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Future technology: Ideas about to change our world - Information Hub

Energy storing bricks

Scientists have found a way to store energy in the red bricks that are used to build houses.

Researchers led by Washington University in St Louis, in Missouri, US, have developed a method that can turn the cheap and widely available building material into “smart bricks” that can store energy like a battery.

Although the research is still in the proof-of-concept stage, the scientists claim that walls made of these bricks “could store a substantial amount of energy” and can “be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour”.

Sweat powered smartwatches

Engineers at the University of Glasgow have developed a new type of flexible supercapacitor.

which stores energy, replacing the electrolytes found in conventional batteries with sweat.

It can be fully charged with as little as 20 microlitres of fluid and is robust enough to survive 4,000 cycles of the types of flexes and bends it might encounter in use.

The device works by coating polyester cellulose cloth in a thin layer of a polymer, which acts as the supercapacitor’s electrode. (Future technology)

As the cloth absorbs its wearer’s sweat, the positive and negative ions in the sweat interact with the polymer’s surface, creating an electrochemical reaction that generates energy.

Conventional batteries are cheaper and more plentiful than ever before but they are often built using unsustainable materials which are harmful to the environment.

Professor Ravinder Dahiya, head of the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (Best) group, based at the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering. (Future technology)

“That makes them challenging to dispose of safely and potentially harmful in wearable devices, where a broken battery could spill toxic fluids on to the skin.(Future technology)

“What we’ve been able to do for the first time is show that human sweat provides a real opportunity to do away with those toxic materials entirely, with excellent charging and discharging performance.

Self-healing ‘living concrete’

Scientists have developed what they call living concrete by using sand, gel and bacteria.

Researchers said this building material has structural load-bearing function, is capable of self-healing and is more environmentally friendly than concrete – which is the second most-consumed material on Earth after water.

The team from the University of Colorado Boulder believes their work paves the way for future building structures that could “heal their own cracks, suck up dangerous toxins from the air or even glow on command”.

Heart monitoring T-shirt

Wearable sports bands that measure your heart rate are nothing new, but as numerous studies have shown, the accuracy can vary wildly (especially if you rely on them to count calories).

In general, that’s fine if you just want an idea of how hard you’re working out, but for professionals, accuracy is everything.

Using a single lead ECG printed into the fabric, this new t-shirt from smart materials company KYMIRA will accurately measure heart beats and upload them to the cloud via Bluetooth.

Once there, algorithms process the data to accurately detect irregular heartbeats such as arrhythmia heartbeats, which could prove life-saving.

And it’s not just athletes who could benefit. “The possibilities this product offers both sportspeople and the general public is astonishing,” says Tim Brownstone, CEO and founder of KYMIRA.

“We envisage developing this product to be used for clinical applications to allow those who may already suffer with heart conditions enough warning of a heart attack.”

Cancer-detecting ‘smart needles’

A “smart needle” has been developed by scientists in the UK which could speed up cancer detection and diagnosis times.

Researchers believe the technology could be particularly helpful in diagnosing lymphoma, reducing patient anxiety as they await their results.

At present, people with suspected lymphoma often have to provide a sample of cells, followed by a biopsy of the node to be carried out for a full diagnosis, a process that can be time-consuming.

The new device uses a technique known as Raman spectroscopy to shine a low-power laser into the part of the body being inspected, with the potential to spot concerns within seconds, scientists from the University of Exeter say.

“The Raman smart needle can measure the molecular changes associated with disease in tissues and cells at the end of the needle,” said professor Nick Stone, project lead, from the University of Exeter.

“Provided we can reach a lump or bump of interest with the needle tip, we should be able to assess if it is healthy or not.”

Car batteries that charge in 10 minutes.

Fast-charging of electric vehicles is seen as key to their take-up, so motorists can stop at a service station and fully charge their car in the time it takes to get a coffee and use the toilet – taking no longer than a conventional break.

But rapid charging of lithium-ion batteries can degrade the batteries, researchers at Penn State University in the US say. (Future technology)

This is because the flow of lithium particles known as ions from one electrode to another to charge the unit and hold the energy ready for use does not happen smoothly with rapid charging at lower temperatures.

However, they have now found that if the batteries could heat to 60°C for just 10 minutes and then rapidly cool again to ambient temperatures, lithium spikes would not form and heat damage would be avoided. 

The battery design they have come up with is self-heating, using a thin nickel foil which creates an electrical circuit that heats in less than 30 seconds to warm the inside of the battery. 

The rapid cooling that would be needed after the battery is charged would be done using the cooling system designed for the car.


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One thought on “Future technology: Ideas about to change our world”
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