Category Archives: Technology

Sustainability – There’s an App for That

Support for sustainability is growing across the world. More and more companies are bringing sustainable practices into their business, implementing sustainable policies for their employees, and offering sustainable options for customers. While businesses may make a variety sustainable changes, it is still up to us as consumers to make informed choices and levy our purchasing power knowledgeably. So how do we do that in this age of technology, especially when knowing your farmer or producer is not always an option? Is there a way to make sure that our choices will lead to a healthier earth?

Well, there’s an app for that.

Actually, there are many apps that can be used to make ethical choices when it comes to picking where we shop. Environmental Working Group created a food ratings database and app, which, while focused on nutrition, also rates products on issues like organic certification, animal welfare standards, and environmental contamination. There is also HowGood, an app that rates food products on 60 indicators of sustainability, and Good Guide, a tool that rates food and other products on safety, health, and ethics.

There are even regional apps, designed just for individuals in certain cities like GreenStar NYC app, which can be used by both New York city consumers and businesses. Using the app, New Yorkers can find geotagged GreenStar Certified businesses, locally made green products, women- and minority-owned businesses, and a citywide green events calendar. The list hardly ends here; there is also Rippl, Joulebug, IRecycle, PaperKarma, and so on. In fact, sustainability apps are being created increasingly more often for reasons ranging from making smart purchases to encouraging good recycling habits.

The impact of these apps is yet to be seen; will they just be a tech fad, or a truly useful tool for consumers? Only use of the apps will answer that.

 

RRAM, 1TB in a Postage Stamp

Currently, only high-end smartphones contain 3GB of memory. Most phones do not have expandable memory, and if you use your phone often, you’re probably familiar with the “low memory error” warning. Scientists at Rice University are working on a form of RRAM (resistive RAM) that will make phone memory today look like floppy disks of the past.

Johannes Marliem

The RRAM will have a simple manufacturing process that will make it widely available for use in a wide range of electronic devices. It will be composed of porous silicon oxide filled with metals like gold or platinum. It requires less power, lasts longer, and can withstand high heat; it will be like having a state-of-the-art solid state drive (SSD) for portable electronic devices.

This technology, developed by Crossbar, will make its debut later this year in appliances and cars. While its first appearance on the market is not as revolutionary as its use in a phone or tablet will be, it gives scientists time to work out kinks and ensure the chip works to its full potential. Crossbar is currently in talks with a manufacturer, meaning that we could see these new, easy-to-make, powerful RAM chips in our devices very soon.

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Printing the Future

Recently, 3-D printers have become popular for their ability to create unique objects like the pieces for Project Ara smartphones and food at upscale restaurants. With the help of backers from around the world, a new kind of printer may soon be available to make fully functional circuit boards.

Johannes Marliem

Currently, circuit boards are costly, time-consuming, and wasteful in their production. The crowd-funded Squink printer hopes to change this by allowing those who are serious about developing a device to sell to create a mock-up in their own home. While this seems similar to other 3-D printers on the market, there’s more to the Squink that sets it apart. Not only will it print functional circuit boards using conductive ink and glue, but the machine will assemble the printed parts by aligning, rotating, and placing them onto the conductive glue and heat-curing the finished circuit board.

The team of five first worked on their proof of concept a little over a year ago at a prototyping competition at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Since then, their idea, unique skillsets, and history working in robotics, computer engineering, and electrical engineering led to the creation of the Squink printer and a streamlined design, build, and marketing process. 3-D printing has revolutionized the way we now approach small-scale manufacturing, and with the addition of the Squink, soon we could all have a “personal electronic circuit factory”.

To learn more about Squink, check out the company’s website here.

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New Matter, New Opportunities

A new technological age began when MakerBot popularized the 3-D printer. Demand continues to be high for the revolutionary devices, yet, they are not accessible to many businesses, let alone households or individuals. What if 3-D printing was available to the masses, with the same functionality, at a lower price? Enter New Matter, backed by Idealab and Frog Design, that plans to do just that.

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The brainchild of New Matter cofounder Stephen Schell is a 16x12x15 inch printer with a suite of companion apps to make 3-D printing even more useful. Schell has been working in the field for 10 years, starting with business applications of the technology, and now he is bringing his ideas and experience to individual consumers. The wild idea of New Matter is to enable the sharing of 3-D prints like text messages with low cost, accessibility, and simple software culminating in the next generation of 3-D printers: the MOD-t.

The collaboration between Frog Design (the company that works with Apple, Microsoft, GE, and Sony, to name a few) and New Matter has yielded amazing results. They’ve put together an online store and apps that allow users to download and share 3-D prints, straight from app to printer over wi-fi. The printer is reasonably priced, small, and looks good enough to put next to your iMac on your desk. Because the MOD-t is the first of its kind, there will be kinks, limitations, and general confusion; however, New Matter is opening the door to connected, accessible 3-D printing for everyone.

What do you think? For under $200, would you support New Matter’s endeavor?
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A New Kind of Wearable Tech That You Won’t Forget When You Leave in the Morning

Wearable technology is great because it connects you to everything you need while being discreet, lightweight, and portable. The downside is that your fitness tracker, watch, or glasses are easily forgotten when they are so small and seamlessly integrated into your daily life. One startup company is looking for a way to ensure that you don’t go about your day without your smart accessories. OMsignal is working on a few shirts that sense heart rate, breathing levels, and movement via electrodes sewn into the fabric. The data is gathered and presented in an iPhone app that will also track calories burned and steps taken. Wearable technology aims to add a small gadget to your outfit to add functionality to your normal attire, but soon, your outfit itself could make your Fitbit obsolete.

