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


Factor’s Gift Guide: 10 Gifts for Geeks and Scifi Supremos

Stuck trying to find a present for the geek or science fiction fan in your life? We’ve got the answer, with 10 fun but nerdy ideas for gifts this Christmas.

Pluto Plush

£14.95 from getDigital

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The change of Pluto’s status from planet to dwarf planet was hard to bear and has to have been an emotional blow to the planet itself. Luckily you now have the chance to provide poor Pluto some comfort with this 1:17,000,000 plush. With the heart and arms based on the famous images sent from NASA’s New Horizons space probe, this is probably the friendliest the ice planet has ever been.

Cross Marvel Tech2 Iron Man Gift Set

£65 from Cross

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To commemorate three of the most iconic characters from the Marvel franchise – Captain America, Spider-Man, and Iron Man – Cross have paired up their Tech2 Marvel pens with high quality journals to produce the perfect gift set for the Marvel fan in your life. And just in case the looks alone weren’t enough to sell you on this, the pen itself switches between stylus and ballpoint to work with touchscreens.

Spiral Planetary Nebula Mural

£25+ from Murals Wallpaper

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Showing the planetary nebula NGC 5189, this mural is a beautiful addition to any astronomically inclined home. The image, captured by NASA’s Hubble Wide Field Camera, shows the star as it consumes the last remaining fuel from its core and expels glowing clouds of gas. Lighting up the darkness of space with the bright gases of sulphur, hydrogen and oxygen, this mural adds some stellar colour to any home.

Robocup

€20.95 from MonsterZeug

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A great gift for fans of the ‘80s classic, this Robocop mug combines high quality ceramic with the grim visage of a cyborg to satisfy all caffeine needs. Once designed to fight crime, the part-man part-machine now serves to deliver your morning coffee. So whether you’re a fan yourself, or just trying to help a friend get over the reboot, be sure to add this to your Christmas list.

Zeitia Polygon Chrome Chandelier

£1,000 from The Chandelier & Mirror Company

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If you want a lighting fixture for a geometrically inclined friend, this is the chandelier for you. Finished in chrome and composed of LED lights, the polygonal piece is sure to be as much of a talking piece as a source of illumination. Suitable for any room in the home, it may be pricey, but you’re unlikely to see much else like it.

Zero Gravity Fridge Rover

£4.99 from Mulberry Bush

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A brilliant little wind up car for any space geeks out there, the Fridge Rover makes use of magnets and a clockwork mechanism to defy gravity. A nice stocking filler, just wind it up and put it on your fridge to see the rover at work as it grips and goes. The science can be kept a secret, but the fun is certain to be obvious.

Scientific Lab Flasks

£14 from Not Another Bill

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Whether your recipients are just after décor that’s a little quirkier than usual or needing some new glassware for those secret experiments, these flasks have you covered. Each with 100ml or 250ml measurements, the glass homeware set features one beaker and two flasks. Bring a little science to your sauces by using them for measuring, or make your centrepiece a little more experimental and place them as a vase.

Townsend Star Wars R2-D2 Fountain Pen

£575 from Cross

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You don’t need to go to a galaxy far, far away to get a great gift for the Star Wars fan in your life this Christmas. Instead, grab this limited edition pen to commemorate the original movie. With deep-etched engravings on brushed platinum plate and presented in a luxury gift box, each of these pens is individually serialised. Well worthy of a triumphant whistle.

LEGO Doctor Who Set

£49.99 from Forbidden Planet

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LEGO continues its trend of producing the best licensed products out there with this Doctor Who set. Created by fan-designer Andrew Clark, this set brings together the Doctor and Clara inside the Tardis to face some of their iconic enemies. Choose from the Eleventh or Twelfth Doctor and then set him against a pair of Daleks or a Weeping Angel. Don’t blink, though, or you might miss this amazing gift.

Human Ingredients T-Shirt

£20 from the Science Museum Shop

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Ever wondered just what it is that goes into making you, well, you? Wonder no more, as the Science Museum has you covered with this handy t-shirt. Presented in the manner of a food label, the t-shirt’s design lists the most commonly found elements in the human body. Your nearest and dearest will never be caught out by the pub quiz again as right in front of their nose is the answer: they’re 65% oxygen.

If you had to retake control of a driverless car would you be ready?

Researchers from Stanford University have concluded that drivers who retake control of an autonomous car are more likely to be involved in an accident.

The study, published in the first issue of Science Robotics, found that roads could become especially dangerous when drivers made the transition back to being in control of autonomous vehicles due to changes in speed and other changes in driving conditions.

“Many people have been doing research on paying attention and situation awareness. That’s very important,” said lead author of the research and former graduate student in the Dynamic Design Lab at Stanford University, Holly Russell.

“But, in addition, there is this physical change and we need to acknowledge that people’s performance might not be at its peak if they haven’t actively been participating in the driving.”

Featured image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

Featured image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

During testing all drivers were given advance warning that they would be put back in control of a driverless car and were given the opportunity to drive around the testing track a number of times, so they could feel for themselves changes in speed or steering that may occur while the car drives itself.

However, during the trial itself, the drivers’ steering manoeuvres differed significantly from their ability when in control of the car from start to finish.

“Even knowing about the change, being able to make a plan and do some explicit motor planning for how to compensate, you still saw a very different steering behaviour and compromised performance,” said co-author of the research and research associate in the Revs Program at Stanford, Lene Harbott.

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Although no driver was so thrown off by the changes in steering that they drove off-course, the fact that there was a period of altered steering behaviour increased the likelihood of an accident occurring.

However, the Stanford study only addressed one specific example of the autonomous car to human driver handover; there is still a lot to learn about how people respond in other circumstances, depending on the type of car, the driver and how the driving conditions have changed.

“If someone is designing a method for automated vehicle handover, there will need to be detailed research on that specific method,” said Harbott. “This study is tip of an iceberg.”