Tech Universe: Monday 5 November

By Miraz Jordan

The batteries used to power our gadgets have become better, but there's always room for improvement as researchers at Rice University have found. Photo / Thinkstock
The batteries used to power our gadgets have become better, but there's always room for improvement as researchers at Rice University have found. Photo / Thinkstock

MORE MORE MORE: The batteries that power our gadgets have become considerably better over the last few years, but we're never satisfied. Researchers at Rice University may be on track to make a serious difference. They developed a way to crush porous silicon to be used as anode material in lithium-ion batteries. The material holds up to 10 times more lithium than current graphite anodes and yields 600 charge-discharge cycles at 1,000 milliamp hours per gram (mAh/g). That's much better than the 350 mAh/g capacity of current graphite anodes. Of course, along with wanting more, we also want smaller. Rice University explains.

STAND BY FOR THE JUMP: I bet you think your smartphone battery runs down too soon. And you may think a better battery would fix that problem. But maybe not. An MIT spinout company called Eta Devices reckon that the power amplifier, a gadget that turns electricity into radio signals, is a bigger problem.

Device makers keep standby mode power use high to avoid distortion when there's a sudden need to transmit. Eta Devices designed a new amplifier that calculates the power required as many as 20 million times per second and chooses a suitable voltage. That means standby mode can use considerably less power. The new amplifier could halve base station energy use and double smartphone battery life. Improvements come from some surprising places. Technology Review details.

IN A SPIN: Gyroscopes and accelerometers can be used together to work out a spacecraft's position, flight path and attitude. Often errors in dead reckoning creep in and the instruments must refer back to GPS signals. GPS won't help once craft head off to other parts of the solar system though. NASA's Fast Light Optical Gyroscope project is exploring whether they can use the various speeds different wavelengths of light travel through a medium such as a gas. In certain materials pulses of light can travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum. Researchers aim to use that fast-light phenomenon to build gyroscope systems 1,000 times more sensitive than those in use today. This whole maximum speed of light thing can be very confusing. NetWork World has more.

GIANT EFFICIENCY: The US Department of Energy's newest supercomputer has 10 times the power of Jaguar, the one it's replacing. By combining GPUs and CPUs it dramatically reduces its electricity consumption though. Its predecessor required 7 megawatts, but Titan produces 10 times the processing power while drawing only 9 megawatts. Titan has 299,008 CPU cores, 18,688 GPUs, and more than 700 terabytes of memory, making it capable of a peak speed of 27 petaflops. That kind of power doesn't come in a laptop or mere desktop size though: Titan claims just over 400 square metres of floor space. The massive computer will run simulations to model climate and to accelerate progress in energy efficiency. It sounds like there's already progress in energy efficiency. Ars Technica elaborates.

VEGETABLE AURAS: The Japanese Aura Pack is a special type of cellophane for packaging fruits and vegetables. Vegetables stay crisp and fresh by not losing their water content. This cellophane makes it hard for water to evaporate while also resisting condensation. It also helps control the exchange of oxygen for CO2, meaning vegetables and fruit stay fresh for longer. The packaging could allow produce to be shipped by slower and cheaper methods and reduce food waste in shops. Reducing food waste is good, but does the film biodegrade? DigInfo TVhas further info. Video here.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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