As we move forward into the future, our need for new technologies that make life better, easier, and more efficient increases too. Innovative ways to produce and conserve energy can help us face up to and counter global warming and other environmental problems. Integrating biology and electronics for faster and advanced healthcare has never been more welcome. New materials that are stronger, lighter, viable, or necessary for space travel and various applications here on Earth are being invented by many scientists all over the world. Many of these might seem unreal, as if they are from science fiction. We have come across 10 such mind-blowing technologies that most people don’t know exist in real life and here they are.

1. Electronic Skin or E-Skin

An organic circuit 10 times thinner than a human skin cell, lighter than a feather, and that can be worn on the skin like an electronic tattoo.

Electronic skin is a temperature and pressure sensitive, thin, electronic material that mimics human skin. Just like human skin, it can stretch and also heal itself. It uses stretchable solar cells developed by a Stanford team in February 2011 for power with an accordion-like microstructure that lets them stretch up to 30% without any damage. The e-skin also contains biological and chemical sensors along with pressure sensors. It sticks to the skin because of Van der Waals forces which are based on the attraction between molecules, rather than adhesives.

The e-skin was made by embedding sensors on a thin film and then placing the film on a polyester backing, just like the one used in temporary tattoos. In July 2013, another team at the University of California, Berkeley was able to create an e-skin that lights up when touched and gets brighter as the pressure increases. Among the potential applications of the e-skin are being able to monitor the vitals of a patient. Others are a robot that will be able to detect disease or intoxication in a human and a video that can be played on the back of your hand.

2. Li-Fi or Light Fidelity

A high-speed wireless communication system that utilizes household LED light bulbs enabling data transfers 100 times faster than WiFi and reaching speeds of up to 224 gigabits per second.

PureLiFi's LiFi Technology
Image Source: purelifi

The term “Li-Fi” was coined by Harald Haas, a Chair Professor of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh, Germany, and the co-founder pureLiFI, to describe the idea of “wireless data from every light.” Li-Fi works by switching the LED lights on and off at a very high rate, too quick for a human eye to notice, in order to transmit data. The advantage of using visible light over a normal WiFi’s radio frequency is that the spectrum is 10,000 times larger and is expected to be ten times less expensive. Researchers were able to transmit data at a rate of 224 Gbits/second, quite a lot higher than the fastest broadband in 2013. Since light waves cannot penetrate the walls, Li-Fi is believed to be far more secure from hacking than WiFi. Li-Fi also does not require direct line of sight, and the light reflected off the walls can achieve speeds of 70 Mbits/s.

3. Transparent Aluminum Armor

A ceramic compound of aluminum, oxygen, and nitrogen known as aluminum oxynitride (AlON) that is optically transparent and four times harder than silica glass. A thickness of only 1.6 inches of AlON armor can stop .50 caliber BMG armor-piercing rounds which can penetrate 3.7 inches of glass laminate.

ALON (or AlON) is the hardest transparent ceramic available commercially. Because of its cubic spinel structure and by using conventional ceramic powder processing techniques, the material can be made into transparent windows, plates, domes, rods, tubes and many other forms. AlON is optically transparent, more than 80% so in the near-ultraviolet, visible, and midwave-infrared frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is also four times harder than fused silica glass and 85% as hard as a sapphire. It can also withstand temperatures up to 2,100 degrees Centigrade. Being lightweight, hard, and transparent makes AlON an excellent candidate for bulletproof armor and has been shown to stop multiple armor-piercing projectiles of up to .50 caliber. It has also been nicknamed “transparent aluminum” after a similar fictional material in the Star Trek universe.

4. Color-Changing Contact Lenses for Monitoring Glucose Levels

The nanoparticles embedded in the hydrogel lenses react with the glucose molecules present in tears causing the lens to change color and thus alert the wearer of the rise or drop in their blood sugar levels.

Color-Changing Contact Lenses for Monitoring Glucose Levels
Image Source: wikipedia

One of the most important things a diabetic must do is to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels to avoid diabetes-related complications. But, every time they test their sugar levels they have to prick their finger to draw a drop of blood. The color-changing contact lenses designed by professor Jin Zhang from the University of Western Ontario can omit the need for drawing blood every day. When there is an increase or decrease in blood sugar levels, the tears and the urine are affected too. The lenses react to the glucose present in the tears and change color accordingly. The nanocomposites used in the lenses are believed to be useful in a wide variety of applications such as food preservation and biodegradable food packaging.

5. Wireless Energy Transmission

Japanese researchers have succeeded in transmitting energy using microwaves and delivered 1.8 kilowatts of power through the air, with pinpoint accuracy, to a receiver 55 meters away.

