For about a century, affordable electrification has been based on economies of scale, with large generating plants producing hundreds or thousands of megawatts of power, But we are now in the early stages of an expansion of distributed generation, which is already making new, smaller-scale generation sources cost competitive with giant legacy power plants. How did we get here? While it certainly helps, the declining cost of renewables and gas-fired electricity is not all that’s spurring this change. Quite a few technological advances are coming together to make that possible. Among them are: advanced control systems; more compact, smarter, and efficient electrical inverters; and the ever-growing ability to extract actionable information from big data.
Anyone who wants to fly a drone (or model aircraft) weighing over 0.25 kilograms in the United States must register with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to receive a unique identification number. This number needs to be placed on the drone, but there is no requirement for it to broadcast signals to allow for remote identification. That might change in the future. It’s possible that drones may soon be required to broadcast an identifying code by radio. That code—a kind of electronic license plates for drones—would not include the name and address of the owner, but authorities would be able to use it to look that information up in a non-public database.
By printing sensor circuits on boring old disposable rubber gloves, researchers have converted them into handy, low-cost screening tools for chemical threats and toxic pollutants. Someday, security agents might swipe their gloved fingertip on a bag and quickly get an alert for traces of nerve agents and explosives, and the special gloves would be routinely used for food safety and environmental inspections.
Cochlear implants can restore hearing to individuals with some types of hearing loss. Retinal implants are now on the market to restore sight to the blind. But there are no commercially available prosthetics that restore a sense of touch to those who have lost a limb. Well, until now. A team at the University of Glasgow that previously developed a flexible ‘electronic skin’ capable of making sensitive pressure measurements, has figured out how to power their skin with sunlight. That renewable energy could be used to power an array of sensors to add feeling to an artificial limb,
If you’re still using the earbuds that came with your smartphone, it’s time to trade up. There’s been an explosion in earphone ingenuity, with many models offering stunning sound reproduction and remarkable value.