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Three Technologies for Harvesting Ambient Energy

Consumer devices will run longer by pulling power from the environment

3 min read
Three Technologies for Harvesting Ambient Energy
Pulse Powered: A piezoelectric harvester is shown attached to the surface of a bovine heart. The conformable design can harvest enough energy for a pacemaker.
Photo: University of Illinois College of Engineering

We are entering an era when scavenging tiny amounts of power from the environment can power small devices to do extraordinary tasks. The needs of the Internet of Things and the advent of lower-cost components are moving energy-harvesting systems from niche applications to broad-scale practicality.

This was the clear message of a conference sponsored by market research firm IDTechEx, held in Santa Clara, Calif., last November, where seven events took place at once. In addition to energy harvesting and storage, the topics covered were printed electronics, wearable technology, 3-D printing, supercapacitors, the Internet of Things, and graphene. These seemingly disparate fields are tightly linked; for example, as IDTechEx CEO Raghu Das pointed out, wearable devices were a strong driver for energy-harvesting technologies. Throughout the sessions and in the exhibit hall, other linkages were evident: Supercapacitors hold the potential to create highly efficient ways to store and release harvested energy, and 3-D printing plays a big role in creating prototypes and short-run custom production items.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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