A novel device designed to help stroke patients recover wrist and hand function has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Called IpsiHand, the system is the first brain-computer interface (BCI) device to ever receive FDA market approval.
The IpsiHand device consists of two separate parts – a wireless exoskeleton that is positioned over the wrist, and a small headpiece that records brain activity using non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes. The system is based on a discovery made by Eric Leuthardt and colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine over a decade ago.
It is well known that each side of the brain controls movement on the opposite side of the body, so if a stroke damages motor function on the right side of the brain movement on a person’s left side will be affected.
Leuthardt and his team’s discovery back in 2008 revealed signals for body movement can be detected on the same side of the brain, but these signals are futile when the opposite side of the brain, which is actually responsible for executing the movement, is damaged. This specific brain activity was called ipsilateral brain signals.
The idea behind the novel BCI device was to find a way to detect those ipsilateral signals and use them to control an electronic hand brace. In 2017 the researchers demonstrated how patients using the device for 12 weeks, in the context of rehabilitation, significantly improved some degree of motor function by essentially retraining their brain to communicate with their hand.
“Generally, any motor impairments experienced by a patient six months after a stroke have been considered permanent,” says Leuthardt, who co-founded a company called Neurolutions back in 2007 to commercialize this technology. “What we’ve found with this device is that many patients can get a meaningful improvement in recovery of upper extremity movement when we wouldn’t expect them to get any. That’s not really true for any of the current therapies for stroke aimed at restoring function after the initial recovery period.”
The FDA’s market authorization of the IpsiHand device marks the first time a brain-computer interface device of this kind has been approved for clinical use in the United States. The approval was primarily based on clinical trial data showing significant motor function improvements when the device was used for 12 weeks, for around five times per week for at least 10 minutes each day.
The IpsiHand is currently not available to patients but Neurolutions is beginning commercialization of the device and aim to make it clinically accessible later in 2021.
“It is exciting to say that this is the first FDA-approved brain-computer interface for rehabilitation,” Leuthardt says. “People have been trying for a long time to convert BCI from an experimental technology into something that will truly help patients. With this, we’ve shown that BCI is finally ready for prime time. I sincerely hope there are many more such devices to follow.”
Minimaliste supersizes hardy tiny house with Noyer XL
We’ve previously been impressed with Minimaliste’s hardy Noyer and Noyer V4 tiny houses, which are designed to perform well even in extreme temperatures. The firm’s recently completed Noyer XL takes the already roomy towable home and makes it even larger, now measuring 35 ft (10 m) in length and offering a spacious interior layout with lots of storage.
The Noyer XL is based on a triple-axle trailer and finished in horizontal cedar and vertical standing-seam steel. It’s topped by a sloping roof that hosts two skylights. Like other recent Minimaliste models, it has a width of 10.5 ft (3.2 m), which means it requires a permit to tow on the road, but offers a more apartment-like interior layout in return.
Judging from the photos available, the interior looks light-filled and spacious (though is of course flattered by a lack of furniture). Visitors enter with the living room to the right, which has a raised floor, creating an underfloor storage space. In the living room proper is a built-in electrical panel, heat recovery air exchanger, and a mini-split air-conditioning system. A TV cabinet is also installed on the wall.
The kitchen and dining area is nearby, and is large too. It contains a 10-ft (3.2-m) counter, a dining table that seats six, and an L-shaped seating area with built-in storage. There’s also cabinetry, a pull-out butcher’s block chopping board, a dishwasher, stainless steel sink, microwave oven, and a two-burner induction stove with a range hood. A fridge/freezer is nearby.
The Noyer XL’s bathroom is reached by a corridor with a washer/dryer and some storage space. The bathroom has a shower, vanity sink, and a flushing toilet, plus some more storage space. The master bedroom is adjacent and boasts a high ceiling and some built-in cabinets that have a small desk area for home working on a laptop. The cabinetry also includes a mechanical closet with a water filter, water heater, etc. The master bedroom has another mini-split air-conditioning unit and is topped by a skylight with remote-controlled blind.
There’s also a one loft bedroom in the Noyer XL, which is reached by a storage-integrated staircase. Much like Build Tiny’s models, it has a handy lowered platform area to make it possible to stand upright and get dressed easier, though the loft itself is a typical tiny house-style bedroom with a low ceiling. It also contains some wooden blinds, another remote-controlled skylight, and enough space for a double bed.
