Researchers at the University of the West of England, Bristol and the University of Bristol collaborated to build a system that will enable robots to function without batteries or being plugged into an electrical outlet.
Based on the functioning of the human heart, the system is designed to pump urine into the robot’s “engine room,” converting the waste into electricity and enabling the robot to function completely on its own.
Scientists are hoping the system, which can hold 24.5 ml of urine, could be used to power future generations of robots, or what they’re calling EcoBots.
“In the city environment, they could re-charge using urine from urinals in public lavatories,” said Peter Walters, a researcher with the University of the West of England. “In rural environments, liquid waste effluent could be collected from farms.”
In the past 10 years, researchers have built four generations of EcoBots, each able to use microorganisms to digest the waste material and generate electricity from it, the university said.
Along with using human and animal urine, the robotic system also can create power by using rotten fruit and vegetables, dead flies, waste water and sludge.
Ioannis Ieropoulos, a scientist with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, explained that the microorganisms work inside microbial fuel cells where they metabolize the organics, converting them into carbon dioxide and electricity.
Like the human heart, the robotic system works by using artificial muscles that compress a soft area in the center of the device, forcing fluid to be expelled through an outlet and delivered to the fuel cells. The artificial muscles then relax and go through the process again for the next cycle.
“The artificial heartbeat is mechanically simpler than a conventional electric motor-driven pump by virtue of the fact that it employs artificial muscle fibers to create the pumping action, rather than an electric motor, which is by comparison a more complex mechanical assembly,” Walter said.
AT&T will launch the Samsung Galaxy S 4 Zoom on Friday, Nov. 8, while Motorola is teasing the Moto G for Nov. 13.
The 4.3-in. Zoom will cost $199.99 with a two-year pact, or $25 a month on installment, AT&T announced. It runs Android Jelly Bean over 4G LTE and features a 16-megapixel camera with 10x optical zoom on the rear. There’s also a 1.9 megapixel front camera.
Samsung specs show the Zoom has a Pega dual-core chip and a 2330 mAh battery.
The Moto G is reportedly a low-priced entry-level version of the Moto X, which sells as a developer edition, unlocked, for $650.
All Motorola would say in a graphic of the globe emblazoned with a Motorola brand “M” was “Save the Date, 13 November 2013.” The globe likely indicates a global launch.
Some reports, including at Android and me, indicate the Moto G could have an unlocked price $215, even with a quad-core processor.
Last week, Sprint announced four new smartphones, including three for Nov. 8: the Samsung Galaxy Mega for $199.99 and the Galaxy S 4 mini for $99.99, as well as the LG G2 for $199.99. The HTC One max will also be available soon for $249.99, Sprint said.
The Google-owned phone maker has launched Project Ara to create a free, open and standardized platform to let people pick and choose the components they want in their phones, Motorola said in a blog post this week.
The goal is to create a standard endoskeleton, or frame, that can hold different modules, like extra-powerful processors, additional batteries or memory chips for storing more music, all based on the customer’s preferences.
“Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs, and how long you’ll keep it,” Motorola said.
Motorola’s vision of do-it-yourself smartphones builds on parent company Google’s success with its widely used Android smartphone platform, which it offers for free and allows manufacturers to customize. Android also gives people more leeway to tweak the features on their smartphones than Apple’s iOS platform offers to iPhone users.
Motorola said it has been working on Project Ara for over a year and that it recently teamed up with Phonebloks, an open source project that has also been working on creating modular smartphone components that can be easily replaced.
The announcement of Ara follows Motorola’s launch earlier this year of the Moto X smartphone, which lets customers choose the colors of the front and back panels and buttons.
On its website, Phonebloks envisions an online store letting consumers read reviews of smartphone components, shop for new and used parts, and order custom-designed handsets.
Project Ara is also a bit of a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s, when many technology-handy consumers assembled their own desktop PCs using hard drives, power supplies, CPUs and other custom-picked components.
That became less common when laptops, which are more difficult to customize, became widely used, but computer components are still made at standard sizes that can be slotted into most PCs.
Motorola said it will work on the project openly and create experimental modules. It plans to invite developers and recruit “Ara scouts” to help research and shape the project.
LG is upping the ante in smartphone technology with a new handset that has a curved touchscreen, along with a special “self healing” technology that the company claims can prevent scratches on the phone’s casing.
