E-skin for motion monitoring

An electronic skin (e-skin) that simultaneously senses pressure and strain has been fabricated using a PVC-free pencil eraser that has been sliced into a thin layer and deposited with multi-walled carbon nanotubes on either side. The carbon nanotubes are the main sensing elements of the device. The low-cost, easily scalable sensor fabricated by a two-member team led by Prof. Sushmee Badhulika at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad may find applications in flexible electronics and medical diagnostics.

“The device can be used for human motion monitoring in the case of elderly and infants. The e-skin is sensitive… it can sense even a gentle touch,” says Prof. Badhulika from the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Hyderabad. The results were published in the journal Nanotechnology.

“The signal from the device can be interfaced with a microcontroller and the signal can be taken from the sensor to a smartphone using wireless technology,” she says.

The researchers tested the sensor for potential application as an e-skin by integrating it on the forefinger joint, wrist, neck and elbow and subjected it to stretching and compression. The sensor showed good sensitivity to both stretching and compression, and showed repeatability. The sensor was tested for both soft and hard touch where pressure was applied by a human hand. “The sensor showed repeatability for distinct pressure touches of the human hand,” she says.

Making of the sensor

The PVC-free pencil eraser is sliced and cut to optimal dimensions and optimised amount of multi-walled carbon nanotubes are pressed on the layer using a rolling pin and a pre-compaction mechanical press. The rolling pin is used to get a uniform thin film with carbon nanotubes deposited on the film to get a desired initial resistance. The film is further pressed using a mechanical press.

“Depositing the multi-walled carbon nanotubes using a solvent-free rolling pin method is done manually on the hydrophobic eraser substrate. So there could be variation from user to user.

The mechanical press is used for standardising the pressure applied for depositing the carbon nanotubes and achieve repeatability,” says Parikshit Sahatiya from the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Hyderabad and first author of the paper.

Both the sides of the eraser are patterned with carbon nanotubes so that the film together with the carbon nanotubes acts as a capacitor. Silver paste is applied to make a metal contact to draw the signal from the device.

When pressure is applied the thickness of the film decreases and the distance between the two carbon nanotube layers that behave like metal plates gets reduced. This increases the capacitance.

When the e-skin is stretched the distance between carbon nanotubes increases and therefore the resistance increases. But when the e-skin is compressed the distance between carbon nanotubes decreases and so the resistance reduces. “Basically the e-skin acts as a resistance sensor when subjected to strain and capacitive sensor when subjected to pressure,” says Prof. Badhulika.

Top science stories of 2017

AI beats humans at poker….

In January, Libratus, an artificial intelligence computer created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University defeated four top class poker players.

In March, “AlphaGo”, Google-run artificial intelligence (AI), defeated legendary Go player Lee Se-dol.

In December, researchers from Cornell University said that “AlphaZero”, another Google-run artificial intelligence (AI) programme,won or drew all 100 chess games that it played.

Habitable earth-size planets

In February, NASA announced that its Space Telescope Spitzer discovered seven Earth-sized planets around a star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets were reported to be in the habitable zone where liquid water can be found.

March for science

On April 22, Earth Day, thousands of people in over 600 cities took to the streets to draw attention to issues such as ‘science policy’ and ‘evidence-based policymaking’. The Indian version of the march happened on August 9 in over 20 cities with its organisers demanding, among other things, an allocation of at least 3% of GDP toward science research and enactment of policies based on “evidence-based” science.

Homo sapiens are older than imagined

In June, a study published in Nature claimed that Homo sapiens are way older than was previously imagined. The researchers studied the facial, mandibular and dental morphology of fossil remains from Morocco and arrived at the conclusion that our species is 315,000 years old.

New particle from CERN

In July, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) reported the observation of a new particle. Named Xicc++, the new particle contains two charm quarks and one up quark. (Quarks are the building blocks that make up protons and neutrons.) The new particle, almost four times heavier than the proton, was found to live for a very short time (for a million billionths of a second).

Ice shelf breaks, largest iceberg emerges

In July, scientists from Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project, reported the formation of a one-trillion tonne iceberg. They said that the iceberg broke off from the Larsen C shelf in Antarctica and is one of the biggest ever recorded.