As was the case with previous Minimaliste tiny houses, the Noyer XL was built using SIPs (structural insulated panels) and has good insulation and a high level of airtightness, meaning it stays a relatively steady temperature inside and requires little energy to heat or cool. It gets power from a standard RV-style hookup, though can also run from a generator if required.
We’ve no word on the cost of this exact home, though the Noyer line starts at CAD 118,500 (roughly US$98,500).
Austrian Audio brings transparency to the studio with Hi-X65 headphones
Vienna’s Austrian Audio has announced its first open-back circumaural headphones, which have been designed for the mixing and mastering workflows of studio professionals but could also find themselves wrapped around the heads of audiophiles.
Austrian Audio was formed in 2017 by 22 former employees of AKG when it closed its Vienna office, and has already made quite the positive impression among industry pundits – first for its microphones, and then for its professional headphones.
The new Hi-X65 headphones are essentially an open-backed version of the Hi-X55 closed-back over-ears launched at Winter NAMM last year. They feature 44-mm “High Excursion” drivers, with a ring magnet system that’s designed to improve airflow, while also allowing for a weight reduction in the membrane and the copper-clad aluminum voice coil for improved response.
“The result is great bass imaging and superior low THD at low frequencies, a linear frequency response, and open, precise, high-resolution sound that simplifies error detection and makes mixing and mastering a pleasure,” the company said.
The Hi-X65 open-backs rock a wide frequency range of 5 Hz to 28 kHz, 110-dB sensitivity, 150-mW input power, and less than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion. And an impedance of 25 ohms should make them compatible with a variety of audio sources, such as analog mixers, headphone amplifiers and DACs, mobile players and laptops.
As well as a large, transparent soundstage, the open design should also nip hot-headedness in the bud and sit comfortably over the ears for long-haul sessions thanks to the soft memory foam pads, which include a recessed head seam to reduce contact pressure. The headphones are built to last too, with metal load-bearing components and replaceable pads and headband.
Two detachable 3.5-mm audio cables are provided, along with a 6.3-mm adapter, and a travel bag that the headphones can be folded down into between uses.
The Hi-X65 professional headphones are on sale now in Europe, but those in the US will have to wait until July before slamming down $419 for a pair.
Product page: Hi-X65
2,040-horsepower electric hypercar makes some crazy battery promises
Italy’s Automobili Estrema is living up to its name with absurd performance figures for its first product. The Fulminea electric hypercar promises an absurd 2,040 all-wheel-drive horsepower, and 0-200 mph (0-320 km/h) acceleration in less than 10 seconds.
As mad as those figures sound, there’s no reason they can’t be real. Indeed, there are a cluster of cars now in various stages of development sitting around the 2,000 horsepower mark: the Lotus Evija, the Aspark Owl, the Rimac C_Two, the Pininfarina Battista… You can more or less have as much power as you want in an electric supercar; heat and battery considerations are your only limits.
Indeed, there are so many ludicrously overpowered electrics being developed now that even though this would be the most powerful production car in the world if it launched today, our eyes are starting to glaze over when we see numbers like these.
I’m fairly sure my eyes wouldn’t glaze over if I hopped in one and stomped the go pedal; either that, or they might glaze over permanently, but we now live in a world where basically no peak power promise can move an eyebrow.
Indeed, it’s the battery system that has our eyebrows working overtime. Cop a look at this: “The Estrema Fulminea will be the first street-legal hypercar to be equipped with an innovative hybrid battery pack which uses a combination of ABEE’s (Avesta Battery Energy Engineering) solid-state cells paired with ultra-capacitors … With its hybrid battery pack of 100 kWh, the expected WLTP range will be 520 km (323 miles). Thanks to the innovative solid-state cells, the high-performance hybrid battery (with cell-to-pack technology) will reach an unprecedented energy density of 450 Wh/kg (1,200 Wh/l) with a predicted weight under 300 kg (661 lb) and a total curb weight of 1,500 kg (3,307 lb).”
Whoa, Nelly. 450 Wh/kg would be impressive even if this thing didn’t have to carry around the high-powered but low-energy bulk of an ultracapacitor. If Automobili Estrema – and more to the point, its Belgian battery partner ABEE – manage to get such a thing to market in 2023 as promised, then this truly will be big news.
The company says it’s building 61 Fulmineas in Italy’s “Motor Valley” of Modena, where people will take one look at it and think it’s a Lambo that ran out of petrol rolling downhill.
Source: Automobili Estrema
Superfast-charging aluminum-ion batteries outpower lithium-ion
Australian company Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) has announced exciting performance test results for a new type of aluminum-ion battery that can charge 10X faster than today’s lithium-ion units, while lasting much longer and needing no cooling.
