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Can HelioVolt Challenge First Solar?

HelioVolt has devised a thin-film manufacturing technology that saves on time and energy while controlling better for solar absorption

7 min read
Photo: HelioVolt
Photo: HelioVolt

Crystalline silicon dominates today’s photovoltaic (PV) industry, with panels being installed at high rates on rooftops and as solar farms. But the fast expansion of the silicon PV market has driven up the costs of materials in recent years, and manufacturing and installation procedures are inherently inefficient and expensive. Because of such limits, it’s been taken for granted in the industry that silicon will be but a passing phase and that wide adoption of solar electricity will depend on the development of thin-film PV materials, which are cheaper to make and apply.

Lately, it’s First Solar that has captured most of the headlines in second-generation PV, with a cadmium telluride thin film that the company says it can make for less than a dollar per watt. Because of First Solar’s breakthrough and other promising developments in both organic and inorganic PV materials, thin films could account for 31 percent of the solar market by 2013, double the 2008 share, according to the analysis firm iSuppli Corp., in El Segundo, Calif.

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Lab Revisits the Task of Putting Common Sense in AI

New nonprofit Basis hopes to model human reasoning to inform science and public policy

5 min read
ai hand and human hand touching pointer fingers
iStock

The field of artificial intelligence has embraced deep learning—in which algorithms find patterns in big data sets—after moving on from earlier systems that more explicitly modeled human reasoning. But deep learning has its flaws: AI models often show a lack of common sense, for example. A new nonprofit, Basis, hopes to build software tools that advance the earlier method of modeling human reasoning, and then apply that method toward pressing problems in scientific discovery and public policy.

To date, Basis has received a government grant and a donation of a few million dollars. Advisors include Rui Costa, a neuroscientist who heads the Allen Institute in Seattle, and Anthony Philippakis, the chief data officer of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In July, over tacos at the International Conference on Machine Intelligence, I spoke with Zenna Tavares, a Basis co-founder, and Sam Witty, a Basis research scientist, about human intelligence, problems with academia, and trash collection. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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This Idea Wasn't All Wet: The Sensing Water-Saving Shower Head Debuts

An engineer’s dinner-table invention is finally a consumer product

4 min read
A mounted and running showerhead that says oasense and has a blue light on it.
Oasense

For Evan Schneider, the family dinner table is a good place for invention. “I’m always, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this or that,’” he says, “and people would humor me.”

In 2012, with California in the midst of a severe drought, Schneider, then a mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University, once again tossed out a “cool idea.” He imagined a shower head that would sense when the person showering moved out from under the stream of water. The shower head would then automatically turn the water off, turning it back on again when the person moved back into range. With such a device, he thought, people could enjoy a long shower without wasting water.

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Exploring the Value of Power Modules

Learn how power modules can reduce power supply size, EMI, design time, and solution cost

1 min read
Texas Instruments

In this training series, we will discuss the high level of integration of DC/DC power modules and the significant implications that this has on power supply design.

Watch this free webinar now!

In addition to high power density and small solution size, modules can also simplify EMI mitigation and reduce power supply design time. And thanks to improved process and packaging technology, a power module may even provide all of these benefits with a lower overall solution cost as well.

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