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Thors Design's Furniture Made from Decommissioned Wharves

Core 77 - Fri, 2019-01-18 03:20

For maximum sustainability, we ought be making our new products out of our old garbage. The problem is that most garbage is, well, garbage.

So what would be ideal, is if we could find a discarded material that was still sturdy, workable and attractive. Designer/builder Carsten Thor has found one such material. Thor's native country of Denmark, peninsular as it is, is littered with decommissioned wharves. Although their utility has declined, the incredibly tough wood used to build them--African Azobé--has weathered the freezing temperatures and salt water remarkably well. As a side bonus, the timbers are gigantic. Thor gives this material a second life by turning it into strong furniture.

Thors Design from Merrild Studios on Vimeo.

It should go without saying that no two pieces are the same, and that the furniture is suited for both indoor and outdoor applications. Check out more of Thor Design's stuff here.

Design Job: School House NYC Is Seeking a Senior Industrial Designer with Retail & Environmental Experience

Core 77 - Fri, 2019-01-18 03:20

School House is looking for a senior industrial designer with a retail, environmental or visual merchandising background to ideate, create, and lead multi-scale retail projects in collaboration with our studio’s multidisciplinary team. Added points for visual merchandising experience. In this role, you will be involved in all stages of the

View the full design job here

Reader Submitted: This Smart Ring Aims to Provide Better Lives for People with Sickle Cell Disease 

Core 77 - Fri, 2019-01-18 03:20

Oxygem is a smart ring that aims to provide people with Sickle Cell Disease a better lifestyle and reduce the amount of deaths caused by this disease each year. On average, statistics show that in every 1,000,000 people, 1 in 6 people is a carrier of Sickle Cell Disease, and 1 in 25 is diseased, with a death rate of 1 per week.

Sickle Cell Disease is a condition in which red blood cells are not shaped as they should be. Red blood cells usually look like round discs. But in Sickle Cell Disease, they're shaped like crescent moon. These sickle shaped cells get stuck together easily, and block off small blood vessels. When blood can't get to where it should, oxygen levels drop, which leads to pain and organ damage.

Measurement of oxygen saturation (SpO2) can help detect sickle cell crises earlier and prevent their complications. The Oxygem ring aims to track the SpO2 in the blood at all times with its built in sensors, allowing the patient to get warnings and alerts on the ring, as well as notifications on the phone, while also notifying the doctor in case of emergency.

Project Video: https://vimeo.com/255200170

View the full project here

This New Instrument Reimagines the Infamous Talkbox

Core 77 - Fri, 2019-01-18 03:20

Bosko Kante is a grammy-winning artist, producer and most recently, innovator. He and his wife Maya Kante co-founded Electrospit and co-created the ESX-1, a tubeless talkbox designed to liberate an artistic expression with mobility, style, freedom and innovation.

The traditional talkbox is to thank for the famous hook that rises and falls like west coast hills at the beginning of 2pac and Dre's "California Love." But talkboxes have always been clunky, intrusive DIY-instruments, extremely impractical to play on stage until Electrospit exploded on Kickstarter, tripling its goal of $40,000.

"With a traditional talkbox," Bosko says, "You have a synthesizer that you connect to an amp that you connect to a speaker that goes through a tube that goes into your mouth that makes it hard to talk. With the Electrospit mobile talkbox [ESX-1], we've combined all of those pieces into one unit."

Looking at the two side by side is kind of like comparing beats headphones to a catheter.

Traditional talkbox

David Guetta, Bruno Mars and more are playing with Electrospit's ESX-1, and you can too without having to shove a tube in your mouth that you bought on Amazon. Play it in the studio, play it in your house, play it in church, Maya Kante says.

5 Technologies Embedded System Engineers Should Master in 2019

Design News - Thu, 2019-01-17 05:30
(Image source:  Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash)

Happy New Year! Another year is here and with it are many opportunities for embedded systems developers. As the new year starts, there are many interesting technologies that are going to be shaping the way systems are designed in 2019 and beyond. Let’s quickly examine the top five technologies that developers should be mastering or at least closely monitoring this year. 

Technology #1 - Defect Management

In 2018, I spent a lot of time talking about debugging techniques that developers can use to minimize the defects that are in their systems. The fact is, debugging techniques are the last resort to remove defects from an embedded system. The processes that are put in place during the design and development are far more important in minimizing defects. There have been several advances in the last few years that many embedded developers have not been taking advantage of. These include:

  • Continuous integration servers
  • Hardware-in-loop testing
  • Unit testing
  • Automated testing

There is a lot that developers can do in these areas to reduce the time spent debugging. In many cases developers tell themselves that they will look into these items or implement them after the next delivery when there is more time. The fact is, there never is more time and teams need to look at these technologies and spend a little time each week working them into their development processes. Yes, this will take time away from delivery at the moment but they will actually reduce development time in both the long and short run. 