Solar Power Satellites
Image Source: NASA

One of the foremost research projects at Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been solar power satellites (SPS), satellites which can harness the solar energy for use on Earth. The energy would then be transmitted to Earth using either lasers or microwaves. However, lasers are considered impractical as they do not work through clouds. Recently, JAXA was able to deliver 1.8 kilowatts of energy to an antenna known as rectenna 55 meters away using carefully directed microwaves. The conversion of solar energy to DC, then to microwave, to DC again, and finally AC is 80% efficient, without considering the loss of energy during transmission. The agency is planning on deploying a geosynchronous solar collector weighing 10,000 metric tons at around 36,000 kilometers from Earth. By 2031, JAXA hopes to have a one-gigawatt commercial pilot plant operational.


6. Transparent Solar Panels

These solar panels allow visible light to pass through and use ultraviolet and infrared light to generate power instead.

Transparent Solar Panels
Image Source: extremetech

Transparent luminescent solar concentrators (TLSC) or transparent solar panels were created at Michigan State University and are made of organic salts that absorb specific non-visible wavelengths. Usually, solar cells work by absorbing the light which creates a shadow as they cannot let the light pass through. But, TLSC gets around this problem by taking the ultraviolet and infrared light and “luminescing” them as another wavelength of infrared light. This new infrared light is guided to and collected at the edges where thin strips of conventional photovoltaic solar cells are present. The current prototype has an efficiency of around 1%, but scientists believe efficiency of 10% and above should be possible soon.

7. Femto-Photography

Researchers at MIT have created a new imaging system that can acquire visual data at a rate of one trillion exposures per second, fast enough to capture light traveling the length of a one-liter bottle.

A research team at the MIT Media Lab led by Ramesh Raskar in collaboration with Graphics and Imaging Lab at the Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain has developed a technique for recording the propagation of very short pulses of light. This technique known as femto-photography uses a streak camera synchronized to a pulsed laser which is modified to capture 2D images instead of just recording a single scan line.

According to Raskar and his team, they were able to capture exposures so short that light only travels 0.6 millimeters (which takes it 2 picoseconds or 2 x 10-12 seconds to travel) during that period. Another interesting achievement of the femto-photography is being able to reconstruct unknown objects around corners, that is objects that are outside the line of sight of the light source or camera.

8. 5D Glass Discs

Researchers from the UK have created glass discs that can record data in five dimensions and keep it safe for up to 13.8 billion years. The discs can store 360 terabytes of data and can even withstand temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Centigrade.

5D Discs
Image Source: southampton

In 2013, scientists at the University of Southampton, UK succeeded in demonstrating a method they refer to as “five-dimensional data storage.” On a normal CD, the data is stored by creating bumps which are then read by a laser, a bump being read as one and the lack of a bump read as zero. This makes a CD two dimensional. On the other hand, a 5D disc stores information within its interior through tiny physical structures called “nanogratings.” Just like the bumps on a CD, these nanogratings are read using light. The five dimensions, in this case, are the three-dimensional location of the grating (that is the x-, y-, and z-axes), the strength of the light the nanograting refracts, and its orientation. These extra dimensions help the disc store data much more densely compared to a CD. Currently, a Blu-ray Disc can hold up to 128 gigabytes of data, while a 5D disc of the same size can store almost 3,000 times more, that is 360 terabytes of data.

9. Synthetic “Leaf” that Produces Oxygen

The synthetic, biological leaf made by suspending chloroplasts in a silk protein matrix absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen just like a plant and could enable long-distance space travel.

Melchiorri Silk Leaf
Image Source: julianmelchiorri

With the prospect of interplanetary travel becoming a reality, NASA has been researching ways to produce oxygen for long-distance journeys and to make living in space much easier. Julian Melchiorri, a graduate of the Royal College of Art’s Innovation Design Engineering course, in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab, has created one such device which he named “Melchiorri’s Silk Leaf.” He believes that the fibers of silk have “an amazing property of stabilizing molecules.” So, he extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside a matrix of that silk protein. Just like normal leaves, it requires light and some water to produce oxygen. He believes it could enable long-distance space travel by producing enough oxygen to breathe.

10. Aerogel

A synthetic, porous, ultralight material made from a gel from which the liquid component is replaced with gas. Extremely strong and thermally insulating, an aerogel block heated up to 2,200 degrees Centigrade can be held with the bare hands without burning the skin.

Image credit: NASA

Also known as “frozen smoke,” “solid air,” or “solid cloud,” aerogel is a solid with an extremely low density and thermal conductivity. It can be made from a variety of chemical compounds. In the beginning, it was made using silica gels. Now, however, there are aerogels based on carbon, alumina, chromia, and tin dioxide. The liquid component of the gel is extracted through supercritical drying. This process allows it to dry slowly enough for the solid matrix to stay intact instead of collapsing from capillary action.

Almost 99.8% of the material is air, and it has a porous solid network with air pockets that take up a majority of its volume. The material feels fragile to the touch and is almost weightless because of the air pockets. However, it is so strong that a 2.5-kilogram brick can be supported by a piece of 2 grams of aerogel. It is also a viable candidate for providing thermal insulation for spaceships.
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