The world's tiniest engine could power tomorrow's nanomachines

Original press release was issued by the University of Cambridge.

Nanomachines have long been the dream of many scientists and science-fiction fans alike. However, with the latest research into nano-scale engines from the University Cambridge, we may finally be on the cusp of real life, fully functional nano-bots that appear to be extraordinarily efficient and scalable.

What researchers have developed is essentially the world’s tiniest engine that is just a billionth of a metre small, and uses light to power itself. The technology used would allow it to power nanomachines capable of navigating in the water, sense the environment around them, or enter living cells to fight disease.

“We know that light can heat up water to power steam engines,” said study co-author Dr Ventsislav Valev. “But now we can use light to power a piston engine at the nanoscale.”

The prototype device is made of tiny charged particles of gold, bound together with temperature-responsive polymers in the form of a gel. When the ‘nano-engine’ is heated to a certain temperature with a laser, it stores large amounts of elastic energy in a fraction of a second, as the polymer coatings expel all the water from the gel and collapse. This has the effect of forcing the gold nanoparticles to bind together into tight clusters. But when the device is cooled, the polymers take on water and expand, and the gold nanoparticles are strongly and quickly pushed apart, like a spring.

“It’s like an explosion,” said Dr Tao Ding from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, and the paper’s first author. “We have hundreds of gold balls flying apart in a millionth of a second when water molecules inflate the polymers around them.”

The prototype isn’t just functional – it is efficient. Its ratio of force per unit weight exceeds those of all previously produced devices, including ordinary engines and muscles. On top of that, it is reported to be bio-compatible, cost-effective to manufacture, fast to respond, and energy efficient.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg from the Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research, has named the devices ‘ANTs’, or actuating nano-transducers. “Like real ants, they produce large forces for their weight. The challenge we now face is how to control that force for nano-machinery applications.”

The research suggests how to turn Van de Waals energy – the attraction between atoms and molecules – into elastic energy of polymers and release it very quickly. “The whole process is like a nano-spring,” said Baumberg. “The smart part here is we make use of Van de Waals attraction of heavy metal particles to set the springs (polymers) and water molecules to release them, which is very reversible and reproducible.”

The team is currently working with Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, and several other companies with the aim of commercialising this technology for microfluidics bio-applications.


Urban Development discussion flies to Japan

By 2050 the world’s urban population is expected to grow by 72%. This steep growth creates an unprecedented urge for understanding cities to enable planning for the future societal, economical and environmental well being of their citizens. The increasing deployments of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the rise of so-called ‘Sensored Cities’ are opening up new avenues of research opportunities towards that future. Although, there have been a number of deployment of diverse IoT systems in the urban space, our understanding of these systems and their implications has just scratched the surface.

The 2nd EAI International Conference on IoT in Urban Space (Urb-IoT 2016) is going to take place in Tokyo, Japan on May 24-25, 2016 and aims to explore these dynamics within the scope of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the new science of cities.

The Conference will host two keynote speeches given by Prof. Ryosuke Shibasaki (The University of Tokyo, Japan) and Prof. Licia Capra (University College London, UK). See also our interview with the General Chair of the Conference, Prof. Takuro Yonezawa (Keio University, Japan).
To see all the topics that will be discussed at Urb-IoT 2016, see the accepted papers.

Authors of the Best Papers will be invited to submit an extended version of their work through the EAI Endorsed Transactions on Internet of Things. Accepted papers will be published in the Urb-IoT Conference Proceedings and by Springer-Verlag in the Lecture Notes of ICST (LNICST). Proceedings will be available both in book form and via the SpringerLink digital library, which is one of the largest digital libraries online and covers a variety of scientific disciplines.

Registration is open!

If you want more information about Urb-IoT 2016, visit the official website of the conference!


It turns out that batteries just need a bit of seasoning

Original press release was issued by Drexel University

Building materials for energy storing is a lot like baking. It requires the right ingredients in right amounts, and assembly in the correct order and under ideal conditions. And just like an overly sweet cake can benefit from a pinch of salt, the same appears to be true for batteries.

The secret to making the best storage materials is to grow them with as much surface area as possible. The desired outcome is a thin sheet of material with the perfect chemical consistency to be useful for storing energy. A team of researchers from Drexel University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and Tsingua University recently discovered that using salt crystals as a template to grow thin sheets of conductive metal oxides make the materials turn out larger and more chemically pure — which makes them better suited for gathering ions and storing energy.

