Thursday, 1 May 2008

Hy-Bird Flies Powered by Solar-Cells - A Green Round-the-World Flight

Created by the French company Lisa Airplanes, the Hy-Bird, a hydrogen-powered electric airplane that gets 10% of its power through solar-cells, is made of super-lightweight (and expensive) carbon fibre. The company states that the power system will allow the plane to circumnavigate the globe in 3000-km stages.
The combination of a rigid carbon wing and a flexible textile flap allows the craft to take-off and land in less than 330 feet, whilst ensuring the highest cruising speeds. When the textile is opened out, the surface of the wing is increased by nearly 70 % and a camber is created.

The future for leisure aviation will undoubtedly lead to a need for a reduction in noise and CO2 pollution. A plane with an optimized aerodynamic form is perfectly adapted for electrical propulsion.
The first plane, the “Spirit of Savoy” will fly from Chambéry in France to New York, materializing the extensive research and development work of specialists in the fields of solar energy, fuel cells, lithium-ion polymer batteries and electrical conversion.

With the exception of solar energy, the other energy resources used, although clean and with an almost zero carbon footprint, are not renewable. They need hydrogen, at this moment, almost exclusively derived from natural gas, an energy source also doomed to run out soon, but as said it is clean, especially regarding greenhouse gases. The next step in the research program should be the replacement of hydrogen from natural gas by a clean energy from renewable resources.

Nevertheless the scheduled flight this summer is a milestone. The Hy-Bird will become the first plane to fly around the world using only “green” energies: solar energy and hydrogen. It will be a technological and ecological challenge, and last but not least a human challenge.

source: DSciFi

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

“The Library of Congress Experience” - Interactive Technologies Highlight History

The opening on Saturday 12 April 2008 of the exhibitions of the renewed Library of Congress confronts the visitor with interactive technologies, courtesy of Microsoft, that make the Library of Congress and its collections more dynamic and accessible than ever. Before the opening the New York Times published a review of the “Library of Congress which we like to recite here in full. The photographs are taken from the NYT slide show which went with the article.

We Hold These Truths to Be User-Accessible and in Hypertext
By Edward Rothstein - April 12, 2008 - New York Times

WASHINGTON - “When in the course of human events,” the well-known text begins, “it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained ...” Wait a minute. That’s not quite right. And Thomas Jefferson must have known it too, which is why brackets surround the unfamiliar words. Two lines are drawn through them and, above, with a firm hand, are written the corrections: “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another ...”

Corrections were also made in the next paragraph: “We hold these truths,” it begins, “to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent.” Again, wrong. Men are not really created independent: they are born in a state of complete dependence. Condense and clarify: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

And the world begins to change
I doubt that I would have felt these transformations with the same force had I just tried to read the faded ink on Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, protected behind glass at the Library of Congress. Nor, for that matter, would I have been able to sense the Constitution’s evolution simply by gazing at George Washington’s annotated copy or the other documents in the new exhibition “Creating the United States.” Something else was involved.

That innovation may also be important because the library is rethinking its approach to exhibitions and objects. This includes the opening on Saturday of new shows like “Creating the United States” and a beautiful reconstruction of Jefferson’s library, which once contained 6,487 books and became the foundation for the Library of Congress’s collection in 1815. But the library’s ambitions are far greater.

I’m not keen on the name it has given its project: “The Library of Congress Experience.” The word “experience” seems to promise something disruptive in this context, as if the tumult of an amusement park were about to displace a world of quiet contemplation. And the project, which cost $15 million in private funds (with some $8 million donated in services), is also making its debut on Saturday with elaborate public festivities.

But what is actually happening is different, even if it too has its dangers, not all of them avoided in this early venture. The main feature being celebrated is the introduction of technology, courtesy of Microsoft, that had been available only at the library’s fine show “Exploring the Early Americas.” Now touch-screen kiosks with the power to magnify images of objects, translate text and point to other information sources are found throughout the library’s exhibition spaces.

Two kiosks offer the chance to look more closely at the library’s Gutenberg Bible and examine selected pages; others explain the mythological and literary references in the ornaments of the Italian Renaissance-style Jefferson Building. The exhibition “Thomas Jefferson’s Library” also uses such kiosks to help look inside a few 18th-century books. And yes, these kiosks are what allowed me to see the changes in the Declaration so clearly, even identifying the different handwriting on the document.

