Monthly Archives: January 2006

Future Clothing To Play Music And Change Color

Plaids change color, Levi’s play tunes: Nanotechnology sweeps the textile industry.

Welcome to the age of techno togs — Levi’s wired to play music, electrified plaids that can change color, $1,000 evening gowns that repel red wine stains, jog bras that monitor heart rate and pompom hats that light up on the slopes. It’s not enough for a pair of pants to just be a pair of pants anymore — it has to do something.

With 42 million iPods sold since 2001 — 14 million of them during this holiday season alone — it’s no wonder that the race is on to integrate the device into apparel. Everyone is betting on the power of the Apple music player to educate consumers about the possibilities of incorporating technology into fashion.

Earlier efforts at marrying the two have been little more than exercises in cord management, with ear buds, headphone wires and the devices themselves hidden away in strategically placed pockets. But today, textile companies are weaving conductive fibers and treating fabrics with nano-particles to render neckties stain-resistant and fleece jackets static-free, while MIT grads are working furiously to develop color-changing, solar-powered electronic textiles.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been the driving force behind electronic textiles since 2001, when it introduced a project to develop, among other things, military uniforms that could provide on-the-fly camouflage or map a soldier’s location.

But color-changing garments are still a few years away, she says.

“To be blunt, nobody is putting up the money, honey,” Orth says. “The momentum is growing for this technology, but the fashion industry, which runs on low margins, will have to wait until others provide it to them.”

Maybe so, but come fall, at least people will be able to wear their Levi’s and listen to them too.

Scientists Don’t Doubt Nano Future

Take a look over here for a list of quatations of scientists about nanotechnology:

PROFESSOR PHILIP STAMP, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: Nanotechnology is what everybody is going to see in the supermarket in the next 30 years. It’s basically a huge wave of future technology that’s going to emerge. It’s already starting.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Nanoscience is an emerging technology that will change our lives in ways we cannot imagine. It’s the study and use of tiny nanoparticles. They’re as small as an atom. 10,000 could fit across a human hair and their potential is endless.

PROFESSOR PHILIP STAMP: When you can make things purpose-built small, when you can make designer molecules or when you can make nanoplatforms that are almost invisible, but which can go into the human body and do drug delivery or even gene delivery, clearly, it’s going to influence everything. One can imagine nanobots in the toothpaste, for example, which are employed to do dental work. All it takes is some ingenuity.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Already nanotechnology is filtering into our daily lives. Sunscreen is packed with nanoparticles of zinc oxide. This experimental nanotechnology house in Sydney has windows that keep themselves clean.

PROFESSOR HARI MANOHARAN, STAMFORD UNIVERSITY: Paints on cars now are beginning to be imbedded with so-called nanoparticles. Very small, nanometre-scale composite objects that have been synthesised with reasonably new technologies and infused in paint to do something that paint normally doesn’t do – basically, keep dirt off.

PROFESSOR PHILIP STAMP: It would take an ordinary computer, you know, years or centuries to do that. A quantum computer would do it in a microsecond or less. There is almost no limit to the things that it could do. And people talk about, for example, teleporting things, using the rules of quantum mechanics and these things seem even more strange than science fiction and yet they have already been demonstrated in the lab on a very small scale.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Stamford University researcher Hari Manoharan says we need to understand the rules that govern these small particles before we can harness their power. In the laboratory he’s been able to move single atoms of cobalt to build a structure, one atom at a time.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: At the University of New South Wales scientists have already created the basic building blocks for a quantum computer by placing single atoms into a silicone chip and showing they can control those. Professor Robert Clark hopes the first full-scale quantum computer could be up and running within 20 years, with Australia positioned as a significant player.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: In the meantime, scientists are pushing ahead. They say nanotechnology is here to stay and they believe long-term the benefits will outweigh any risk.

PROFESSOR ROBERT CLARK: We really do feel we could build a better world in various aspects. In my own particular case, if we can, through our Australian contribution, contribute to the computing power that is necessary for all of these breakthroughs that we’d like to make, that would be a very good feeling.

