Paper Powers Fantastic Future? Storing Electricity in a Page

Paper Powers Fantastic Future? Storing Electricity in a Page

Moore’s Law — the projection that digital performance and capacity can be expected to double every 18 months — is always exciting to think about. But each new technological breakthrough and refinement we’re sure to cook up will also have a more mundane flip side: we will also have to dream up equally innovative ways to make them “go.”

Researchers at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University, Sweden, have dreamed up such an energy storage device, and it’s pretty exciting on its own merits. They call it “power papers:” made of easily sourced materials, and both thin and strong enough to be folded into an origami swan (!), it can hold up to 1 F, and can be used in challenging storage situations:

The structural foundation of the material is nanocellulose, which is cellulose fibres which, using high-pressure water, are broken down into fibres as thin as 20 nm in diameter. With the cellulose fibres in a solution of water, an electrically charged polymer (PEDOT:PSS), also in a water solution, is added. […]

The new cellulose-polymer material has set a new world record in simultaneous conductivity for ions and electrons, which explains its exceptional capacity for energy storage. It also opens the door to continued development toward even higher capacity. […]It is light in weight, it requires no dangerous chemicals or heavy metals and it is waterproof.”

The next step for development is to create an industrial production process, to begin churning out power paper for innovations that require a sustainable, flexible, and efficient source of power. I can already think of a handful of applications for power paper – but I suppose the most exciting ones lie in the future, and our minds can’t even conceive of them yet. I can’t wait!

Re-Imagining a Less Addictive Internet

As any of us who’ve been sucked into a YouTube fugue know, it’s hard to escape the self-recrimination cycle of online overuse. We blame ourselves for our lack of self-control – and the many lifehacking tips and even hilarious cartoons on the subject support that sense of personal failure.

But, Michael Schulson argues (in his recent article “User Behaviour” in Aeon), it’s becoming more apparent that people get addicted to the Internet because of the nature of the experience itself, and not because they’re weak. Moreover, that addictive nature is engineered to hook as many users as hard as possible, all in aid of upping page views and increasing ad revenue. We are living in a digital world where having an item for sale in a website’s “room” is less lucrative than monetizing entry through its “door”:

“They equip them with sensors. Each time you go through one, someone gets paid. Immediately, some people will start adding a lot of new doors. Other people will build rooms that are largely empty, but that function as waystations, designed to get as many people as possible to enter and leave. […]

We call these doors ‘advertisements’. This architecture creates a rather strange effect, because while the ostensible goal of Slate is to get people into its rooms to read fine journalism, it actually gets paid by attracting people and then quickly sending them out – either to an advertiser’s website, or to another article. […]

At some point, you no longer make money by building excellent rooms. You make money by figuring out how to get people to pass through as many doors as possible – to have them scanning across the web, that scrolling hallway of doors, in a state of constant motion, click-click-clicking away.”

Schulson’s ultimate recommendation is to acknowledge the true cause of Internet addiction, and require websites and companies to assist users in not falling into the dopamine trap – if that’s not what they came to say, Wikipedia, to do. This could range from mandating a “distraction dashboard,” where users could set their own limits and reminder times before they start surfing; to a self-reporting function, where time spent (or wasted) is quantified clearly for a user – after all, Twitter, Facebook, and gaming sites already generate that info for themselves.

In short, he advises regulation. That sounds scary, but it could actually open the Internet experience up to more functionality for its users – if we could just end the judgmental culture surrounding us.

The Great Hoverboard Turnover

You may call them “hoverboards,” or “smart balance wheels,” or another catchy name – whatever they are, on my last foray into downtown Toronto I witnessed a flock of people wheeling up the sidewalk on these colourful, seemingly physics-defying things as though they had been born wearing them.  I was so astonished at the futuristic sight I stopped dead!

At the time, I attributed my lack of familiarity with these hoverboards to my simple country living. But, as this report from Cory Doctorow indicates, even in jaded urban centres folks are gobsmacked at this technology’s overnight appearance — and subsequently diving into purchases, especially for the holidays. Doctorow theorizes that hoverboards — popular with Chinese youth and Vine and Youtube celebrities worldwide — are an early real-world example of a brand new manufacturing model: one that we are going to see a lot more of in the developing economic climate.

Tech reporter Joseph Bernstein dubs the process “memeufacturing,” which speaks to the almost biological propagation of these items and the idea behind them. The manufacturing infrastructure and social network in southern China (and mostly in Shenzhen) is so responsive that, as soon as a new media star features a novel piece of technology on, say, Instagram, thousands of factories can convert almost instantly to produce that item, using components of the products they used to make. And, most interestingly to Doctorow, they are using the format of “copying” — without an original to copy. This leads to infinite variation, and a quick overwhelming of the market:

“ I remember visiting China in 2007 and seeing a million bizarre variants on Ipods, which were the hot category at the time. That story was easy to understand: Apple spent a fortune opening a market for music players of a certain size and shape. China’s entrepreneurs, living in a bubble where Apple’s patents and trademarks were largely unenforceable, set to copying that design, and (this is the important part) varying it. […]

But hoverboards are different: they are knockoffs without an original. The copies of the ‘original’ hoverboard (if anyone can ever agree on what that was) created the market, and they were already varied and mutated. There was never a moment at which all the bus-shelters and billboards touted an ideal, original hoverboard that the bottom-feeders started to nibble away at. […]

They’re part of a new category of hyperspeed gadgets — like ecigs and LED lightbulbs — that have no authoritative version. Products that start life as commodities.