These screens are partly meant to attract more visitors, and starting on Saturday their features and information will also be reproduced at the library’s new Web sites ( and But they also seem part of a larger attempt to rethink strategy.

One way to treat history in an exhibition is to lay out events and surviving objects and explain their importance: the past is prelude to the present, and we are its heirs. Since the library is, in its very essence, a repository of books and manuscripts, this approach is fundamental. But it demands unusual attentiveness from the visitor.

Another approach is to show that every product of that immutable past was once something contingent, coming into existence because of choices made. A historical document may appear unchanging, but when it was written, it was growing out of a process of revision and debate. In this light history is seen as lived experience.

I think this is what the library is reaching for with its “Experience” idea, which is one reason the new exhibition is about the process of “creating” the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, showing drafts and chronicling the debates about slavery or branches of government that went into their construction. The technology is well suited to that approach, not only in transcribing revisions but also in allowing the user to ask about important themes, “Where did this come from?”

Why, for example, did Jefferson and his colleagues invoke the idea of a natural right to pursue happiness, displacing John Locke’s idea of a right to property? Touch on the link to “pursuit of happiness,” and you are shown other documents in which the concept appears, like the Virginia Declaration of Rights, or where it does not, like Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government.”

In keeping with its larger goal, the exhibition also casts a glance at more recent events, trying to show how the ideas in these foundational documents cast a long shadow: Jefferson’s edited copy of Lafayette’s draft of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 is here. So is a typescript of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he brilliantly reclaimed the founding fathers for the civil rights movement, by speaking of them as having signed a “promissory note.”

But the weaknesses in the library’s new approach are evident in the lumbering and sometimes leaden videos in which clips of protest movements can be seen along with short comments by Supreme Court justices and political activists. While the exhibition’s section about the founding is deep and rigorous, there is something almost scattershot about the attempt to illustrate how relevant the issues are, an eagerness to touch on everything, lest someone think the library has been caught napping.

In all of this the technology could be more helpful if its application were more thorough. The displays should allow different paths for exploration, depending on how deeply the visitor wants to probe. Right now they err on the side of brevity, providing only the most basic information. Instead short quotations could give way to long passages; references could open up on other books and documents; a deeper network - a web - of ideas and texts could be established. Even videos could be integrated. And alternate routes could be designed for schoolchildren.

This need is even greater in the stunning display of Jefferson’s library. The books are arrayed in a spiral, with the viewer standing inside, surrounded by Jefferson’s touchstones. After the Library of Congress’s collection was destroyed in 1814, when the British set fire to the Capitol, Jefferson sold Congress his own library, the largest private holdings in the United States.

The proposed purchase inspired debate because the books were much more wide-ranging than Congress felt necessary, including a study of beekeeping and instructions for harpsichord playing, volumes of Cicero and manuals for architecture. Jefferson catalogued his books using three main categories: Memory, Reason and Imagination.

But in another fire, in 1851, two-thirds of that core collection was destroyed. Recently, in an effort to recreate it, 3,000 volumes matching Jefferson’s were found in the Library of Congress itself. Others came through gifts, and several hundred have been purchased. About 300 more have yet to be found. Jefferson’s originals are marked with green ribbons.

The effect is remarkable, and the promise of the technology even more so. There are three kiosks, each of which surveys a single shelf of books, supplying titles and background; each also offers one book for closer reading. The viewer can seem literally to turn pages on the screen.

But suppose you really want to explore one of these three books, say, “The Builder’s Dictionary: or, Gentleman and Architect’s Companion” (1734). Only a few pages can be read, and none of the other books can even be perused. In fact, on the shelves, titles of older volumes are difficult to discern. (Non-reflective glass would have helped.)

A result is that the technology is being used more to provide a taste of the full experience rather than the real thing; it alludes to what might be possible rather than fulfilling it. The costs of such storage and speed should not be underestimated, but right now “The Library of Congress Experience” is just a glimpse of what could and should evolve, both inside and outside the kiosk.

