From September 17-18, the Marriott Hotel in San Jose hosted the first annual Embedded Power Conference, focusing on “increasing power-management issues.” I attended this inaugural event, and it was well worth the price of admission (press get in free). Seriously though, it was a great first effort, and will fill a void in the industry. Embedded Power was comprised of over 20 lectures, classes, and discussions. The highlight (in this humble editor’s opinion) was a panel moderated by ECN’s skipper, Alix Paultre. Entitled “Open-Source vs. Proprietary Methodologies in Digital Power Management,” the panel addressed a hot industry topic in a town hall format.
In a recent beer commercial, a woman asks for a low-calorie beer, and the host proceeds to spill out half the bottle, and hand it to her. In similar fashion the EPA believes that, through the use of add-ons, one can improve the innate efficiency of legacy technologies. In reference to their new Energy Star “technical amendment,” the EPA’s Lightning Program Manager, Alex Baker, told me, “With this approach, the Program currently has nearly 12,000 qualified fixtures from more than 120 manufacturing Partners…even incandescent technologies (the latter only allowed when used with a motion sensor to minimize operating time)” (emphasis mine).
The inherent weakness of any portable device is its isolation from a constant power source, such as electricity. Thus, battery technology has evolved alongside the iPod and laptop computer. But batteries themselves are inefficient, because they either deplete themselves, or in the case of rechargeables, require electricity supplied from a power grid. But what if you could harness the energy produced by the natural motion of the human body? Bionic Power is endeavoring to accomplish that with its “Biomechanical Energy Harvester.”
On August 14th, 2008, The Mathworks held the kick-off to “EcoCAR,” a collegiate advanced technology vehicle competition (ATVC). EcoCAR’s subtitle (“The NeXt Challenge”) says it all- this is the spiritual successor to “Challenge X,” a similarly-themed ATVC contest that, last year, ended with Mississippi State University taking home the gold. In speaking with personnel from the DOE, The Mathworks, and GM (all event sponsors), I concluded that the biggest obstacle to ATV’s greater viability is a lack of young, qualified engineers.
According to Doug Ramsey of UC San Diego, “The information technology industry consumes as much energy and has roughly the same ‘carbon footprint’ as the airline industry.” This is because of the unparalleled growth in high-speed electronic equipment, and the corresponding electricity requirements. Not only is energy necessary for the systems themselves, but as IT equipment blossoms, so does their cooling requirements. It’s an implacable scenario that currently plagues the IT industry. Similar to hipster environmentalist celebrities who globe-trot on private jets, how do you conduct scientific research into efficiency issues when your investigative process gobbles up energy?
“Quad A” may soon become part of the common vernacular. Although the AAAA battery (or Quad A) has been commercially available since 1989, it’s mostly been a niche product, difficult to find on shelves. But with consumer electronics moving towards smaller, more lightweight devices, with decreasing power requirements, the battery industry is adapting. Quad A has long been an internal industry standard for 9 V batteries (6 Quad A’s linked together, each generating 1.5 V, equals 9 V), but it could soon displace the AAA as the battery of choice for portable electronics.
Ayn Rand, one of capitalism’s greatest proponents, once said, “I am an innovator. This is a term of distinction, a term of honor, rather than something to hide or apologize for. Anyone who has new or valuable ideas to offer stands outside the intellectual status quo.” Governmental interference in private enterprise is always disastrous. What’s worse is when innovation is stifled by bureaucratic finagling and pc notions of impartiality (or as some would say, preventing a “competitive disadvantage”). You can’t give a chimp a skateboard and call him Tony Hawk.
Advanced technology vehicles are the wave of the future, but they aren’t the elegant solutions advocates posit them as. The conservation of one resource inevitably comes at the expense of another resource. A report by Carey W. King and Michael E. Webber of the University of Texas suggests that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will place a strain on the nation’s freshwater resources. The research compares miles driven with a conventional internal combustion engine vs. a PHEV.
