Innovative battery technology powers industry

This blog has previously discussed the evolution of mobile electronic devices and the need for innovative thermal management technologies. Simply put, as products like smartphones and tablets become more powerful, they generate more heat that needs to be controlled in order for them to operate efficiently.

What is just as important, although typically gets less attention from the average consumer, is battery technology. When someone buys a new Android phone or Windows tablet, one of the first things they want to know is what kind of battery life they will get out of it. How long can they play Angry Birds before it's time for a charge? What they don't often realize is the cutting-edge nature of the techniques used to build these power sources.

Sony recently announced that it will launch a new line of thin, external batteries later this fall that will be able to provide additional power to portable electronic devices. According to an IDG News Service report, one of the new Sony battery models has a capacity of 7,000 mAh. By comparison, the iPhone battery has a 1,440 mAh capacity.

"The smartphone market is growing, so the battery market is also growing accordingly," said Sony spokesman Jin Tomihari.

Whether internal or external, the emphasis in today's markets is on small, lightweight and thin batteries. In order to accomplish this, manufacturers have to approach joining dissimilar metals and the bonding of battery terminals from unique perspectives. The goal is to work as efficiently as possible with a very small amount of real estate.

Without the leaps forward in their design over the last decade, mobile phones would do little more than perform the function they are probably least used for today – making calls.

‘Star Trek’ tech closer to becoming reality

"I'm a doctor, not an engineer!"

This was a line spoken by Dr. Leonard McCoy in the original 1960s "Star Trek" series. During the show's run on the air, there would be many variations of that line. It became a staple of the sci-fi series and loved by its fans.

McCoy was also known for using a nifty little device called a tricorder. This handheld system could be waved over a patient's body to quickly and painlessly diagnose a range of medical conditions – a device that would surely revolutionize today's medical industry.

The Qualcomm Foundation – a non-profit offshoot of the chip manufacturer of the same name – is sponsoring a contest that brings the engineer and the physician one step closer to each other, and brings the healthcare industry closer to having an actual tricorder.

The contest runs through the summer of 2015 and will challenge teams to build a handheld machine with highly advanced sensors that can diagnose 15 medical conditions and monitor 5 human vital signs. A partner program, co-sponsored by mobile phone manufacturer Nokia, asks participants to build similar sensors that could perhaps one day be used in tricorder devices, or even smartphones.

Mark Winters, the senior director of the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE and Nokia Sensing X Challenge, spoke with GigaOM at their Mobilize 2012 show in San Francisco last week.

Winters told GigaOM that "we have more and more powerful handheld platforms and embedded systems that can handle complex analytical tasks like never before. And finally, there has been a remarkable revolution in powerful sensor technologies that have come to market or that are being developed by universities all around the world that can capture levels of information about human physiology that we've never seen before."

The pairing of such advanced sensors with state-of-the-art thermal management technologies could one day very soon take the tricorder out of "Star Trek" lore and put it in the hands of physicians – and even consumers with medical sensor-equipped smartphones.

Former Twitter CEO dedicated to green technology

In recent years there have been a number of hurdles environmentally friendly technology innovators have had to overcome. From the much publicized and politicized collapse of Solyndra to the Great Recession, the flow of money into this sector lost a lot of momentum post-2008.

A GigaOM article points out that there have even been debates over whether the industry should be referred to as "cleantech" or "greentech." This may seem trivial, yet when facing a myriad of other obstacles, branding is important. A biofuel entrepreneur may not want to be lumped into the same category with a solar or wind energy company that has run into some difficulties, leading to a fragmented industry whose members share similar visions with different approaches.

As these groups do their best to set themselves apart from one another, we may see a new paradigm where there are more individualized and vertical industries, rather than one large umbrella that encompasses them all.

What matters most, however, is that the innovation never stops. Creative individuals pushing technology forward will help to unclog those cash flow streams and bring back the interest investors had prior to the economic crisis that began in the latter half of 2008.

Speaking at the opening of Climate Week in New York City last Monday, Evan Williams, CEO of the Obvious Corporation and former CEO of Twitter, said green technology is both "technologically possible and economically superior."

Williams went on to stress the importance of finding ways to speed up development and then scale up these technologies. In so doing, greentech or cleantech, whichever moniker you prefer, will be affordable and efficient on massive scales.

It starts with something as simple as a car battery. Innovative methods used in the bonding of battery terminals can drastically improve efficiency while making automobiles more eco-friendly. No matter which type of alternative energy or technology the discussion is about, it is always forward-thinking manufacturing methodologies that serve as the catalyst for the next big breakthrough

New scanners could improve airport security without hurting efficiency, privacy

In the 12 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 toppled the Twin Towers in New York City, airport security has become a top priority in the United States. While the need to prevent another catastrophic incident is understood by all, there has been much debate and disagreement over how that security should be realized.

The Transportation Security Administration has been publicly decried by countless American citizens for invading their privacy and making air travel an arduous and unpleasant task without dramatically improving overall security. New manufacturing technologies, however, may have led to a way that will allow TSA officials to safeguard passengers while proving less invasive.