“The Library of Congress Experience” is an open-ended initiative at the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington; (202) 707-5000,

Your Tent with Inkjet Printed Solar Energy - Konarka’s Power-Generating Fibres

Imagine you are somewhere in the bush, enjoying wild life. Far from the civilised world, but still with enough power for all your gadgets and utensils, as your canvas tent is printed with solar cells. Last month, Konarka successfully conducted the first-ever demonstration of creating solar cells by inkjet printing.
The inkjet printed objects take light in and deliver power out. This direct current (DC) electrical energy can be used immediately, stored for later use, or converted to other forms of energy.

Enough sun hits the earth's surface in one hour to power global energy needs for an entire year, yet 2 billion people still do not have reliable access to electricity while 2 billion mobile phone owners grow increasingly frustrated with portable power limitations. Meanwhile, the entire world is clamoring for an affordable, clean, convenient and secure energy source that can power tomorrow's economic growth. Instead of more solar installations, Konarka plans to address these challenges through the low-cost integration of renewable power generation capabilities into everyday devices, systems, and structures.

Konarka’s photovoltaic fibres and durable plastics bring power-generating capabilities to structures including tents, awnings, roofs, windows and window coverings.
Consumer electronics such as cell phones and portable music players, networked electronics, laptops and PDAs can be charged, without the need to plug them into a standard wall outlet.
As Konarka’s technology utilizes a wider range of the light spectrum than conventional solar cells, all visible light sources - not just sunlight, but also indoor light - can be used to generate power.

Konarka's polymer photovoltaic materials are manufactured in a continuous roll-to-roll process that is significantly less expensive and capital intensive than the multi-step assembly of traditional solar cells. This proven process, similar to making photo-graphic film, is simple, energy efficient, environmentally friendly, replicable and scalable. The process is literally roll-to-roll. What starts as a roll of plastic comes off the press as a roll of Power Plastic

Spun out of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2001, Konarka and its power plastics technology has been one of the most well-funded start ups in the area. The company has secured a total of 105 million USD in private financing from a number of investors, including Menlo Park venture firms 3i Group, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and New Enterprise Associates.

Konarka is focused on the development and advancement of nano-enabled polymer photovoltaic materials that are lightweight, flexible and more versatile than traditional solar materials. Konarka’s technology represents a new breed of coatable plastic flexible photovoltaic material that can be used in many applications where traditional photovoltaic cannot compete. Konarka has provided that breakthrough by developing photovoltaic cells on lower cost, lightweight, flexible plastic substrates rather than on glass.

Konarka’s photovoltaic technology can utilize a wider range of the light spectrum than conventional solar cells, visible and invisible light sources, not just sunlight, to generate power. Konarka’s nanomaterials absorb sunlight and indoor light. This light energy travels through the electrically active materials and a series of electrodes and is converted into electrical energy.

Inkjet printing is a commonly used technique for controlled deposition of solutions of functional materials in specific locations on a substrate and can provide easy and fast deposition of polymer films over a large area. The demonstration confirms that organic solar cells can be processed with printing technologies with little or no loss compared to “clean room” semiconductor technologies such as spin coating. The most popular printing tool for organic electronics, inkjet printing could become a smart tool to manufacture solar cells with multiple colours and patterns for low power requirement products, like indoor or sensor applications. Inkjet printing is considered very promising because the polymer devices can be fabricated very easily because of the compatibility with various substrates and it does not require additional patterning.

The company discusses and analyzes the performance of highly efficient inkjet printed organic bulk hetero junction solar cells in a paper recently published in Advanced Materials, entitled, “High Photovoltaic Performance of Inkjet Printed Polymer:Fullerene Blends” by Dr. Stelios A. Choulis, Claudia N. Hoth, Dr. Pavel Schilinsky and Dr. Christoph J. Brabec, all of Konarka.

source: BizJournals

Traffic Lights of the Future

An interesting concept for safeguarding pedestrians crossing the road, consists of two plasma lasers erected just in front of each other at both sides of the road. When the traffic lights turn red, the laser screen will display the virtual wall that “stays in the way” of drivers. This wall will show moving images of pedestrians crossing the road and will be clearly seen even in daylight. The real pedestrians will be seen too, as the "wall" is transparent.

The virtual wall designed by Hanyoung Lee provides a strong visual barrier, although it also demands discipline of the drivers and that might be a problem as a blogger at the internet expressed the feelings of many a driver: “This makes me want to drive through it… not exactly the effect that a stop light should evoke.”