Neutron stars merge

LIGO’s two detectors in the US and their European counterpart Virgo picked up an unusual signal in August that lasted about 100 seconds — longer than the signal caused by black hole collisions. Gravitational waves and light emission were observed from the same cosmic event, proving that it was caused by a collision of two dying stars called neutron stars.

Gene editing and how

A group of international scientists used a gene editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9 and repaired a mutation in a human embryo. The group targeted a gene called MYBPC3 whose mutations can cause heart problems- hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The results were published in Nature in August.

End of the Cassini mission

In September, NASA ended the Cassini-Huygens mission, which was started in 1997 to study Saturn. In its 20 years, Cassini helped researchers in understanding Saturn’s surface, its rings and its moons.

Spotting the gravitational waves

When two black holes collide, they cause ripples that spread out across the space, just like ripples in a lake. These gravitational waves were detected by observatories on Earth— the LIGO and VIRGO. This year’s Nobel prize was awarded to the three founders of LIGO. The first detection of the wave was in 2015, and the latest was made in September 2017.

Cryo-electron microscopy

In October, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to three scientists who worked on the cryo-electron microscopy. In this technique, biological molecules are frozen and their structures are studied using electron beams. The electrons hit the molecules and scatter, which are then caught by a detector to analyse the structure of the molecule.

An interstellar visitor

In October, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in the US, spotted a cigar-shaped rocky object, our first visitor from another solar system.

The circadian rhythm mechanism

The Nobel Prize for Medicine this year was awarded to scientists who studied the genes and the proteins in the body responsible for the circadian rhythm. The level of proteins, named PER (period) and TIM (timeless), change over the daily 24-hour cycle and keep the body’s biological clock running.

IBM’s quantum computer

In November, IBM announced the development of a large and powerful quantum computer capable of handling 50 qubits (quantum bits). According to IBM, this advancement will allow “high-fidelity quantum operations,” making computers faster and more efficient than the current supercomputers.

Earth-like solar system

In December, NASA used Google’s AI to discover two new exoplanets—Kepler 90i and Kepler 80g. The discovery of the eighth planet in the system Kepler 90 means we now know of one more solar system with eight planets.

Photovoltaic road tested in China

China successfully tested its first photovoltaic highway based on home-grown technology in the country’s eastern Shandong province on Thursday, according to reports from Xinhua. The road has wireless charging systems for electric vehicles.

The road is constructed using solar panels which have a thin sheet of clear concrete on top of them, protecting the surface.

The panels were built to transfer energy to electric vehicles passing on top of them.

The one-kilometre segment of solar-powered highway covers a surface area of 5,875 sq.m. The stretch has three layers. At the bottom is an insulator to prevent moisture from getting to the photovoltaic devices in the middle layer, and on top is the layer of transparent concrete.

The tested segment of highway can generate 817.2 KW of power and is expected to generate 1 million KW hours of electricity each year. The electricity generated will be connected to China’s national power grid.

China has become the second country to construct a photovoltaic highway. France was introduced the world’s first photovoltaic road fitted with solar panels in late 2016.

Smart highway and smart road are terms for a number of different proposals to incorporate technologies into roads for generating solar energy, for improving the operation of autonomous cars, for lighting, and for monitoring the condition of the road.


ISS crew to experience New Year’s Eve 16 times?(!!!)

Space lab orbits the earth once every 90 minutes.

As the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) orbit the earth once every 90 minutes, they will experience New Year’s Eve 16 times, NASA has pointed out.

That is 16 sunrises and sunsets while circling 402.3 km above the earth.

The six astronauts will go into the last weekend of 2017 with light duties and family conferences before taking the New Year’s Day off.

The current crew on the orbital laboratory comprises three U.S. astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut.

Ahead of the New Year, the astronauts are conducting life science studies to help mission doctors keep astronauts healthier and stronger while living in outer space. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai took his turn on the exercise bike on Thursday for a study researching physical exertion in space.

Doctors measure the astronauts’ breathing and other parameters during exercise to ensure they have the strength to perform strenuous activities such as space walks and even emergency procedures.

Flight Engineer Scott Tingle of NASA was harvesting plants for the Advanced Plants Experiment-05 (APEX) and stowing the botany samples in a science freezer for further analysis, a NASA blog post said.

