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Nano-Enabled Autonomous Robot Offered for Cleaning Oil Spills

A technological solution offered for oil spills but will it get developed?

1 min read

When the Gulf oil spill hit the news last Spring, I wondered how long it would take for people to turn to nanotechnology for a solution, and whether it could offer one at all.

It seems attempts to use a nanoparticle-based dispersant on the problem caused more controversy than offered a solution.

I was left with the idea that I shared in my comments to the post: “If you want technology to do something in particular, you had better start spending some time and money in getting it to work. If not, you will be left in the situation we are in now where nanotechnology's impact could be somewhere between minimal to none at all.”

While I am not aware of the broader technological work that is now underway to combat oil spills, I have seen an interesting technology out of MIT that uses an autonomous robot equipped with a “thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil.”

According to Francesco Stellacci, a Visiting Professor at MIT, the nano-enabled fabric can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. The material also can be heated up to eliminate the oil from it and then reused.

The system would work by employing a swarm of these oil-capturing robots (thus the name, “Seaswarm”) for cleaning up oil spills. The MIT researchers estimate that 5,000 of these robots working autonomously around the clock for a month could clean up an oil spill the size of the one in the Gulf.

So, the technology is there in prototype. The question now becomes whether an oil company will spend the money to develop it into a real solution. We’ll see. The video below offers more detail on the technology.


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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.


If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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