Linear Thinking Versus Exponential Thinking – Selfdriving Cars Coming Sooner Than Most People Think

Linear Thinking About The Future Of Cars

A U.K. government think tank has forecast “RFID-tagged driverless cars on roads by 2056. “Given the ability of several cars to navigate a complex route in the recent DARPA competition completely autonomously and a General Motors project to demonstrate driverless cars traveling at 60 miles per hour by 2008, the projection of RFID-controlled cars by the year 2056 is a good example of linear thinking,” says Ray Kurzweil. “I believe we can anticipate cars to be doing much of our driving for us in the 2020s if not sooner.

You’re damn straight it’s an example of linear thinking.

Progress is accelerating exponentially. Linear extrapolations will not give you an accurate view of the future. Exponential extrapolations, however, do.

Titania Nano Tube Arrays Harness Solar Power

Titania Nano Tube Arrays Harness Solar Power

Creating a renewable energy resource to supplement and ultimately replace dwindling petroleum reserves is one of the pressing needs our nation faces within our own and our children’s lifetimes. But gasoline, an almost perfect fuel, with a tremendous amount of power contained in a small cupful, is not easy to replace. One of the most likely prospects for an efficient renewable resource is solar energy, either to produce hydrogen, the third most abundant element on the earth’s surface, or to power solar cells. At Penn State University, researchers are finding new ways to harness the power of the sun using highly-ordered arrays of titania nanotubes for hydrogen production and increased solar cell efficiency.

“Basically we are talking about taking sunlight and putting water on top of this material, and the sunlight turns the water into hydrogen and oxygen. With the highly-ordered titanium nanotube arrays, under UV illumination you have a photoconversion efficiency of 13.1%. Which means, in a nutshell, you get a lot of hydrogen out of the system per photon you put in. If we could successfully shift its bandgap into the visible spectrum we would have a commercially practical means of generating hydrogen by solar energy. It beats fighting wars over middle-eastern oil.”

This type of solar cell shows great promise as a relatively low cost solution to efficiently producing electricity from the sun. According to the authors, the highly ordered nanotube arrays provide excellent pathways for electron percolation, in effect acting as ‘electron highways’ for directing the photo-generated electrons to where they can do useful work. Their results suggest that highly-efficient dye solar cells could be made simply by increasing the length of the nanotube arrays. Grimes and colleagues feel that solutions to this and other processing issues are within reach and will result in a considerable, possibly quite dramatic increase in solar cell efficiency.

Nano Motor Powered By Solar Energy

Here‘s an interesting article about a nano motor that runs on solar energy alone.

Chemists at Italy’s University of Bologna , UCLA and the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) have designed and constructed a molecular motor of nanometer size that does not consume fuels; their nano motor is powered only by sunlight. The research, federally funded by the National Science Foundation, will be published Jan. 31 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The nano motor can work continuously without any external interference, and operates without consuming or generating chemical fuels or waste, said Fraser Stoddart, UCLA’s Fred Kavli Professor of NanoSystems Sciences and CNSI Director.

“We design and make sunlight-powered nano motors and then ‘test drive’ them much as an engineer would a new motor car,” Stoddart said. “It is as if we had managed to get a solar powered motor car onto the road and running.”

Precisely how light-powered nano motors will be used in the future is not yet clear, Stoddart said, but he listed a number of possible areas for applications: nanoelectronics, molecular computers, and nano valves that perhaps could be used for the delivery of anti-cancer drugs and other medications.

This is interesting for two reasons:

  1. It demonstrates the feasibility of building machines at the molecular level, something which will have great consequences for society in the not too distant future.
  2. It chips away at the credibility of peak oil doomsday arguments that there will be no techno fix to save this planet from dwindling oil supplies.

See also Portable Personal Solar Cells.

Conference To Explore Life In Quantum Age

Here‘s a vague, yet interesting, article that touches on the subject of the so-called quantum revolution:

Within a few years the lives of most people will be touched by the quantum revolution – a change as profound as cars, flight, antibiotics or the Internet.

