Charge your phone while taking a stroll

The device converts heat normally lost through walking into enough electricity to power a light bulb and charge most portable devices.

(Credit: InStep NanoPower)


It’s not the first concept we’ve heard of that uses human motion to charge our batteries, but it could be far more efficient than anything up to now.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison say that one day soon, any portable device–including the meatiest smartphones–could be charged by simply taking a stroll.

“Humans, generally speaking, are very powerful energy-producing machines,” Tom Krupenkin, a UW-Madison associate professor of mechanical engineering, said yesterday in a statement. “While sprinting, a person can produce as much as a kilowatt of power.”

Just a fraction of that energy could easily power not only phones, but also laptops, flashlights and a host of other portable devices. Krupenkin and senior scientist J. Ashley Taylor propose harvesting that power via a novel technology dubbed “reverse electrowetting,” which relies on a phenomenon discovered by the researchers and detailed in the journal Nature Communications.

Reverse electrowetting, in layman’s terms, is a process by which the energy of moving liquid is converted into electricity. When embedded in footwear, the researchers believe it could convert the energy generated through walking–which is normally lost as heat–into as much as 20 watts of electricity. That’s enough to light up a compact fluorescent bulb and hundreds of times more power than motion-powered piezo-electric systems can harvest.

The techology isn’t available for purchase yet, but Krupenkin and Taylor are looking to change that. They’ve created a company, InStep NanoPower, in hopes of taking it commercial. They envision a number of possible applications beyond just “walk and charge,” such as large-scale use by military forces, in developing countries, or other places where access to electricity is not ubiquitous. Additionally, they see potential for an always-on Wi-Fi hot spot embedded in footwear that acts as a wireless middleman to connect devices to a network. A battery embedded in the footwear and charged by the technology would keep the hot spot active while at rest. The researchers say this approach would also dramatically reduce power consumption by wireless devices.

“You cut the power requirements of your cell phone dramatically by doing this,” said Krupenkin. “Your cell phone battery will last 10 times longer.”

Clearly the technology has the potential to be a big winner for consumers and the environment, but perhaps the biggest winner of all is Michael Flatley, whose “Riverdance” show can now be brought back to help power cities around the world.




Audi building hybrid A8 for 2012

Audi A8 hybrid

Audi is building a hybrid version of its A8 flagship luxury sedan.

(Credit: Audi)


The ultimate example of having your cake and eating it too is the A8 hybrid that Audi announced it will begin building in 2012. Audi’s flagship luxury sedan boasts a Bang & Olufsen audio system and Google Earth integration into the navigation system. And with its hybrid system, it also earns 44 mpg under the European test cycle.


Audi A8 hybridThe instrument cluster will be one of the few hints of the A8’s hybrid system.(Credit: Audi)


The hybrid version of the A8 will use Audi’s direct-injection turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder, which in this application produces 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Audi replaces the torque converter in the eight-speed automatic transmission with a 53-horsepower electric motor, which can drive the car by itself for almost 2 miles at 37 mph.

Total system output is 242 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque, which gets the hybrid A8 to 62 mph in 7.7 seconds. An 81-pound lithium ion battery, with an output of 40 kilowatts, sits in the trunk. Expect this battery to intrude on trunk space.

The A8 hybrid has not been confirmed for the U.S., and the European test cycle tends to produce higher fuel-economy figures than the U.S. EPA city and highway testing procedures. If Audi brings the A8 hybrid to the U.S., its rated fuel economy may drop into the 30s.

As part of the Volkswagen Group, Audi can draw on hybrid technology previously used in the Volkswagen Touareg hybrid. For that vehicle, Volkswagen used a supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, creating a hybrid drive system focused more on performance than fuel economy. It is possible that a U.S. A8 hybrid would use this more powerful system.












GM teams with LG to develop electric vehicles

GM said its second range-extended electric vehicle will be the Cadillac ELR.

(Credit: GM)

General Motors and South Korean conglomerate LG today announced a partnership to jointly develop electric vehicles for sale in different countries.

LG supplies lithium ion battery cells and battery packs for the Chevrolet Volt and the European edition of the Volt, called the Opel Ampera. Although details in today’s press release were scant, GM said it intends to expand that battery supply relationship to engineer new electric vehicles.

“Many solutions for tomorrow’s transportation needs may be available more quickly by building on our partnership strategy,” said GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky in a statement. “Consumers benefit by getting the latest fuel-saving technology faster if we work with the best suppliers and we save time and money in the development process.”

Engineers from the two companies will jointly work on components of electric vehicles, including “vehicle structures and architectures,” they said.

The partnership between GM and LG, which has business interest ranging from electronics to chemicals, comes a few days after competitors Ford and Toyota announced a joint technology development program. Ford and Toyota said they will engineer a new rear-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain for light-duty trucks and SUVs, an effort to share costs.

Automakers which sell in the U.S. are under pressure to advance fuel efficient technologies after an agreement to significantly raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards was announced last month. Most of the fuel efficiency gains will be done through improvements to internal combustion and diesel engines, but some analysts expect that automakers will need some degree of electrification to meet the U.S. standards.

In addition to the Chevy Volt and Opel Ampera, GM will develop a Cadillac coupe, the ELR, which will use the same extended-range electric powertrain. Those cars initially run on electric power and, on longer rides, the gas engine kicks in to act as generator to sustain the battery charge. GM also worked with LG to make a demonstration fleet of all-electric Chevy Cruze sedans.

In a briefing today, Micky Bly, GM’s executive director of electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries, said that the two companies will collaborate on multiple vehicles and that GM will explore different forms of electrification, including hybrids, all-electric powertrains, and microhybrids. He declined to project when a first product from the collaboration will come to market.

GM will seek to work with LG in various areas, including components such as motors, air conditioners, and in-car telematics, and benefit from LG’s rapid consumer electronics-speed research and development, he said.

Tablet Devices May Be The Next Buzz

Dell Tablet ConceptMost people call them as “tablets” or “slates”. What it looks like essentially is a laptop display without the keyboard. The touch screen display itself contains everything needed to navigate through the device. This is what the biggest gadget manufacturers seem to be going crazy about recently.

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