Technology #2 - Cloud Connectivity

Many “traditional” embedded systems are, or were, disconnected systems that had no access to the Internet. With the big push for the IoT, many systems are now adding wireless or wired connectivity and streaming loads of data up to the cloud for processing and storage. The traditional embedded software developer in general doesn’t have much experience with setting up cloud services, working with MQTT, or the many other technologies that are required for use with the cloud. There are several activities that developers should put into their calendars this year in order to become more familiar with cloud connectivity. These activities include:

  • Setting up a cloud service provider such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, etc
  • Set up private and public keys along with a device certificate.
  • Write a device policy for devices connecting to the cloud service
  • Connect an embedded system to the cloud service
  • Transmit and receive information to the cloud
  • Build a basic dashboard to examine data in the cloud and control the device

If developers are able to do these things, they will have built a good foundation from which to master cloud connectivity for their embedded systems. 

Technology #3 - Security

With many devices now connecting to the cloud, a major concern facing developers is how to secure their systems. There are several new technologies, more than I could list in this post, that will be impacting how developers design their systems. These technologies vary from using security processors, Arm TrustZone, and multi-core microcontrollers to partition secure and non-secure application code. While there are several hardware technology sets available, the available software solutions have been expanding at an extraordinary rate. Many of these technologies are just being introduced and 2019 is an excellent year to focus in and master security concepts and apply them your embedded systems. 


Technology #4 - Machine Learning

A major theme that we are going to hear about nearly non-stop in 2019 is about moving machine learning from the cloud to the edge. Machine learning has been a force to reckon with in the cloud and the ability to move machine learning to microcontroller-based systems is going to be a game changer. Whether the technology is really mature enough at the moment is open to debate, but it’s a technology that is coming to a microcontroller-based system near you very soon. For that reason, it’s a technology that developers need to start to learn in 2019 so that when it’s mature and ready for use, developers are ready and not fighting a multi-year learning curve. 

Technology #5 - Low Power Design

Embedded designers have always had to contend with battery operated devices but with more IoT connected devices and sensor nodes, low power design is becoming a crucial design criteria that can dramatically affect the operating costs of a company. While we often hear about how little current a microcontroller can draw in its deepest sleep mode and how energy-efficient parts are, designing a system that can reach those low power states can be challenging. 

Developers working with battery operated devices need to stay up to date in several key areas:

  • Wireless radio technologies
  • Hardware energy monitoring
  • Software energy consumption monitoring
  • Battery architectures
  • Power regulators


In this post, we have examined the technologies that have the potential to have the greatest impact on the way we design and develop embedded systems. While we should be looking to master these technologies, each area itself could require years to master. It’s important that developers select at least one technology to work at mastering and then at least keep abreast of the basics and advancements in the other areas. 

Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost, and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at jacob@beningo.com or at his website, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

Automation Suppliers Back OPC UA

Design News - Thu, 2019-01-17 05:00

The OPC Foundation’s “OPC UA including TSN down to field level” initiative is being backed by a “Who’s Who” of leading automation and control suppliers. (Image source: OPC Foundation)

One of the key automation technology megatrends of 2018, OPC UA TSN, took another big step forward with an announcement that the technology is being supported by a wide range of major automation suppliers worldwide, signaling the potential rise of a single, internationally-recognized standard for automation communications. Now, we’re nearing the tipping point, with less talk about the standards itself, and more new product introductions that will no doubt be coming as we head into 2019.

The group of companies backing the technology initiative includes automation and control giants, Rockwell Automation and Siemens, along with a “Who’s Who” of leading suppliers including ABB, Beckhoff, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, Hirschmann, Huawei, Intel, Kalycito, KUKA, Mitsubishi Electric, Molex, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Schneider Electric, TTTech, Wago, and Yokogawa.

OPC UA and Time Sensitive Networking

It’s hard to remember a technology development in automation and control that has generated the amount of hyperbole surrounding the combination of OPC UA and TSN. Fabrice Jadot, senior vice president and CTO at Schneider Electric is calling the technology itself “a key pillar of the future industrial IoT architectures,” while Stefan Schönegger, vice president of strategy and innovations at B&R claims that “the days of disparate industrial communication protocols are over.”

According to a separate announcement by B&R, OPC UA over TSN will enable plug-and-play networks that are easier to administer and configure. Network stations will communicate “up to 18 times faster than with any protocol available on the market today” and create new possibilities in tightly synchronized motion and control applications.

OPC UA over TSN is also seen as the key to meeting the requirements of future IoT applications. The technology supports networks comprising tens of thousands of nodes and benefits from bandwidth extensions to the Ethernet standard.


At the SPS IPC Drives Show in November, the CC-Link Partner Association also announced the completion of the specification for “CC-Link IE TSN” – its next generation network based on the current CC-Link IE technology.

