Dr. Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University where he directs the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, went over the steps his team has made in developing a self-driving vehicle at RoboDev in Santa Clara today. He showed some incredible video of cars smashing into obstacles (sometimes even seeking other cars out to smash into) but ended with videos of their latest vehicle successfully navigating slowly around other moving cars.
The great thing about his presentation was his appeal not to the side that wants self-driving cars, but to a side we can all agree with — saving energy, lives, and time.
In saving energy, Dr. Thrun explained that 22% of the Nation’s energy consumption is used by cars. You also only use your car on average during about 10% of your day, making it useless the other 90%. If self-driving cars could be developed, one car could be used by multiple people. “You could be dropped off at work and then send the car back home to pick up your wife.” Added safety will also increase gas mileage since removing the extra weight of safety features (airbag, reinforced steel) would increase fuel efficiency by 30%. (It should also be noted that convoys reduce energy consumption by 11%-17%)
If you’re worried how all that implantable technology you’ll have in your body is going to power itself, the answer may lie with Georgia Tech. “Georgia Tech researchers used zinc oxide wires that scratch against an electrode to generate a current, clearly showing potential for use within the constantly moving body.” The zinc wires rubbing had previously caused serious wear and tear in former experiments (not to mention the fact that zinc dissolves in water aka your body) so the team developed a more “robust” version of the device with added packaging film to protect the zinc wires.
Although the size in the photo is quite large, they believe it will be easy to scale the wires down to the much smaller size of three to five microns in diameter and 300 microns in length (the dot at the end of this period is about 615 microns wide). The only thing they’re waiting for is for production to begin and possibly some hefty investments I’m sure.
The development of body-powered energy devices has been on fire this last year. It seems that the future of devices are in the human body itself. Heat and movement can all be converted to energy to power all the little gadgets we get into our hands, from cellphones to body monitors. Having an implantable power generator makes the most sense in that batteries wouldn’t have to be replaced, and at least maintenance of such devices would be at a minimum.
How far are we from implantable self-powered devices? Some would say we’re almost there and I’d have to agree. The next few years may see implementation, maybe two years before we start seeing it in the consumer world.
Check out more on this device over at the Energy Roadmap
Researchers at the University of Illinois are working on developing a synthetic polymer which would hopefully self-heal scratches and cracks on items that get constant human and environmental exposure. "Applications range from automotive paints and marine varnishes to the thick, rubbery coatings on patio furniture and park benches." In other words, when someone dings your car door it can be good as new in just a few minutes or hours depending on the weather.
How does it work?
The self healing polymers are made up of two components: a catalyst and a healing agent. These chemicals are stuffed into small spheres about 100 microns in diameter and put onto the surface of an object. When scratched, the small spheres break open and mix, forming a healing agent that repair the surface. In tests with a steel beam where a scratch was delivered by a razor blade, the steel coated with the polymer was found to be fine while the one without rusted.
Self-healing products of course have a vast array of possibilities that are useful. Anything metal rusts, wood gets scratched or chipped, and hard drives can rack up some serious wear and tear if you're not careful. Self-healing coatings on products could extend the life of your goods for years longer than they should have lived. Combined with a superhydrophobic surface, our gadgets will look years from now just as good as the day you bought them.
Image: re-ality (Flickr, CC-Attribution)