Category: Technology

Can the open hardware revolution help to democratise technology? – The Guardian

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Can the open hardware revolution help to democratise technology? – The Guardian

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The Guardian
Can the open hardware revolution help to democratise technology?
The Guardian
An open hardware movement of hobbyists, activists, geeks, designers, engineers, students and social entrepreneurs is creating ingenious versions of all sorts of technologies, and freely sharing the know-how through social media. Open hardware is also …

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US defence: Losing its edge in technology? – Financial Times

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US defence: Losing its edge in technology? – Financial Times

POMONA, CA - JUNE 06: Virginia Tech's Team Valor semi-autonomous ESCHER (Electromechanical Series Compliant Humanoid for Emergency Response) robot uses LIDAR laser mapping to create a 3-D image of its surroundings during the second day of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge at the Fairplex June 6, 2015 in Pomona, California. Organized by DARPA, the Pentagon's science research group, 24 teams from aorund the world are competing for $3.5 million in prize money that will be awarded to the robots that best respond to natural and man-made disasters. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)©Getty

A robot from Virginia Tech uses laser mapping to create a 3D image of its surroundings during the 2015 Darpa Robotics Challenge in Pomona, California

In May, Ashton Carter made his fourth trip to Silicon Valley to talk about innovation since becoming US defence secretary 15 months earlier. None of his predecessors had made this journey in the past 20 years.

A Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in theoretical physics, Mr Carter seems comfortable among the technology elite. But his frequent visits are also a reflection of his concern about a growing disconnection between the defence establishment and Silicon Valley, a divide that worsened in the wake of Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about government surveillance and that persists today.

For decades, there was a productive relationship between the private sector and the defence department, resulting in some of the most important technology around — from the internet to global positioning, imaging and sensor technology. Siri, Apple’s voice-recognition technology, began life with Department of Defense funds at Stanford Research Institute. Dave Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, was deputy secretary of defence in the Nixon administration.

But the relationship is no longer what it once was, potentially endangering American competitiveness in areas where it has always had an advantage.

In his remarks at the Defense One Tech Summit in June in Washington, Mr Carter pledged to repair the relationship. “I am committed to building and rebuilding the bridges between our national security endeavours at the Pentagon and innovators throughout the nation from the tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley,” he said, echoing remarks he had made at Stanford University.

As proof that his efforts are bearing fruit, Mr Carter can point to the creation this year of the Defense Innovation Board, which counts Google’s Eric Schmidt and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as board members, along with pilot programmes such as “Hack the Pentagon”.

Like his broader Silicon Valley charm offensive, these efforts reflect Mr Carter’s acknowledgment that the DoD has lost the influence it had in stimulating some of the most advanced technology research and development. It is no longer clear that the Valley needs DoD as much as the DoD needs the Valley.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter speaks during a press conference with India's Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar at the Pentagon on August 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP

Ashton Carter, the US secretary of defence, has made a concerted effort to court Silicon Valley

“Silicon Valley is a long way from its roots when it was funded by the DoD,” says Steve Blank, an entrepreneur and professor at Stanford University. “Most start-ups and innovative companies are unwilling to expose their intellectual property and go through the paperwork of dealing with the government so they choose not to pursue government ventures.”

Josh Wolfe, one of the founders of Lux Capital, which invests in start-ups developing technology with military and commercial applications, agrees that dealing with the DoD is a bureaucratic headache that is unfamiliar to young Valley innovators.

“Our mantra is to move fast and break stuff,” Mr Wolfe says. “And then we have these meetings with [the defence department] that are formal and bureaucratic.”

The robot race

For several years, the research arm of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has sponsored a robotics competition. Among the recent winners and top competitors have been robots from Schaft, a Japanese start-up, and Boston Dynamics. Google bought both of them, along with a few other leading-edge robot makers, as part of its big push into robotics.

Among the first messages from Google to these companies is that there would be no more dialogue with the DoD, according to two people familiar with the situation. Last year, at Google’s behest, Schaft did not compete in the Darpa competition at all.

“Google doesn’t want them to engage with us, even though Boston Dynamics’ early technology was paid for by the Department of Defense,” says Adam Jay Harrison, director of the department’s National Security Technology Accelerator, which was established to promote the development of defence start-ups. It will be officially launched on October 14.

“The Department of Defense is the world leader in funding high-risk, high-pay-off technology,” Mr Harrison adds. “But too many high-tech businesses and start-ups are turning their backs on us. We are no longer inventing the future. Others are. That’s something we have to change.”

(The robotics companies are now controlled by Alphabet, the holding company that Google established last year to run its businesses separately. Boston Dynamics has been put up for sale.)

Some Silicon Valley executives who work with Darpa insist that the system worked exactly the way it is supposed to with regard to robotics and the emerging field of automation. Darpa has always funded companies and technologies that may not have a connection to the DoD later on, they say, adding that they see the full benefit from their research investment in autonomous vehicles and robotics.

Yet Mr Harrison, who has a foot in both defence and technology, sees a frayed relationship and is determined to close the gap between the DoD and the Valley.

There are several reasons for the increasingly inimical landscape. For one thing, the DoD’s more limited resources and the relatively smaller size of the orders it gives out contrast mightily with the bulging coffers of tech companies and the venture capital firms that back them. Many specialised technologies the private sector develops need scale to be profitable — and the scale of orders they can garner from commercial applications is essential to make the investments pay off.