Scientists are exploring how plants respond to microgravity and observing molecular and genetic changes.

Big Bubble Theory

Solar system was born in a shell made of material flung off a giant star, says study.

Scientists have said that the solar system could have formed in the bubbles produced by a giant, long-dead star, which was 40 to 50 times the size of the sun.

Despite the many impressive discoveries humans have made about the universe, scientists are yet to come to a consensus about the birth story of the solar system.

The prevailing theory is that the solar system formed billions of years ago near a supernova.

But the new scenario, explained in a paper in the Astrophysical Journal, begins with a giant type of star called a Wolf-Rayet star.

They burn the hottest of all stars, producing tonnes of elements which are flung off the surface in an intense stellar wind.

As the Wolf-Rayet star sheds its mass, the stellar wind ploughs through the material around it, forming a bubble structure with a dense shell.

“The shell of such a bubble is a good place to produce stars,” because dust and gas become trapped inside where they can condense into stars, said study co-author Nicolas Dauphas, Professor at University of Chicago in the U.S.

The researchers estimate that 1% to 16% of all sun-like stars could be formed in such stellar nurseries.

The study addresses a nagging cosmic mystery about the presence of two elements in our solar system compared to the rest of the galaxy.

Meteorites left over from the early solar system suggests there was a lot of aluminium-26. In addition, studies increasingly suggest the solar system had less of the isotope iron-60.

This brings scientists up short, because supernovae produce both isotopes.

“It begs the question of why one was injected into the solar system and the other was not,” said co-author Vikram Dwarkadas from the University of Chicago.

This brought the scientists to Wolf-Rayet stars, which release lots of aluminium-26, but no iron-60.

As for the fate of the giant Wolf-Rayet star, the researchers believe that its life ended long ago, likely in a supernova explosion or a direct collapse to a black hole.

2 states of water

Water is so familiar that we think nothing about it can surprise us. But recently, scientists from Stockholm University have found that at – 44 degrees Celsius water exhibits previously unknown properties! Using X-ray lasers to image water molecules, the researchers have found that water can exist as two liquids with different physical properties depending on the arrangement of its molecules. However, fluctuations can take molecules from one type of liquid to another and the strength of these fluctuations increases as we cool it, peaking at – 44 degrees Celsius. This property is believed to be at the heart of its anomalous expansion. Such anomalies can be explained by the above mentioned two-liquid property.

Phones set to get smarter in 2018

Sales of desktops and laptops have been impacted, but analysts feel PCs will remain a prime medium for content creation. Mobile phones and tablets will be consumption devices.

If 2017 was about dual cameras and longer battery lives, the year 2018 is expected to churn out smartphones with larger screens packed with features like facial recognition and augmented/virtual reality.

Put simply, the phones are slated to become grander, lighter and smarter in 2018 with features so advanced that they would seem straight out of a sci-fi flick. And 2017 has already set the tone for such new age innovations.

The handset in 2017 were less about calling, more an extension of the owners’ personality – a high-resolution camera, an on-demand movie screen, a portable music system, apps for just about anything – and all these tech wonders in one device that fit snugly into the palm of your hand.

Handset makers kept the momentum high through the year, refreshing their portfolio with new models across multiple price points. Companies like Samsung, Micromax and Vivo introduced devices with 18:9 aspect ratio display that promise a better viewing experience to users.

The devices became an instant hit with Indian users, who, incidentally, are now the biggest consumers of mobile data.

Facial recognition and artificial intelligence – through virtual assistants – are slated to reach more hands as Chinese and domestic players bring such features onto more affordable devices.

These AI-based features are also making their way into wearables like fitness trackers and smartwatches that help people improve their health and lifestyles.

Interestingly, Chinese players – Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Lenovo – continued to dominate the Indian market, taking up 4 spots in the top 5 tally (in terms of shipment).

While Samsung held onto the pole position in the market for most part of the year, Xiaomi emerged as a strong challenger and at the end of September quarter, both companies ended up in a photo finish, sharing the top honours.

“It will be interesting to see the two compete. Xiaomi’s challenge is the offline market where Samsung has a stronghold. Samsung will have to ramp up its online presence and Xiaomi is a leader there,” an industry executive said.

That said, the going was not easy for the Chinese players.

In August, in a move that coincided with stand-off between India and China over Dokalam, New Delhi asked smartphone makers, the majority of which are Chinese owned businesses, to report procedures adopted by them to ensure security and privacy of users’ data.

The year also saw US-based Apple commencing manufacturing of iPhone SE in India in partnership with Wistron, underlining the importance of the domestic smartphone market that is among the largest in the world, and growing at a scorching pace.

Whether or not Apple manufactures more premium devices here remains to be seen, but the Cupertino-based tech giant has been engaged in talks with government over incentives like duty exemption on manufacturing and repair units.

As per research firm Counterpoint, about 134 million smartphones are expected to be sold in the country this year, with the number growing to 155 million next year.

While the growth of smartphones has been phenomenal, it has not dampened the sale of feature phones significantly. Of the 298 million phones expected to be sold in 2018, 143 million are likely to be feature phones.

“There is still a large segment of people that have not either experienced a smartphone or are more comfortable with feature phone’s form factor. The transition to smartphones has been slower than anticipated,” Counterpoint Research Associate Director Tarun Pathak said.

Reliance Jio, which changed the telecom sector’s landscape in 2016 with free calls and data plans at throwaway prices, shook the market once again this year with “4G-enabled feature phone” at an effective price of zero.

The device allows users to access data and even watch videos. The user can use the JioPhone for 36 months, and get a full refund of the security deposit of Rs 1,500 by returning the device.

Jio’s masterstroke forced telcos like Airtel and Vodafone to team up with handset makers like Micromax and Intex to offer handsets bundled with offers at subsidised rates.

The year 2017 also saw handset makers placing their bets on “hero” models like Galaxy Note 8 (Samsung) and Redmi 4A (Xiaomi) to not just woo new customers but also convert them into brand loyalists.

Lenovo India Mobile Business Group (MBG) Country Head Sudhin Mathur says the focus for mobile phone makers is on enhancing customer experience.

“Specification, pricing is just one part. There are other aspects. It’s about how one feels holding the handset, the experience of using it,” he adds.

Experts feel the focus will be on enhancing the software of the phone, allowing users to do more with their devices.

While the affordable segment, which comprises of handsets priced under Rs 8,000, continued to be the sweet spot for the market, customers seem to be warming up to the idea of shelling out more for additional features.

Interestingly, the refresh cycles also continue to decrease with some consumers replacing their devices within a year of purchase.

He added that the sub-Rs 5,000 category would account for about 23% share of the market, Rs 8,000-20,000 segment 43% and the premium category (above Rs 30,000) 3 per cent share in 2018.

The mushrooming of smartphones has claimed its victims.

Sales of desktops and laptops have been impacted, but analysts feel PCs will remain a prime medium for content creation. Mobile phones and tablets will be consumption devices.

Hyderabad welcomes ‘Robocop’ prototype

The ‘smart police robot’ has capabilities to identify suspects and record video clips.

Hyderabad may soon get its first ‘robocop’, with the launch of a prototype in the city on Friday. Unlike its famous Hollywood counterpart, however, this five-foot-seven-inch tall ‘smart police robot’, weighing 43 kg, is not yet capable of chasing down criminals.

But according to its makers, it can take complaints, record audio and video clips, identify suspects, detect metals, and monitor temperature.

The policing robot has been made by H-BOTS, a Hyderabad-based artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning start-up. It was conceived at Makers Leeway, the start-up’s research lab, six months ago.

Multi-touch screen

The life size prototype was launched by Telangana Information Technology Secretary Jayesh Ranjan on Friday. Made of nylon plastic, said to be ten times stronger that regular plastic, the robot has a multi-touch screen. “It recognises voice and can interact in English. In the near future, it will recognise Telugu and Hindi as well,” said Kisshhan PSV, CEO of H-BOTS.

The robot is expected to be familiar with basic policing work, regulation of traffic, and details of the Indian Penal Code. “On subjects it is not familiar with, the robot will reply to queries by sourcing information from Wikipedia or Google,” Mr. Kisshhan said, adding that it has an AI unit inside.

If someone tries to tamper with it, the robot is programmed to blow a siren similar to that used by police vehicles. Though far from a complete ‘police person’, unlike a human cop, it can work round-the-clock and its AI-enhanced surveillance capabilities would be far superior.

