September/October 2010

Automation by the Numbers


Tractor beams, energy rays that can move objects, are becoming a reality for moving very tiny objects. Researchers from the Australian National University announced they have built a device that can move small particles 1.5 meters using only the power of light. Andrei Rhode, a researcher involved with the project, said existing optical tweezers are able to move particles the size of a bacterium a few millimeters in a liquid. Their new technique can move objects 100 times that size over a distance of a meter or more, according to TechNewsDaily. The device works by shining a hollow laser beam around tiny glass particles. The air surrounding the particle heats up, while the dark center of the beam stays cool. When the particle starts to drift out of the middle and into the bright laser beam, the force of heated air molecules bouncing around and hitting the particle's surface is enough to nudge it back to the center. A small amount of light also seeps into the darker middle part of the beam, heating the air on one side of the particle and pushing it along the length of the laser beam. If another such laser is lined up on the opposite side of the beam, the speed and direction the particle moves can be easily manipulated by changing the brightness of the beams.


Researchers in Cyprus have developed an unmanned aircraft able to withstand severe weather conditions by changing shape, according to Reuters. The project aims to build a small, affordable unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can be deployed with minimal risk to remote locations, guided from the ground. At the moment, the twin-cylinder engine Airborne Search and Rescue Platform (ASARP) can feed back images to a control center on the ground within a range of 4.5 miles. The amphibious aircraft, which can be deployed for search and rescue, forest fire monitoring, and border control, is expected to be commercially available in 2011. The UAV, known as an ASARP, deploys aeroservoelastic trim tabs on its wings, which vibrate at certain frequencies to counteract the impact of wind gusts. The prototype has been successfully tested in Cyprus in wind gust conditions of 40 miles.


The fact that a diesel engine can already deliver the fuel economy of some hybrids raised the question of why we do not see diesel hybrids combining the best of both fuel economy worlds. Peugeot has done that with the unveiling of its new 3008 Hybrid4 Crossover with Hybrid4 technology, according to DailyTech. The vehicle is claimed to be the world's first diesel full hybrid production car. The car uses a 2.0L 163 bhp HDi diesel engine along with a 37 bhp electric motor. The diesel engine and the electric motor are able to deliver a combined driving cycle fuel consumption of 74.4 mpg and CO2 emissions in the 99g/km range. The 3008 Hybrid4 Crossover has an 8-kilowatt high-voltage integrated starter-generator to perform the engine start-stop capability and to charge the nickel-metal hydride battery. During acceleration, the vehicle uses the diesel engine and the electric motor. The 3008 Hybrid4 Crossover will land in the spring of 2011 in Europe at an unspecified price.


Over 884 million people drink unsafe water, according to UNICEF, making water filtration technology vital to raising living standards around the world. Cotton treated with silver nanowires promises to do just that, by increasing the speed and reducing the energy cost of removing deadly bacteria from drinking water, according to TechNewsDaily. The silver nanowires conduct 20 volts of electricity through the cotton water filter, frying any pathogens. Essentially a cross between a bug zapper and a Brita water filter, this new material kills 98% of bacteria in a matter of seconds. At that speed, the system purifies water 80,000 times faster than filters that trap bacteria, said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University and inventor of the system. This system also uses 80% less energy than a traditional bacterial water filter, Yi said. By pairing mechanical filtration with an electric charge, the system allows for pores so large that water can pass through the filter unassisted by any force other than gravity.