Will OLED screens kill paper? Or converge to strengthen the human cultural bond with paper?
What if the future 'death' is not paper, but book inventory?
That is what 'on demand' printing businesses hope will be true. Their strategy is to target the problems of inventory (e.g. excees; 'long tail' demand), not paper.
The OnDemandBooks Espress Book Machine (EBM) can operate 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and produce over 60,000 books per year with minimum supervision. And HP is reported to be developing a massive MEMS printer that can deliver thousands of book pages per minute.
The key question is: when will 'on demand printing' come up from the bottom of the Hype Cycle.
Craig Venter (of Human Genome fame) has a vision of future energy production that is very different from industry veterans. He believes we can design microorganisms that can 'grow energy' by capturing carbon emissions from coal plants or converting sunlight and water into hydrogen. Venter believes in the molecular power of biology and recognizes that there are fewer ideas more powerful (and controversial) than human beings harnessing and improving upon biological systems.
What happened? Researchers at JCVI, a not-for-profit genomic research organization, have published a paper describing a significant advance in genome assembly in which the team can now assemble the whole bacterial genome (582,970 base pair), Mycoplasma genitalium, in one step from 25 fragments of DNA —adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T).
Why is this important to the future of energy? Today we use naturally occuring species of algae that can 'eat carbon' to produce biofuels, or bacteria that take sunlight to effortlessly split water yielding hydrogen. These bioenergy solutions are in Pilot and First Stage of commercial energy production.
But in the near future, we are likely to design our own microorganisms to be even more efficient at the molecular level. We can create microbes with very specific functions related to the fixing of emissions or production of energy. This Future of 'Synthetic biology' sounds strange and probably frightening, but it is also closer than most people might imagine.
What to watch - The Conversation over Synthetic Biology
The University of Aberdeen in the UK has declared that a fully-holographic television (like in Star Wars, yes) is entirely possible by 2018. They base this conclusion on research of their own on holograpic technologies as well as emerging 3D-like televisions that promise to go on sale in the next three to four years. "Whilst the ultimate 3D experience, using fully interactive floating holographic images - similar to that which is seen when Princess Leia appears in front of Luke Skywalker as a hologram in Star Wars - could be on the market by 2018." The team came to this conclusion after recieving $350,000 in funding to study timelines, possibilities and possible applications of a fully holographic television.
The question I find myself asking (other than why someone would still use "whilst" in a sentence) is why someone would even want a holographic television. In every view of the future we see, holograms aren't used for television, but for interactions and display. It will be interesting to see how the public will react to holographic televisions, and how long it will take for them to give way to holographic commmunication and fake girlfriends (Sixth Day). If anything, expect at least five months of Princess Leia parodies once this comes out.
The way to improve fuel cells, energy storage devices and solar cells is to evolve our ability to control the way molecules and photons flow through materials and lead to other reactions. We do not need to overcome the Laws of Physics, just improve the design of materials at the molecular level.
What happened? Cornell University researchers have designed platinum nanoparticles that automatically assemble into complex, ordered patterns and can be used for efficient and low cost catalysts in fuel cells and other micro-fabrication processes.
“The challenge with metals is that their high surface energies cause the particles to cluster,” explains , led by Professor Uli Wiesner who led the team. “This tendency to aggregate makes it difficult to coax metal particles into lining up in an orderly fashion, which is a critical step in forming ordered materials.”
Instead of relying on the traditional (and imprecise) ‘heat it and beat it’ approach” to structuring metals, Professor Wiesner, Scott C. Warren, and their coworkers prepared their materials through self-assembly of block copolymers and stabilized platinum nanoparticles. This ‘bottom up’ approach can lower costs and improve the precision of material design.
Why is this important to the future of energy? We need breakthroughs in materials science that make energy systems cost effective and clean. Nanoscale science (billionth of a meter) and engineering is the platform of future innovation.
Fuel cell costs are based on two main factors: the cost of membranes (MEAs) that enable the reactions and manufacturing techniques to build the device. The way forward is to reduce the amount of precious metal catalysts needed in membranes, and also lower the cost of manufacturing materials around self-assembly. These metallic structures developed by the Cornell team could take us further down the road towards lower cost energy systems that go beyond traditional combustion energy conversion.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities believe they have found a unique species of bacteria, Geobacter sulfurreducens, that can convert wastewater organic compounds into electricity using a low cost carbon (graphite) electrode.
“Other species of bacteria may produce just as many electrons as they oxidize available fuels, but their cell membranes act like an insulator for electron transport,” said Daniel Bond, a microbiologist at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. “With Geobacter, it’s the difference between a rickety one-land bridge and a modern 12-lane highway. The electrons pass easily through internal membranes and cell walls and hop onto the electrode.” As each “hop” requires them to travel about 10 Angstroms.