Key features of CC-Link IE TSN include an ability to create flexible IIoT system architectures by adopting TSN Ethernet communication technology as a time sharing method and enabling collection of information from end devices using IP communications while also securing real-time control communication. The goal is to achieve a mixture of high-speed and large-capacity control communication (cyclic data) that can be easily combined with non-control communication (transient data) using network bandwidth of up to 1 Gbps.

CC-Link IE TSN has added Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) technology and standards related to IEEE Ethernet to integrate operational technology (OT) and Information technology (IT). (Image source: CC-Link Partner Association)

CC-Link IE TSN offers four major features, starting with effective integration of control and information communication. The system is designed to provide high priority to cyclic communication used for device control and to allocate bandwidth usage preferentially over information communication needs. 

Since it is also compatible with SNMP, it provides superior diagnostic support for network devices. The result is that general purpose SNMP monitoring tools can be used to gather and analyze data from devices compatible with either CC-Link IE TSN or IP communication.


CC-Link IE TSN also implements a time sharing method offering simultaneous time-trigger and bidirectional communications to achieve cycle times of 31.25 μs or less. The CLPA technical group says that adding sensors or increasing the servo axes required for control to expand a production line has minimal effect on overall cycle time.

It also supports both hardware and software platforms, along with both ASIC and FPGA-based hardware. Development of software protocol stacks on a general-purpose Ethernet chip is also envisioned for both master and slave devices.

Al Presher is a contributing editor for Design News, specializing in automation and control and writing on automation topics, machine control, robotics, fluid power, and power transmission since 2002. Previously he worked in the electronic motion control field for 18 years, most recently as VP of Marketing for ORMEC Systems Corp (manufacturer of PC-based servo control systems).


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Plants Can Generate Green Electricity

Design News - Thu, 2019-01-17 04:00

Scientists are constantly on the search for sustainable, renewable energy sources, especially as the world strives to be more environmentally friendly. Italian researchers have demonstrated that they can look no further than the trees and plants that are all around us, showing how plants’ leaves can provide enough energy to power LEDs.

An interdisciplinary team of roboticists and biologists at IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Pontedera in Pisa, Italy, have discovered that plants are quite literally a green energy source, generating—by a single leaf—more than 150 volts. This is enough to power 100 LED lightbulbs simultaneously, according to the research team, led by researchers Fabian Meder and Barbara Mazzolai.

The team also showed that a "hybrid tree" made of natural and artificial leaves can act as an electrical generator that converts wind into electricity.

Researchers in Italy have developed a hybrid plant made of natural and artificial leaves. When wind blows into the plant and moves the leaves, it produces electricity. (Image source: IIT-Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia)

Bio-Inspired Technology

Mazzolai is a long-time inventor and researcher in the area of bio-inspired technology, particularly at the intersection of robotics and the natural world. In 2012, she coordinated the European Union-funded project Plantoid, developed what researchers called the first plant robot.

In her and Meder’s team’s latest study, researchers focused again on plants, showing that leaves can create electricity when they are touched by a distinct material or by the wind.

Specifically, what they found was that certain leaf structures can convert mechanical forces applied at the leaf surface into electrical energy, Mazzolai said. This is because of the natural, specific composition of most plant leaves, which can gather electric charges on their surface due to a process called contact electrification. These charges are then immediately transmitted into the inner plant tissue that acts similar to a "cable" and transports the generated electricity to other parts of the plant, researchers said.

In their research, then, researchers simply demonstrated that by connecting a "plug" to the plant stem, the electricity generated can be harvested and used to power electronic devices. The IIT team specifically showed that the voltage generated by a single leaf can reach to more than 150 Volts, an amount that can power 100 LED light bulbs each time the leaf is touched.

Plants Convert Wind Into Electricity

To use plants to convert wind into electricity, the team modified a Nerum oleander tree with artificial leaves that touch the plant’s natural leaves. When wind blows into the tree and moves the leaves, the hybrid tree produces electricity, with the amount increasing the more the leaves are touched. Researchers imagine that this effect can be expanded to scale up if applied to the whole surface of a tree’s foliage or even a forest, they said.


The IIT team published a paper on their work in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. They plan to continue the research as a first step for a new EU project Mazzolai plans to coordinate in 2019 called Growbot. The aim of the project is to develop  bio-inspired robots—in part powered by the new plant-based energy source--that implement plant-like growing motions.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend. Hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.

Nike Introduces Self-Lacing Sneakers in a New Context

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-01-17 02:32

As a former basketball player, I can attest to the discomfort that comes along with running up and down the court in sneakers that fit you when you purchased them in store but seemingly change size and shape every time you pivot. As a result of this natural foot expansion due to quick movement and heat, my feet and ankles are in a state of permanent distress (even 6 years after I has to stop playing). I'm not alone when it comes to this specific cause of discomfort, which is why I'm so curious about Nike's new Adapt BB basketball sneaker, which incorporates Nike's self-lacing technology in a realistic context instead of Back to the Future or the more recent lifestyle edition HyperAdapts.