The lasers in this concept are simple ones, so they will not flat tires or stall the engine if crossed, but apparently, this system can pass information about the car and its owner, which drives through it to the police.
Unfortunately at this stage it is only a concept and no information is available about the costs. The plasma lasers might consume large amounts of energy, but, in our commercialised world there is still the possibility to show advertising on this "walls" to compensate for the costs.

via yanko design

Sunday, 27 April 2008

"Carried by Sailing Ship, a Better Deal for the Planet"

This month 60.000 bottles of wine from the southern Languedoc region in France are shipped to Dublin in Ireland in a 19th-century barque, saving 8.324 kg (18,375 lb) of carbon, an estimated 140 grams (4.9 oz) of carbon per bottle, compared to a regular shipment. The 52-metre (170-feet) three-mast barque Belém, which was launched in 1896 to bring cocoa and sugar from Belém, the capital of the state Pará and the gateway to the Amazon in Brazil, to France, is the last French merchant sailing vessel built, and will sail into Dublin after a voyage from Bordeaux of about four days.
The wines will be delivered to Bordeaux by barge using the Canal du Midi and Canal du Garonne which run across southern France from Sete in the east, via Beziers in the Languedoc, where the wines will be collected.

Each bottle carries a label with a stylised ship logo and the slogan, "Carried by sailing ship, a better deal for the planet".
The greenness of the project does not stop however with the delivery of the wines.
The ship will bring back to France an equivalent tonnage of crushed glass for recycling into wine bottles at two factories, one in Bordeaux and one in Beziers, probably resulting in cheaper bottles and a better supply given the current problems some vineyards have trying to get enough bottles.

Frederic Albert, founder of the shipping company Compagnie de Transport Maritime à la Voile (CTMV), said he would make sure that only the greenest wines would travel by sea. 'We chose the best wines in the area, but it must also be made in a sustainable way, using as many natural products as possible.”

Albert said his fleet would also be used for advertising in the ports of call. “There will be tastings on board. The Belém can hold around 100 guests, so there will be plenty of room for importers to promote their wines”, he said.

Despite the extra time involved in transporting it, the wine should still remain relatively cheap, at between € 7,00 and € 20,00 a bottle.

The shipping company’s second boat, (the Belém is the first of seven planned to be working by 2013) which cost six million euros to build and is as yet unnamed, will be launched soon. It will measure 52 metres and have 1,000 m2 of sails and a top speed of 14 knots.

Seven private investors have contributed 70 per cent of the business's start-up costs of 40 to 50 million euro, while bank loans provided the rest.

Future ports of call, with Bordeaux as the regular departure point, will include Bristol or Manchester in England, Gothenburg in Sweden, Copenhagen in Denmark, and other towns in Scandinavia.

While the French are pioneering the export of wine by sailing ship, the British have already started moving it via canal. Since October 2007 supermarket chain Tesco is ferrying wine by barge from Liverpool to Manchester along the Manchester Ship Canal. The move takes 50 trucks off the road every week and cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent, Tesco claims.
Tesco's new cargo service involves three journeys a week, delivering an estimated 600.000 litres of wine on each journey along the 64 km stretch of the canal.
The containers of wine from Australia, California, Chile and Argentina are then transported to a site 1 km away, where they are bottled for Tesco supermarkets across Britain.

source: New Zealand Herald

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Cisco's TelePresence system – High-Tec Teleconferencing

Use the term “video conferencing” and people start looking wary recalling only having experienced jerky, fractured images and out-of-sync audio. Even today, after more than 40 years when AT&T first introduced the Picturephone at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, few are impressed by the technology. For them, video conferencing you should try to skip.

However, that era may finally be coming to an end if Cisco Systems, Inc have anything to say about it. Cisco’s TelePresence high-definition video images are so un-television-like that during a demonstration a few curious corporate executives strolled behind the TelePresence display wall, to make sure the people in those images were not hiding back there.

