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Brief Takes: Tech Stories You Should Know About

Each week we get thousands of tips on new technologies but can't write about all of them. Here's my pick of the cream-of-the-crop of tech advances you'll want to know about but may have missed or don't have to absorb. I'll be writing a weekly blog, called “Brief Takes” we limit ourselves to three paragraphs, so you get the gist, and ask you (please leave a comment) if you want to hear more.

BRIEF TAKE #1: Boosting solar cells with perovskites

Professor Mike McGehee and doctoral candidate Colin Bailie at Stanford University use a microscope to examine a perovskite solar cell.
(Source: Stanford)

Professor Mike McGehee and doctoral candidate Colin Bailie at Stanford University use a microscope to examine a perovskite solar cell.
(Source: Stanford)

Perovskites are not a material, but a crystalline structure that many compounds can assume, here made from lead, iodide and methylammonium at Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.) The researchers claim that their perovskites can harvest the high-energy photons that silicon solar cells miss, resulting in unwanted heat, allowing the output of normal silicon cells to be multiplied.

In the lab, the researchers claim to have achieved 17% efficiency by stacking a perovskite solar cell atop a cheap silicon cell rated at 11.4%. When stacking a perovskite solar cell atop a copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) cell they achieved a 18.6% efficiency.

The downside is that perovskite are fragile, dissolving in water and continuously degrading in light, nothing even close to the 25-year lifespan of silicon solar cells. Nevertheless, the Stanford researchers are working on making them more durable with a goal of a 25-year lifespan and 30% efficiency in five to 10 years.

BRIEF TAKE #2: 2015 Future City Competition rolls

Winners of last year's Future City Competition discuss their solutions and pride at winning.

For the fifth year in a row, the Engineering Society of Detroit will sponsor the Future City Competition which is already in full swing. The program teams up the most mature middle school students with their teachers and volunteer STEM mentors to design the most technological city of the future. The winner will receive the “Best Use of Automation Technology” trophy plus the chance for a trip to the national finals in Washington D.C. with a $1,000 purse.

This year's theme is Feeding Future Cities which will center on one vegetable and one protein. Teams will design the most innovative ways to produce enough vegetables and protein for the entire city within its borders. The variables they must balance is arable land use, size of city, location, available light in that climate, air quality, rainfall, soil and available “green” nutrients.

Patti Engineering Inc. in Auburn Hills, Michigan will supply the judges for the competition whose criteria will be the “Best Use of Automation Technology.” Almost every state participates the Future City Competition, and you can look up your state easily.

BRIEF TAKE #3: Self-powered keyboard eliminates batteries

Georgia Tech Professor Zhong Lin Wang (left) and doctoral candidate Jun Chen with their new self-powered keyboard.
(Source: Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech Professor Zhong Lin Wang (left) and doctoral candidate Jun Chen with their new self-powered keyboard.
(Source: Georgia Tech)

I love my wireless Bluetooth keyboard, but it eats batteries like a voracious beast. Enter Georgia Tech's new design that is self-powered, harnessing the power you produce by merely typing on it. The energy generation comes from electrostatic induction along with triboeletric effects using a multi-layer polymer containing fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP) applied to an ITO surface, rather than the usual coil and magnet.

The keyboard also logs the amount of force, the length of time between keystrokes and other biometrics that could be used to personalize the keyboard so no one else can use it. I can't imagine why anyone would want to prohibit others from using their keyboard, but the self-powering part would be a welcome innovation.

The inventors at Georgia Tech also claim that their polymer generator produces excess power that could be used to power a Bluetooth wireless chip or even to recharge your cell phone as you type. But the researchers insist that making the keyboard work only when it recognizes your signature style is the most important feature.

BRIEF TAKE #4: More secure electronic wallet

The Wocket electronics wallet lets you swipe up to 10,000 credit, debit, loyalty and identification cards--any card with a magnetic stripe--then use a single card at the cash register to mimic any of them.(Source: Nxt-ID)

The Wocket electronics wallet lets you swipe up to 10,000 credit, debit, loyalty and identification cards–any card with a magnetic stripe–then use a single card at the cash register to mimic any of them.
(Source: Nxt-ID)

An even more secure alternative to paying with your smartphone is the Wocket back by Wall Street up-and-comer Nxt-ID Inc. (Shelton, Conn.). By using biometric parameters to identify the user the company serves law enforcement, mobile commerce and biometric access to secure areas.

Combining facial- and voice-recognition the company claims its Wocket accesses a cloud database to confirm identity for sales, access to smartphones, tablets and PCs. Though details are not forthcoming, these same parameters are being marketed to law enforcement, defense installations and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Wocket replaces all your credit cards, plus leaves room for cash and your drivers license. A single credit card holds the information from all your credit, debit, loyalty and identification cards — any card with a magnetic stripe. The Wocket card is then swiped in standard point-of-sale equipment, near field communications terminals or bar-code readers. Wocket has a six months battery life between recharges.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

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