This Biofuel Cell Harvests Energy From Your Sweat

Researchers from l’Université Grenoble Alpes and the University of San Diego recently developed and patented a flexible device that’s able to produce electrical energy from human sweat. The lactate/O2 biofuel cell has been demonstrated to light an LED, leading to further development in the area of harvesting energy through wearables.

[via Advanced Functional Materials]
The research was published in Advanced Functional Materials on September 25, 2019. The potential use cases for this type of biofuel cell within the wearables space include medical and athletic monitoring. By using biofuels present in human fluids, the devices can rely on an efficient energy source that easily integrated with the human body.

Scientists have developed a flexible conductive material made up of carbon nanotubes, cross-linked polymers, and enzymes connected to each and printed through screen-printing. This type of composite is known as a buckypaper, and uses the carbon nanotubes as the electrode material.

The lactate oxidase works as the anode and the bilirubin oxidase (from the yellowish compound found in blood) as the cathode. Given the theoretical high power density of lactate, this technology has the potential to produce even more power than its current power generation of 450 µW.

[via Advanced Functional Materials]
The cell follows deformations in the skin and produces electrical energy through oxygen reduction and oxidation of the lactate in perspiration. A boost converter is used to increase the voltage to continuously power an LED. The biofuel cells currently delivered 0.74V of open circuit voltage. As measurements for power generation had to be taken with the biofuel cell against human skin, the device has shown to be productive even when stretched and compressed.

At the moment, the biggest cost for production is the price of the enzymes that transform the compounds in sweat. Beyond cost considerations, the researchers also need to look at ways to increase the voltage in order to power larger portable devices.

With all the exciting research surrounding wearable technology right now, hopefully we’ll be hearing about further developments and applications from this research group soon!

[Thanks to Qes for the tip!]

Acoustic Lenses Show Sound Can Be Focused Like Light

Acoustic lenses are remarkable devices that just got cooler. A recent presentation at SIGGRAPH 2019 showed that with the help of 3D printing, it is possible to build the acoustic equivalent of optical devices. That is to say, configurations that redirect or focus sound waves. One fascinating demonstration worked like an acoustic prism, able to send different notes from a simple melody in different directions. Another was a device that dynamically varied the distance between two lenses in order to focus sound onto a moving target. In both cases, the sounds originate from an ordinary speaker and are shaped by passing through the acoustic lens or lenses, which are entirely passive devices.

Researchers from the University of Sussex used 3D printing for a modular approach to acoustic lens design. 16 different pre-printed “bricks” (shown here) can be assembled in various combinations to get different results. There are limitations, however. The demonstration lenses only work in a narrow bandwidth, meaning that the sound they work with is limited to about an octave at best. That’s enough for a simple melody, but not nearly enough to cover a human’s full audible range. Download the PDF for a quick read about the details, it’s only two pages but loaded with enough to whet your appetite to know more.

Directional sound can be done in other ways as well, such as using an array of ultrasonic emitters to create a coherent beam of sound. Ultrasonic emitters can even levitate lightweight objects. Ain’t sound neat?

Yo Dawg, I Heard You Like FPGAs

When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails. And if your goal is to emulate the behavior of an FPGA but your only tools are FPGAs, then your nail-and-hammer issue starts getting a little bit interesting. That’s at least what a group of students at Cornell recently found when learning about the Xilinx FPGA used by a researcher in the 1990s by programming its functionality into another FPGA.

Using outdated hardware to recreate a technical paper from decades ago might be possible, but an easier solution was simply to emulate the Xilinx in a more modern FPGA, the Cyclone V FPGA from Terasic. This allows much easier manipulation of I/O as well as reducing the hassle required to reprogram the device. Once all of that was set up, it was much simpler to perform the desired task originally set up in that 90s paper: using evolutionary algorithms to discriminate between different inputs.

While we will leave the investigation into the algorithms and the I/O used in this project as an academic exercise for the reader, this does serve as a good reminder that we don’t always have to have the exact hardware on hand to get the job done. Old computers can be duplicated on less expensive, more modern equipment, and of course video games from days of yore are a snap to play on other hardware now too.

Thanks to [Bruce Land] for the tip!

Color-Tunable LEDs Open Up Possibilities Of Configurable Semiconductors

The invention of the blue LED was groundbreaking enough to warrant a Nobel prize. For the last decade, researchers have been trying to take the technology to the next level by controlling the color of emission while the device is in operation. In a new research paper, by the guys over Osaka University, Lehigh University, the University of Amsterdam and West Chester University have presented a GaN LEDs that can be tuned to emit different colors from the same substrate.

GaN or Gallium nitride is a wide band-gap semiconductor that has been employed in the manufacturing of FETs that are known to have higher power density due to its high thermal capacity while increasing efficiency. In the the case of the tunable LED, the key has been the doping with Europium for creating energy bands. When an electron jumps from a higher band to a lower band, it emits energy in the form of light and the wavelength or color depends on the gap of energy jumped as per Plank-Einstein equation.

