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MIT

This New Material Stores Heat for Later Use

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MIT

Researchers at MIT have developed a new type of transparent polymer film that’s capable of storing solar heat and saving it for later use. While conventional solar cells harvest energy from the Sun and store it in the form of electricity, this unique new material can hold on to the Sun’s energy indefinitely in a chemical state, the researchers claim. When it’s ready to be used, that energy can be activated through a controlled blast of heat, light, or electricity. 

The film is so ultra-thin that it could have applications in a wide range of products, they say, including being woven into fabric to create sweaters that warm up on command or sandwiched between two sheets of glass to make a windshield that heats up automatically in icy weather. While many rear car windows come equipped with heating wires for this purpose, they’re not placed in front windows in order to keep the driver’s view clear. With MIT’s new film, all it would take is a small pulse of electricity for a surface to heat up as much as 50°F, they say.   

The material could also have revolutionary applications when it comes to energy efficiency. In cold temperatures, electric cars devote a large chunk of energy to heating and de-icing, reducing their driving ranges by as much as 30 percent. By storing extra heat in a chemical state, the car's battery would be free to use its energy for other purposes.

The researchers are currently in the process of fine-tuning their product. Before it’s released commercially, they hope to eliminate the material's slight yellow tinge and make it completely transparent. They also hope to raise its heating potential from 50°F to 68°F.

Why the mentions of its potential use in cars? Perhaps because BMW was one sponsor of the project. So don’t be surprised if the technology turns up in their vehicles sometime in the future. You can find the team's full findings in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. 

[h/t: Fast Company]

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Courtesy Umbrellium
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Design
These LED Crosswalks Adapt to Whoever Is Crossing
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Courtesy Umbrellium

Crosswalks are an often-neglected part of urban design; they’re usually just white stripes on dark asphalt. But recently, they’re getting more exciting—and safer—makeovers. In the Netherlands, there is a glow-in-the-dark crosswalk. In western India, there is a 3D crosswalk. And now, in London, there’s an interactive LED crosswalk that changes its configuration based on the situation, as Fast Company reports.

Created by the London-based design studio Umbrellium, the Starling Crossing (short for the much more tongue-twisting STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING Crossing) changes its layout, size, configuration, and other design factors based on who’s waiting to cross and where they’re going.

“The Starling Crossing is a pedestrian crossing, built on today’s technology, that puts people first, enabling them to cross safely the way they want to cross, rather than one that tells them they can only cross in one place or a fixed way,” the company writes. That means that the system—which relies on cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor both pedestrian and vehicle traffic—adapts based on road conditions and where it thinks a pedestrian is going to go.

Starling Crossing - overview from Umbrellium on Vimeo.

If a bike is coming down the street, for example, it will project a place for the cyclist to wait for the light in the crosswalk. If the person is veering left like they’re going to cross diagonally, it will move the light-up crosswalk that way. During rush hour, when there are more pedestrians trying to get across the street, it will widen to accommodate them. It can also detect wet or dark conditions, making the crosswalk path wider to give pedestrians more of a buffer zone. Though the neural network can calculate people’s trajectories and velocity, it can also trigger a pattern of warning lights to alert people that they’re about to walk right into an oncoming bike or other unexpected hazard.

All this is to say that the system adapts to the reality of the road and traffic patterns, rather than forcing pedestrians to stay within the confines of a crosswalk system that was designed for car traffic.

The prototype is currently installed on a TV studio set in London, not a real road, and it still has plenty of safety testing to go through before it will appear on a road near you. But hopefully this is the kind of road infrastructure we’ll soon be able to see out in the real world.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Hoversurf
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Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
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Hoversurf

Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

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