5 Things You Missed This Week at IEEE Spectrum: Solar DC Microgrids, Disposable Paper Drones, and More

1. Solar DC Microgrids Might Solve India’s Power Woes

In India, roughly one-fifth of the population (a quarter of a billion people) has no access to electricity. In many parts of the country, even middle-income households still find themselves held hostage to frequent power cuts that can last anywhere from a few hours a day to most of the day. According to Ashok Jhunjhunwala, an electrical engineering professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, in Chennai, the creeping pace at which electrification is happening there is because the Indian government has taken a traditional approach to electrification. He insists that instead of making heavy investments in building up generation, transmission, and distribution, it would be more affordable, more efficient, and more expeditious to deploy solar direct-current microgrids. For homes that are not on the grid, a microgrid can serve as the sole source of electricity. For connected households, the microgrid acts as a backup power supply.


2. What Do Employers Really Think About Online Degrees?

When asked which types of colleges they preferred to hire from, employers were clear about one thing: They considered online colleges inferior to every type of on-campus college. But that may soon change. “We’re in an era of educational transition,” says Amy Lui Abel, managing director of human capital at The Conference Board, a business consulting firm. “Society has not quite accepted the legitimacy of virtual learning. There is still a lot of suspicion. But over the longer term, when a younger generation fills positions at companies, they will be more receptive, unlike older managers who have little familiarity with digital education.”


3. Swarms of Disposable Drones Will Make Critical Deliveries and Then Vanish

We’ve all made paper airplanes. A couple of well-placed folds, and you’ve got a glider that can gracefully sail down a long corridor. Now the professionals are preparing to show us how it’s done. The U.S. government is betting that paper planes are the solution to getting deliveries of food and medical supplies to rural areas and disaster zones. Otherlab, the San Francisco R&D firm developing paper drones with Defense Department funding, is being called the Ikea of drones. Otherlab’s APSARA drone “comes as a flat-pack thing with a bunch of sheets of cardboard that’s been laser cut and scored, and you can fold it up [to assemble it] when you’re ready to go,” says an Otherlab engineer. Once it arrives and the payload is recovered, it’ll just degrade and disappear.


4. Heat-Sensitive Skin for Prosthetic Limbs

Artificial skin as heat-sensitive as pit vipers’ infrared-sensing organs—the most sensitive heat detectors in nature—could one day help prosthetics and robot limbs detect subtle changes in temperature, a new study finds.


5. Four IEEE Fellows Share Queen Elizabeth Prize for Digital Cameras

Inventors of the CCD, the pinned photodiode, and the CMOS imager honored with the £1 million prize.


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