After a breathless race through the '80s and '90s, desktop computer clock speeds have spent the last decade languishing around the 3 gigahertz mark. That stagnation in processing speeds has prompted scientists to debate whether it's time to move beyond semiconductors -- and what better place to debate than in the journal Science?
One squat multitasking robot can build semiconductors for solar cells on six-inch-square plates of glass, plastic or flexible metals in just over half an hour. Six of these tireless mechanical workers, chugging away at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, will allow private companies to come rapidly prototype and test their newest formulas for creating solar cells.
Silicon Valley may want to update its name, because IBM has created graphene transistors that blow away the silicon competition. The transistor prototypes were made from sheets of carbon just one atom thick that could switch on and off at 100 billion times per second. The 100-gigahertz speed is about 10 times faster than any silicon equivalents, Technology Review reports.
According to Kwabena Boahen, a computer scientist at Stanford University, a robot with a processor as smart as the human brain would require at least 10 megawatts to operate. That's the amount of energy produced by a small hydroelectric plant. But a small group of computer scientists may have hit on a new neural supercomputer that could someday emulate the human brain's low energy requirements of just 20 watts--barely enough to run a dim light bulb.
Implantable electronics like pacemakers are old hat, but these kinds of implants are limited by the fact that they must be encased to protect them from the body, and vice versa. But in the quest to make our bodies ever more bionic, researchers have now developed implantable silicon-silk electronics that almost dissolve completely inside the body, leaving behind nanocircuitry that could be used for improved electrical interfaces for nervous system tissues or photonic tattoos that display blood-sugar readouts on the skin’s surface.
Because solar intensity increases as you get closer to the equator, the same solar cell normally can't be equally effective in any given location. The UK firm Quantasol has devised a way of allowing solar cells to be fine-tuned according to their positional latitude, providing a substantial bump in efficiency.
Cheap, off-the-shelf parts and a clever design make Skyline Solar's reflective aluminum troughs a contender in the race to make solar ubiquitous
By Christopher MimsPosted 05.04.2009 at 1:52 pm 8 Comments
The next frontier in traditional solar panels is concentrators - devices, usually lenses, that concentrate solar power onto the most expensive part of a solar panel - the silicon. Skyline Solar's "solar trough" design concentrates sunlight without using expensive lenses or complicated robotic armatures for tracking the sun as it crosses the sky.