Progress in understanding the arcane laws that govern nature at the sub-atomic level and spectacular new advances in minuscule technology are ushering humanity into the quantum age, said Professor Gerard Milburn, head of Quantum Nanoscience at The University of Queensland

“Most people have heard of nanotechnology as the building of new materials at the molecular or atomic scale. Well that’s the stone axe age compared to what’s coming,” Professor Milburn predicts.

More impressive than nanotech?

Okay… so far, so good.

“This is the new era of building revolutionary materials and devices out of individual atoms and particles – things that obey the bizarre rules of quantum mechanics, rather than familiar physics, and can do new things.”

It is also moving with blinding speed. In recent weeks two international groups have announced that they have built devices consisting of a handful of quantum switches which have the power of 256 ordinary transistor switches.

Another example is the creation of “molecular magnets” from crystals of organo-mettalic molecules. Like normal magnets these point north or south and so can be used as incredibly small on/off switches and to store bits of information in much the same way a computer does.

“By engineering different kinds of materials at atomic scales we can make tiny devices – for example a minute cantilever that is so sensitive it can tell which way a single electron is pointing, so you could use it to store bits of information,” he said.

“This isn’t the next step in computing. It’s a whole new era in technology, and it is arriving at a breathtaking pace.”

Basically, these guys are talking about a quantum computer. Quantum computers exploit the bizarre laws of quantum physics, which allow them to look at the two sides of a coin at one time, whereas a conventional computer can only look at one side at a time.

Quantum computers won’t help you boot your Windows faster, but they are excellent at solving problems that require exponentially more computational power with linearly increasing input. Quantum computers can solve problems like these in seconds or minutes, whereas a conventional computer would need billions of years.

And yes, I agree… that would definately usher in a new era in technology.

Why?

Because obscene amounts of computational power like this will allow for highly detailed simulations of things such as weather and medicine. Especially simulations of cells, organs and eventually entire human bodies are going to be progressively important in the future. Simulations give researchers ‘reality in a chip’. And reality in a chip is so much easier to research than reality in… well… reality.

The boost that this will give to medical research will be enormous, which in turn will lead to a revolution in global health:

By using single electrons or light particles to store information, the prospect is for computers of immense speed and power, able to tackle the most complex computational problems from predicting climate to designing perfectly-adapted drugs, in a fraction the time taken by today’s machines.

It also means the arrival of a host of new materials, engineered from the ground up, atom by atom, to transform manufacturing and even medicine: “Scientists are already working on a new generation of biomaterials which interact with the body far more safely and effectively than those today,” he said.

Among the new devices in development is the “quantum dot”, in effect an artificial atom in which electrons are confined at various energy levels, and then can be kicked to a different level to perform a specific task.

“For instance, a quantum dot could be used as a sensor to detect something with exquisite precision, and then give a flash of light, consisting of a single photon, to signal the detection.”

In the last few years, impressive progress has been made in science’s holy quest to build a quantum computer. I have read articles in which researchers state that they have solved quantum related problems of which they thought they wouldn’t solve them in a century. Many other breakthroughs have been made since. There are just too many of them, or I’d list a few. Just google around, and you’re bound to find plenty of information.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that quantum computers are feasible, and I would not be surprised if the first one will be built in the coming years.

For more information, see my previous post about mass production of quantum chips.

Portable Personal Solar Cells

In the light of the much hyped peak oil doomsday scenario, I sure do enjoy posting something that brings light in the darkness foretold by peak oil doomers from time to time.

Peak oil doomers would have you believe there won’t be a techno fix for the world’s energy problems, and that our civilization will collapse as oil supplies start dwindling, supposedly a few years from now.

This is only one of the reasons why the peak oil doomsday argument is flawed at the core. It’s not my job to debunk peak oil doomsday, however. We already have Peak Oil Debunked for that, which is run by one of my loyal blog fans. 😉

So go read that one if you want to find out why peak oil doomsday is a load of crock.