The Nike Adapt BB's upper is made from alternating Flyknit and QuadFit mesh, and the midsole features Nike's cushion foam, which is no stranger to Nike's basketball sneakers. The sneakers offer a custom, ever-changing fit due to their adaptive lacing—users simply place their foot inside the sneaker and let a motor and gear train (Remember this? Just a theory...) do the rest. Basically, the system senses the level of tension needed for the foot at any given moment and adjusts accordingly. 

A look inside the tech of the Nike Adapt BBs"We picked basketball as the first sport for Nike Adapt intentionally because of the demands that athletes put on their shoes. During a normal basketball game the athlete's foot changes, and the ability to quickly change your fit by loosening your shoe to increase blood flow and then tighten again for performance is a key element that we believe will improve the athlete's experience." —Eric Avar, Nike VP Creative Director of Innovation

A main addition that sets the Adapt BBs apart from previous self-lacing sneakers is their app connectivity. In addition to physically adjusting the fit of the laces, users have the option of using the Nike Adapt app to set their fit preferences. Wearers will be able to loosen the shoe before tightening it up as they re-enter a game and in the future, they will even be able to assign a different tightness level for warm-ups and cool-downs.

A customized fit is awesome, but my main concern is that basketball sneakers usually crap out after just one season, often even less. So, will players need to purchase new sneakers including the tech that often, or will the tech be removable so that players only need to re-purchase the sneaker's shell? Will the firmware updates carry over if you need to get a new pair? 

Either way, if you've ever imagined a world in which sneakers need firmware updates, battery replacements, etc., just have comfort in knowing that vision is around the corner. After attending CES and seeing everything from air fresheners to purses become tech enabled, it's only fitting that our sneakers are next.

FitAdapt technology will be available in the Nike Adapt BB beginning in February.

The Full Design Process of a One-Handed Toilet Paper Dispenser

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-01-17 02:32

Here's an object all of us use, but few of us ever talk about: A toilet paper holder. Industrial designer Eric Strebel designed a magnet-based dispenser that can be used, one-handed, to remove one, two or three sheets at a time.

For viewer edification, he's captured the product development process, start-to-finish, on camera. "This video is probably the most comprehensive of all my videos, in terms of showing the full design process for designing and developing a manufacturable product," Strebel writes. Here it is:

The Polarity Gear toilet paper holder is currently live on Kickstarter.

Tom Dixon & Ikea Announce Modular Delaktig Bed

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-01-17 02:32

Last year a collaboration between Tom Dixon and Ikea yielded the Delaktig, a sort of open-source furniture system built around a day bed/couch/seating platform. Now they've expanded the line to include a proper bed, Queen-sized, which features the same aluminum construction and snap-on, snap-off system of accessories (in this case a headboard, a side table and lights).

Tom Dixon: "As a designer you observe lots and lots of things. Most of them are useless and don't make any sense. Eventually, a pattern emerges from all the information that comes through. Good designers will be good spotters of patterns, and you apply that, or you spot a series of disparate elements, and you bring them together to be one strong idea."

We'll be curious to see if the Ikeahacking community takes the Delaktig bed to heart and starts producing swiveling worksurfaces and reading-light rigs. (What we'd really like to see: Some clever attachment that simplifies bedmaking.)

The Delaktig bed will be released in February.

Bosch's X-Lock System for Quick Angle Grinder Accessory Changes

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-01-17 02:32

Angle grinders are meant to be used at, well, an angle. That pesky lock nut that holds the blade on prevents you from grinding with the wheel flat against the workpiece, should your application require it. More importantly, the lock nut is time-consuming to remove/re-attach and requires you keep the wrench handy.

To solve this, Bosch is rolling out their new X-Lock system, which allows the user to change accessories quickly and tool-free. Bosch's engineers have attacked the problem with characteristically German rigor, ensuring the locking system will not be compromised by dust nor repeated drops of the tool on a concrete floor. They also added the ergonomic touch of using steel-reinforced plastic for the locking lever; the steel is for strength, the plastic is so that heat generated by the tool will not burn your fingers at the point of contact.

Here's the promotional video, narrated with an awesome German accent:

If you want a better look at the system, or if you're a real tool geek who wants to see cutaways of the mechanism in action, here's a longer vid:

Bosch just announced the system yesterday, but has not provided a release date.

