Researchers develop “spray-on” digital memory

The creation of a new “spray-on” digital memory device, produced using just an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks, could take us a significant step forwards toward a future of low-cost, flexible electronics.  Acting like a USB flash drive, the new device is part of the rising wave of printable electronics.

The “spray-on” device, with a capability similar to that of a 4-bit flash drive, is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. Moreover, due to being jet-printed at comparatively low temperatures, it is possible to use in the building of programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric.

“We have all of the parameters that would allow this to be used for a practical application, and we’ve even done our own little demonstration using LEDs,” said Duke graduate student Matthew Catenacci, who describes the device in a paper published in the Journal of Electronic Materials.

The spray on memory, left, and an LED demonstration of the device conducted by the researchers

Roughly the size of a postage stamp, the device’s core is a new copper nanowire-based printable material that is capable of storing digital information. Made of silica-coated copper nanowires encased in a polymer matrix, the material encodes information in states of resistance, as opposed to the more usual states of charge.

With a small voltage applied to the material, it is possible to switch it from a state of high resistance, stopping any electric current, and one of low resistance, allowing current to flow. Moreover, unlike the silicon that largely dominates modern electronics, the nanowires and polymer can be dissolved in methanol, creating a liquid that can be sprayed through the nozzle of a printer.

“Memory is kind of an abstract thing, but essentially it is a series of ones and zeros which you can use to encode information,” said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and an author on the paper.

“Most flash drives encode information in series of silicon transistors, which can exist in a charged state, corresponding to a ‘one’, and an uncharged state, corresponding to a ‘zero’.”

The results of the LED demonstration of the device. Images courtesy of Duke University

While not the first of its kind in regards to printable memory devices, the key importance of the new device is its practicality. The write speed is around three microseconds, rivalling the speed of flash drives. Additionally, tests found that written information may be retained for up to ten years, and the material can be re-written many times without degrading.

Although the memory currently available on the device is too small for storing anything like music files, the low cost and flexibility hold a lot of potential for applications such as RFID tags. Currently limited to just encoding a particular produce number, smarter RFID tags using the device could sense their environments and record the state over time.

In and of itself the device is not currently set to radically change electronics. It could however, be the gateway to a new generation of printed devices.

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

Premature lambs kept alive in artificial wombs

Extremely premature lambs have been kept alive in a artificial womb. The fluid-filled plastic bag reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta. The scientists responsible believe the device could be used for premature babies within the next three years.

Source: New Scientist

British engineer is using recycled plastic to build stronger roads

British engineer Toby McCartney has devised an innovative process that replaces much of the crude oil-based asphalt in pavement with pellets of plastic, made from recyclable bottles. The result is a street that’s 60% stronger than traditional roads, ten times longer-lasting as well as the obvious environmental benefits.

Source: Curbed

Elon Musk’s giant tunnel boring machine arrives at SpaceX

In February, Musk was looking at purchasing a used Herrenknecht boring machine: about 26 feet in diameter, about 400 feet long, and weighing about 1,200 tons. It’s not clear if this is the same machine, but one just arrived at SpaceX’s headquarters and can now be found in the parking lot.

Source: Electrek

Surgeon claims brain transplants are just three years away

A pioneering Italian surgeon has claimed people who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be 'woken up' within three years. The claim is being made by professor Sergio Canavero who also claims he can carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months before he begins trials on brain transplants.

Source: The Telegraph

Facebook 'observed propaganda efforts' by governments

Facebook has revealed in a new report that it observed attempts to spread propaganda on its site, apparently orchestrated by governments or organised parties. The firm has seen "false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion", it said.

Source: BBC

Ex-head of Google China predicts AI will take half of all jobs in a decade

The ex-head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has said that AI will be bigger than all previous tech innovations put together. "These are things that are superhuman, and we think this will be in every industry, will probably replace 50% of human jobs, create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty," said Lee.

Source: CNBC