By controlling the current density and duty cycle, the energy jumps can be controller thereby controlling the color being emitted. This is important since it opens up the possibility of control of LEDs post production. External controllers could be used with the same substrates i.e. same LEDs to make a lamp of different intensity as well as color without needing different doping for R,G and B emissions. The reduction in cost as well as size could be phenomenal and could pave the way for similar semiconductor research.

We have covered the details of the LED in the past along with some fundamentals on the control techniques. We are hoping for some high speed color accurate displays in the future that don’t break the bank on our next gaming build.

Thanks for the tip [Qes]

No, Your 3D Printer Doesn’t Have A Fingerprint

Hackers and makers see the desktop 3D printer as something close to a dream come true, a device that enables automated small-scale manufacturing for a few hundred dollars. But it’s not unreasonable to say that most of us are idealists; we see the rise of 3D printing as a positive development because we have positive intentions for the technology. But what of those who would use 3D printers to produce objects of more questionable intent?

We’ve already seen 3D printed credit card skimmers in the wild, and if you have a clear enough picture of a key its been demonstrated that you can print a functional copy. Following this logic, it’s reasonable to conclude that the forensic identification of 3D printed objects could one day become a valuable tool for law enforcement. If a printed credit card skimmer is recovered by authorities, being able to tell how and when it was printed could provide valuable clues as to who put it there.

This precise line of thinking is how the paper “PrinTracker: Fingerprinting 3D Printers using Commodity Scanners” (PDF link) came to be. This research, led by the University at Buffalo, aims to develop a system which would allow investigators to scan a 3D printed object recovered from a crime scene and identify which printer was used to produce it. The document claims that microscopic inconsistencies in the object are distinctive enough that they’re analogous to the human fingerprint.

But like many of you, I had considerable doubts about this proposal when it was recently featured here on Hackaday. Those of us who use 3D printers on a regular basis know how many variables are involved in getting consistent prints, and how introducing even the smallest change can have a huge impact on the final product. The idea that a visual inspection could make any useful identification with all of these parameters in play was exceptionally difficult to believe.

In light of my own doubts, and some of the excellent points brought up by reader comments, I thought a closer examination of the PrinTracker concept was in order. How exactly is this identification system supposed to work? How well does it adapt to the highly dynamic nature of 3D printing? But perhaps most importantly, could these techniques really be trusted in a criminal investigation?

Continue reading “No, Your 3D Printer Doesn’t Have A Fingerprint”

Soft Rotating Pneumatic Actuators

When we think of pneumatic actuators, we typically consider the standard varieties of pneumatic cylinder, capable of linear motion. These can be referred to as “hard” actuators, made of rigid components and capable of great accuracy and force delivery. However, “soft” actuators have their own complementary abilities – such as being able to handle more delicate tasks and being less likely to injure human operators when used in collaborative operations. The Whitesides Research Group at Harvard University has undertaken significant research in this field, and released a paper covering a novel type of soft pneumatic actuator.

The actuator consists of a series of soft, flexible sealed chambers which surround a wooden dowel in the center. By applying vacuum to these various chambers, the dowel in the center can be pulled into up to eight different positions. It’s a unique concept, and one we can imagine could have applications in various material processing scenarios.

The actuator was built by moulding elastomers around 3D printed components, so this is a build that could theoretically be tackled by the DIYer. The paper goes into great detail to quantify the performance of the actuator, and workshops several potential applications. Testing is done on a fluid delivery and stirring system, and a tethered robotic walker was built. The team uses the term cVAMS – cyclical vacuum actuated machine – to describe the actuator technology.

The world of soft robotics is a hot bed of development, and we look forward to further work in this field. It’s not just Harvard, either – we’ve seen interesting work from Yale and from the Hackaday community too!


Superdeep Borehole Samples Create Non-boring Music

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union decided to dig a hole for science. Not just any hole, the Kola Superdeep Borehole reached a depth of over 12 kilometers, the deepest at the time and the second deepest today by just a few meters. Since this was one of the few holes dug this deep that wasn’t being drilled for oil, the project was eventually abandoned. [Dmitry] was able to find some core samples from the project though, and he headed up to the ruins of the scientific site with his latest project which produces musical sounds from the core samples.

The musical instrument uses punched tape, found at the borehole site, as a sort of “seed” for generating the sounds. Around the outside of the device are five miniature drilling rigs, each holding a piece of a core sample from the hole. The instrument uses the punched tape in order to control the drilling rigs, and the sound that is created is processed by the instrument and amplified, which creates some interesting and rather spooky sounds. The whole thing is controlled by an Arduino Mega.

Not only does the project make interesting sounds from a historically and scientifically significant research station and its findings, but the project has a unique and clean design that really fits its environment at the abandoned facility. The other interesting thing about this project is that, if you want to make the trek, anyone can go explore the building and see the hole for themselves. If you’re wondering about the tools that could be used to make a hole like this, take a look at this boring project.

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