Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

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As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

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The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.


Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Quantum radar could reduce radiation from MRI scans

Scientists have developed a ‘quantum radar’ that could be used to conduct MRI scans with less radiation inflicted upon patients.

The researchers from the University of York, UK, said that their new technology works with lower energies than traditional systems.

“Such a non-invasive property is particularly important for short-range biomedical applications,” said Stefano Pirandola, who led the team.

“In the long-term, the scheme could be operated at short distances to detect the presence of defects in biological samples or human tissues in a completely non-invasive fashion, thanks to the use of a low number of quantum-correlated photons.

“Our method could be used to develop non-invasive NMR spectroscopy of fragile proteins and nucleic acids.

“In medicine, these techniques could potentially be applied to magnetic resonance imaging, with the aim of reducing the radiation dose absorbed by patients.”

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The new type of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwaves and optical beams.

This correlation can then detect objects that have low reflectivity, such as cancer cells, which traditional systems struggle with.

The device can generate a beam that is a microwave-optical combination, or convert a microwave into an optical beam.

This is compared to a traditional radar antenna, which emits a microwave to scan a given area.

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A problem for traditional radar set-ups is that they are unable to reflect the signal of objects that have a low reflectivity and those that are in regions inside the body with a high amount of background noise.

The new combined system is able to use the quantum entanglement of optical and microwave to operate more effectively.

This means that they are able to be more sensitive and detect small signal reflections from areas that are noisy.

Games industry veteran brings cooking training to virtual reality

Learning to cook like a pro can be an expensive process, fraught with disastrous results when recipes fail to go as planned. However, a new virtual reality experience is set to change that.

Dubbed CyberCook, it is described as a “hyper-real cooking simulation” by creators Starship, who are run by games industry veteran Martin Kenwright , the man responsible for gaming studios Evolution and Digital Image Design, and games such as DriveClub and MotorStorm.

Kenwright spoke to Factor in June last year about CyberCook, but was unable to reveal many of the key details of how it would work. Now, however, with the release of a demo version for the Samsung Gear VR, the company is ready to share all.

CyberCook trains you to make an array of dishes in virtual reality in enough detail that you can transfer your new culinary skills to real life. Both ingredients and time behave as they would in reality, so it’s just as easy to burn your VR shrimp as real ones.

The system also teaches you different techniques and how to best use different utensils. Perhaps best of all, CyberCook uses a scoring system to assess your cookery performance, allowing you to iterate and improve without wasting ingredients.

“As well as offering an engrossing experience, CyberCook dispels the fear of experimenting in the kitchen,” said Starship CEO Martin Kenwright.

“You’re involved with every stage of the cookery process. Why learn from a video when you can practice hands-on and without a single bit of waste?”

This fear of experimentation is a familiar issue for food fans with little cooking experience. People love to buy recipe books and watch cookery shows, but what they actually cook is often unadventurous and unremarkable.

While fear plays a part in this, cost is also a concern, with the price of food making experimenting with many ingredients too risky a prospect.

CyberCook is designed to change this, providing recipes from all over the world using ingredients spanning from the everyday to the highly exotic, and using a points system to encourage you to keep learning.

Eventually the system will even integrate a real shop, allowing you to order the ingredients and utensils to replicate the virtual recipes in a real kitchen.

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The demo version, CyberCook Taster, may have just been released exclusively on the Samsing Gear VR – the VR headset created by Samsung and Oculus – but Starship plans to make the final version available more widely as VR headsets become more widespread.

In the meantime, a version for mobile devices will soon be available, known as CyberCook Slice.

Over time, Starship also plans to increase the level of realism in CyberCook, which will be interesting to see given its already pretty impressive graphics.

“We’re proud to work with partners like Oculus and Samsung so early on in the VR lifecycle on a Gear VR exclusive,” said Kenwright.

“In a couple of years, we’ll reach new levels of realism.”


Images courtesy of Starship Group.


 

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