Design Job: NiCE Is Seeking an Industrial Designer to Join Their Packaging Design Studio in NYC

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-01-17 02:32

NiCE Ltd. is seeking motivated industrial designer to join our family. We are an internationally renowned branding and packaging design studio with a foundation built on design mastery and a passion for delivering creative solutions. The ideal candidate has to be best in class with

View the full design job here

7 Innovations from CES 2019 That Will Make the World Better

Design News - Wed, 2019-01-16 08:00

Cabe Atwell is an electrical engineer, machinist, writer and maker. Aside from his writing at Design News, you can find his work at EETimes, EDN, Make Magazine, Hackster, SolidSmack, and dozens of other publications. Beyond writing, he also builds projects, designs tutorials, and writes books. His forthcoming book for aspiring engineers is, “The Troublemaker's Handbook: A Compendium of Tricks and Hacks Using LEDs, Transistors, and Integrated Circuits.”

Glucose Monitor Uses 3D Printing

Design News - Wed, 2019-01-16 05:30

Those who suffer from diabetes could have a new, pain-free tool to monitor their glucose levels thanks to researchers at Washington State University (WSU).

A team there led by Arda Gozen and Yuehe Lin—faculty in the university’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering—has used 3D printing to develop a glucose biosensor that can be integrated into wearable monitors.

The wearable technology could replace glucose meters that require constant finger pricking or other glucose-monitoring systems that aren’t very cost-effective for patients, researchers said in a WSU news release.

“Our 3D-printed glucose sensor will be used as wearable sensor for replacing painful finger pricking,” Lin said. “Since this is a noninvasive, needle-less technique for glucose monitoring, it will be easier for children’s glucose monitoring.”

Arda Gozen, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s (WSU’s) School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, in the Manufacturing Processes and Machinery Lab, where researchers developed a 3D-printed glucose-monitoring biosensor. (Image source: WSU)

Wearable Patient Monitors

Wearable, flexible electronics to monitor patients’ vital and other health-related signs are already in use, and devices that can conform to skin and monitor the glucose in body fluids, such as in sweat, also are in development.

However, while current manufacturing methods to build such devices—such as photolithography or screen printing—work, they have some negative aspects. These include requiring the use of harmful chemicals and expensive cleanroom processing, as well as the creation of excessive waste.

By using 3D printing to fabricate their glucose monitors, the WSU research team solved these primary issues. They also resulted in the development of a device with more stability and sensitivity than those manufactured through traditional methods, Gozen said.

Printing Nanoscale Materials

To create their device, researchers used a method called direct-ink-writing (DIW), which involves printing “inks”—in this case, a nanoscale material that is electrically conductive—out of nozzles to create intricate and precise designs at tiny scales. With this method, the team printed out flexible electrodes to create the sensor.

The DIW method developed by researchers allows for a precise application of the material, which results in a uniform surface and fewer defects, increasing the sensor’s sensitivity, Gozen said. Indeed, in tests, researchers found that their 3D‑printed sensors did better at picking up glucose signals than the traditionally produced electrodes.

Moreover, by using this method, researchers can develop more customizable systems to suit patients’ specific needs, he said. “3D printing can enable manufacturing of biosensors tailored specifically to individual patients,” Gozen said. Researchers published a paper on their research in the journal Analytica Chimica Acta.


3D printing also solves the problem of excessive waste caused by other manufacturing methods because it uses only the materials needed to fabricate each biosensor. A byproduct of this is also a benefit for patients because “this can potentially bring down the cost,” he added.

To use the biosensors on a broad scale, researchers recognize the need to integrate them with other electronic components on a wearable platform, something they are currently working on, they said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend. Hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.

Fast Charging Requires Care

Design News - Wed, 2019-01-16 05:00

There is consensus that one of the keys to electric vehicle (EV) acceptance will be fast charging. The ability to gain 200-300 miles of EV range in 10-20 minutes of charging time makes it possible to travel cross-country using nothing but electrons. But, there is more to fast charging than simple stuffing more electricity into a battery pack.

The lithium ion battery packs that are used to power EVs consist of a positive electrode (cathode) that is usually made from metal oxides that can trap lithium ions within their structures through a process called intercalation. The negative electrode (anode) is typically sheets of carbon graphite material that can accommodate the lithium ions between their layers. When a lithium ion battery is discharged, lithium ions travel from the graphite anode, through a liquid electrolyte, to the cathode. When the same battery is charged, lithium ions move from the cathode and are taken up between the layers of graphite. It’s important to note that under ordinary circumstances, there is no metallic lithium in the battery cell—just ions of the element.

Rate Depends on the Graphite

The rate at which the lithium ion battery can be charged depends upon the ability of the graphite anode to take up lithium ions. At slow charging rates (hours), the lithium ions travel into the bulk of the anode material and are safely stored there. At high charging rates (minutes), direct deposition of metallic lithium onto the surface of the graphite becomes thermodynamically favorable. This nucleation of lithium on the anode surface has several undesirable outcomes. First, the metallic lithium doesn’t plate onto the carbon evenly, but instead forms needle-like, spiky, dendritic crystals that can grow long enough to reach the cathode, shorting out the cell and potentially causing a fire. In addition, the lithium ions that plate onto the anode surface are not stored in the graphite planes, reducing the “inventory” of lithium ions and thus the charge capacity of the battery. The exposed metallic lithium also can react with the electrolyte, forming a solid electrolyte interface (SEI) that isolates and removes more lithium from potential chemical reactions and further reducing the battery’s performance and life.

