not. That means tens of thousands of lives – perhaps hundreds of thousands – will be saved as accident rates plummet.
That will generate yet another cost saving for our fleets of robo-taxis. The price of insurance will tumble, while at the same time those of us who insist on continuing to drive our own vehicles will face higher charges.
Human drivers banned
According to the tech visionaries it won’t be long before the whole market tilts irreversibly away from car ownership and the trusty old internal combustion engine.
RethinkX, for example, reckons that within 10 years of self-driving cars getting regulatory approval 95% of passenger miles will be in these electric robo-taxis.
The logical next step will be for human beings to be banned from driving cars at all because they pose such a risk to other road users.
Take a moment to think about the wide-reaching effects this revolution will have, aside from just changing how we get around. There will be downsides: millions of car industry workers and taxi drivers will be looking for new jobs, for a start.
But think of the hundreds of billions of dollars consumers will save, and which can now be spent elsewhere in the economy.
Meanwhile, the numbers of cars will plummet. RethinkX estimates that the number of vehicles on US roads will fall from nearly 250 million to just 45 million over a 10-year period. That will free up huge amounts of space in our towns and cities.
And, please take note: I haven’t mentioned the enormous environmental benefits of converting the world’s cars to electricity.
That’s because the logic of this upheaval isn’t driven by new rules on pollution or worries about global warming but by the most powerful incentive in any economy – cold hard cash.
That said, there’s no question that a wholesale switch away from fossil fuels will slow climate change and massively reduce air pollution.
In short, let the revolution begin!
But seriously, I’ve deliberately put these arguments forcefully to prompt debate and we want to hear what you think.
University of Surrey Press Release
1st October 2018
A new material that is as stiff as metal but flexible enough to withstand strong vibrations could transform the car manufacturing industry, say experts from the University of Surrey.
In a paper published in Scientific Reports by Nature, scientists from Surrey joined forces with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of California to develop a material that has high stiffness and damping.
The team achieved this near impossible combination in a material by using 3D woven technical textile composite sheets, with selected unbonded fibres – allowing the inside of the material to move and absorb vibrations, while the surrounding material remains rigid.
Researchers believe their new material could usher in a new wave of trains, cars, and aircrafts, allowing customers to experience little to no vibration during their travels.
Dr Stefan Szyniszewski, lead author of the study and Assistant Professor of Materials and Structures at the University of Surrey, said: “The idea of a composite the resolves the paradox of stiffness and damping was thought to be impossible – yet here we are. This is an exciting development that could send shock waves through the car, train and aerospace manufacturing industries. This is a material that could make the vehicles of the near future more comfortable than ever before.”
Fig. 1: (a) 3D woven (3DW) lattice material is composed of Z- (green), warp (red) and fill (blue) wires; (b) Yellow color indicates the brazing locations (at the top and bottom). (c) Cross-section of 3D woven lattice with the stiff skeleton (the brazed portion on the top and bottom) and free lattice members in the core of the structure, (d) SEM image of the brazed top face, which confirmed metallurgical bonding of the metallic lattices.
The Internet of Things (IoT) driven health care space focuses on wearables, tele-health, and servicing patient with chronic conditions as well as fitness, nutrition, and weight management concerns.
According to a 2016 report from Grand View Research, Inc, the global connected health and wellness devices market was valued at $123.2 billion in 2015 but is expected to reach $612 billion by 2024. An increased reliance on tele-health as well as a rising number of individuals diagnosed with chronic illness is creating demand for disease management and continuous patient monitoring tools. IoT connected health devices with access to electronic patient health records can provide comprehensive health information and assist in creating personalized treatments.
IoT Driven Data Sharing
According to Deloitte, health care providers struggle with the fact that interactions with their most vulnerable patients are often sporadic, providing them with low insight into their patients’ daily decisions and activities. Compliance with treatment plans can be compromised and important information missed, leaving the medical provider blind to important health information and frustrated with bad patient outcomes.
If the flow of information and feedback between patients, providers, and caregivers is enabled with IoT connected devices, everyone is able to get on the same page for patient care. Decisions are now made with all pertinent information in hand and patient outcomes improve exponentially. Fortunately, new technology can make that possible, with IoT wearable medical devices that track internal patient data around the clock and make recording external data easy.
The key is patient-generated data (PGD), which is commonly defined within the industry as “health-related data created, recorded, gathered, or inferred by or from patients or their designees to help address a health concern.” Patient reported outcomes, medical-device data, and wearables data can all be part of individualized PGD, and supplemented by more generalized consumer-generated data in a health care setting.
Mass adoption of IoT devices and wearable medical devices, including sensors and mobile communication devices, is an industry growth driver as consumer preferences towards a more health-conscious lifestyle. The advantages of continuous monitoring for many chronic conditions encourages patient compliance and allows daily logging to become more reliable, delivering more accurate PGD for better outcomes.
The Role of IoT in Health Care Value
The latest versions of digital PGD is being increasingly generated by IoT technologies. Two key areas benefit from IoT-connected data collection medical devices, including:
Short-Term Care Planning
A short-term care period can be utilized to generate massive amounts of event related data and create a customized care plan that encourages patient compliance and provides support in the way of feedback, reminders, and continual monitoring.
Long-Term Chronic Disease Management and Home Care
Known health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes can be monitored narrowly with continuous data streams tracking any potentially concerning deviations from normal parameters and providing alerts both to patient and caregiver or doctor if required.
The use of IoT connected devices to record and share PGD presents substantial opportunities for health outcome improvements, patient engagement, and cost savings. Deploying wearable medical devices allows doctors to partner with caregivers to deliver treatment tailored to individual patients, creating a patient-centered environment that promotes compliance and contentment.
Complex patient monitoring devices can be interfaced to a single network connection and managed across the internet. Perle Serial Console Servers provide administrators with access from anywhere, allowing remote management to reduce cost while maintaining network security and patient privacy.
A team at the University of Glasgow has created a prototype system that could revolutionise travel.
The technology uses a metal oxide – described by researchers as an “exotic rust” – that can be charged with electricity when added to water.
Drivers would use filling stations to refuel their electric cars, driving away instantly once a battery is full.
Prof Lee Cronin, who is part of the research team, said the liquid battery could hold the key to making electric cars a viable option to fossil-fuelled vehicles.
Prof Cronin told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “This will overcome a big kind of cultural inertia – you can get instant refuel in the same way, with no change to your behaviour now.
“Because it’s a liquid it would just work as normal using the same infrastructure.
“It will certainly be a game changer if we can make sure that the prototype scales as we expect.”
Drivers would remove the spent “rust” liquid using a withdrawal nozzle at the pump.
They would then use a second nozzle to refill the battery with fresh liquid from the pump.
The Glasgow team said the liquid would provide the same range of miles as conventional fossil fuel.
And Prof Cronin said his liquid battery did not age in the same way as current electric systems.
He also said their capacity – the amount of energy they can carry – was higher.
The team said the process of making the liquid was not too difficult but scaling up production was the next challenge.
The technology could also be used to keep power domestic energy supplies.
A small prototype is being upscaled at present – and everything seems to be going well, according to researchers.
Prof Cronin said: “If you are going to shift to electric cars, recharge time seems to be an almost unstoppable barrier because you are going to have to plan – even with a super-charger – a half-hour to 45-minute wait.
“And then there’s the anxiety of whether you have got enough charging stations.
“I can see a situation where you would have petrol and liquid battery co-existing for a while.”
The research is funded by the University of Glasgow, the European Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.