Let’s have a look at how solar power will start to enter the mainstream in the near future…

Portable Personal Solar Cells:

AUSTRALIAN scientists are using nanotechnology to develop portable personal solar cells that can recharge laptops and mobile phones.

Nano scientists at the university are using a flexible polymer sheet that can be rolled up and taken anywhere to charge communications devices.

The technology is 100 nanometres (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre) thick, weighs just 10 micrograms per square centimetre and uses a cheap composite material made from carbon nanotubes one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, and conductive polymer.

“You could have a tent that has this flexible conductive polymer as part of its fabric,” he said.

“It could be passively absorbing light and converting that light to electricity.”

Mr Waclawik said the polymer may also be a viable alternative to expensive, heavy and delicate silicon solar cells.

“You could imagine a mobile phone, for instance, where the back of the case might be made of a photovoltaic plastic, so you could be charging the battery just by sitting out in the sun,” he said.

Between $200,000 and $300,000 had been spent on the project, which was probably several years away from commercialisation, Mr Waclawik said.

“If it can boost the efficiency, the cost of generating the electricity starts to be competitive with other forms,” he said.

So there ya have it. Ofcourse, a few personal portable solar cells for recharging mobile phones aren’t enough to save the world… but the bold printed statement in the quotation above should make it obvious to anybody why this particular development is important.

To sum it all up: there will be a nanotechno fix for the world’s energy problems.

More posts by me on solar power:

Police, Army Robots To Debut In 5 Years

A short one from kurzweilai.net, regarding robots entering the mainstream in the coming years:

Police, Army Robots to Debut in 5 Years

The Korea Times, Jan. 16, 2006

By the 2010s, Korea expects to see robots assisting police and the military, patrolling neighborhoods and going on recon missions on the battlefield.

The outdoor security robots will be able to make their night watch rounds and even chase criminals, directed by a remote control system via an Internet connection or moving autonomously via their own artificial intelligence systems.

The government also seeks to build combat robots. They will take the shape of a dog or a horse, with six or eight legs or wheels.

There is no link to an English source which could provide more detailed information. The Korea Times (the source) is, like you’d expect, written in Korean and is therefore of no use to me.

See also my previous post Robots Mainstream By 2006, 2007?.

Nanoparticles Pinpoint Brain Activity

Nanotechweb reports on nanoparticles pinpointing brain activity.

Scientists could be a step closer to unraveling the mysteries of human memory thanks to a nanoparticle-based imaging technique developed at Bordeaux University. The team is observing how biomolecules change position within a cultured rat synapse, the junction between nerve cells, by labeling the biomolecules with tiny gold particles.

This is essentially another step in reverse engineering our brains, which is important because…

Wait a minute… I dedicated a whole FAQ to why it’s important to reverse engineer the brain.

Read that instead.

Cloned Embryo Stem Cells Keep Genetic Integrity

NewScientist reports that cloned embryo stem cells keep their genetic integrity.

The results of the new study – which examined gene expression patterns in the stem cells – suggest that there is no subset of genes that is universally activated or disabled in cloned stem cells as compared with their normal stem cell counterparts.

“This is the first study to try to find gene expression differences – and there were none,” says Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, senior author on the study.

He adds that the “reassuring” findings address concerns that stem cells from cloned embryos contain unusual genetic features that could make them unsuitable for therapeutic purposes.

Stem cells are primitive, unspecialised cells which can be coaxed into becoming any cell type. Stem cell therapies might be able to replace damaged tissues, or grow new organs. Doctors hope that one day cloned embryos might offer stem cells which could be tailored to individual patients for treatment.

This is a good thing because, in the past, there have been concerns that cloning stem cells might yield stem cells with unpleasant genetic mutations, which might render them less useful in therapeutic cloning therapies.

When you’re getting to growing replacement organs for your body, you want those organs to have the exact same genetic information that your donor cells did.

Just think… how useful would replacement organs be if they gave us tumors by surprise?