The South Korean electronics vendor unveiled the new phone on Monday, calling it the LG G Flex. Digital renderings of the handset were leaked earlier this month. But in its Monday announcement the company offered further details on the phone, showing that it contains a few new technologies, along with its curved display.
The G Flex is the second phone to feature a curved display, the first coming from Samsung Electronics with its Galaxy Round handset. The top and bottom of the G Flex’s 6-inch screen are curved towards the user, while on the Samsung phone it is the sides that are curved towards the viewer.
This makes LG’s handset closer to the curve of a traditional fixed-line phone handset, a design choice LG said is optimized for the contours of a face. Users can more comfortably hold the phone to their mouth and ear, improving its voice and sound quality, according to LG.
The company also touted the design by stating that the phone offers an easier grip, and holds better in a person’s back pocket. In addition, LG said the curved screen gives an “IMAX-like” experience when viewing videos, allowing for a greater field of view.
To create the curved display, LG built the OLED display panel on a flexible plastic substrate rather than glass. It also developed what it said is the world’s first curved battery, with a capacity of 3,500 mAh.
LG said the damage-resistant coating on the back cover can self-heal.
The G Flex will be available in South Korea starting in November, but LG said additional markets will be announced later. No price was given.
Both Samsung and LG are major suppliers of display technologies, and also rivals in the handset market. Curved displays are seen as an upcoming trend in smartphone technologies, but some analysts remain doubtful that the phones can offer benefits over competing flat screen devices.
The fact that both Samsung and LG are initially releasing these curved-screen phones only in Korea shows that the devices are still in the concept stage, said TZ Wong, an analyst with research firm IDC.
The firm, WeWi Telecommunications, has built a rugged and submersible laptop that’s designed to handle severe environments and quickly charge up on solar power. What’s especially interesting is the price: It starts at $350.
The London, Ontario-based firm is calling it SOL, and the system was built to solve the problems developing countries have, said David Snir, the CEO and founder of WeWi. “We traveled to Africa and we saw the need,” said Snir, who noted a frustrating inability to get electricity when working in that country.
SOL will also be released in North America by the end of the year and its specs and capabilities may find appeal in the U.S. market.
The laptop weighs about five pounds, and is about 2 inches thick at its highest point. But that’s part of the trade-off for having solar panels.
The four solar panels are little smaller than the 13.3-in. LCD display and open up in butterfly fashion. The panels are protected by the clamshell cover.
In sunlight, the solar panels can charge the replaceable battery in about two hours. (In cloudy conditions, a full charge might take up to three hours.) The battery is good for about eight to 10 hours, said Snir. The solar panels can be detached from the notebook and — connected by wire — placed in a sunny area to charge the unit while a user works at a desk or under a shady tree.
The system has been tested with Ubuntu Linux, which is being installed on it. But other operating systems are possible. In North America, Chromebook is one of the possibilities.
“We love Chrome,” said Snir. “We see huge potential in Chrome.”
Chromebooks require an Internet connection, something that’s not an always an option in some regions of the world. For North America, “we are absolutely considering coming out with a version using Chrome,” said Snir.
Channel partners will have the ability to install their own operating systems, as well.
The system is rugged. The shell is made of fiber-reinforced polymers. The internal electronics are protected as well, and there are shock absorbers inside to help protect the system from falls. For $50 more, there’s a version that is submersible.
“Instead of making sure water would not seep into the computer, we said it’s going to happen anyway,” said Snir. With that design approach in mind, all the electronics are coated with hydrophobic nano materials that completely repel water, he said.
The system will support 3G and 4G networks, along with Wi-Fi, and it has SIM card support. There is an Intel Atom chip, and a 320GB hard disk drive. The SOL can support 2GB to 4GB of memory.
There’s really not much mark-up on the system, said Snir.
“We really want to get Africa connected and we really want to help developing countries,” he said. “We’re not out to make a huge amount for money from our laptops.”
Hardkernel’s Odroid XU board has incorporated Samsung’s eight-core Exynos 5 Octa 5410 chip, which is based on ARM’s latest processor designs. Samsung recently announced a new eight-core chip, the Exynos 5 Octa 5420, which packs faster graphics and application processing than the 5410. The 5420 has not yet been shipped yet, however.
