All kinds of electrical devices we have today are made to have a limited lifetime, which perfectly serves the interests of the consumerist society we live in. Just think about it: if all home appliances and electronic devices we use daily were designed to last, would we need to constantly buy new ones?
Batteries are no exception to this. Even the best-performing lithium batteries can work efficiently up to 500 charge cycles, after which they lose their capacity and need to be replaced. Now, researchers led by doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai of the University of California seem to have created a battery with a lifespan of over 200,000 charge cycles, which is 400 greater than that of the batteries currently available in the market! Moreover, this remarkable invention was made as a result of an accident in the lab.
“Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” Reginald Penner of the University of California said in a press release. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity.”
The initial goal of the research was to develop a solid-state battery using gold nanowires instead of lithium and an electrolyte gel instead of liquid. In fact, lithium batteries have some major drawbacks: the liquid they contain makes them combustible and sensitive to temperature while lithium inevitably corrodes inside the battery over time. Thus, using nanowires and gel, the researchers were seeking to create an improved version of the conventional battery.
Nanowires are highly conductive but also extremely fragile. However, when they were coated in manganese dioxide with the addition of electrolyte gel, the system was found to be far more resilient than any other known battery systems.
“That was crazy,” Penner said, “because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most.”
Of course, this new battery would still have to be recharged, but the point is that its impressive lifespan of 200,000 charge cycles is more than enough to cover the lifetime of most devices, including computers, smartphones and even vehicles. And the best part is that it doesn’t lose its capacity as quickly as conventional lithium batteries, which become less and less efficient as you charge and recharge them. The researchers have been testing the new battery for three months and it was found to have lost only 5% of its capacity! Just imagine if your 5-year-old laptop held a charge the same well as if you bought it just yesterday.
The problem is that the researchers haven’t fully understood the mechanism of the system yet. Also, the battery hasn’t been tested with some kind of device to make sure that it can potentially be used in consumer electronics and have the same impressive efficiency. Another challenge is a high cost of gold nanowires – even despite the fact that they are thousands of times thinner than a human hair, their use would significantly increase the market price of the battery. For this reason, the team is now conducting new experiments with nickel to see if they can achieve the same (or similar) level of efficiency.
In any case, the results of this research are promising and could revolutionize the market. However, I’m not sure if electronics giants of the world will be the same enthusiastic about a battery that could last a lifetime as we are.
Meanwhile, check out this documentary that perfectly explains why products we can’t imagine our life today (such as light bulbs or fridges) are made to last much less than their actual technical capabilities:
Image source: Steve Zylius / UCI
Chinese Military Satellite Smashed by Russian Rocket in “Major Confirmed Orbital Collision”
In an incident that is likely illustrative of things to come, Chinese military satellite 1-02 was smashed after it appears to have collided into the debris from a disintegrating Russian rocket.
The collision, which occurred earlier this year, shows the increasing danger of space junk such as satellite parts and other miscellaneous jetsam littering the Earth’s orbit. An estimated 8,000 metric tons of space debris pose the risk of destroying functional equipment such as weather forecasting systems, telecoms and GPS systems – and even manned space travel missions – if the problem isn’t reined in.
The fate of the Chinese satellite was uncovered by Harvard astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.
The breakup of Yunhai 1-02 was initially reported by the U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS). However, it wasn’t until recently that McDowell found out what caused the breakup.
The astrophysicist soon found that it was destroyed by space junk that originated from a Russian Zenit-2 rocket that had launched a spy satellite in 1996. On Aug. 14, McDowell found a strange entry in a database on Space-Track.org: “Collided with satellite.”
“This is a new kind of comment entry — haven’t seen such a comment for any other satellites before,” McDowell tweeted.
“A quick analysis of the TLEs show that Yunhai 1-02 (44547) and [the debris object] passed within 1 km of each other (so within the uncertainty of the TLEs) at 0741 UTC Mar 18, exactly when 18SPCS reports Yunhai broke up,” he added, noting that this “looks to be the first major confirmed orbital collision in a decade.”
However, the Yunhai satellite still remains functional and is transmitting radio signals, notes Space.com.
The incident shows the growing likelihood of such collisions in the high-traffic, littered near-Earth orbital zone.
“Collisions are proportional to the square of the number of things in orbit,” McDowell explained. “That is to say, if you have 10 times as many satellites, you’re going to get 100 times as many collisions.”
He added: “So, as the traffic density goes up, collisions are going to go from being a minor constituent of the space junk problem to being the major constituent. That’s just math.”
A worst-case scenario of such collisions is known as the “Kessler Syndrome,” and describes the possibility of one collision setting in motion a chain of collisions. Such a disaster was the premise of the 2013 film “Gravity.”
One hopes that things don’t reach that point.
In the meantime, however, there have been a number of initiatives meant to tackle the growing problem of space debris, such as the ELSA-d spacecraft launched in a demonstration mission earlier this year.
Boston Dynamics Drops New Video Of 5-Foot Atlas Humanoid Robot Effortlessly Doing Parkour
Robot maker Boston Dynamics has released new video of its two-legged Atlas robot effortlessly completing a parkour obstacle course, offering a new display of its humanoid machines’ unsettling repertoire.
In the video, a pair of Atlas robots can be seen leaping over large gaps, vaulting beams, and even performing backflips. The robot can even be seen jumping over a board while using its arm to remain steady.
While the display seems like anything but “free” running – as the original developers of parkour had envisioned – the routine does seem like an impressive, if terrifying, display of effective coding that took months to perfect, according to the Hyundai-owned robotics firm.
“It’s not the robot just magically deciding to do parkour, it’s kind of a choreographed routine, much like a skateboard video or a parkour video,” said Atlas control lead Benjamin Stephens.
See for yourself:
Unlike its robotic dog Spot, which controversially hit New York City streets last year before being pulled, Atlas isn’t a production robot. Instead, it’s a research model meant to see how far the limits of robotics can be pushed.
In the past, Boston Dynamics has displayed the robot’s feats with videos of Atlas jogging and even busting out some cool dance moves.
Team lead Scott Kuindersma said in a statement that in about two decades, we can expect to coexist with robots that move “with grace, reliability, and work alongside humans to enrich our lives.”
Until then, some of us will continue to reserve our right to feel a bit queasy about the prospect of people being chased down by these skilled free-running (and dancing) machines.
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.