Geobacter has proteins that guide electrons all the way to the electrode. “This makes Geobacter unique in comparison to other bacteria,” Bond said. “Because of the distances involved, we know that multiple proteins are involved, which adds to the complexity and why we can’t just clone a gene into E. coli to do this.”
Why is this important to the future of energy?
While traditional batteries and fuel cells often use expensive precious-metal catalysts (e.g. platinum) to strip electrons off the fuel source to generate electricity, microbial fuel cells use biological agents to do the heavy work.
A microbial fuel cell based on Geobacter would require only an inexpensive form of carbon (graphite) to help the bacteria transfer electrons onto the surface of electrodes. This novel design of microbial fuel cells could be scaled to efficiently convert waste organic matter (e.g. sewage, food waste) to electricity.
“CSpace creates a virtual moving screen display that contains a variety of particles suspended within its volumetric image space. When these particles are excited by two different infrared lasers, they illuminate to generate a 3D image.”
The two infrared lasers combine to form an image in a “volumetric image space” (something like a clear cube). The breakthrough made is in the technology as well as the display quality. Not only can the 3D image be viewed from any angle, but it also displays an incredibly high resolution. On top of this, the whole prototype requires no moving parts. So far they’ve only been able to create green 3D objects, but the hope is to eventually create full-color 3D images.
Hydrogen fuel cells, which produce electricity, are an evolution to modern day batteries. If we can store hydrogen efficiently as a solid, we can expand the use of energy from intermittent solar and wind power. We can also lower the costs and improve performance of electric vehicles. Two recent research announcements hint that cost effective storage could be much closer to reality.
Nanoscale science & surface area
One of the key enablers of storing hydrogen as a solid is high surface area. How much? Can you imagine holding a gram of material with surface area equal to several football fields for storing hydrogen molecules?
Nanoscale (billionth of a meter) material design means high surface area ratio to volume. We can also tap nanotechnology to create storage materials able to bind and release hydrogen molecules at low pressure and low temperature.
Carbon scaffolding for storage
There are a number of ways to store hydrogen as a solid, and also as a liquid. Earlier we featured a look at metal-organic frameworks or MOFs as a viable long term storage material. Today we’ll look at two other carbon-based hydrogen storage systems.
Carbon is a controversial storage medium since it is ‘sticky’ and can often bind hydrogen too tightly. But mixing (or ‘doping’) carbon with other elements can leverage the benefits of carbon’s high surface area and its Lego-like structural design.
‘Doping corn cobs?’
The Department of Energy has awarded $1.9 million to researchers at the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI)
The Missouri team has found that carbon briquettes (derived from corn cobs) then “doped” (or mixed and layered) with boron, have a unique ability to store natural gas with high capacity at low pressure.
While corn cobs hydrogen storage sounds a bit far fetched, one gram of this carbon material has a surface area comparable to a football field. The boron additive to carbon creates binding energies with H2 molecules that might make this a viable storage medium.
Carbon Graphene Layers
Another carbon based solution was announced last week from researchers in Greece using stacked thin sheets of carbon doped with lithium.
Contests have been picking up steam thanks to the web and new social media technologies. Their next generation could facilitate an increase of economic output, innovation, happiness, leisure time and broader social efficiency.
Games and contests are powerful frameworks for idea and behavior selection that have played a big role in the human learning process. Because communication is key to organizing large complex games, it should come as no surprise that the rapidly quickening web is catalyzing an explosion in competitions of all sorts, including robust new innovation contests. It’s interesting to contemplate how these might evolve as bandwidth and web intelligence continues to accelerate over the next decade.
It can also be argued (and I am doing so) that web powerhouses like Digg and Stumble Upon, or even RSS Lists like Techmeme (many tech bloggers customize their content to increase the likelihood it will get picked up here) are fundamentally contest-based. The cool part is that they also represent a big leap forward in web content organization.
That being the current state of things, how can we then expect contests to evolve over, say, the next 10 years?
Contests as Work: As the web gets more reliable, robust, and broad, people will perform more work via remote connections. It will then become possible to add effective, proven contest structures to these efforts (think the next generation of contest sites) that will reduce the need for oversight and up prouctivitiy and output.
Invisible Contests: As the web gets better at quantifying human behavior, certain companies, groups and governments will want access to this data. One way (out of many) of getting at this data will be hosting contests that people can win (wholesale or incrementally) and benefit from on a regular basis. Just do what you do, and if you do anything that the system really likes (perform an efficient new search algorithm, fall into a personality category ideal for a certain study, etc), it will reward you for it. This way you can be playing many games without having to divert your focus from your interests.
