Melissa: Welcome to Engineering Update, brought to you by Mouser Electronics, the electronic components distributor with the widest selection of the newest products. I’m Melissa Barnes, Associate Editor of ECN. 

In this week’s headlines:

Graphite-Based Circuitry

Hand-Held Sound Cameras

Creating Solar Cells With A Microwave


The 1st Ever Drone Launch From a Navy Aircraft Carrier

 Jeff: For the first time ever, the Navy has launched a drone the size of a fighter jet from an aircraft carrier. The USS George H.W. Bush warship was used by the X-47B, which is specifically designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers. In theory, this means the drone could be used to monitor countries that don’t house a U.S. base.

 Officials report that the drone will provide advanced surveillance for intelligence gathering and targeting capabilities. The X-47B can reach an altitude of 40,000 feet, has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles and can reach subsonic speeds. It is also fully autonomous in flight, using computer programs for navigation, although a mission operator can step in when needed.

 Melissa: Before the planes can become commonplace, however, the military has to prove they can operate in the harsh conditions aboard an aircraft carrier at sea. The aircraft used a steam catapult to launch, just like a traditional Navy warplane. And while the tailless plane won't land on the aircraft carrier this week, the Navy plans to conduct those tests soon. So they know how to launch it, just not how to land it …  Maybe keep that little gem off the recruitment poster.

 Jeff: Given the low costs and extensive applications that could be possible with flexible paper circuit boards, there have been a number of ideas surrounding its use. Now, however, scientists have developed a method for selectively changing the very nature of the paper into conductive graphite. Unlike polymer-based flexible circuits, these paper circuits are, ironically, able to withstand the high temperatures generally used in the production of electronics.

 Using an ordinary inkjet printer and a cartridge loaded with an iron nitrate catalyst, the team at Germany's Max Planck Institute printed designs onto ordinary paper. When the paper is heated to 1,472°F in an oxygen-free environment (which is why the paper doesn't burn), the catalyst changes the composition of the paper's cellulose fibers into pure conductive graphite, while the unprinted paper remains unchanged.

 Melissa: The scientists proved that the resulting "carbon electronics" were selectively conductive by electroplating the paper with copper. They also demonstrated how to create a 3D conductive structure by subjecting an origami paper crane to the same catalytic process. More experimentation and a better understanding could potentially lead to transforming paper-based structures into atom-thick nanomaterials, and allowing origami to finally produce more than just awkward wedding centerpieces … and frustration

 Jeff: The SeeSV sound camera is a new device for determining the direction of sound. The pentagonal camera has three handles and weighs about 4 pounds. On the camera’s flat surface, there are a total of 30 MEMS microphones arranged in five spiral arrays. Utilizing a beam-forming algorithm, the sensors are able to detect and locate both stationary and moving noise sources. A high-resolution optical camera located in the middle of the device records images at a rate of 25 pics per second.

 Melissa: The output from the microphones and the optical camera are displayed on a linked computer, which then shows both a real-time image of the subject, with a thermograph-like color-coded overlay indicating the location of the noise. Availability and pricing is yet to be unveiled.

 Jeff: Researchers at the University of Utah have discovered multiple uses for an ordinary microwave, including the creation of solar cell material with just a few basic ingredients. The material, made up of copper, zinc, tin, and sulfur components is referred to as CZTS , and is known to act as a photovoltaic semiconductor, converting the sun's rays into usable electricity.

 Scientists have only recently begun turning to it for use in commercial-grade solar cells, since its low-cost and environmentally friendly ingredients make it a perfect fit with green energy sources. Unfortunately, CZTS has been difficult to properly create in the past and usually requires more complicated methods involving chemical suspensions.

 Melissa: The process (which can technically be done at home, but shouldn’t be done at home) involves applying a solvent to extract the necessary particles from the metal before placing it in a microwave for 8 minutes. The nanocrystals then begin to form the CZTS which, after a period of about 18 minutes, is ready to go. The resulting CZTS is suspended in an ink-like substance, which can be painted onto most surfaces or combined with other substances to build a functional solar cell. Researchers are currently experimenting with a number of sizes and time variations to form different levels of solar efficiency. Their methods could also lead to LEDs that require less power.

 Jeff: Recent attempts for oil hunting is taking a bird’s eye view in Norway, where the Virtual Outcrop Geology group is surveying the land with a drone in order to collect 3D images of the terrain below. The data gathered by geologists through the use of seismographs and core drilling allows a view of what is happening below the earth.  The kind of technology typically used in this data collection is time-consuming, costly, and difficult in rugged terrain.

 Melissa: But through the use of the latest drone technology, scientists are able to gather data to build stereoscopic images for 3D models. A drone not only allows geologists to do this more cheaply than with a helicopter, but also at a greater and safer distance. It also carries scanners, sensors, and cameras that help geologists to build a more precise, virtual 3D model of the area. In this way, they can learn about the types of rock present, the thickness of sediments, and other aspects of geological formations to help in finding oil deposits.

 To learn more about other applications of unmanned vehicles, check out our most recent webinar: Exploring Unmanned Vehicles, sponsored by Fischer connectors. The webinar is available for on-demand viewing at

 Jeff: That wraps up this week’s report. Be sure to join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. I’m Jeff Reinke, and this has been your Engineering Update!