The Odroid board is priced at $149 through Aug. 31, after which it will be offered for $169. Samsung for many months has said that a board with an eight-core chip would be released, and has shown prototype developer boards at conferences.
Odroid-XU will provide developers an opportunity to write programs tuned for Samsung’s octa-core chip, which has been a source of controversy. Analysts have said the eight-core design is overkill for small devices like smartphones and tablets, which need long battery life.
The eight-core chip design also takes up a lot of space, which prevented Samsung from putting LTE radios inside some Galaxy S4 models. Qualcomm, which hesitantly moved from the dual core to the quad-core design on its Snapdragon chips, on Friday criticized eight-core chips, calling the idea “dumb.”
Despite the criticism, the board will give developers a first true glimpse of, and an opportunity to write and test applications for, ARM’s Big.Little design. The design combines high-power cores for demanding applications with low-power cores for mundane tasks like texting and calling.
Samsung’s iteration of Big.Little in the Exynos 5 Octa 5410 chip combines four processors based on ARM’s latest Cortex-A15 processor design, which incorporates four low-power Cortex-A7 CPUs. The Cortex-A15 is ARM’s latest processor design and succeeds the previous Cortex-A9 core, which was used in popular smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and the Galaxy S3. Samsung said the eight-core chip provides a balance of power and performance, with the high-power cores kicking in only when necessary.
The board has an Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX544MP3 graphics processor, 2GB of low-power DDR3 DRAM, two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports. Other features include Wi-Fi, Ethernet and optional Bluetooth. Google’s Android 4.2 operating system is preloaded, and support for other Linux distributions like Ubuntu is expected soon. The board has already been benchmarked on Ubuntu 13.04.
Panasonic and its subsidiary Sanyo have agreed to plead guilty to price fixing schemes involving laptop battery cells and automotive parts. They will pay a total of $56.5 million in criminal fines, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Sanyo agreed to pay $10.7 million for the battery cells conspiracy and Panasonic will pay $45.8 million for its role in the automotive parts conspiracy, the DOJ said.
LG Chem, a manufacturer of rechargeable batteries, has also agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $1 million criminal fine for price fixing involving battery cells, the DOJ said. Sanyo and LG Chem were involved in a battery cell conspiracy from about April 2007 until about September 2008, it said.
“The guilty pleas against Sanyo and LG Chem are the first in the department’s ongoing investigation into anti-competitive conduct in the cylindrical lithium-ion battery cell industry,” it said. Both companies conspired to fix the prices of battery cells sold worldwide for use in notebook computer battery packs, it added.
Lithium ion batteries are rechargeable and are often used in groups in more powerful battery packs for electronic devices. While flat, or prismatic, cells are more common in cellphones or thin-and-light laptops, cylindrical cells are used to make up most removable laptop battery packs.
Sanyo, LG Chem and their co-conspirators agreed during meetings and conversations to price the battery packs to customers at predetermined levels and to issue price quotations to customers in accordance with those agreements, according to the charges. “Sanyo, LG Chem and their co-conspirators collected and exchanged information for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon prices and took steps to conceal the conspiracy,” the DoJ said.
“Pleading guilty and cooperating with the division’s ongoing investigations is a necessary step in changing a corporate culture that turned customers into price-fixing victims,” the DoJ added.
Researchers at North Carolina State University use 3D printing to stack droplets of liquid metal on top of each other, likening the effect to a stack of oranges at the grocery store. The droplets adhere to each other but retain their own shape instead of melding into one large droplet, the university reports.
While many people might be imagining Terminator 2′s T-1000, a shape shifting robot assassin made of liquid metal, university researchers have slightly different plans for the technology. Scientists are focused, at this point, on using their 3D printing techniques to build wires for building and connecting electronic components.
“It’s difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up,” said Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and bio molecular engineering at North Carolina State, in a statement. “But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes.”
Another technique that Dickey and his team created injects liquid metal into a polymer template. The metal takes on the shape of the template but then the template dissolves, leaving the bare metal.
Three-dimensional printing has been making great strides in recent months.
In June, researchers at Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced that they had used 3D printing to produce lithium-ion batteries the size of a grain of sand.
NASA scientists talked this spring about taking 3D printers into space to produce tools, and even food, for astronauts.