Energy storage device operate by a chemical transfer of ions from an electrolyte solution to thin layers of conductive materials. In theory, the best materials for the job should be thin sheets of metal oxides because their chemical structure and high surface area makes it easy for ions to attach – which is how energy storage occurs. However, metal oxides have thus far failed to live up to their theoretical performance.

“The challenge of producing a metal oxide that reaches theoretical performance values is that the methods for making it inherently limit its size and often foul its chemical purity, which makes it fall short of predicted energy storage performance,” said Jun Zhou, a professor at HUST’s Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics and an author of the research.

According to Zhou, Tang and the team from HUST, the problem lies in the process of making the nanosheets — which involves either a deposition from gas or a chemical etching — often leaves trace chemical residues that contaminate the material and prevent ions from bonding to it. In addition, the materials made in this way are often just a few square micrometers in size.

As it turns out, the structure of ordinary salt solves this issue. Using salt crystals as a substrate for growing the crystals lets them spread out evenly and form a larger uniform sheet of oxide material.

“Lateral growth of the 2D oxides was guided by salt crystal geometry and promoted by lattice matching and the thickness was restrained by the raw material supply. The dimensions of the salt crystals are tens of micrometers and guide the growth of the 2D oxide to a similar size,” the researchers write in the paper.

As predicted, the larger size of the oxide sheets also equated to a greater ability to collect and disburse ions from an electrolyte solution — the ultimate test for its potential to be used in energy storage devices. Results reported in the paper suggest that use of these materials may help in creating an aluminum-ion battery that could store more charge than the best lithium-ion batteries found in laptops and mobile devices today.

“The most significant result of this work thus far is that we’ve demonstrated the ability to generate high-quality 2D oxides with various compositions,” said Yury Gogotsi, an author of the paper. “I can certainly see expanding this approach to other oxides that may offer attractive properties for electrical energy storage, water desalination membranes, photocatalysis and other applications.”


Tesla coil causes these nanotubes to self-assemble into circuits

The original news released was published by the Rice University News & Media department, written by Mike Williams.

Although visually impressive, the inventions of Nikola Tesla haven’t been used for much aside from entertainment and education for the better part of the last century. This may be about to change, as scientists at Rice University have discovered that the strong force field emitted by a Tesla coil causes carbon nanotubes to self-assemble into long wires, a phenomenon they call “Teslaphoresis.” Paul Cherukuri, the lead researcher, sees these findings as a clear path towards scalable assembly of nanotubes.

The system works by remotely oscillating positive and negative charges in each nanotube, causing them to chain together into long wires. We recommend looking at the Rice University News video below to see the self-assembly in action.

Tesla coil causes nanotubes to do more than just self-assemble. As demonstrated in the video, nanotubes have formed a kind of circuit that connected two LED lights, and powered them by absorbing electric energy from the coil’s field. Additionally, it moved the assembled nanotubes towards the coil from across the room in a tractor beam-like effect.

“Electric fields have been used to move small objects, but only over ultrashort distances,” Cherukuri said. “With Teslaphoresis, we have the ability to massively scale up force fields to move matter remotely.”

It has been suggested that by using Tesla coils of various sizes and in different numbers, it should be possible to form more intricate self-assembling nanostructures. Entire electrical grids would be the obvious first choice, but as Lindsey Bornhoeft, the paper’s lead author, suggested, its uses are potentially huge: “These nanotube wires grow and act like nerves, and controlled assembly of nanomaterials from the bottom up may be used as a template for applications in regenerative medicine.”

“There are so many applications where one could utilize strong force fields to control the behavior of matter in both biological and artificial systems,” Cherukuri said. “And even more exciting is how much fundamental physics and chemistry we are discovering as we move along. This really is just the first act in an amazing story.”


Intel of Things

This story is based on ReadWrite article by David Curry.

For development of IoT, it is vital that computers get smaller and affordable. After all, the goal is to put them in as many items as possible. Intel now marks a significant progress in this endeavor, with its new Quark Micro-controller Developer Kit D2000. In recent days, Intel’s acquisition of Italian semiconductor safety expert hints that the tech giant wants to dominate the IoT micro-controller sphere. Its most direct competition are Arduino/ Genuino micro-controllers. However, the ARM chip most comparable to the new D2000 costs twice as much.

The fact that the new system on chip by Intel is just $15 may let Intel steal the bank from the long time leader in this field – ARM. The new chip boasts with ultra-low-power core running at 32 MHz, with 32 KB integrated flash and 8 KB SRAM. As far as sensors are involved, D2000 offers 6-axis compass/accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a USB port, and an Arduino-Uno compatible shield interface. Software for programming and debugging is provided with the chip.

Scheme depicting structure of the chip; Image courtesy of Intel

Quark is hence a breakthrough, offering a lot of power for a relatively small price. As it has Arduino-Uno compatible interface, the transition of ARM users will be smooth. For everyone looking to experiment, or start building something from scratch, D2000 seems like a very logical choice.

Future of IoT depends on the ingenuity of chip designers. Functioning IoT will need small chips capable of sending more information, and processing input at a higher rate. All this has to be achieved without putting a big price tag on the chip, since availability is equally important as technical specifications. Intel has certainly made a step in the right direction. Together with its other IoT-related initiatives like Intel Edison, Intel certainly has the capacity of becoming IoT-giant as well. User experience and appliance of feedback to next generation of micro-controllers will be crucial.


7.8 tons of autonomous grain collecting action

The original article was first published on Hackaday by Jenny List

Matt Reimer makes his money farming fields in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. The main commodity in this part of the World is grain. Besides the person driving the combine harvester, there is a position which requires even more relentlessness. There is always a person who drives a tractor next to the harvester, collecting the grain to a trailer and making laps to unload the contents of the trailer into a big truck. Obviously, a person for this job is hard to find, especially when the other farmers in the area are also hiring.

At first, Matt was working on the idea of remotely controlled tractor. He continually moved on to using autopilot systems, even developing his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Currently, his installation can drive towards the harvester, collect the grains from it and drive back.

The unloading it into a truck is not yet automated. However, considering the speed of Matt’s progress, which he monitored on his YouTube channel, the update including the automation of tractor unloading should be coming soon.

It is important to note that Matt’s farming land is quite ideal, as it is big and flat, for developing such a system. Implementation of autonomous grain collector in a less forgiving terrain could be harder. The safety features demanded from autonomous vehicles have to be set high. Also, agricultural tractors are big machines, capable of running over or through most objects. Vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers have already made their transition, but at this size, more challenges around safety will arise.

Matt’s work is still very impressive. It is the proof that important innovation does not only come from high profile research labs. Automating farming practices could be a considerable set up in agricultural production. In a long term, it could also mean cutting costs in this area. Autonomous farming has a lot of potential and it could ‘grow’ into a new branch of a well-established industry.


Paperlike ceramic electrode viable at last, suitable for extreme conditions

Original news release was issued by Kansas State University News and Communications Services.

A rechargeable electrode that is paper-thin, 10% lighter than what we are used to, and can function properly in disagreeable conditions? All but reality at this point. Team of researchers, led by Gurpreet Singh from Kansas State University, has developed an electrode with a unique silicon oxycarbide-glass and graphene architecture. Their findings may bring strong benefits to tools for unmanned aircraft vehicles and space exploration.

In addition to being significantly lighter than its counterparts, the electrode has almost absolute cycle efficiency for more than a 1000 discharge cycles. It can even function at a temperature as low as -15 °C, enabling a wide range of high altitude aerial, and potentially space applications. The fact that its parts are made out of liquid resin – an inexpensive byproduct of the silicone industry – is a nice bonus to say the least.

Singh’s team has been battling issues with volumetric capacity, poor cycling efficiency, and chemical-mechanical instability, that have until now stunted the development of batteries that use graphene and silicon. They have cracked these problems by developing a piece of glassy ceramic, called silicon oxycarbide, stuck between sheets of chemically modified graphene. Their electrode has high capacity of 600 miliampere-hours per gram, a significant improvement from standard graphite electrodes that reach 372 mAh/g.

“The paperlike design is markedly different from the electrodes used in present day batteries because it eliminates the metal foil support and polymeric glue — both of which do not contribute toward capacity of the battery,” Singh said.

Singh and his team now wish to carry on with their work at the scale of full battery units, and in largers dimensions, as well as with mechanical bending tests. Singh has also hinted at the possibility of 3D-printing silicon oxycarbide, allowing for even more efficient production.

Research available in Nature Communications article.


Self-assembling bio-inspired nanotubes discovered

Original news release was first published at EurekAlert.

We still have ways to go when it comes to reliable nanotechnology. It is already being used in modern computer parts and variety of consumer electronics, as well as water-resistant fabrics. However, consistent production of more sophisticated nanostructures is still proving extremely difficult. Nanotubes with diameter of a few bilionths of a meter would enable advanced applications, such as injecting cancer-fighting drugs directly into cells, or removing salt from seawater, but some serious precision is required for mass production of such miniscule structures.

Progress has been made, though. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered a family of polymers that spontaneously assemble into hollow crystalline nanotubes upon being placed in water. These tubes can even be adjusted to a diameter between 5 and 10 nanometers, depending on the length of the polymer chain. They are made out of two chemically disctinct bars which form a molecular tile ring, bundling up into nanotubes up to 100 nanometers long.

“This points to a new way we can use synthetic polymers to create complex nanostructures in a very precise way,” says Ron Zuckermann, who directs the Biological Nanostructures Facility in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, where much of this research was conducted.

Zuckermann has also suggested that the adjustable diameter of the tubes could theoratically allow for advanced filtration and desalination technologies. It is the kind of functionality that resembles proteins found in nature, but made out of durable materials. There is still research to be done to determine how exactly these tubes are formed, but Berkeley Lab’s findings have cleared up a lot of questions regarding their structure. This information could reveal new design principles, helping us put together complex nanostructures in the future.

What makes these nanotubes stand out, is that they are created without the approaches traditionally used in nanotechnology, mainly electrostatic interactions or hydrogen bond networks. Zuckerman added: “You wouldn’t expect something as intricate as this could be created without these crutches, but it turns out the chemical interactions that hold these nanotubes together are very simple. What’s special here is that the two peptoid blocks are chemically distinct, yet almost exactly the same size, which allows the chains to pack together in a very regular way. These insights could help us design useful nanotubes and other structures that are rugged and tunable – and which have uniform structures.”


Another iPhone targeted by the FBI

Original article was first published by Rich McCormic at The Verge.

Just two days after the FBI has confirmed that it got into the iPhone which belonged to the San Bernardino shooter, it offers the same service in a murder case in Arkansas. Cody Hiland, the attorney in the Arkansas case, requested help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the case, two teenagers stand accused of double murder, pleading not guilty. According to their attorney, the suspects are “not concerned about anything on that phone.”

Initially when FBI wanted to negotiate with Apple about unlocking the phone, there was a proposal that it would not be used in other cases. However, now after the FBI managed to unlock the phone, the Bureau accepted the request to unlock the phone in a non-terrorism related case. It is important to note that Apple did help government agencies in the past, but only in getting data available without the need of penetrating the lock and the encryption. The case that brought up all this controversy was when the FBI asked Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Farook, who, with the help of his wife, killed 14 people in California early in December 2015.

According to the Associated Press, it is not specified which generation of iPhone is the FBI going to tackle in the Arkansas case, but there is a mention of an iPod as well. One suspect was supposedly using it to communicate with the other and plan the murder. Theoretically, FBI should be able to unlock iPhones up to the 5S generation. In any case, regardless of what will happen next, we are already witnessing a significant change in data protection and security.

EAI Blog will stay tuned to the latest developments in the spheres of security, privacy and encryption. These events have a direct impact on the evolution of the Internet of Things. This coming Friday, an interview with Víctor Rodriguez Doncel, an expert on copyright law, will be published, where this subject will be touched upon again.

Call for papers Conferences

SaSeIoT 2016 is accepting papers!

SaSeIoT 2016, the 3rd EAI International Conference on Safety and Security in Internet of Things will take place in Paris, France on October 26-28, 2016.

SaSeIoT 2016 aims to explore dynamics within the scope of IoT in the context of Safety and Security. The conference solicits original and inspiring research contributions from technology experts, researchers, designers, practitioners in academia, authorities and industry, and promises to offer a highly interactive forum to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices primarily in the following main application oriented themes:

– Ensuring the resilience and security of IoT dependent infrastructures;
– Using IoT for crisis and emergency management;
– Privacy in IoT;
– Security and IoT Cloudification.

To know more about these topics, click here.

Proceedings are submitted for inclusion to the leading indexing services: Elsevier (EI), Thomson Scientific (ISI), Scopus, Crossref, Google Scholar, DBLP.
All submissions should follow the LNICST style and not exceed 12 pages. To ensure high quality, all papers will be thoroughly reviewed by the SaSeIoT 2016 International Program Committee. All accepted papers must be presented by one of the authors who must register for the conference and pay the fee. Selected papers may be invited to publish in the EAI Transaction on Security and Safety.

Important dates:

Full Paper Submission Deadline: 27th May, 2016

Notification Deadline: 1st July, 2016

Camera-ready Deadline: 29th July, 2016

If you need further information about SaSeIoT 2016, visit the official website.