13-Year-Old Boy Creates New and Innovative Solar Panel Array

Aidan Dwyer, a 13-year-old boy from New York, has created a concept to arrange solar panels to collect light, using the Fibonacci Sequence. Dwyer credits trees as his inspiration behind his design. He came up with the idea while on a winter hiking trip, when after observing the trees, Dwyer thought of the idea of placing solar panels at the end of tree branches, noticing that trees collect sunlight by reaching up towards the sky.

After studying the mathematical relationship of the arrangement of leaves and branches on trees and the Fibonacci Sequence, Dwyer decided to utilize the Fibonacci Sequence in his own concept. The Fibonacci Sequence starts with the numbers 0 and 1, followed by the sum of the prior two numbers in the sequence. The Fibonacci Pattern can be found in many expressions of plants and flowers in nature. For instance, daisies usually have 34, 55, or 89 petals – the 9th, 10th, and 11th Fibonacci numbers.

After designing his concept into a photovoltaic array, Dwyer conducted experiments comparing his design to standard solar panel arrays and found that his Fibonacci tree design was more efficient in collecting sunlight. Dwyer’s design is reportedly 20 to 30 percent more efficient than the standard design involving solar panels. Furthermore, Dwyer’s design used the greatest number of PV panels within the least amount of physical space, making his concept a truly practical and efficient design.

Aidan was given a provisional patent for his idea by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He was also awarded the 2011 Young Naturalist Award by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. 

Photo credit: inhabitat.com/13-year-old-makes-solar-power-breakthrough-by-harnessing-the-fibonacci-sequence/

“Unsupervised” Robots: Advancements in the Technology

One argument against the idea of a real life Terminator-type scenario actually occuring is the idea that computers, although capable of thinking and executing a number of spectacular tasks are unable to do them simultaneously.  In other words, they cannot carry on with the assignments that they are given when the original plan becomes interrupted and/or deviates.  This just leads to more time spent reprogramming the machine.

The image of robots as hulking machines taking their place in a factory, making up an assembly line with other like machines, is a common one shared by most (like myself).  In these menial jobs, we can imagine robots that are programmed to complete the same tasks over and over again with the precision of a well-oiled machine.

As would be expected, in the evolving world of robotics this is not the case at all. Many robots  can be capable of a variety of things–like folding laundry and retrieving items–for which they are programmed.

Now, however, scientists are expanding the scope of robotic capabilities.

Scientists in Japan are currently developing robots that will be able to learn from its surroundings in order to help it become the sentient beings science fiction has warned us about.  SOINN, or Self Organizing Incremental Neural Network, is a new method of programming that allows a robot to accommodate for its changing environment.  By recognizing the differences that were made to the “plan,” the robot is now able to  utilize its set skills in a way that would best help it to carry on with the tasks at hand.  This allows the robot to “learn from experience,” to quote from msn.com.

Osamu Hasegawa, the associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, is producing this new technology that allows robots to solve problems and make decisions without constant human oversight.  In the videos posted online to illustrate the capacity of the robot’s work, we can see that these problem solving skills are put to the test and become apparent in the robot’s actions and ways of retrieving information.

In the example seen in the videos, the robot has three items placed in front of it: a bottle of “water” (beads, are used as a substitute), an empty cup, and a single “ice cube.” The robot is first given the command to fill the empty cup with the water that is in the bottle. Once the robot successfully completes this task, it is then told that ice water would be preferred, presenting the robot with a change from the original task.

This provides a conflict. The robot (by connecting to the internet, and inquiring online) learns that to cool water it should add an ice cube—and, it just so happens, the robot has all the necessary materials. It now has to figure out a way to do this when both hands are full: one with the bottle, and one with the cup.

After a moment of assessing the situation, the robot places the bottle of water back on the table in order to free up a hand to grab the ice cube and put it in the–now full–cup of water.

Voila! Cold water.

And this is not the only news in the world of robotics.  This information comes just days after another robot, the aptly named Bakerbot, whipped up a batch of cookies on the spot.

Without having to constantly retune and reprogram the machines, scientists can save the time they would have spent doing so.

With such advancements in robot intelligence, the door for many more advancements in this technology is opening wider.   Who knows what robots will be able to accomplish and how soon they will be able to do it?  It is clear that technology is pushing them down a new road where they will be able to think quickly and act on their own.

Photo Credit: designboom.com/weblog/cat/16/view/15978/soinn-robot-mimics-human-reasoning.html

Solar Plane Successfully Completes Maiden International Flight

The Swiss solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse HB-SIA, completed its first international flight Friday morning, leaving the Payerne military airfield in Switzerland at 8:40 am local time, and landing in Zaventem airport Brussels at 9:30pm Friday evening. The Solar Impulse crossed Switzerland, Luxembourg and France in its 630 kilometer (391.4 mile) journey.

