By: Jaci VanHeest, University of Connecticut

SnowboardingAs Fitbits and other wearable activity monitors change how regular people exercise and track their activity, they’re having similar effects on how Olympians train and recover between workouts.

It’s long been common for coaches to use video cameras to show athletes what their form and movements look like, to track progress, and to fine-tune exactly the right technique for, say, taking off for a jump or landing after a particular trick. But those only show what’s going on from the outside.

Now, wearables, biometrics and apps analyzing their data are becoming much more common for athletes at all levels, giving indications of what’s going on inside an athlete’s body. I have worked as a sport physiologist with elite athletes for two decades, including with USA Swimming and U.S. Figure Skating; there’s not yet much research about the results in figure skating, but wearables have helped coaches, athletes and sport scientists in other sports like swimming, cycling, soccer and volleyball.

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Finger pulse monitorEngineers used tissue paper—similar to toilet tissue—to make a new kind of wearable sensor that can detect a pulse or a blink of an eye.

The sensor, which is light, flexible, and inexpensive, could be used for health care, entertainment, and robotics, researchers say.

Tearing tissue paper that’s loaded with nanocomposites and breaking the paper’s fibers makes the paper acts like a sensor. It can detect a heartbeat, finger force, finger movement, eyeball movement, and more, says Jae-Hyun Chung, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington and senior author of the paper in Advanced Materials Technologies.

“The major innovation is a disposable wearable sensor made with cheap tissue paper. When we break the specimen, it will work as a sensor.”

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SemiconductorA small metallic tab that, when attached to the body, is capable of generating electricity from bending a finger and other simple movements could one day power our electronic devices.

“No one likes being tethered to a power outlet or lugging around a portable charger. The human body is an abundant source of energy. We thought: ‘Why not harness it to produce our own power?’” says Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo and lead author of a paper describing the tab in the journal Nano Energy.

The tab is a triboelectric nanogenerator. Triboelectric charging occurs when certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with a different material. Most everyday static electricity is triboelectric.

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LaserResearchers may have found a way to solve the weakness of a type of light source similar to lasers. The alternative light source could lead to smaller, lower-cost, and more efficient sources of light pulses.

Although critical for varied applications, such as cutting and welding, surgery and transmitting bits through optical fiber, lasers have some limitations—namely, they only produce light in limited wavelength ranges.

Now, researchers have modified similar light sources, called optical parametric oscillators, to overcome this obstacle.

Until now, these lesser-known light sources have been mostly confined to the lab because their setup leaves little room for error—even a minor jostle could knock one out of alignment.

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By: Peter Hancock, University of Central Florida

Autonomous driverless carMuch of the push toward self-driving cars has been underwritten by the hope that they will save lives by getting involved in fewer crashes with fewer injuries and deaths than human-driven cars. But so far, most comparisons between human drivers and automated vehicles have been at best uneven, and at worst, unfair.

The statistics measuring how many crashes occur are hard to argue with: More than 90 percent of car crashes in the U.S. are thought to involve some form of driver error. Eliminating this error would, in two years, save as many people as the country lost in all of the Vietnam War.

But to me, as a human factors researcher, that’s not enough information to properly evaluate whether automation may actually be better than humans at not crashing. Their respective crash rates can only be determined by also knowing how many non-collisions happen. For human drivers is it one collision per billion chances to crash, or one in a trillion?

Assessing the rate at which things do not happen is extremely difficult. For example, estimating how many times you didn’t bump into someone in the hall today relates to how many people there were in the hallway and how long you were walking there. Also, people forget non-events very quickly, if we even notice them happening. To determine whether automated vehicles are safer than humans, researchers will need to establish a non-collision rate for both humans and these emerging driverless vehicles.

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ElectronsWhile tracking electrons moving through exotic materials, researchers have discovered intriguing properties not found in conventional, silicon-based semiconductors.

Unlike current silicon-based electronics, which shed most of the energy they consume as waste heat, the future is all about low-power computing. Known as spintronics, this technology relies on a quantum physical property of electrons—up or down spin—to process and store information, rather than moving them around with electricity as conventional computing does.

On the quest to making spintronic devices a reality, scientists at the University of Arizona are studying an exotic crop of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs. TMDs have exciting properties lending themselves to new ways of processing and storing information and could provide the basis of future transistors and photovoltaics—and potentially even offer an avenue toward quantum computing.

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GrapheneNew graphene printing technology can produce electronic circuits that are low-cost, flexible, highly conductive and water repellent, researchers report.

The nanotechnology “would lend enormous value to self-cleaning wearable/washable electronics that are resistant to stains, or ice and biofilm formation,” according to the new paper.

“We’re taking low-cost, inkjet-printed graphene and tuning it with a laser to make functional materials,” says Jonathan Claussen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, an associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and the corresponding author of the paper in the journal Nanoscale.

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Researchers have found a way to get electrons to travel much farther than was previously thought possible in materials for organic solar cells. This advance could make these solar cells much more useful than inorganic alternatives.

“For years, people had treated the poor conductivity of organics as an unavoidable fact, and this shows that that’s not always the case,” says research leader Stephen Forrest, professor of engineering at University of Michigan.

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Scientists have developed energy efficient, ultra-thin light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for next-generation communication technologies.

Light sources that reliably convert electrical to optical signals are of fundamental importance to information processing technologies. Energy-efficient and high-speed LEDs that can be integrated onto a microchip and transmit information are one of the key elements in enabling high volume data communication.

Two-dimensional (2D) semiconductors, graphene-like, atomically thin materials, have recently attracted significant interest due to their size (just a few atoms thick), well-defined light emission properties, and their prospects for on-chip integration. While, in recent years, researchers have succeeded in fabricating LEDs based on these materials, realizing efficient light emission has remained a challenge.

An efficient LED device converts most of its electrical power input into light emission (i.e., with minimal losses due to conversion into other forms of energy such as heat). Previous studies on LEDs based on 2D semiconductors reported that a large amount of electrical current is needed to trigger light emission. This means that a substantial fraction of the input electrical power is dissipated as heat instead of generating light.

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TransistorIncorporating organic electronic materials in the field of bioelectronics has indicated promising potential in interfacing with biological systems, including neuroscience applications. Researchers from Linköping University are taking a major step forward in that work with their development of the world’s first complementary electrochemical logic circuits that can function for long periods of time in water.

While the first printable organic electrochemical sensors appeared as early as 2002, significant advancements have developed in a few years. Organic components such as light-emitting diodes and electrochemical displays are already commercially available.

This from Linköping University:

The dominating material used until now has been PEDOT:PSS, which is a p-type material, in which the charge carriers are holes. In order to construct effective electron components, a complementary material, n-type, is required, in which the charge carriers are electrons.

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