A fun science fiction exercise is to imagine things that are hard and formalized and regulated being replaced with things that are fluid and bottom up. Imagine what a car would look like if it were made this way. Imagine prefab buildings.



It’s a funny old, new, world.”

Over the course of the last six months the supply chain in China has completely flooded; and with hoverboards that retail in North America, Australia, and Europe for the equivalent of $1000 per unit, who knows how long the demand will last? But, it is central to Doctorow’s and Bernstein’s arguments that this method of trade is not going away. When the new hot item makes itself known, the infrastructure will turn on a dime again, and the hoverboard will be left in. I’ll be keeping that in mind this shopping season!

Walking Distracted Thanks to Tech: Or, Th— LOOK OUT!

Those of you who are longtime readers know the saga of my most recent walking injury (saga here). When it happened, I consoled myself with the knowledge that it was an accident, the result of a perfect storm of uneven terrain and the actions of two huge and incredibly exuberant dogs.  Now that I’m recovered, I realize I’ve been made very aware of how quickly something can go wrong while just walking around. Sometimes I’m even upset by the actions of other pedestrians I see, texting or otherwise interacting with personal tech when they should be watching where they’re going! “Don’t they know that’s a bad idea?!”  I think, mentally shaking my fist at someone so absorbed in Twitter they nearly strolled straight into a lamppost after crossing a busy intersection without even looking. The thing is — says a new study on distracted walking — they may not; or, if they do, they more readily acknowledge the maddening behaviour in others before themselves.

The study was done by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (the folks who have to clean up after you when you text yourself off a curb), and pulled statistics on self-reported and observed incidents in major American urban centres.  Participants said they have witnessed various acts of distracted walking at a higher rate (an average of 40% higher) than they felt they themselves committed. Participants were also divided generationally in their belief of how serious distracted walking is: 81% of those older than 35 were convinced, compared to 70% of Millennials. (Millennials were also more inclined to think distracted walking mishaps to be “funny” and “embarrassing,” the whippersnappers.) Still, both rates are comparatively high – so why do we still do it?

“One of challenges in combatting distracted walking may be that Americans are overly confident in their ability to multitask. When asked why they walk distracted, 48 percent of respondents say ‘they just don’t think about it,’ 28 percent feel ‘they can walk and do other things,’ and 22 percent ‘are busy and want to use their time productively.’
Among distracted walking behaviors, 75 percent of respondents say they themselves ‘usually/always’ or ‘sometimes’ have ‘active conversations’ with another person they are walking with, making this the most common distracted walking behavior people admit to doing themselves.”

So, over-confidence and friendliness will result in broken bones…  Kidding!:  We just need to keep consequences in mind when we deal with our devices on the go.  Distraction can result in a tumble, and, in my experience a tumble can mean trouble. Dear readers, as the sidewalks begin to ice over and our lives get busier – do be careful out there!

A new use for packing tape

With recent advancements in the field, it seems we can 3D-print basically anything: art, arms, even food! This is true as long as said anything is small. But what if you need to visualize a (much) larger object, and a 3D-printed scale model doesn’t fit the bill?

Researchers out of the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, have devised a solution to this problem, by inventing a kind of 3D printer of their own. Called the Protopiper, this handheld system “sketches” room-sized objects out of simple packing tape, allowing for a quick and intuitive visualization of say, what type of Ikea couch will best fit in your weirdly laid-out living room.

The Protopiper works as a tiny assembly line, in which cogs pull tape from a roll, form it into a cylinder, seal the edges, and then cut the ends into sticky wings that can then be securely applied to surfaces — including other “pipes.” The pipes can be bent to form hinges, and extruded to exact lengths, making the sketching of boxes straightforward. Pipes can also be extruded freehand, allowing for the kind of unbridled creativity the creators initially tested for. From their fascinating whitepaper:

“Participants’ task was to create physical to-scale designs. Participants were given the following instructions: ‘You are throwing a party at your house with the motto “beach party”. Build objects to transform your house for the party.’ Participants were given approximately 60 minutes. […]

All participants succeeded at creating objects using protopiper. Throughout the experiment, participants repeatedly used their bodies and/or the room for reference. One participant, for example, created a sunhat directly on the head of another participant. […]Yet another team created a beach bar; again by sketching at actual scale they were able to get all dimensions right, such as the height of the bar. The shortboard of this participant, in contrast, did not come out at the right scale—this, however, might be more indicative of the participant’s (lack of) experience surfing as our lab is located 1000 miles off the next surfable coast.”

Shenanigans aside, the Protopiper lets users create simple mechanisms and model objects in a fast and cost-effective way, while learning about the basic rules of construction. The resulting models can then be scanned with a mobile app, and enough of their geometry extracted to effectively manufacture a final, real-world version!

I admire the spirit and attitude of the researchers involved: it takes a set of unusual minds to see the potential for a tiki bar in a roll of packing tape. I personally can’t wait for Protopiper to exit the, um, proto-type phase — I feel there’s a life-sized model of the Eiffel Tower somewhere in my future.