“As NASA ventures further into space, [whether] redirecting an asteroid or sending humans to Mars, we’ll need transformative technology to reduce cargo weight and volume,” NASA’s chief administrator Charles Bolden said in May. “In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools and components they need in space.”
The 8XT will cost $99.99 and the ATIV S Neo will cost $149.99. Both prices apply after rebate and require a two-year service agreement.
Sprint didn’t announce a sales date, but said both devices will be launched this summer. Customers can register on the Sprint website for more information.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced both Windows Phone 8 phones for Sprint along with recent Nokia models, calling them “really beautiful phones.” He spoke at the opening of the company’s annual BUILD developers conference in San Francisco.
The ATIV S offers a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor with a 4.8-in. display and a 2,000 mAh removable battery. Data sharing with ATIV Beam uses an internal NFC chip.
It also includes an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 1.9-megapixel front camera.
The 8XT has a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400. I also has a 4.3-in. display and an 1,800 mAh battery.
It includes an 8 megapixel rear camera and a 1.6 megapixel front camera.
For the first time in a Windows Phone 8 smartphone, HTC will provide dual front-facing stereo speakers for better sound.
Both phones feature micro SD expansion slots for greater storage. Also, both provide Office Mobile for Windows Phone so that users can access, view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, which can be transmitted in the proper format to a desktop computer or a Windows tablet.
AT&T on Tuesday announced a pilot project of solar-powered charging stations across all five of New York City’s boroughs where the public can re-charge phones, tablets and other devices free of charge.
AT&T said the project, dubbed AT&T Street Charge, grew out of lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy, which devastated lower parts of Manhattan, Queens and the other boroughs. During the storm, AT&T helped power New York City’s distribution centers with commercial generators and pop-up cellular service.
AT&T said the solar mobile charging units work day or night, in sun or shade. During the day, three monocrystaline solar panels collect the sun’s energy to charge up powerful internal batteries. This enables AT&T Street Charge to power up phones, tablets and other devices quickly — even when the sun isn’t shining.
Each charging station has six USB connectors, including a micro-USB plug, as well as 30-pin and Lightning plugs for Apple devices.
“Recognizing the need for a sustainable charging solution, AT&T teamed up with solar industry leader Goal Zero and Brooklyn-based design firm Pensa to develop the initiative and bring it to local residents,” AT&T said in a statement.
The mobile charging stations are in addition to Wi-Fi already in the New York parks, which were established as part of a joint initiative between AT&T, the city of New York and the New York Parks Department.
In all, about 26 charging stations will be installed over the next two and a half months. Currently, there are two solar mobile charging units now live at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1, and at Governor’s Island, Union Square and Pier 1 at Riverside Park.
The use of radio frequency tech in remote controls for everything from smart TVs and BluRay players to gaming devices will enjoy a huge increase as compared to devices with infrared-based controls.
Fewer people will have to point their remote controls at televisions as nearly one-fifth of all remotes will feature wireless radio frequency (RF) technology by 2018, according to a new report.
The report, from IMS Research, says that about 450 million RF remote controls will ship between 2013 and 2018, with the percentage of RF remotes reaching up to 18% of all such in five years.
IMS’s report also points out that RF technology will enable many advanced technologies not available with current infrared-enabled remotes, including voice and gesture control.
“One of benefits is out-of-line and sight communication and control. So you don’t need to point your remote at the TV anymore,” said Philip Maddocks, connectivity analyst for IHS. “People are used to doing that with infrared but with an RF remote that’s not the case.”
Smart and web-connected televisions, with their more sophisticated user interfaces, will also be much easier to navigate with RF, Maddocks said.
“You have the enhanced bandwidth with RF technologies as opposed to infrared. So you can incorporate things like gesture-based controls where you can twist the remote clockwise to turn the volume up and turn it counterclockwise to turn it down,” Maddocks said. “You can also incorporate voice based controls as well”. RF-based remote controls will also feature technologies like Bluetooth Smart (a.k.a., Bluetooth low energy/Bluetooth v4.0),ZigBee RF4CE, or low-power Wi-Fi, he said.
There is a big difference between the current Bluetooth 2.1 specification found in most products and the upcoming Bluetooth 4.0 spec, which is expected out in June, Maddocks said. Bluetooth 2.1 drains so much power from a remote that the battery typically must be changed every couple of months. Bluetooth’s low energy usage would extend the battery lifespan by a couple of years, Maddocks said.