The system is superior in four points, representing also the target-goals Cisco engineers had set for themselves from the very start of the project.
1. The images of the people appear life-size on the TelePresence screen in the exact proportions that they would in real life.
2. Employing high definition 1080p images, lighting is crucial to bring out human detail without making subjects uncomfortably hot. Users should see “the gleam or the tear in the eye,” as well as the sweat on the forehead.
3. The audio appears to emanate from the person who’s speaking as TelePresence screens are augmented by their own speakers. As a result, when a person who appears on the left screen speaks, the voice comes from that screen.
4. Although TelePresence signals traverse the Internet, users don’t have to type in IP addresses to make the calls. The system is as simple as dialling a phone handset.
“We want people to experience the meeting, not the technology,” Phil Graham, senior director of engineering for Cisco says. According to Cisco no training is required.

After this nice sales talk, let’s go a bit more technical
Cisco didn’t make cameras or video displays, two of the key links in the technical chain that comprises a video conferencing system; however it had gathered in depth expertise in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which would provide the knowledge to break down camera images, send them over a network and receive them on the other end.
But sending 1080p images (1,920 x 1,080 progressive scanning pixels) at 30 frames per second with low latency*), which the Cisco engineers had set as target, was an intimidating prospect. Without a 250-msec target, they reasoned, video conferencing sessions would be characterized by walkie-talkie-like communications, in which participants on both ends would be unable to speak simultaneously.
“With long latencies, you can’t interrupt,” Graham says. “You can’t interact. You can’t do all the things people do in a real meeting.”

Hardware and software engineers canvassed the technological landscape and learned that low latency 1080p HD was on the horizon: H.264, an emerging standard for video compression (also known as MPEG-4 Part 10), which enabled Cisco engineers to achieve higher video quality at a lower bit rate. That technology was augmented by the rapid emergence of 1080p large screen displays, enabling engineers to meet their goal of life-size images and new CMOS-based 1080p sensor technology. The new CMOS technology, an alternative to charge-coupled device (CCD) camera sensors, gave them the ability to more effectively collect and present 1080p images.

Moreover, the new sensors allowed Cisco engineers to present the 1080p data at 30 frames per second, a much higher frame rate than that of typical video conferencing systems, especially those on the desktop.

But still they were sitting with a monumental computing challenge in expecting the system to process all that imagery. In essence, signals from the 1080p sensor had to be transferred to video encoders, compressed, packed and transmitted over an IP network. On the receiver’s end, they had to be received, handed to a video decoder, decompressed and sent from processing hardware to the display, where it would be presented at 1080p.
The only answer was to build so-called “codec boxes” containing digital signal processor (DSP) arrays with on-board software algorithms. To handle the extraordinary amounts of data travelling back and forth, they endowed each codec box with 32 ADI Blackfin DSPs, each of which handles chunks of the large processing tasks, such as encoding. In all, a typical room-based TelePresence system uses three screens and more than a hundred DSPs.

But that was not all. To finish the product, they needed to design a room that would give participants the sense they were sharing a common area with other users, no matter how far away. They did that by using common colours and cutting meeting room tables in half so they appeared to continue into the screen and re-emerge on the other side.
To deal with lighting and colour issues, Cisco even called on famed movie cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, a Steven Spielberg cohort. Kaminski helped them change the colour palette from blue to a warmer brown and gave lighting tips in an effort to keep participants more comfortable.

And that resulted in an exceptional experience: “Most people are agape when they walk in,” says Jim Kittridge, senior vice president for Wachovia Corp. , the financial services company that has purchased several TelePresence systems. “They literally gasp; they can’t believe what they’re seeing.”

However amazing the TelePresence, Cisco isn’t alone in its creation of video conferencing systems. Hewlett Packard, Lifesize, Polycom, Teliris and others have jumped in with big, strong new products, thus reinvigorating the video conferencing space.

Industry analysts say broader success could depend, in part, on the creation of standard communication protocols that would enable Cisco’s TelePresence to talk to similar systems from such companies as Hewlett Packard and Polycom.

Cisco executives, however, are unflinchingly optimistic about the technology’s growth. Despite the product’s huge price tags ($299,000 for a TelePresence 3000 and $80,000 for a TelePresence 1000), engineers foresee it reaching homes within three years. Cisco CEO John Chambers already has one and the company expects TelePresence to find more at-home customers among big-company executives with a need to make calls around the world at all hours of the day.

*) latency = (computer science) the time it takes for a specific block of data on a data track to rotate around to the read/write head

This is an extract of an article from Design News, if you want to read the complete text click here