OMsignal’s shirt and gadget combination costs almost $100 more than a Pebble smartwatch now, but they hope clothing manufacturers will pick up the technology and integrate it into their own clothes. The shirts also more accurately capture the biological data from your workout since the sensors are closer to your heart and lungs than a wristband. Wearable technology is still very much in its early stages, and like all new gadgets, it has some kinks that still need to be worked out. I’m excited about this new development in technology and can’t wait to see where OMsignal, and so many other startups go with it.

Learn more about OMsignal here and let me know what you think in the comments!

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The Future of Green Energy

As technological advances are made at increasing speed, the need for clean, cost-effective, consistent, and efficient energy is becoming imperative to fuel the future. Sustainable energy sources now need extremely specific locations, times, and environments in order to work, and engineers are still facing challenges regarding storing and transporting the energy produced. One company has created a solution to the confining aspects of green energy, but only in regions that are warm year-round. While location is still a restricting factor in the efficacy of this new green energy production, Solar Wind Energy, Inc. has laid the foundation for a “bold yet brilliant” sustainable future.

Solar Wind Energy, Inc. has found an innovative way to surpass the current limits on alternative energy production while fostering energy independence: the Solar Wind Energy Tower. The Tower combines the best aspects of both solar and wind technology to harness the natural power of downdrafts, a clean, renewable resource that will provide a myriad of benefits for the corporations and countries that invest. The greatest benefit of this new alternative energy source is that it can operate all day, every day of the year, unlike wind or solar power on their own.

The first Solar Wind Energy Tower will be built in San Luis, Arizona and will be able to produce 1,250 megawatts an hour on a hot summer day. It will be functional in 2018, and hopefully by that time, others in hot climates will experiment with the revolutionary technology too. The group of scientists, business professionals, engineers, and industry consultants behind this project hope to implement the Tower in places like the southern United States, Africa, the Middle East, and other locations where the weather is hot and energy independence is a goal. Check out the video below to learn more about how the Solar Wind Energy Tower works and why it may be the green energy of the future.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMMlmqohOJs

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Commercial Space Travel

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Recently, Virgin Galactic was cleared by the U.S. government to begin commercial space flights. For $250,000 people can buy a ticket to space. The first flights will take place this year and will launch from Spaceport in New Mexico where they will bring people to the upper edges of the atmosphere.

Many children grow up wanting to become astronauts, and while many never get that opportunity, Sir Richard Branson, a famous entrepreneur, is making space flight a dream come true for them.

I can only imagine the breathtaking sites passengers will see on these flights. While many won’t be able to afford this kind of trip, I hope this will spur more innovation that allows the masses to reach outer space. Here’s to hoping the inaugural flights go well!

Check out more pictures of Virgin Galactic’s spaceship here.

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We’re Not the Only Species Who Feels Bad about Eating That

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The Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota recently found that our brains are a lot more similar to those of mice than we thought. Regret is a cognitive behavior that humans express when they feel sorry about something they have done. Until recently, we believed that only humans felt that emotion. Scientists at the University of Minnesota have found some proof that rats, too, feel regret, evidenced by brain activity similar to humans’. When people realize that they have made a mistake and feel badly, the orbitofrontal cortex region of the brain is active. Because rats’ brains behaved the same way during the studies and tests, researchers were able to ascertain that rats were feeling regret like we do. This finding has undoubtedly left scientists worldwide wondering what other “human” characteristics we share with the rest of the animal kingdom, and will spur years of fascinating research and scientific growth.

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Printing Food

Where does technology, food, and sustainability meet?

When you print your food.

That is right, using 3-D printing technology printing edible meals has jumped from the world of the “Jetsons” to our plates. 3-D printing has started a revolution over the past few years, it can be used to make anything from musical instruments to innovative prosthetics. It is changing how we assemble the objects in our world and bringing about an age where less and less is impossible. So how will this change food? Apparently a lot.

The particular 3-D printer that can generate meals, called Foodini, was unveiled in April. It will be available for home and professional kitchen use within the year (for $1,300).  To be honest it actually seems very convenient–even nostalgically futuristic. Want a cookie? Print it. Can’t get to the local pizza shop before it closes? Print yourself a slice.

So what does this technology mean for our world as a whole? Will the 3-D food printer usher in an age of food that doesn’t use up environmental resources? The possibilities point to yes. Given a chance there seems that there is a way to use this technology to help create a sustainable food market. “Imagine being able to grow, cook or prepare foods without the negative industrial impact – from fertilisers to packaging. The production chain for food would nearly be eliminated,” says Homaro Cantu, a chef who has used 3-D printers for his sushi production. Conventional production of course will not disappear overnight, but it does raise the idea of a new future for food production, packaging, and politics which has not changed much in a long time.

To add another question, what will happen as 3-D printers are introduced to a commercial market? We’ll just have to sit back and see.

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Ever-Changing Home Technology

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I read a story recently in the St. Paul Pioneer Press describing how a man was alerted via phone that his home’s furnace was not functioning properly, and it was minus 14 degrees outside at the time. Thanks to an internet-connected temperature sensor on his thermostat, the man was able to replace the batteries in thermostat and restart his furnace in a timely manner.  Think of the damage that could have been done. Pipes could have burst leading to severe water damage in the home.

A Minneapolis tech startup is at the forefront of this technology. SmartThings made the sensor that detected the man’s furnace not working properly. It never ceases to amaze me that so many Minnesota-based companies are innovators in the technological world. Just another great reason to love this state.

Technology is evolving so rapidly, and in the process is making our everyday lives much easier. We are able to control the environments of our homes at the convenience of our fingertips using smart phones. We can lock our doors, open our garages, set the room temperature, turn on the lights and more all with the press of a button on our phones.

I wonder when the first all “smart home” will be built, if it hasn’t already.

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