The key to determining the maximum rate of fast charging is to determine the exact conditions under which lithium metal nucleation occurs on the surface of the graphite anode. The problem has been how to detect the nucleation in situ. Both nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) techniques have been used in an attempt to determine the presence of metallic lithium, but neither technique has been successful at determining the spatial distribution of the plated lithium metal on the surface of the graphite anode.

During normal charging (a) an SEI forms between the partially-lithiated graphite surface of the anode. As the graphite layer becomes filled with lithium ions (b), conditions favoring lithium plating begin to occur. The plated lithium metal (c) produces a new SEI that reduces the inventory of lithium ions. Lithium acetylide species form (d) which can be detected by Raman spectroscopy and serve as a marker for the formation of plated lithium metal. ( Image source: Reprinted (adapted) with permission from (Lithium Acetylide: A Spectroscopic Marker for Lithium Deposition During Fast Charging of Li-Ion Cells, Marco-Tulio Fonseca Rodrigues, Victor A. Maroni, David J. Gosztola, Koffi P. C. Yao, Kaushik Kalaga, Ilya A. Shkrob, and Daniel P. Abraham, ACS Applied Energy Materials Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/acsaem.8b01975). Copyright (2018) American Chemical Society.")

A New Method to Detect Nucleation

Now, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have demonstrated the use of Raman spectroscopy as a means to detect lithium metal nucleation and to map the spatial distribution of the metallic lithium on the surface of the anode. “Raman spectroscopy is a vibrational spectroscopy,” Daniel Abraham, senior scientist at Argonne explained to Design News. “We have a light that shines onto a sample—in this case the light happens to be a laser—and it actually makes the chemical bonds inside the molecules vibrate. You can think of molecules and crystals as a system of balls connected by springs—under certain conditions you can actually set the balls and springs to vibrate. Certain vibrational frequencies correspond to certain chemical compounds,” he added.

“When the lithium ion cell is charged at extremely high rates, there is an excess of lithium ions at the surface of the graphite anode electrode, so before the lithium ions can diffuse through the thickness of the electrode, the graphite at the top surface fills up with lithium and the excess amount of lithium plates onto the graphite,” Abraham told us.

 “The thing about lithium metal is that it is not actually Raman-active, it can’t be seen in the Raman spectra” said Abraham. The Argonne team had noted that when they fast-charged a lithium ion cell, a Raman peak corresponding to a compound called lithium acetylide (e.g., Li-C≡C-X and Li2C2) was observed. These species yield an intense Raman band in a spectral region (1800 to 1900 cm-1) free of other spectral features and could therefore serve as a unique marker for the occurrence of Li deposition. “What we found is that this acetylide peak only forms when there are these tiny little lithium nuclei on the surface of the graphite electrode,” said Abraham. The presence of lithium metal also enhances the Raman peak through a process called surface-enhanced Raman scattering, so the far stronger than expected acetylide Raman peak is also an indication that lithium metal nucleation is occurring, according to Abraham.


Looking to Work in Real-Time

At present the Argonne team is doing the Raman spectroscopy after the battery cells have been charged—the next step is to do the same kinds of measurements in real-time. The goal is to be able to watch the nucleation sites grow by shooting a laser through a window in the cell and looking for the presence of acetylide in the Raman spectra. “If we can see the presence of an acetylide peak, it tells us that there is active lithium nucleation present,” Abraham told us.

“From a practical perspective, the kinds of things that could be interesting are, how the morphology of the graphite particles effects the lithium plating, or how an electrode could be designed so that lithium plating does not occur on the surface,” said Abraham. “If the lithium ions can diffuse quickly through the electrode, you have much less likelihood of plating during fast charging.”

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.


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How the New Quantum 'MESO' Architecture Could Replace CMOS

Design News - Wed, 2019-01-16 04:00

Using magnetoelectric spin-orbit (MESO) allows for improved switching energy, lower switching voltage, and enhanced logic density compared to CMOS. (Image source: Intel) 

According to Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a UC Berkeley professor of Materials Science and Engineering, projections show that the explosion of sensors and computing devices that will constitute the Internet of Things (IoT) – numbering perhaps in the billions – could lead to such an increase in energy demand that electronic devices could comprise as much as 20% of all energy consumed.

That's a drastic increase compared with 4-5% today. And just that is enough to justify the search for a new, more energy efficient computing architecture. However, a second challenge has to do with computationally intensive, real-time machine learning applications, such as driverless vehicles, that struggle to achieve the required response times. The two challenges can be viewed together the lens of tera-operations per second (TOPS) per watt, described in this earlier story, which reveals a gap of "several orders of magnitude."