A Swiss Academic Study, “The 2000 Watt Society,” is gaining a lot of traction in the environmental movement. First developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the latest treatise ("Smarter Living") was coordinated by Novatlantis, and is an urgent call to action. In short, it proposes an overall reduction in energy consumption to the world-wide average of 2,000 watts per capita by the year 2050. Naturally, the US bears the brunt of the scorn.
In 1839, French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the “photovoltaic” effect, or the natural phenomenon which allows the conversion of solar into electrical energy. Over the next 150 years, this inexorably led to solar-powered satellites, solar cars, and solar-panel technology for domestic use. Among their many strengths, financial savings (after the initial investment), environmental conservation, and minimal upkeep, solar panels always suffered weaknesses inherent in a technology that relies on a giant ball of ionized gas 150 million kilometers away.
With soaring energy costs, all sectors are feeling the crunch, including the thermoelectrics industry. But Nextreme Thermal Solutions has a plan to stem the tide. One potential solution is to convert a system’s thermal energy byproduct into a functional resource. Using a grant from the North Carolina Green Business Fund, Nextreme plans to optimize their thin-film growth process with the goal of doubling the power output of a single device from 250mW to 500mW.
A low-power microchip developed at the University of Michigan uses 30,000 times less power in sleep mode and 10 times less in active mode than comparable chips now on the market.The Phoenix Processor, which sets a low-power record, is intended for use in cutting-edge sensor-based devices such as medical implants, environment monitors or surveillance equipment. The chip consumes just 30 picowatts during sleep mode.
Researchers at TU Delft (Netherlands) and the FOM Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter have found irrefutable proof that the so-called avalanche effect by electrons occurs in specific, very small semiconducting crystals.
It may have been a cold and damp morning in Manhattan, but that didn’t damp the passions of the participants in the Challenge X national collegiate engineering competition. This year’s challenge, sponsored by the US Department of Energy and General Motors, focuses on technology integration and full-vehicle development of advanced alternate-technology drivetrain and subsystems. By participating in the Challenge X program, the students gain real-world engineering skills and hands-on learning to better prepare them for a future career in engineering.
With the cost of energy approaching the insane, new and improved methods of creating better and more easily deployable solar power cells are very welcome. This advance in manufacture by Konarka Technologies promises to deliver cheaper power cells in large quantities. I hope they can commercialize the technology to the point we can use solar as a tricke-charge backup in every powered application exposed to the sun.
Improving the environment is always a good idea, but wireless companies are finding ways to go green while bringing more “green” to their bottom lines.
Wind power is breaking new records in Spain, accounting for just over 40 percent of all electricity consumed during a brief period last weekend. As heavy winds lashed Spain on Saturday evening wind parks generated 9,862 megawatts of power which translated to 40.8 percent of total consumption.
The goal is to inspire a new generation of viable, super fuel-efficient vehicles that offer more consumer choices.
GE Global Research announced the successful demonstration of “roll-to-roll” manufactured OLEDs. The company claims that this process is a key step toward lower costs of the technology.
Jim MacDonald, Zilker Labs, Inc. comments "The need for higher energy efficiency in embedded systems continues to rise on the priority list of systems developers and end users alike"
The concept of sustainable design started, not as a way of conserving the environment, but to prolong battery life in portable consumer goods such as cell phones, laptops and PDAs.
Researchers at MIT and Texas Instruments (TI) unveiled a new chip design for portable electronics that can be up to ten times more energy-efficient than present technology.
Energy News: IBM is leading a charge of freely available energy efficiency patents, as part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's new Eco-Patent Commons, officials said today. So far the commons has 31 patents, 27 being from Big Blue (not the football team). Nokia, Pitney-Bowes, and Sony also joined.
Productive Product: Sometimes technology ideas are so good and so obvious that we don't even dare to suggest them, for fear of being rebuffed with a sarcastic, "Yeah, right!" An example is the idea that all of life's gadgets could connect to a single universal power supply -- no more jumble
Productive Product: The Wall Street Journal (may require site registration) has a story about Aurora, Ohio's TCP Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of spiral compact-fluorescent light bulbs. TCP was the idea of a Chinese immigrant who is now benefitting from the Western energy-efficiency push -- they had sales of $300 million this year