On the other hand, low-power WiFi (a.k.a. WiFi Direct), being offered in Roku set-top boxes today, offers throughput of up to 21Mbps compared with Bluetooth’s 2Mbps, but it uses a great deal more power than BlueTooth v4.0, Maddocks said. So there are tradeoffs.
While RF technologies can provide a wealth of additional benefits for control functionality, an overwhelming majority of remote controls will still use IR in 2018, projections show. The IR technology is familiar to consumers, which tend to choose the technology they’re comfortable with, and IR-based remote controls are also less expensive to manufacture.
Global LTE smartphone shipments are on track to triple this year, allowing the technology to take off on a grander scale and driving down device prices, according to market research company Strategy Analytics.
LG agrees: “The adoption of LTE is expected to explode in 2013,” and with the two new devices the company wants to show that 4G technology “isn’t just for heavy content users and techies anymore. It’s for everyone,” according to a statement.
LG didn’t say what the phones will cost, but the specifications provided by the vendor hint at a lower price tag. The Optimus F5 has a 4.3-inch screen, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and a 2,150 mAh battery. The Optimus F7 has a bigger 4.7-inch HD screen, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and a 2,540 mAh battery. Both phones will use Android Jelly Bean.
The worldwide rollout of the Optimus F5 will start during the second quarter in Europe, followed by the Optimus F7 in selected markets. Details on timing and pricing will be announced at a later date, according to LG. The phones will be displayed at Mobile World Congress, which starts Monday.
The Optimus F family follows in the footsteps of the Galaxy Express, which was launched by Samsung Electronics in January. It is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and has a 4.5-inch screen.
“It will happen near the end of 2013, Sam Yu, general manager of Polytron said Wednesday, as he showed off a prototype device. “Trust me.”
The prototype phone was, however, not functional. Since not all the components used in the phone can be concealed, the company’s glass technology may at least allow for a portion of the smartphone to remain see-through, with the rest covered behind casing, according to Polytron staff.
Unlike today’s smartphones, which are often encased in plastic or metal and filled with opaque circuitry, Polytron is proposing handset makers build their products with its specially designed glass that can contain near invisible electrical wiring using patented technology. The result can create a transparent effect, making the phone see-through, the company said. (Videos can be found here and here).
Yu, general manager for Polytron, has been showing off a prototype device, built from a light piece of glass. Certain components such as the battery, camera, and memory card are still visible, but the remainder of the phone, including the screen, is transparent, he said.
“I like things that are novel and look beautiful,” he said, adding that the patent for the technology was developed four years ago. “Current mobile phones are heavier, but with this glass you can make it much lighter.”
Polytron is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Polytronix and focuses on glass technology. One of the company’s main products is its “Polyvision Privacy Glass”, which can flip between transparency and a near-opaque cloudy white with a flick of a switch.
The specification will be part of the Energy Star version 6.1, according to documents posted on the U.S. Energy Star website. But a date for ratings on tablets has not yet been established, said Robert Meyers, product manager at Energy Star computers. Energy Star is a joint effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Energy Star specification helps shoppers identify the most power-efficient products when making purchases. The Energy Star program already covers laptops, desktops, monitors, light bulbs, servers, household appliances and other products that are identified with a label. The use of Energy Star-labeled products helped cut close to US$18 billion from U.S. utility bills in 2010, according to the organization.
The EPA and DOE originally floated the idea of including tablets as part of Energy Star version 6.0 for products like laptops, desktops, displays, thin clients and networking equipment, which goes into effect on June 1. Some IT vendors that participate in the Energy Star program argued against the immediate inclusion of tablets, saying that those devices are more like smartphones than PCs and have different assembly and equipment. They argued that tablets and laptops differ on components such as batteries and networking equipment, and thus cannot be grouped together with PCs. The EPA and those stakeholders are now trying to gather a consensus on the definition of tablets and how to rate the devices.
“Defining and differentiating tablets will be part of the process, but at this point we don’t have anything concrete,” Meyers said.
The Energy Star standard for tablets would lead to the advantage of a decrease in energy use over the life of a device, said Casey Harrell, IT analyst at Greenpeace International.