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.

DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”