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Conductive hydrogel could find use in soft robotics and more

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Ordinarily, if you want to build a device that’s highly electrically conductive, you have to use rigid metals. Now, however, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have created a soft and flexible material that fits the bill.

Led by Prof. Carmel Majidi, the researchers started by suspending micrometer-sized flakes of silver within a polyacrylamide-alginate hydrogel.

When that material was subsequently partially dehydrated, the silver flakes linked with one another to form networks running throughout the hydrogel matrix. Not only were those networks very electrically conductive, but they were also able to withstand mechanical deformations – in other words, they remained conductive upon being stretched, compressed or bent.

Although other groups have previously tried developing conductive hydrogels, they typically had to choose between conductivity and deformability. The Carnegie Mellon hydrogel is claimed to be unique, in that it excels in both qualities.

It has already been used to create skin-mounted electrodes that stimulate the underlying muscles. Such devices could ultimately be of use to people with neuromuscular disorders. The gel has also been utilized to build a swimming soft-bodied robotic stingray – and the possibilities don’t stop there.

“With its high electrical conductivity and high compliance or ‘squishiness,’ this new composite can have many applications in bioelectronics and beyond,” says Majidi. “Examples include a sticker for the brain that has sensors for signal processing, a wearable energy generation device to power electronics, and stretchable displays.”

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Electronics.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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Source: https://newatlas.com/materials/electrically-conductive-hydrogel/

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Street-based radar system designed to save pedestrian lives

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Many cars are now equipped with pedestrian-detecting radar systems, but those systems can still be blocked by obstacles such as buildings or other vehicles. A new setup is intended to get around that problem, by taking the radar to the streets.

The system is currently being developed as part of the HORIS project, by three separate branches of Germany’s Fraunhofer research group. It incorporates infrastructure-connected MIMO radar sensors, which could be installed at pedestrian-heavy locations such as bus stops, school zones or crosswalks.

Continuously scanning the area 100 times per second, each sensor unit is capable of first identifying an object as being a person, and then ascertaining the speed and direction in which they’re walking or running … if they’re moving at all, that is. Should the system determine that the person is heading toward the road at too fast of a speed – so that they’re about to step out in front of oncoming traffic – it emits a warning signal.

Such a wireless signal would be picked up by the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) system in cars close by, causing an audio/visual alarm to sound/appear in any vehicles that might be about to hit the pedestrian. The system could perhaps even automatically activate those cars’ brakes.

One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system
One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system

A. Shoykhetbrod/Fraunhofer FHR

Additionally, even if no one were about to step onto the road, the system could still warn drivers to slow down if they were approaching an area where numerous people were milling about on the sidewalk. And because no cameras are involved, there shouldn’t be any privacy concerns.

Although the technology is still in development, it is already being demonstrated at a bus stop on the campus of the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt university. There, a setup incorporating two radar sensors is able to monitor up to eight people at once, determining if any of them are moving toward the road.

Source: Fraunhofer

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/street-radar-pedestrian-warning/

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Tree-fungus supplement could reduce fertilizer use in tomato crops

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Although Ceriporia lacerata fungus causes tree wood to rot, it also has a good side. According to a new study, adding the fungus to agricultural soil allows tomatoes to be grown using much less fertilizer.

Partially because they have such a long growth period, tomato plants require more nutrients than many other crops. As a result, farmers typically apply large quantities of chemical fertilizer to their fields.

Not only is this time-consuming and expensive, but it also reduces populations of beneficial microbes in the soil, plus it causes pollution as excess fertilizer runs out of the soil and into waterways. Additionally, even though chemical fertilizers may indeed boost tomato yields, they often reduce fruit quality.

Led by Jianguo Huang, scientists at China’s Southwest University instead looked to a specific strain of the Ceriporia fungus which is harmless to tomatoes.

Ordinarily, when growing on trees and when present in the soil, it emits enzymes such as proteases and phosphatases to obtain nutrients from the immediate environment. In the course of doing so, it frees up nutrients – including those previously delivered in fertilizer – which would otherwise have remained “locked up” within naturally occurring compounds in the soil. Those nutrients can then be taken up by plants.

In field tests, it was found that when the HG2011 strain of Ceriporia lacerata was added to both fertilized and unfertilized soil, it improved the nutrient uptake and thus the yield of tomato plants growing in that soil. Importantly, the fungus also enhanced the nutritional value and flavor of the fruit by increasing its sugar-to-acid ratio along with its soluble sugar and vitamin C content.

