FIVE TECHNOLOGIES TO WATCH IN 2016

January 16, 2016


Don’t we all wish we had a crystal ball we could gaze into to “divine” the future?  Sure we do!!   Because technology is generally evolutionary and not revolutionary, it does become easier to look at where we are and consider where we might be in the near or even distant future.  The following digital photographs were provided by Elizabeth Montalbano, contributing writer for Design News Daily.  The descriptive texts are mine.  Let’s take a look and several projections for important technologies that just might touch our daily lives.  I chose these technologies because they seem to be the most promising and varied to play key roles in the engineering profession next year. From developments in electronics to materials to robotics, these technologies, I believe, will make a difference as the source of innovation for design and engineering projects globally.

Printed-Flexible Electronics

Over 3,000 organizations are pursuing printed, organic, flexible electronics, including printing, electronics, materials and packaging companies. While some of these technologies are in use now, there are three sectors which have created billion dollar markets – others are commercially embryonic.   The benefits of these new electronics are numerous – ranging from lower cost, improved performance, flexibility, transparency, reliability, better environmental credentials and much more. Many of the applications will be newly created, and where existing electronic and electrical products are impacted, the extent will be varied.  The total market for printed, flexible and organic electronics will grow from $26.54 billion in 2016 to $69.03 billion in 2026. The majority of that is OLEDs (organic but not printed) and conductive ink used for a wide range of applications. On the other hand, stretchable electronics, logic and memory, thin film sensors are much smaller segments but with huge growth potential as they emerge from R&D.
Photovolltaics

A Michigan State University research team has finally created a truly transparent solar panel — a breakthrough that could soon usher in a world where windows, panes of glass, and even entire buildings could be used to generate solar energy. Until now, solar cells of this kind have been only partially transparent and usually a bit tinted, but these new ones are so clear that they’re practically indistinguishable from a normal pane of glass.

Previous claims toward transparent solar panels have been misleading, since the very nature of transparent materials means that light must pass through them. Transparent photovoltaic cells are virtually impossible, in fact, because solar panels generate energy by converting absorbed photons into electrons. For a material to be fully transparent, light would have to travel uninhibited to the eye which means those photons would have to pass through the material completely (without being absorbed to generate solar power).

So, to achieve a truly transparent solar cell, the Michigan State team created this thing called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), which employs organic salts to absorb wavelengths of light that are already invisible to the human eye. Steering clear of the fundamental challenges of creating a transparent photovoltaic cell allowed the researchers to harness the power of infrared and ultraviolet light.

The TLSC projects a luminescent glow that contains a converted wavelength of infrared light which is also invisible to the human eye. More traditional (non-transparent) photovoltaic solar cells frame the panel of the main material, and it is these solar cells that transform the concentrated infrared light into electricity.

Versions of previous semi-transparent solar cells that cast light in colored shadows can usually achieve efficiency of around seven percent, but Michigan State’s TLSC is expected to reach a top efficiency of five percent with further testing (currently, the prototype’s efficiency reaches a mere one percent). While numbers like seven and five percent efficiency seem low, houses featuring fully solar windows or buildings created from the organic material could compound that electricity and bring it to a more useful level.

Researchers on the Michigan State team believe their TLSC technology could span from industrial applications to more manageable uses like consumer devices and handheld gadgets. Their main priorities in continuing to develop the technology appear to be power efficiency and maintaining a scalable level of affordability, so that solar power can continue to grow as a major player in the field of renewable energy.

Interactive Industrial Robotic Systems

For decades, manufacturers have had very few cost-effective options for handling low volume, high mix production jobs.  No longer.  Meet Baxter – the safe, flexible, affordable alternative to outsourced labor and fixed automation.  Leading companies across North America have already integrated Baxter into their workforce, and gained a competitive advantage for their business in the process.

Baxter is a proven solution for a wide range of tasks – from line loading and machine tending, to packaging and material handling.  If you walk the floor of your facility and see lightweight parts being handled near people, you’ve likely just found a great job for Baxter.  This smart, collaborative robot is ready to get to work for your company – doing the monotonous tasks that free up your skilled human labor to be exactly that.

Graphene

In my opinion, graphene has remarkable possibilities for development of future products.   Graphene has many extraordinary properties. It is about 100 times stronger than strongest steel with hypothetical thickness of 3.35Å which is equal to the thickness of graphene sheet.  It conducts heat and electricity efficiently and is nearly transparent. Researchers have identified the bipolar transistor effect, ballistic transport of charges and large quantum oscillations in the material.

Scientists have theorized about graphene for decades. It has likely been unknowingly produced in small quantities for centuries, through the use of pencils and other similar applications of graphite. It was originally observed in electron microscopes in 1962, but not studied further.  The material was later rediscovered, isolated and characterized in 2004 by Andre Geimand Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester.  Research was informed by existing theoretical descriptions of its composition, structure and properties.   High-quality graphene proved to be surprisingly easy to isolate, making more research possible. This work resulted in the two winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding thetwo-dimensional material graphene.”

Self-Driving Automobiles

Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic idea. Companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla have already released, or are soon to release, self-driving features that give an automobile some ability to drive itself.

Tech companies are also trying to pioneer the self-driving car. Recently, Google announced that it would be testing its prototype of a driverless car on roads this summer in California.  Here are several bullet points that may aid our efforts in understand the status of this technology.

  • Self-driving cars are not some futuristic auto technology; in fact there are already cars with self-driving features on the road.  We define the self-driving car as any car with features that allow it to accelerate, brake, and steer a car’s course with limited or no driver interaction.
  • We divide the self-driving car into two different types: semi-autonomous and fully autonomous. A fully autonomous vehicle can drive from point A to point B and encounter the entire range of on-road scenarios without needing any interaction from the driver. These will debut in 2019.
  • By the end of the forecast period, we expect there will be nearly 10 million cars with one of our defined self-driving car features.
  • Fully autonomous cars are further divided into user-operated and driverless vehicles. Because of regulatory and insurance questions, user-operated fully autonomous cars will come to market within the next five years, while driverless cars will remain a long ways off.
  • The biggest benefits of self-driving cars are that they will help to make roads safer and people’s lives easier. In the UK, KPMG estimates that self-driving cars will lead to 2,500 fewer deaths between 2014 and 2030.
  • But the barriers to self-driving cars remain significant. Costs need to come down and regulations need to be clarified around certain self-driving car features before the vehicles fully take off among mainstream consumers.

CONCLUSIONS:

This post has only considered engineering technological forecast for mostly mechanical and electrical systems.  We have not looked at medical, civil, infrastructure, etc forecasts, of which I’m sure, there could be comparable lists structured.  It might be a good exercise for you to list your own projections and take a look at the end of 2016 to see how many have come to fruition.

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: