Driverless CarThe death of a person earlier this year while driving with Autopilot in a Tesla sedan, along with news of more crashes involving Teslas operating in Autopilot, has triggered a torrent of concerns about the safety of self-driving cars.

But there is a way to improve safety across a rapidly evolving range of advanced mobility technologies and vehicles – from semi-autonomous driver assist features like Tesla’s Autopilot to a fully autonomous self-driving car like Google’s.

The answer is connectivity: wireless communication that connects vehicles to each other, to the surrounding infrastructure, even to bicyclists and pedestrians. While connectivity and automation each provide benefits on their own, combining them promises to transform the movement of people and goods more than either could alone, and to do so safely. The U.S. Department of Transportation may propose requiring all new cars to have vehicle-to-vehicle communication, known as V2V, as early as this fall.

Tesla blamed the fatal crash on the failure of both its Autopilot technology and the driver to see the white tractor-trailer against a bright sky. But the crash – and the death – might have been avoided entirely if the Tesla and the tractor-trailer it hit had been able to talk to each other.

Limitations of vehicles that are not connected

Autonomous vehicles that aren’t connected to each other is a bit like gathering together the smartest people in the world but not letting them talk to each other. Connectivity enables smart decisions by individual drivers, by self-driving vehicles and at every level of automation in between.

Despite all the safety advances in recent decades, there are still more than 30,000 traffic deaths every year in the United States, and the number may be on the rise. After years of steady declines, fatalities rose 7.2 percent in 2015 to 35,092, up from 32,744 in 2014, representing the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years, according to the U.S. DOT.

(more…)

PlasticResearchers have taken a step toward the development of renewable plastics – a promising transformation from current plastics made from oil. The biodegradable material is possible due to the creation of a new catalyst.

Over the past 50 years, the global production of plastic has grown tremendously. According to World Watch Institute, over 299 trillion tons of plastic were produced in 2013. Unfortunately, as plastic production increases, recycling rates lag. Of the 299 trillion tons of plastic produced, between 22 and 43 percent made its way to landfills around the world, thereby wasting resources and negatively impacting the environment.

Biodegradable plastics could provide a potential solution to this issue. Currently, researchers are working to make the plastics – produced completely from renewable resources – match the price and performance of their petroleum-based counterparts.

(more…)

toyota-collage

From left to right: Elizabeth Biddinger, City College of New York; Joaquin Rodriguez Lopez, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Joshua Snyder, Drexel University

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship Selection Committee has selected three recipients who will receive a minimum of $50,000 each for fellowships for projects in green energy technology. The winners are Professor Elizabeth Biddinger, City College of New York; Professor Joaquin Rodriguez Lopez, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Professor Joshua Snyder, Drexel University.

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship, a partnership between The Electrochemical Society and Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA), a division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. (TEMA), is in its second year. A diverse applicant pool of more than 100 young professors and scholars pursuing innovative electrochemical research in green energy technology responded to ECS’s request for proposals.

“Scientists and engineers seek to unveil what is possible and to exploit that knowledge to provide solutions to the myriad of problems facing our world,” says ECS Executive Director Roque Calvo. “We are proud to have the continued support of Toyota in this never ending endeavor to uncover new frontiers and face new challenges.”

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship aims to encourage young professors and scholars to pursue research in green energy technology that may promote the development of next-generation vehicles capable of utilizing alternative fuels.

Global development of industry and technology in the 20th century increased production of vehicles and the growing population have resulted in massive consumption of fossil fuels. Today, the automotive industry faces three challenges regarding environmental and energy issues:

(1) Finding a viable alternative energy source as a replacement for oil
(2) Reducing CO2 emissions
(3) Preventing air pollution

(more…)

By now you’ve probably heard the headlines about the dangers of self-driving cars in light of the first fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle.

That crash took place on July 1, but more incidents involving the autopilot feature of Tesla vehicles have been reported since.

Just one day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started their investigation into the safety of Tesla’s self-driving mode, another non-fatal accident was reported outside of Pittsburgh.

In a recent interview with NPR, Wired magazine report Alex Davies discussed how Tesla’s autopilot feature works and what some of its safety issues are.

According to Davies, Tesla’s autopilot feature functions similarly to the advanced cruise control of other makes and models. Once you exceed 18 mph, drivers can activate the autopilot mode, where the car then uses cameras to read lane lines and sensors to keep appropriate distances from other vehicles.

But the technology does not seem to be working without complication.

(more…)

Reutilizing carbon dioxide to produce clean burning fuels

Carbon dioxide

David Go has always seen himself as something of a black sheep when it comes to his scientific research approach, and his recent work in developing clean alternative fuels from carbon dioxide is no exception.

In 2015, Go and his research team at the University of Notre Dame were awarded a $50,000 grant to purse innovative electrochemical research in green energy technology through the ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship. With a goal of aiding scientists in advancing alternative energies, the fellowship aims to empower young researchers in creating next-generation vehicles capable of utilizing alternative fuels that can lead to climate change action in transportation.

The road less traveled

While advancing research in electric vehicles and fuel cells tend to be the top research areas in sustainable transportation, Go and his team is opting to go down the road less traveled through a new approach to green chemistry: plasma electrochemistry.

(MORE: Read Go’s Meeting Abstract on this topic, entitled “Electrochemical Reduction of CO2(aq) By Solvated Electrons at a Plasma-Liquid Interface.”)

“Our approach to electrochemistry is completely a-typical,” Go, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame, says. “We use a technique called plasma electrochemistry with the aim of processing carbon dioxide – a pollutant – back into more useful products, such as clean-burning fuels.”

(more…)

Elon Musk

Elon Musk via Insider Monkey/Flickr

By now you’ve probably heard of the big merger between automotive innovator Tesla and rooftop solar guru SolarCity. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, claims that the integration will create “the world’s first vertically integrated energy company,” set to offer the full spectrum of clean energy products to customers.

While both companies have gotten a lot of attention from investors over the years, there has been a lot of skepticism when it comes to the financial future of the joining of these two companies.

First, neither companies have made any money independently last year. In fact, combined they lost $1.7 billion.

But the financial losses are not the real concern. As MIT Technology Review points out, the technology that would make an end-to-end clean energy system feasible has not yet been developed by either company.

Musk’s vision for the newly integrated company is to set up consumers to solely utilize renewable energy. That would mean electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and of course, a battery to store energy when the sun goes down.

Although Tesla has already premiered their home Powerwall battery, it fell short of expectations. The seven-kilowatt-hour battery was expected to be able to store enough energy to power your home and send energy back to the grid (converting homes to microgrids) for a flat rate of $3,000, but the actual cost turned out to be closer to $10,000.

Pair that cost with SolarCity panels and analyses show that you’ll be paying over double for your electricity than a typical rate user.

“At the end of the day, the Powerwall has the same Li-ion battery cells in it as any other Li-ion-based storage product: Asian-sourced batteries that are arranged in packs,” Jay Whitacre, ECS member and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told MIT Technology Review. “It’s basically off-the-shelf cell technology.”

Making the New Silicon

Shown here is the smallest laptop power adapter ever, made using GaN transistors.
Image: Cambridge Electronics

Recent discussions in the electronics industry have revolved around the future of technology in light of the perceived end of Moore’s law. But what if the iconic law doesn’t have to end? Researchers from MIT believe they have exactly what it takes to keep up with the constantly accelerating pace of Moore’s law.

More efficient materials

For the scientists, the trick is in the utilization of a material other than silicon in semiconductors for power electronics. With extremely high efficiency levels that could potentially reduce worldwide energy consumption, some believe that material could be gallium nitride (GaN).

MIT spin-out Cambridge Electronics Inc. (CEI) has recently produced a line of GaN transistors and power electronic circuits. The goal is to cut energy usage in data centers, electric cars, and consumer devices by 10 to 20 percent worldwide by 2025.

Semiconductors shaping society

Since its discovery in 1947, the transistor has helped make possible many wonders of modern life – including smartphones, solar cells, and even airplanes.

Over time, as predicted by Moore’s law, transistors became smaller and more efficient at an accelerated pace – opening doors to even more technological advancements.

(more…)

The Death of Moore’s Law

The future of technology

The iconic Moore’s law has guided Silicon Valley and the technology industry at large for over 50 years. Moore’s prediction that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years (which he first articulated at an ECS meeting in 1964) bolstered businesses and the economy, as well as took society away from the giant mainframes of the 1960s to today’s era of portable electronics.

But research has begun to plateau and keeping up with the pace of Moore’s law has proven to be extremely difficult. Now, many tech-based industries find themselves in a vulnerable position, wondering how far we can push technology.

Better materials, better chips

In an effort to continue Moore’s law and produce the next generation of electronic devices, researchers have begun looking to new materials and potentially even new designs to create smaller, cheaper, and faster chips.

“People keep saying of other semiconductors, ‘This will be the material for the next generation of devices,’” says Fan Ren, professor at the University of Florida and technical editor of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology. “However, it hasn’t really changed. Silicon is still dominating.”

Silicon has facilitated the growth predicted by Moore’s law for the past decades, but it is now becoming much more difficult to continue that path.

(more…)

The iconic Moore’s law has predicted the technological growth of the chip industry for more than 50 years. When ECS member and co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore proposed the law, he stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years. So far, he’s been correct.

But researchers have started hitting an apex that makes keeping the pace of Moore’s law extremely difficult. It has become harder in recent years to make transistors smaller while simultaneously increasing the processing power of chips, making it almost impossible to continue Moore’s law’s projected growth.

However, researchers from MIT have developed a long-awaited tool that may be able to keep driving that progress.

(READ: “Moore’s Law and the Future of Solid-State Electronics“)

The new technology that hopes to keep Moore’s law going at its current pace is called extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. Industry leaders say it could be used in high-volume chip manufacturing as early as 2018, allowing continued growth in the semiconductor industry, with advancements in our mobile phones, wearable electronics, and many other gadgets.

(more…)

A research team, including ECS members Stephen Doorn and Erik H Hároz, has created flexible, wafer-scale films of highly aligned and closely packed carbon nanotubes thanks to a simple filtration process. In a discovery that was previously though impossible, the researchers found that in the right solution and under the right conditions, the tubes can assemble themselves by the millions into long rows.

(ICYMI: Get the freshman 101 on carbon nanotubes from nanocarbons expert Bruce Weisman.)

This development could help bring flexible electronics to actuality, especially with the special electronic properties of the nanotubes.

“Once we have centimeter-sized crystals consisting of single-chirality nanotubes, that’s it,” said Junichiro Kono, Rice University physicist leading the study. “That’s the holy grail for this field. For the last 20 years, people have been looking for this.”

  • Page 5 of 13