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Christie Nicholson

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by Christie Nicholson  |  30 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

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There are at least two big challenges with creating wearable technology. The first is to actually design something that people will want to buy and use, and the second is to keep the device in juice. Here we're going to look at the second.

The battery design and function of a wearable device is anything but trivial. We need to develop batteries that are flexible, thin, long-lasting and durable...a huge set of requirements that is very difficult to achieve. But one startup, Imprint Energy, thinks it's got a leg up with a printable, durable battery.

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Posted by Christie Nicholson  |  23 Jul 2014  |  Comments (8)

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In 2007, a student at the University of Tokyo brought a lump of a grey, sparkly mineral to his professor Tsutomu Miyasaka, with the hope that this material might have potential to make cheap and efficient solar cells. But it only converted 4 percent of the sun energy to electricity. Not that remarkable.

Now, however, things have changed. Seven years later the unremarkable lump of rock called perovskite is beating out most solar cells on the market, getting 20 percent efficiency. The progress has sped up because researchers around the world saw the potential in this mineral.

While the sun is pretty much a limitless source of energy for all of us, the cost to capture it remains the challenge. The typical residential solar roof might get about 15 percent efficiency in sunlight and provides electricity at 50 cents/watt. This is twice the cost of coal.

So it's got to get cheaper in order to pull ahead as our number one energy source. Right now the top-performing cells, made of gallium arsenide get a maximum efficiency of about 30 percent but are prohibitively expensive.

The cheaper options like copper indium gallium selenide (a flexible material) or cadmium telluride (as cheap as silicon) get only about 20 percent efficiency.

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Posted by Christie Nicholson  |  16 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

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If I had to guess, I'd say that a smooth surface is better than a rough one for cutting wind resistance. And I'd be wrong. There's a reason golf balls have dimples: The dimples decrease the drag caused by wind, by a significant amount. In the middle ages Dutch men used to hit spherical pebbles with a stick to play what became golf. Later in the 1600s they started using wooden balls. And it was in the late 1800s when players noticed that that beaten up balls went further than the smoother, newer versions.

Now researchers have created a material that—when triggered by wind—can automatically morph into a dimpled surface similar to that of a golf ball. It sort of also resembles pruning of finger tips after soaking in water (in fact, the inspiration for this new material came from dried prunes.) See the video below from the MIT team led by Pedro Reis, who developed the "Smorph" (Smart Morphable Surface).

The Smorph operates on fairly basic mechanics. In fact, the useful function comes from a common mechanical failure that most engineers need to prevent at all costs: Buckling. The prototype is a hollow silicon ball covered in a thin and stiff layer of polystyrene. When the pressure lowers within the hollow ball the exterior automatically shrinks, and this creates the dimples. The key thing is to have a pattern of dimples—and not something random.

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Posted by Christie Nicholson  |   9 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

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What's the most expensive color?

Prior to the 19th Century, Lapis Lazuli blue was a very rare color in the art world. And still today it's not used often—instead modern painters might use an ultramarine—because Lapis Lazuli was (and still is) considered to be the most expensive pigment ever made. It's made from grinding up Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stones. Today you might be able to grab five grams for about $360 in Manhattan. But, during the Renaissance the wealthy art patrons wanted the rich almost neon-like blue in religious paintings. See the "Virgin in Prayer" (1640) above.

The history of color in art is often overlooked in the typical audio tours of art exhibits, but at the National Gallery in London a new show, Making Colour, focuses on the chemistry and color in art.

Some colors were quite dangerous, in fact poisonous. In order to make one flower brilliant orange in the painting "Still Life with Bouquet of Flowers and Plums" below, Rachel Ruysch used realgar, aka ruby sulfur. But realgar is an arsenic sulfide, and when made into a powder it's quite toxic.

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Posted by Christie Nicholson  |   2 Jul 2014  |  Comments (3)

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Phones are continually getting smaller—the paper-clip sized phone that Derek uses in Zoolander was more than a joke, it was prescient.

But phone size and design are finally hitting a wall—the technology required simply can't get much smaller. (Well, at least until the quantum computer becomes a common reality.) However, Apple is forging a way to make the "hearing" part of a phone nearly invisible. How? By linking up with hearing aids.

Apple developed the Bluetooth protocol for hearing aids last year and this allows streaming audio and data delivered to the hearing aid. Here is the initial benefit for those already using hearing aids: ReSound and Starkey—makers of hearing aids—are using the iPhone as a platform that allows users to have some kind of an interface for the protheses.

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