Sasikanth Manipatruni, who leads a hardware development project at Intel's Components Research group, sees the problem through yet another lens: Heat. Some of the new AI-chips use so much power that they need to dissipate as much as 100 W/sq. cm or even more. This often requires that the chips be turned off periodically for cooling purposes, which clearly affects performance.

With Moore's Law, which has blessed the computer industry since its inception, running out of steam (Intel itself is struggling to scale their transistors below 10nm), can the current generation of CMOS-based devices provide the level of performance and energy efficiency required for tomorrow's applications?

MESO stores information and conducts logic operatings via up-and-down magnetic spins in a multiferroic material. (Image source: Nature).

Ramesh and Manipatruni have been working together to develop a new architecture that shows great promise in answering that question. An essential component was addressing what Ramesh calls the "memory wall," which is essentially the time it takes to move information in and out of memory and back to the processor. The new architecture is based on a set of quantum materials called multiferroics, materials that inherently exhibit both magnetic and electric polarizations, that, in essence, allows the memory and the processor to be co-resident in the same space. The two recently published a paper about it in Nature entitled "Scalable energy-efficient magnetoelectric spin–orbit logic."

The paper describes a logic switch, that uses magnetoelectric spin-orbit (MESO) logic to operate at 10-18 joules – roughly six orders of magnitude lower than the energy consumption of CMOS. While a great deal of innovation is still required to bring this to market, says Ramesh, "If these innovations happen, there is a good pathway for us to go and make the next generation of microelectronic components."

The new logic switch came about as the result of two separate developments. First, came the development of room temperature magnetoelectrics by Ramesh's group at Berkeley. This material could enable processing, memory, and interconnect all together, with the capability to do this at an operating voltage as low as 100mV.

This was all very promising, but it left out one key piece: How do you read out from the device?

That discovery occurred in 2012 when Manipatruni attended a lecture by French Nobel laureate Albert Fert describing a phenomenon called spin orbit transfection that provides a means of sensing. Manipatruni knew immediately that this could be combined with the multiferroics developed at Berkeley to achieve the desired result. Still it took six years to put it the first MESO device together.

According to Manipatruni, some 40-50 topologies have been considered since the late 90's, but none of them could meet all the combined criteria until now. This new architecture does it, and it does it with extremely high energy efficiency.

The MESO device, which, at this point, is a fairly primitive prototype, is really a hybrid of spintronics and a charge-based device. Still, Manipatruni calls it, "a path-setting development."


While it may not strictly fall within the definition of Moore's Law, it will allow manufacturers to continue down the computer scaling path. This is critical because every time you reduce size by a half, you reduce power by a factor of eight.

"If you use these new functionalities, you can make a spintronic-based device that can do both your logic and do memory at the same time,” Ramesh said. “That's the big innovation. Unlike CMOS, where you use a transistor to do it, we're saying we can use 'collective phenomena,' where a ferromagnet is a collective quantum-mechanical phenomenon. A ferroelectric is a collective phenomenon, an electron in a CMOS is not a collective behavior. So we're saying that we can use internal energies of the material to try to go to a different energy landscape in terms of how much energy is required to make the device work...The MESO device is basically doing spintronics but manipulating everything with electric fields."

That is important because electric fields are generally much lower energy than magnetic field.

People are doing spintronics today using spin transfer torque, which consumes a lot of energy because you have to run current to control the magnetic field. It's also important to note, Ramesh said, that although quantum materials are being used, "this not to be confused with quantum computing, which is another thing altogether."

The use of ferroelectric materials also means this approach is intrinsically non-volatile. This means that the memory retains its contents even when the power is switched off. "We believe this will be a big advantage in terms of energy consumption, Ramesh said. Reducing power also reduces heat, of course, which means you can then add more AI chips into a car without overheating.”

While people had been studying multi-ferroics for it while, it was really the killer app of high-speed AI, that has brought renewed interest.

"The purpose for this is to trigger this type of innovation across the industry and academia,” Manipatruni said, referring to the Nature study. “There are devices out there that work at room temperature and keep us going on the computer scaling path. That's the first message." The second is that "there are many critical techniques that need to be developed for this to happen: The power, delivery, the clocking, new computer architectures, etc."

RP Siegel, PE, has a master's degree in mechanical engineering and worked for 20 years in R&D at Xerox Corp. An inventor with 50 patents, and now a full-time writer, RP finds his primary interest at the intersection of technology and society. His work has appeared in multiple consumer and industry outlets. He also co-authored the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.

This Wooden Smart Home Control Hub Provided a Calm Escape from CES

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-01-16 01:14

A distant fan spins softly enough to hear. A neat home vibrates with comfort. Warm tea is ready to sip, and over the velvet reading chair, offset slightly from a floor lamp, a maple-wood mui might rest on the wall.