It is now hoped that compost incorporating the fungus could be used in an inexpensive supplement, which would reduce the need for traditional fertilizers.

A paper on the research was published this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/science/tree-fungus-less-fertilizer-tomatoes/

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Spongey filter releases purified lake water when set in the sun

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Ironically, many of the places that most require water purification have the least-developed infrastructure. That’s where a new filtration device comes in, as it’s activated by the sun – and it’s said to perform better than other solar-powered purification systems.

One of the most common ways of using the sun to purify water involves setting up what’s known as a solar still. Although there are several different types of solar still, they’re all based around the concept of collecting pure condensed water vapor that evaporates out of tainted liquid water as it’s heated by the sun.

While such setups are effective, they can sometimes take a long time to produce a decent amount of drinkable water. Seeking a faster-acting alternative, scientists at Princeton University have developed an inexpensive flat sponge-like device that draws in water from a lake or pond, then releases purified water when subsequently set in the sunlight.

At the heart of the filter is a polymer gel with a mesh-like microstructure. That gel is surrounded by a layer of a dark-colored material called polydopamine, which is in turn covered with a clear layer of an algae-derived substance known as alginate.

When the device is left to float in relatively cool water, the gel’s mesh remains loose and open. Water flows in through pores in the two outer layers, drawn to hydrophilic (water-attracting) molecules within the gel. The alginate’s pores are small enough, however, that they don’t allow pollutants or pathogens to pass through.

When the filter is subsequently removed from the water and placed in the sunlight, the dark polydopamine boosts its solar gain, causing it to heat up. As it does so, hydrophobic (water-repelling) molecules in the gel are drawn toward one another. This causes the gel to contract, essentially wringing the purified water out of the spongey material. That water is collected in a container placed below the filter.

In a test of the device, it was initially placed in the 25 ºC (77 ºF) water of the Princeton campus’ Lake Carnegie for an hour. It was then taken out and set in the sunlight for another hour, over the course of which it heated to 33 ºC (91 ºF) and released the water that it had soaked up. That water proved to be free of toxins and pathogens, including potentially harmful microbes that are found in the lake.

A paper on the study, which is being led by Prof. Rodney Priestly and postdoctoral research fellow Xiaohui Xu, was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: Princeton University via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/water-purification-filter-sun/

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The newest Casio G-Shock smartwatch is the first to run Wear OS

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Google’s Wear OS platform could certainly use some more actual smartwatches to run on, and Casio has obliged with the GSW-H1000 – the first G-Shock smartwatch from the brand to come with Wear OS on board.

The watch has all the ruggedness you would expect from a Casio G-Shock timepiece: it’s shock-resistant and water-resistant down to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).

It’ll handle more extreme pursuits like snowboarding and surfing as well as the usual running, cycling and indoor activity tracking. The titanium carbide finish on the back of the smartwatch is designed to resist scratches and damage, but the wearable is also designed to be comfortable, with a soft urethane strap intended to be both flexible and durable.

This is a smartwatch packed with sensors, too. Of course it can track your location via GPS, and how many steps you’re taking per day, but it also packs in a heart rate sensor, a compass, and an altitude and air pressure sensor. A total of 15 activities and 24 indoor workout options are covered in total.

There’s a neat trick with the display, as well – it’s a dual-layer affair that can switch between monochrome and color, so you can save battery life when you need to. Depending on how you use the screens and the sensors, battery life can reportedly be anywhere between one-and-a-half days and a month.

The display also features a customizable three-tier layout, so you can pick which bits of information you want to see at a glance – from heart rate to lap times. That’s on top of all the customizations Wear OS gives you, too.

The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more
The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more

Casio

This being a device running Google software, Google Assistant integration is baked right in, and you can use it to see notifications and to control media on your connected smartphone (both Android and iOS are supported by Wear OS, though the integration with Android and its apps is much tighter).

The Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000 is scheduled to go on sale in mid-May with a retail price of around US$700 – your color options are black with gray highlights, black with blue highlights, and black with red highlights and a red strap. While there are some decent Wear OS smartwatches out there, another one is very welcome.

Product page: Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000

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Source: https://newatlas.com/smartwatches/casio-g-shock-smartwatch-wear-os/

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