Light Friday: Batteries that Bend and Fold
Credit: Keon Jae Lee/KAIST
Credit: Keon Jae Lee/KAIST

Plus: Wet Dog-Inspired Robots, Virtual Touch Technology and 80 Years of LEGO History.

Introducing the Flexible Battery

Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed malleable lithium ion batteries (LIBs) that retain energy even when twisted or bent, an advance that could mean a major shift in the consumer tech market — imagine bendable smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

“The advent of a high-performance flexible thin film battery will accelerate the development of next-generation fully flexible electronic systems in combination with existing flexible components such as display, memory and LED,” according to an announcement from the institute.

The flexible LIBs are structured with high-density inorganic thin films, but their performance is not yet suitable for making flexible consumer electronics. In the meantime, the research team is in the process of working on a laser lift-off technology to enable the mass production of the batteries and to enhance their charge density.

During their research, scientists demonstrated how a bendable LIB can be integrated with a flexible light-emitting diode (LED) to create an “all-in-one flexible electronic system.”

Watch the flexible battery in action:

Wet Dogs Inspire Better Robots

We’ve seen fish robots, butterfly robots, inchworm robots and more, as scientists attempt to recreate animal locomotion or behavior to create service robots better able to navigate the real world. It’s known as biomimicry, the process of designing technology inspired by nature. Recently, a group of engineers at Georgia Tech studied furry mammals like dogs, pigs and mice to analyze the way they keep dry to develop a better self-drying method for robots.

The engineers discovered that wet dogs are capable of shaking off 70 percent of the water in their fur in just a matter of seconds. And the bigger the animal, the less shaking required: a big dog might shake in the range of 4-6 times per second, while a small mouse shakes about 20-30 times per second. Some of these animals shake so vigorously, they generate centrifugal forces 10-70 times that of gravity.

“We think this has been evolving over millions of years of time to become so good,” researcher David Hu told Live Science. “Imagine if you could come out of the shower and, instead of using a towel, you could just press a button and in one-thirtieth of a second you’re 70 percent dry.”

As scientists send more autonomous robots into space or human-inaccessible areas, a self-drying (or self-dusting) robot could be vastly helpful. Don’t get too giddy over the idea of a “Rover rover” on Mars, though.

“I don’t think we’re going to make a Mars rover in the shape of a dog or anything like that,” Hu added.

Take a look at the group’s video here:

Disney’s Virtual Touch Technology

Virtual reality has just leapt from science fiction into the real world, as a new wearable technology system generates tactile sensations from nearly any physical object, allowing users to modify the ways things feel in the real world — all without wearing special gloves or force-feedback devices.

Researchers from Disney developed the technology, known as REVEL, which creates an imperceptible oscillating electrostatic field across a user’s skin. When the user touches an object equipped with an electrode, the electrical potential difference between the two fields produces an electrostatic attraction. By changing the amplitude and frequency of that signal, REVEL can change the user’s tactile response to an object – such as giving something a sandy texture, a smooth, glassy feel, or the sensation of geometrical patterns like grooves or bumps.

“The REVEL device can coordinate tactile sensations with images on almost any surface, including walls and tables, providing they have a conductive element. Paint on a wall, for example, could include copper emulsion to make it conductive,” MIT’s Technology Review notes. “Users do not have to be directly connected to the REVEL input via electrodes, because the weak signals sent from the REVEL device, which could be embedded in a chair, a shoe, or the casing of a touch screen, can still pass safely into the user’s body.”

Instead of making objects or devices simulate tactile changes, Disney’s system alters human perception. Possible applications include guides for the blind and virtual augmentation of films and images.

Here’s a video showing how it works:

The History of LEGO

Everyone’s favorite building block has had quite a long and storied history. To commemorate LEGO’s 80th anniversary, the company has released a video highlighting the LEGO brick’s journey from its origins in Denmark in the 1930s to its growth into one of the world’s largest toy companies, present in more than 130 countries.

“‘The Lego Story,’ created by Danish CG studio Lani Pixels, chronicles how the company has managed to survive factories being burned to the ground, economic downturns and personal losses, as well as touching on lighthearted anecdotes of why the tubing in a Lego brick was created and the birth of Legoland – all narrated by someone as close to the story as one can get: Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, grandson of Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen and former CEO,” Fast Company’s Co.Create blog explains.



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