According to tech and business blog Mashable, the TSA has invested $490 million in new compact body scanners. These devices are meant to increase efficiency and reduce the amount of time individuals spend waiting in security check lines.

These next-generation body scanners can detect both metal and non-metal materials, and "hide a passenger’s nude body from TSA officers by displaying generic representations of appendages with suspect items flagged," the article says.

While there is likely to remain some level of friction between individuals clamoring for heightened safety and security and those unhappy with perceived invasions of privacy, perhaps innovative manufacturing techniques will help to bridge that gap.

Through methods of bonding dissimilar metals and constructing state-of-the-art sensors, companies can now create more compact and efficient machines to detect combustible materials without adding frustrating hours to one's travel plans.

Security, convenience and privacy are three sides of a triangle that have historically had much difficulty coming together. Manufacturing ingenuity, however, is finding effective ways to bond these dissimilar notions.

Computer diagnostics and more efficient automobiles

Computers seem to run just about everything in modern society, don't they? When the first gasoline-powered cars were built in the waning years of the 19th century, computers didn't even exist yet. Now, more than one hundred years later, they govern critical automobile functions. The evolution of technology truly never ceases to amaze.

Today, when car owners take newer vehicles into dealerships or repair shops, computers are used to run diagnostics and identify problems in cars that are controlled by microprocessors. This sounds like some futuristic movie where cars don't have tires, but rather hover above the ground. But, the truth is that virtually every car manufactured today includes a computer system that controls several key operations.

According to a AAA press release, onboard car computers record Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) that indicate specific issues requiring further attention. Technicians can then use a combination of computer tests and traditional inspection methods to determine if the DTC was generated by a mechanical or electrical system problem.

"The ability of technicians to determine what additional tests are needed, and to accurately interpret both test results and computer network data, comes from extensive training and experience," the statement reads. "Today's technicians use vehicle computer diagnosis in much the same way surgeons employ medical testing. In both cases, combining test results with expert knowledge and skilled hands can lead to an accurate diagnosis and an ultimate cure."

Cars that come off the factory lines today and find their way into showrooms and the driveways of consumers tomorrow are more advanced than many people realize. Sophisticated sensors and thermal management technologies are used not only in these onboard computer systems, but countless other components they interact with, including batteries.

These are the technologies that lead to improved efficiency and driver experiences. Without them, GPS, Powertrain Control Modules and other modern bells and whistles would not be possible.

As the gaming industry powers up, thermal management becomes critical

In the last 30-plus years, video games have come a long way. We went from Pac-Man to Super Mario Brothers to Resident Evil. Graphics went from 8 bits to 16 and on to full 1080p high definition. Content formats transitioned from cartridges to CDs to DVDs and now Blu-ray discs and digital downloads.

Block-style visuals gave way to the stunning imagery of games like the Uncharted series – a franchise that rivals the cinematic environment of an Indiana Jones film. Just ask Harrison Ford, who was featured in commercials advertising Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, marveling at the realism and immersive storytelling of the game.

Year after year, there are innovations in technology that bring visceral experiences to consoles and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The equipment continues to get more powerful, and subsequently generates considerable amounts of heat. Historically, consumers have run into problems with consoles overheating and breaking down.

But, companies like Sony and Microsoft that make the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively, are relying on the latest in thermal management technologies to control the heat generated by these increasingly powerful systems. Combined with material bonding techniques that help to reduce the overall size of gaming machines, companies are able to reduce manufacturing costs while delivering the most powerful equipment the industry has ever seen.

According to a study released by Parks Associates earlier this year, the number of individuals playing video games in the United states has skyrocketed by 241 percent since 2008. The popularity of consumer electronics is creating growing demand for manufacturing technologies that can deliver on user expectations.

"Today's games drive technological and societal advancements that serve gamers and non-gamers alike," Richard Taylor, senior vice president for communications and industry affairs at the Entertainment Software Association, told Mashable.

Innovative thermal management of electronics is going to be in high demand for a long time to come because, without it, lucrative sectors like the gaming industry wouldn't be nearly as profitable as they are today.

Medical equipment industry thrives behind technology innovations

The medical technology industry has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last century, due in large part to innovative manufacturing methods. Cutting-edge approaches to joining dissimilar metals have led to improvements in instrument flexibility, while decreasing overall weight.

This has impacted the industry in several significant ways. For starters, these bonding techniques have reduced the amount of materials necessary to build a range of tools, thereby cutting manufacturing costs.

By increasing ease of use and efficiency, medical procedures have become less invasive and less costly to both patients and healthcare providers. With the addition of millions of individuals who will now have health insurance as a result of healthcare reform legislation, combined with the aging generation of baby boomers, advancing technologies will play an even greater role in making treatments more affordable.
                  