In experiments performed by the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland, coin cell prototypes of the new battery delivered the following key performance figures.
Firstly, a power density around 7,000 W/kg. Power density puts a number on how quickly a cell can charge and discharge. With current lithium-ion batteries sitting between 250-700 W/kg, this is a huge leap, and it puts the aluminum-ion battery nearly on the level of ultracapacitors, which can deliver around 12,000-14,000 W/kg.
Secondly, an energy density of 150-160 Wh/kg – so it carries only around 60 percent of the energy per weight of today’s best commercial lithium-ion cells.
Energy density has long been the key spec sheet number for electric car batteries; the greater the energy density, the more range you can get out of your battery pack. So on energy density alone, this new GMG battery wouldn’t get a second glance from an EV manufacturer.
But its monster charge rate could change that, along with a couple of other key advantages. These things can charge so fast, says GMG, that a mobile phone running on this aluminum-ion tech could get a full charge in 1-5 minutes. Take that concept across to the electric car world, and you’re looking at an EV that travels 60 percent as far as an equivalent Tesla on a charge, but that charges so damn fast that range might become far less of an issue.
What’s more, they vastly outlast lithium batteries in life cycle testing, undergoing 2,000 full charge and discharge cycles with no apparent deterioration in performance at all, they are extremely safe, with low fire potential, and they’re more recyclable than lithium batteries too, at the end of their useful life. And yes, they need no lithium. With some 90 percent of the world’s lithium production and purchasing running through China, the world’s supply chains are definitely vulnerable in trade disputes.
Another ace up the GMG battery’s sleeve is outstanding thermal performance. Even when they’re charging and discharging at enormous rates, they don’t seem to overheat. “So far there are no temperature problems,” said GMG managing director Craig Nicol in an interview with Forbes. “Twenty percent of a lithium-ion battery pack (in a vehicle) is to do with cooling them. There is a very high chance that we won’t need that cooling or heating at all. It does not overheat and it nicely operates below zero so far in testing. They don’t need circuits for cooling or heating, which currently accounts for about 80 kg in a 100 kWh pack.”
That fact changes the range equation; taking the 100 kWh battery described above, a GMG battery of the same weight would only carry 60 kWh. But if the extra 80 kg of cooling gear isn’t needed, the GMG-powered car can run an extra 80 kg of cells, which would give you a total of 72.8 kWh, according to the back of our envelope – along with massively faster charge rates that could pretty much put an end to range anxiety.
That seems like a pretty compelling tradeoff, particularly in a battery that might well outlast a few vehicles before it gets retired.
But – and there’s always a but with these things – there are other considerations.
One is charging infrastructure. Mobile phones can charge up quickly without frying the power grid, but electric cars simply can’t right now. Tesla’s Superchargers already pump electrons at rates up to 250 kW – representing a 60 kWh energy transfer in about 15 minutes. If you want to charge just 10 times faster than that, you need to be able to instantly supply 2.5 megawatts at the charge cable.
For reference, a typical coal-fired power station has a total output around 600 megawatts – so if 240 of these ultra fast charging cars happened to plug in at the same time, they’d put an instant load on the power grid equivalent to a whole power station. That’s charging 10 times faster than today’s batteries; GMG says it might be able to charge 60 times faster than some cells.
So super-fast charging electric vehicles are definitely going to be difficult to scale, particularly as the world moves toward renewable energy sources rather than things like coal and gas that can rapidly fire up to meet spikes in demand. And even if the charge stations had their own fast-discharge energy storage on site, trickle charging from the grid at slower rates, you’d also need a heck of a cable from the box to the car to move that many electrons that quickly.
Another is the key ingredient in GMG’s battery – the porous graphene in and around which the aluminum molecules are diffused in GMG’s manufacturing process. GMG says it can produce high quality graphene at low cost and in scalable quantities, but doesn’t put any figures on what these batteries could cost if manufactured at scale. With graphene prices sitting around US$100 per gram, even a “low cost” version could end up being pretty damn pricey.
And the final one is the timeline. As you’re surely painfully aware, there tends to be a bit of a gap between the test bench and the final product; even more where automotive companies are concerned. GMG says it’ll be making coin cell prototypes for very small scale customer testing by the end of this year, with pouch cells in the works, but there’s no indication of when these things might hit the market at scale.
Still, there are no guarantees in the battery game, and it’s anyone’s guess whether GMG will get this thing manufactured in scale at a competitive price. But the technology itself definitely seems promising.
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