The plane completed the journey powered entirely by energy generated from the 11,628 solar cells on its wings and horizontal stabilizer. By charging the solar cells in the day, the Solar Impulse was able to use the charged cells to fly into the night.

After landing, CEO, co-founder and flight pilot André Borschberg stated, “It’s unbelievably exciting to land here in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, after flying across France and Luxembourg. And to fly without fuel, noise or pollution, making practically no negative impact, is a great source of satisfaction.”

Built on a carbon-fiber “honeycomb” skeleton, the Solar Impulse’s upper wings are covered in a solar cell-embedded skin. Its underside is covered with flexible, lightweight film. Two pods are fixed under each wing, with each pod consisting of a motor with a maximum power of 10 HP, a polymer lithium battery, and a management system.

Flying at an average altitude of 6,000 feet, the total flight time was 12 hours and 59 minutes. The long flight time was due both to the plane’s low speeds – up to 50 kilometers (approximately 31 miles) per hour – and restrictions imposed by the Zaventem air traffic control. The volume of planes landing at Zaventem airport resulted in the Solar Impulse being granted an off-peak landing slot, at 9:00pm local time.  

Brussels Airport Company CEO Arnaud Feist discussed the relevance of the flight for the airline industry.
“This airplane, the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2, symbolizes the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased use of renewable energies,” he stated.

The Solar Impulse weighs approximately 1.7 tons, with a wingspan a little larger than a Boeing 777 at 64 meters. Its cockpit currently seats one person. Following its successful maiden voyage in July of 2010, the solar plane has subsequently completed flights across Switzerland, in addition to a successful night flight.

The primary challenge of the international flight was navigating the busy European airspace. Due to its slow speeds, the Solar Impulse is difficult to pick-up on radar, and is slow to maneuver. Designating a flight plan that avoided larger, faster planes was a priority.

“Usually, the separation distance between aircraft is 300 meters vertically and 8 kilometers when flying at the same height. In the case of Solar Impulse, our margin of safety is much greater” Niklaus Gerber, one of the Solar Impulse team’s air traffic controllers, stated. “There are aircraft that are travelling at between 400 and 900 kilometers per hour. So the other aircraft are the ones that have to make adjustments to avoid it…An aircraft that passes above it needs to be at least 900 meters higher, due to the turbulence it creates”.

After having completed its maiden international flight, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA will be displayed in Belgium and France. Between May 23rd and 29th, it will be on show to the European institutions in Brussels. It will afterwards fly to the Paris International Air show, where it will again be displayed as a “special guest” from the 20th to the 26th of June.

Solar Impulse was founded by André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard in Switzerland, with the goal of developing solar flight technologies. Both are pilots, with Piccard completing the first non-stop balloon flight circumventing the globe, and Borschberg trained as an engineer and fighter pilot.

Photo credit: Matth1 commons/c/cc/Flea_Hop_HB-SIA_-_Solar_Impulse.jpg

The future of the incandescent light bulb is rather dim.

The incandescent light bulb is slowly fading away. Governments around the world have passed new measures to limit the use of the incandescent light bulb for general lighting. The goal of the phase out is to sustain technological development and more energy efficient alternatives. The three main alternatives to the incandescent light bulb are, the energy efficient incandescent halogen bulb, the compact fluorescent light bulb, and highly efficient very long lasting light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.    

Why, after all these warmly lit years is the traditional incandescent light bulb getting the boot in the United States? It’s simple, in 2007 President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) into law. The law requires greater efficiency among cars, appliances, and light bulbs beginning in 2012 nationally. It has been estimated, that when all 4.4 billion standard light sockets in the United States have been filled with energy efficient bulbs. Americans will save 15.8 billion yearly on their electric bills. Which translates roughly into a family of four saving more than $200 a year.

States such as California, have already started phasing out certain energy sucking incandescent a year in advance of the federal mandate. Beginning in January 2012, national light bulb manufactures will no longer be able to make the 100-watt incandescent light bulb. By January 2014, national manufactures will no longer be able to make the 75, 60, and 40-watt incandescent light bulb. Manufactures will still be able to make specialty bulbs such as yellow bug lights, and aquarium light bulbs though. 

Many consumers are both in support, and opposition to Thomas Edison’s old fashioned light bulbs 20th century makeover. While many praise the new technology and are open to buying new types of light bulbs and saving money in the long run. Traditional incandescent fans are in opposition to the initial cost, type of light given off as “unnatural”, and having the feeling of limited choices in the light bulb market.  

The truth is, many newer types of light bulbs are coming closer to the traditional incandescent. Without wasting as much electricity as the original bulb. The light bulb industry is working on refining newer technologies. By January 2012, once traditional 100-watt incandescent light bulbs begin selling out of stores, they will be hard to find. Effectively dimming out an old friend, and ushering in a new era of light bulbs.