"It is no secret that the medical industry remains one of the most stable industries when it comes to growth. Even during the Great Recession, medical sales in companies like Ulbrich Stainless Steels and Special Metals, Inc. dropped 5 percent in 2009, only to come back with an astonishing 43 percent increase by the end of 2010," according to a TechBriefs whitepaper released earlier this summer.

The source goes on to point out that innovative American manufacturing technologies can open up markets in other parts of the world that have yet to mature to the same level as the United States. A large portion of the booming population in China is getting older and subsequently requiring more and more medical care.

This presents a wealth of opportunities for American medical equipment manufacturers and design process innovators developing high strength solder solutions.

Mars rover Curiosity exemplifies human innovation

On Monday, August 6, 2012, history was made as the Mars rover Curiosity touched down on the surface of the Red Planet. While Curiosity is not the first to journey to Mars, it is the tip of the most advanced scientific spear in mankind's modern day arsenal.

The data that will be collected in the next few years is expected to shed light on mysteries that have thus far only been explained in tales of science fiction and fantasy. And when this data comes back, the knowledge it holds for us will only have been obtainable because of true human innovation and manufacturing ingenuity.

A myriad of technological advancements in the last decade have found their way onto Curiosity. No human being has ever set foot on the surface of Mars, so the imagination and innovation required to put such a rover in that environment and effectively collect all manner of scientific data is astounding.

Take, for example, the Power Acquisition Drill System (PADS). This rotary percussive device allows Curiosity to drill two inches into the Martian surface and analyze rock samples. If the drill bit gets stuck at any point, the PADS device can disengage it and replace it with a spare. Only the most advanced metal joining methods allow the drill to move with such precision and dexterity.

In the classic TV series "The West Wing," a character played by Rob Lowe is asked why we should go to Mars when we've already been to the moon.

"Because it's next," he said. "Because we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire, and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what's next."

And none of it would be possible were it not for the constant drive to innovate that countless industries have been built on and revolutionized by.

Department of Energy invests heavily in renewable resources

For years, the research and development wing of the Pentagon known as DARPA has employed some of the greatest minds in the world to push science fiction closer to science fact. So it makes sense to learn that the U.S. Department of Energy is looking to capitalize on this model by creating its own version – ARPA-E.

ARPA-E essentially acts as a sort of venture capital firm, investing in cutting-edge, innovative research and development related to renewable energy technologies. While it has been proven that alternatives to fossil fuels like wind and solar power do indeed work, developing cost-effective ways of harnessing these resources has been the ultimate challenge.

Michael Grunwald, a veteran reporter for TIME Magazine and author of the book "The New New Deal," chronicling the history and impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – or the stimulus package, as it has come to be known – recently sat down for an interview with The Atlantic. Grunwald examines alternative energy research today, noting that roughly $90 billion of federal stimulus money flowed into this sector, revitalizing it at a time when it was near collapse.

"That money has really launched a silent green revolution," he said. "For example, the renewable electricity industry was on the brink of death after the 2008 financial meltdown; the Spanish wind developer Abengoa had shut down its U.S. projects, and turbines were literally rusting in the fields. The day the stimulus passed, Abengoa announced it was investing $6 billion in U.S. wind farms."

Alternative energy technologies are becoming more affordable as innovative American companies push forward, developing manufacturing methods that improve efficiency while reducing cost.

As methods of soldering solar cells advance, solar energy becomes a more viable option in reducing dependency on foreign oil. The same goes for bonding dissimilar metals on wind turbines.

There are countless renewable energy projects funded through ARPA-E that could change the American landscape forever. This blog will explore several of them in the coming weeks and months.

New underwater generator could power 1,000 homes via ocean waves

In light of an ever-expanding global population and fluctuating petroleum prices, research into clean, renewable energy sources is perhaps more important now than ever. Politicians and environmental analysts alike expect a reduction in dependency on foreign oil to help improve air, soil and water quality while simultaneously strengthening the American economy.

In order for this research to pay off, however, there is a need for innovative and cost-effective approaches to harnessing alternative energy. Enter companies like Ocean Power Technologies. This New Jersey-based company is preparing to launch the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy generator in the country sometime in early October.

According to The New York Times, the 260-ton device will be positioned more than two miles offshore of Reedsport, Oregon – and underwater. The goal is to siphon power generated by ocean waves and transmit it back to land via underwater cables, providing electricity to roughly 1,000 homes.

Jason Busch, the executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Wave Energy Trust, told the Times of the launch's importance. The organization alone has contributed upward of $430,000 in grant money to the project.

"All eyes are on the O.P.T. buoy," he said. "It has to survive."

Parts of the generator and other equipment operating at depths of 100 feet or more below the ocean's surface need to be hermetically sealed to avoid damage. They also need to be able to withstand extreme sea conditions generated by severe weather. Reliable metal joining methods are essential in making sure that devices can hold up under pressure and maintain high levels of productivity.

While the importance of renewable energy is clear, it cannot be harnessed without forward-thinkers who make such equipment not only possible, but affordable.