Its makers say it can be showcased as an advance in policing technology and eventually be introduced to carry out basic police work such as registering cases. But a lot of new ground needs to be covered in the development AI, machine learning, and robotics before there is a realistic chance of robots replacing humans in policing.

In its present form, the smart police robot can assist people at malls, streets, airports and railway stations. After a few more months of fine-tuning the robot, the company plans to produce 700 units a year by 2020.

ISRO to launch 31 satellites in one go!

First PSLV mission after failure of IRNSS-1H.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Friday said it would launch 31 satellites, including India’s Cartosat-2 series earth observation space craft, in a single mission on January 10.

The mission will be the first ‘Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle’ (PSLV) mission after the unsuccessful launch of the navigation satellite IRNSS-1H in August this year.

“The launch is tentatively scheduled for January 10,” a senior ISRO official said.

The mission’s main payload would be India’s Cartosat-2 series earth observation satellite. The high-profile Mission Readiness Review committee and Launch Authorisation Board is scheduled to meet soon to take the final call.

PSLV-C40 will be used for the launch from the spaceport in Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota, about 100 kilometres from Chennai.

The mission would be a combination of 28 nano satellites from abroad, including Finland and the U.S., one micro and one nano satellite from India along with one Cartosat satellite, the official said.

On August 31, India’s mission to launch its backup navigation satellite IRNSS-1H on board PSLV-C39 was unsuccessful after a technical snag on the final leg.

In February this year, PSLV-C37 launched the first Cartosat-2 series satellite along with 103 co-passenger satellites in a single flight.

Is your old iPhone slow too? Know Why:

The blog Primate Labs, published data that appeared to show slower performance in the Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 models as they aged.

Apple Inc. has addressed claims from an app company that says the maker of iPhones slows down the performance of older phones.

On Monday, the blog Primate Labs, a company that makes an app for measuring the speed of an iPhone’s processor, published data that appeared to show slower performance in the Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 models as they aged.

Apple on Wednesday acknowledged that the company does take some measures to reduce power demands — which can have the effect of slowing the processor — when a phone’s battery is having trouble supplying the peak current that the processor demands.

The problem stems from the fact that all lithium-ion batteries, not just those found in Apple products, degrade and have problems supplying the big bursts as they age and accumulate charging cycles, Apple said in a statement. The problems with peak current draws can also occur when batteries are cold or low on charge.

“Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions,” Apple said in an emailed statement to Reuters. “We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.

When an iPhone’s processor makes a big current draw from a flagging battery, the battery can deliver the current in spikes that can potentially damage the phone’s electronics. As a result, iPhones would suddenly shut down to protect the pricey processor from being damaged by the power spikes.

The sudden shutdown problem became widespread among iPhones in late 2016, forcing Apple to issue a software fix that had the net result of slowing the phone somewhat with an old, cold or low-charged battery, the company said.

The problem can be remedied by replacing the phone’s battery. Apple charges $79 to replace batteries not covered under the phone’s warranty. The company has long faced criticism from repair advocates for making its batteries difficult for users to replace on their own.

In its apology note, Apple explained that “continued chemical aging” of batteries in older generation iPhones contributed to the performance issues after a software update about a year ago.

Tech giant Apple apologised to customers vexed over the involuntary slowing down of old models of the iPhone. The company had previously said that it was done to conserve charge on phones with old batteries after migrating to the latest iteration of its operating system. Apple also slashed the price for battery replacements to $29.

In India, users of the iPhone 6 (or later) can get their out-of-warranty batteries replaced for ₹2,000 (plus taxes), compared to about ₹6,500 previously. The Cupertino-based firm will also update its software to give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery.

Apple has been facing consumer uproar and a slew of lawsuits after it admitted to reducing performance of older iPhones to prevent unexpected shutdowns.

”…We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down.We apologise. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making,” Apple said in a lengthy apology note on its website.

Apple further said it has “never – and would never – do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.

Apple is offering a replacement of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery for $29 (compared to $79 earlier) for users of iPhone 6 or later. This will commence from late January and will be available worldwide through December 2018.

In its note, Apple explained that “continued chemical aging” of batteries in older generation iPhones contributed to the performance issues after a software update about a year ago.

“We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices,” it said.