Hierarchical Contest Structures: Companies like Google already have a game-like hierarchy built in to their corporate structure. Expect these models to evolve as new companies based more exclusively on gaming are born and then scale. It is possible that such “automated” companies (with the right human and software assets) will be able to move far more quickly than traditional companies.
It is no secret that the energy delivered by batteries has failed to keep pace with the growing demands of power-hungry consumer products. We all deal with the inconvenience of batteries and plugging in to recharge!
Meanwhile, the multi-billion market for batteries will continue to grow exponentially in the years ahead as more people around the globe cling to advanced consumer electronics. This means more people will be dependent on cords, plugging in and recharging batteries.
The winning combination of qualities in micro-power systems is simple: low cost, long-life, high energy density, quick recharge or refill, non toxic, and safe (e.g. chemical stability and heat management).
Today, portable power means one source- lithium ion batteries (Li-ion). Unfortunately Li-ions suffer from bad chemistry. As manufacturers try to cram more energy into lithium-ion batteries, more heat is generated and the device runs a higher risk of a runaway reaction and fire. The good news is that nanoscale science and engineering is expanding the list of potential solutions to Li-ions problems.
There are a number of promising start ups innovating around nanoscale electrodes, separation membranes and new compounds that could allow lithium ions to grow their market leadership position. Boston-Power Inc, ActaCell, and Lion are start ups with impressive academic institution foundations. So their science seems strong!
Then there are the rapidly rising stars of Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. and A123 Systems who might skip over portable power applications for a potentially more lucrative role for Li-ions in automotive applications.
But let’s think beyond lithium ions. What options exist beyond today’s highest performing consumer batteries? And is there a chance that we might go ‘cord-free’ someday?
How about Silver-zinc batteries and methanol-based micro fuel cells?
Yesterday, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley shot off some optimistic predictions about the web video industry. He opined that ten years from now “online video broadcasting will be the most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication.”
I certainly buy that web video broadcasting will be near ubiquitous. Hurley’s reasoning nicely reflects my own:
“The tools for video recording will continue to become smaller and more affordable. Personal media devices will be universal and interconnected. Even more people will have the opportunity to record and share even more video with a small group of friends or everyone around the world.”
But I am not sure that I’m sold on web video as the “most accessible form of communication”.
Why? Not because I think it won’t explode – web video will to be massive by 2018. Rather, I believe it’s possible that some nascent comm technology may just zoom past web video during that span, or more likely, subsume it.
In his bold speech calling to transform the energy industry, Al Gore forgot to say one of the most important words of the 21st century – biology. He forgot to mention that if we wanted to ‘grow’ energy, carbon could become a profitable feedstock rather than an economic and environmental liability.
Gore is now calling on America to launch a major Apollo-style program to ‘decarbonize’ the electricity sector by 2018 using renewables, geothermal and carbon sequestration efforts. He imagines a world beyond ‘fossil fuels’, but might be overlooking our greatest potential investment in the energy sector – tapping biological systems that ‘eat’ carbon and ‘grow’ energy resources such as biofuels (for transportation) and hydrogen (for electricity generation).
What is possible by 2018? Within a decade we could transform the role of carbon into a profitable feedstock for clean, abundant energy by tapping the power of biology.
The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ is misleading. Coal and oil are not ancient bones or animal matter, rather they are ancient plant life and microorganisms that locked up hydrogen and carbon molecules using the power of the sun. Coal and oil are bioenergy resources. And rather than extract ancient bioenergy from the ground, we can grow the same hydrocarbon chains ourselves without adding new carbon to the atmosphere. (cont.)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has joined
the ranks of those predicting the near-term demise of print
In a recent Washington Post interview (see below), Ballmer
forecasts that, “In the next 10 the whole world of media,
communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down,
in my opinion.”
“There will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not
delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers,
magazines that are delivered in paper form – everything get
delivered in electronic form,” he claims.
The reasoning behind this vision is rooted Ballmer’s belief that
“advertising, community and content [will] all kind of blend”,
resulting in a world in which we’re “going to have incredible
pieces of software that run out in the internet that know all about
the publishers that want to sell ads, all about the advertisers
that want to buy ads and all about the users who want to consume
content and advertising; and it sort of algorithmically puts them
together … and it gets smarter and smarter at delivering the right
ad at the right place at the right time. That’s a big business, we
Personally, I am in full agreement with this scenario, though I
do think that while they will seriously dwindle, some forms of
traditional print will still be around in 2018. But I think Ballmer
is spot-on in his argument that
newspapers and magazines will certainly be hard pressed to
continue their traditional existence(s).