Operating inside this smart home control hub, Google Assistant suddenly feels different—especially different than the plethora of tech enabled devices we saw at CES. Instead of a clipboard-toting AI, ready to help you Google your way out of boredom, listening to you from an oblong speaker or phone, there is just a stable presence on the wall that waits calmly for reasonable requests.

mui, who plays well with other prominent smart home devices such as Sonos and Google Home, is scheduled to launch September 2019—$499 for initial adopters, $999 once shipped—with consumers' choice of a Sanded Sycamore, Cherry, Maple, or Ash.

Graze a hand over its wood, and mui lights up. It does not vibrate constantly from the ether of an unkempt digital closet in your pocket, as unorganized smart phones often do, but it does display gentle typefaces and icons when summoned. Without an endless sea of content to wake through, reading and listening to news and loved ones feels more thoughtful.

In the Kickstarter video, users are seen communicating with these wooden panels on the wall as if they were older, wiser friends – not assistants, but trusted keepers of the home who remind you news, prepare you for weather, manage room temperatures and deliver your messages calmly.

"Good, Cheap and Fast:" A Minimalist Website that Weeds Out Fake Reviews and Makes Online Shopping Easier

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-01-16 01:14

An example of good UX design is the concept behind shopping on Amazon. Meaning you should be able to look at a product's star rating, then read actual user reviews to confirm that the product is what you need. Unfortunately, humans screw this good design concept up. People leave one-star reviews because they didn't read the description carefully enough and ordered the wrong size or color, and say nothing about the product's actual efficacy. Then there are the fake reviews praising or lambasting the product. While most of us can spot fake reviews, it's still a pain going through all of them to deduce if the star rating is bogus or not.

Enter data scientist John DeFeo. He's started a website called "Good, Cheap and Fast" that seeks to make online shopping easier by weeding out the chaff for you. "This site wouldn't exist without user reviews, i.e. the reviews that actual customers write about a product," DeFeo writes. "I find products with lots of positive reviews, then I toss out the suspicious ones. Then, I remove the products with above-average prices.

"The result: above-average products selling at below-average prices."

A self-avowed fan of 1990s website design, DeFeo has chosen a minimalist, all-text layout for the site, absent "ads, trackers, slideshows or bandwidth-hogging images," and I can attest that it's pretty easy on the eyes.

Try it out here.

Car Design Curiosities: This Oddball 1970s Porsche Station Wagon Looks Like Your Kid Drew It

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-01-16 01:14

Every classic car brand has their undesirable models, and for Porsche it's got to be the unloved 924 (or arguably, the similar 944). Intended as an entry-level Porsche--the gateway drug to get you into the brand--the 924 debuted in 1976 with Porsche's first automatic transmission and an aesthetically unfortunate beltline.

We've just learned that in the 1980s, an aftermarket company called DP Motorsport took several 924s and converted them into "Porsche 924 DP Cargo" station wagons:

Yeesh. Even though they attempted to clean up the beltline, I have to believe even Jerry Seinfeld wouldn't collect one of these. But if you've got £30,000 (USD $38,600) to spare and a quirky sense of aesthetics, this car is for sale here.

Good Thing Names West Elm Their Exclusive Retailer

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-01-16 01:14

Good Thing founder and designer Jamie Wolfond just announced that Good Thing will be closing up their online shop to be exclusively sold at West Elm moving forward. Wolfond, who founded Good Thing in 2014, is ready to make space in his life to focus on his personal studio, Jamie Wolfond Studio, which in the near future will ramp up its product design and creative consulting services. 

Good Thing is a brand that has captured many designers' hearts due to its high quality, boundary-pushing designs available at reasonable price points, and we're hoping this new partnership will keep that beloved brand integrity alive. 

The good news? Jamie still owns Good Thing, and from what we've gathered, West Elm will be handling all the logistics (marketing, shipping, etc.) while Jamie continues to play a large role in the collection's design process. Pretty sweet. This model actually makes perfect sense for Good Thing, as Jamie isn't the sole designer of the brand—he is known for recruiting and working with design talent across the world to discover new ideas and manufacturing techniques, including the likes of Jasper Morrison and Christopher Specce.

"I'm very excited to move Good Thing forward with a partner like West Elm. Good Thing's mission is to bring better design to more people. Working with a larger brand will allow the collection to reach a new, and much broader, audience of consumers." —Jamie Wolfond

So what does this mean for Good Thing's loyal customer base? For starters, you officially can't purchase anything on Good Thing's website. Seasonal Good Thing collections will be available at West Elm. Jamie Wolfond Studio will be showing a collection of prototypes at the Stockholm Furniture Fair'sGreenhouse this February—more to come on that soon. Some people may be frustrated by this change, but if you can have your cake (design brand) and eat it too (make lots of money), why wouldn't you seize the opportunity?