Category Archives: Science and Technology

Sci-Tech: Lexus Hoverboard + Tesla Snakebot charger + Solving a General Fusion problem

Some misc. cool tech stories today:

A real hoverboard built with high-temperature superconductors and flying above a special track with magnets: Lexus maglev hoverboard: 20 minutes of magic in a skatepark – ExtremeTech

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A big advantage of an electric car is that you can top off the battery every night with a garage charger. Of course, that means you have to remember to plug it in every evening. Tesla Motors shows off a prototype robotic system to automatically connect a charger to a Tesla whenever it is parked in the garage:

Elon Musk on Twitter: “Tesla Snakebot autocharger prototype. Does seem kinda wrong :)”

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An engineer wins $20,000 in a challenge contest sponsored by General Fusion to solve the company’s problem of finding a way to seal the hammer and anvil system from the molten lead surrounding the cloud of plasma that will be compressed by the lead to produce nuclear fusion reactions : General Fusion Announces Winner of Crowdsourced Engineering Challenge – General Fusion

Here’s a video describing the General Fusion system, which Jeff Bezos and other notables have invested in:

Video: Growing better protein crystals in microgravity

Below is a NASA video and article about protein growth in microgravity. (Note that a Schering Plough protein crystal experiment carried out on Shuttle Columbia’s last flight led directly to a treatment for Hepatitis-C: Space KSC: I’m a Doctor, Not an Astronaut – Space KSC) :

ISS Benefits For Humanity: Hope Crystallizes

In one of many direct Earth applications of International Space Station research, the newest Benefits for Humanity video in the Benefits series highlights how high-quality crystals grown in microgravity lead to new therapeutics for disease. Learn how the investigation of protein crystals in space is helping to treat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), an incurable genetic disorder affecting the muscles with onset usually in early childhood and primarily in young males.

Research into a disease like DMD involves the study of the structure of associated proteins by crystallization, which helps researchers better understand protein function. This comprises making millions of copies of that protein and arranging them in three-dimensional rows. Crystals grown on Earth are impacted by gravity, which may affect the way the molecules align on the surface of the crystal. Researchers have discovered that growing crystals aboard the space station allows for slower growth and higher quality crystals.

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In microgravity, crystals grow more slowly, but the molecules have time to more perfectly align on the surface of the crystal which returns much better research data. Credits: NASA

Since 2003, scientists with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have conducted protein crystal growth investigations on the space station, including proteins associated with DMD. Having a better understanding of the protein’s shape enabled researchers to design a drug that fits specifically into a location on the protein associated with DMD. The research team estimates that the drug may be able to slow the progression of DMD by half.

“Studying this protein led to a huge discovery,” said Dr. Yoshihiro Urade, Ph.D., professor at the University of Tsukuba in Tsukuba, Japan. “What we’re talking about is potentially doubling the lifespan of many DMD patients, and it’s all because of research opportunities afforded to us by the International Space Station.”

With many other protein crystal growth studies occurring or planned aboard the space station, many thousands of other proteins’ structures could be determined. This is yet another way the orbiting laboratory is enabling research Off the Earth, For the Earth

Video: Catalin Alexandru Duru sets “hoverboard” distance record

This video has been out for a month or so but I just saw it. Don’t know if the flying platform will develop into a practical recreational system but it’s quite an impressive technical accomplishment regardless: Video: Watch incredible footage of farthest flight by a hoverboard record set by Canada’s Catalin Alexandru Duru – Guinness World Records

 

Sci-Tech: 24M develops lower cost Li-Ion battery making + Videos: Elon Musk talks about Tesla and Gigafactory

The MIT spinoff company 24M has unveiled a new approach to lithium battery manufacturing that it says can reduce the cost by a factor of two. The standard li-ion construction process involves coating the active materials onto long strips of an inert tape material that adds bulk and weight to the battery but does not contributed directly to energy storage. The 24M process gets rid of the tape using a new approach developed by Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang, who has been involved in previous battery ventures including A123. The energy and power density of the battery is thus increased. The new manufacturing system also eliminates a great many processing steps, so it reduces the manufacturing cost as well.

The company has been working in stealth mode for several years and this week made its public debut: 24M Introduces The Semisolid Lithium-Ion Battery: Company Emerges From Stealth With $50M In Private Capital And A Revolutionary New Technology That Will Slash Today’S Lithium-Ion Battery Costs By 50% – 24M.

Articles about 24M:

Tesla MotorsGigafactory under construction in northern Nevada is also intended to lower costs but through sheer economies of scale more than by new manufacturing or battery technology advances. The Tesla batteries are intended both for the company’s cars and for energy storage systems for the home (Powerwall) and utilities and industry.

Li-ion batteries have progressed in a steady but rather slow incremental pace despite periodic claims of big breakthroughs. Nevertheless, I expect Elon and others at Tesla must still have some concern that a new development like that of 24M or Sakti or whomever might make their giant battery factory obsolete before it can pay off the investment in it.

Here are a couple of recent videos in which Elon Musk talks about Tesla and the Gigafactory: