Tag Archives: engineering

New device could charge cell phone by waving it in the air

13 Jan
A micro-windmill is pictured on the face of a penny. Photo courtesy of UT Arlington

A micro-windmill is pictured on the face of a penny. Photo courtesy of UT Arlington

We’ve all been there.

You’re taking one of the most important calls of your life.

You’re lost in the middle of nowhere.

You’re waiting for a text message from that special someone.

And. . .  your phone dies.

The sound it makes before it powers down resembles the feeling of your stomach sinking. You didn’t want to spend the $30 on a car charger and pay phones are  more commonly seen at antique malls than in public areas. Even if there is a payphone nearby, you probably never memorize numbers anymore.

A team of researchers at the University of Texas Arlington have created a device that would make charging a cell phone as easy as waving it in the air.

The tiny micro-windmill, about the tenth of the size of a grain of rice, generates wind energy and the researchers say they are optimistic that it would be a perfect device power cell phone batteries. For it to work, hundreds of the devices could be placed on the cell phone sleeve.

Smitha Rao and J.-C. Chiao originally designed the tiny windmill for a Taiwanese company called WinMEMS that specializes in fabrication techniques for the semiconductor industry.

“The company was quite surprised with the micro-windmill idea when we showed the demo video of working devices,” Rao said. “It was something completely out of the blue for them and their investors.”

The researchers said they were inspired by basic origami concepts and used nickel alloy to ensure the product was strong and flexible.

“The problem most MEMS designers have is that materials are too brittle,” Rao said. “With the nickel alloy, we don’t have that same issue. They’re very, very durable.”

Chiao added that, not only are the devices durable, they can also be mass-produced at a low cost.

“Imagine that they can be cheaply made on the surfaces of portable electronics,” Chiao said, “so you can place them on a sleeve for your smart phone. When the phone is out of battery power, all you need to do is to put on the sleeve, wave the phone in the air for a few minutes and you can use the phone again.”

But, the researchers have bigger plans for the tiny windmills than simply charging cell phones. Chiao said that because of the discreet size of the tiny fans, thousands could easily be placed on flat panels and placed on the walls of houses to generate electricity.

The windmills went through a trial run in September of last year and were successful. WinMEMS and the university are currently discussing collaboration, and only time will tell when a simple wave of a hand will charge our cell phones.

With how much we depend on our phones, I suspect this product could fly off the shelves easily.

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Will tiny drones cure Floridians’ cynicism toward hurricanes?

6 Jun
Autonomous flying drones are the research of Kamran Mohseni and graduate researchers with the Institute for Networked Autonomous Systems in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida. (Photo by: Eric Zamora/University of Florida

Autonomous flying drones are the research of Kamran Mohseni and graduate researchers with the Institute for Networked Autonomous Systems in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida. (Photo by: Eric Zamora/University of Florida

Most residents of Florida–a state constantly pummeled by tropical storms and hurricanes—have become overly cynical of the often hyped-up weather news warning that the latest tropical action in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean could be deadly.

In fact, if you grew up here or anywhere along a coast where  heavy rain and wind between June and November is the norm, you probably remember getting excited for hurricanes.

No school! Hurricane party! Maybe we get to stay in a hotel out of town! Yippee!

This is because the reports are, more often than not, wrong and exaggerated. To us, a hurricane meant a couple days’ vacation, and sleeping in our bathing suits because our AC was out.

In fact, I was one of those children—until one turning point—Hurricane Ivan.

I was a freshman in high school and the weather reports ranted on about stocking up on food and water, boarding windows and evacuating if necessary. I waved goodbye to my friends when we were sent home from school.

See y’all in a couple of days!

I went home to my father, a New Orleans native who survived the terrible storms Betsy and Camille, mocking the news and calling the storm “Tropical Depression Ivan.” We did not evacuate, and I still remember that night vividly.

The first thing to fall was the living room ceiling fan. It was pitch black outside, but we could still hear it fall. The rain came pouring in as bits of the ceiling started caving in. Before long we were wading in three feet of water from room to room trying to avoid the ceiling bits. Our house was ruined. The news reports were right for once.  Two years later, the rest of my family lost their homes in Katrina.

So, should we trust the news? Why is hurricane intensity, for the most part, so inaccurate?

Autonomous flying drones are the research of Kamran Mohseni and graduate researchers with the Institute for Networked Autonomous Systems in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Univeristy of Florida. (Photo by: Eric Zamora/University of Florida)

Autonomous flying drones are the research of Kamran Mohseni and graduate researchers with the Institute for Networked Autonomous Systems in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Univeristy of Florida. (Photo by: Eric Zamora/University of Florida)

Kamran Mohseni, the W.P. Bushnell Endowed Professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Florida, knows why the intensity is often miscalculated and believe he’s come up with a way to solve the problem.

He said the reason for the wrong predictions in intensity and trajectory is due to the inability to get measurements at the most violent area of a hurricane—the interface between the ocean and the storm. The area is too chaotic to send in a manned airplane, and sensors that are randomly dropped from aircraft above the storm may get tossed around, and therefore do not always measure what Mohseni calls “the hot spot.”

“The reason that these are not predicted very well is because they simply just guess what that boundary position is,” Mohseni said. Continue reading