In an undated handout image from Google.com, a still from the Google Earth mapping website is shown. Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. have begun offering photographic search results so detailed a user can make out whether their neighbor's hedge was trimmed perfectly at the time the image was taken, or what car was parked in front of a favorite local restaurant. (AP Photo/Google.com)©AP

An image from Google Earth a decade ago. The geobrowser was originally created by a company which was part-funded by the CIA, and was acquired by Google in 2004

That means that the private sector has less financial incentive to deal with the DoD. Invariably, it is no longer the biggest player with the deepest pockets.

“The emergence of international commercial and consumer high-tech markets has substantially displaced DoD as the centre of gravity” for global research and development, noted a study from New York University that examined the National Security Technology Accelerator. While through the mid-1980s, the US government accounted for nearly 50 cents of every research dollar globally, today the amount is less than one-tenth of that, the paper says.

“When Clinton became president [in 1993], two-thirds of the relevant technology was developed by the DoD. Eight years later, when he left the White House, the percentages were reversed,” says Mario Mancuso, a former member of George W Bush’s national security team and now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, the law firm.

Mr Carter said the Pentagon has not “completely ceded research and development funding and innovative thinking” in an April speech at Stanford.

“Overall, our budget invests nearly $72bn in R&D. Now, to give you a little context, that’s more than double what Apple, Intel and Google spent on R&D last year combined,” he said.

But he acknowledged that $12.5bn of that, far less than what the leading technology groups spend, was “specifically invested in science and technology to support groundbreaking work happening in our dozens of DoD labs and engineering centres”.

The iRobot Roomba 860 cleaning the house of the Taylor family at Millwood, New York, Wednesday August 29,2007

A Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, built by iRobot, which used similar technologies in its bomb disposal robot built for the Department of Defence

Perhaps more importantly, pursuing military work is not nearly as lucrative these days for many private sector firms.

For example, iRobot, an independent robot company, developed two parallel technologies. One, iRobot’s military technology, was the recipient of an order from the DoD to defuse improvised explosive devices and other improvised bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan by safely tearing out the wiring without endangering bomb disposal technicians. The other was more mundane: a robot called Roomba that vacuums carpets. In February, iRobot said it was selling its defence and security business for $45m.

Don’t stand so close

Beyond the changing economics, the revelations from Mr Snowden three years ago concerning the extent of the National Security Agency’s spying aggravated the rift.

In 2012, Keith Alexander, then the head of the NSA, was warmly welcomed at the annual Defcon conference, which traditionally has brought together hackers and the military. After Mr Snowden’s disclosures, however, the conference invitation was rescinded.

In February last year, when President Barack Obama came to Silicon Valley to attend a summit on cyber security, Amazon and Apple were among the few tech companies to appear. Three months later, the heads of virtually every company in the Valley, with the exception of defence and security contractors such as Palantir, signed a letter to Mr Obama protesting the government’s demands for a back door to information they had encrypted.

In retrospect, 2013 “might have been the high-water mark of co-operation between the US tech industry and the nation’s government”, writes Scott Malcomson in his book Splinternet. “The programmes [Snowden] exposed showed that the US government was spying and it was using American companies whether they knew it or not and whether they liked it or not. For Silicon Valley, it is a disadvantage to be seen as a tool of the US government.”

Since then, Silicon Valley has been wary of appearing to be close to the defence department. When Mr Harrison shows up in the Valley, some companies ask him not to sign their visitors’ book, he says.

‘Better to do nothing’

One of the biggest challenges for the Pentagon is the increasing power and availability of ‘dual use’ technology. From data mining and drones to 3D printing and sensor systems, many of the most significant technology developments today have both civilian and military applications.

Members of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program used the 102nd Intelligence Wing's hangar to test small UAVs in an indoor, controlled environment.©102nd Intelligence Wing/Darpa

The Darpa Fast Lightweight Autonomy program is developing tiny, sensor-packed drones which can manoeuvre around obstacles without the need for a human controller

The development of GPS technology illustrates how dual-use applications tend to evolve. The technology behind GPS was first developed by the military and was originally restricted for use in missile guidance systems. The CIA’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel funded what became Google Earth. When commercial firms developed global positioning system technology, it brought costs down, ultimately benefiting consumers and the military, which could afford to give every soldier in the field a GPS receiver.

But the wider consumerisation of tech has put sophisticated technology into the hands of terrorists and would-be military rivals, reducing the competitive advantage of big defence. And as dual-use technologies accelerate, the cultural divide between the Pentagon and the Valley becomes more acute. Can the DoD move faster, work with start-ups and gain the benefits of the next generation of tech? Or is it hamstrung by old processes developed for big weapon systems and old military contracting methods?

“You have to remember that DoD has been accused of having a culture where it’s better to do nothing than it is to do 99 things right and one thing wrong,” says Mr Harrison.

He predicts that as tech companies pursue technologies such as driverless cars and satellite-based surveillance systems, they could soon have military-relevant technology that is actually superior to that of the DoD.

POMONA, CA - JUNE 05: An operator attempts to push over one of Boston Dynamics' Spot robot, a four-legged design for indoor and outdoor operation, during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge at the Fairplex June 5, 2015 in Pomona, California. Organized by DARPA, the Pentagon's science research group, 24 teams from around the world are competing for $3.5 million in prize money that will be awarded to the humanoid robots that best respond to natural and man-made disasters. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)©Getty

Researchers attempt to push over Boston Dynamics’ ‘Spot’ robot. Boston Dynamics was bought by Google, which distanced itself from military research contracts

Moreover, the widening chasm between the two worlds comes as China is providing stiff competition with the US in leading-edge technological spheres such as drones and human genome sequencing. The world’s largest supercomputer resides at China’s National Military University with parallel super processors made in the US.

Nevertheless, many analysts say the conservative DoD culture is only begrudgingly acknowledging the threat that the US military will be left with second-rate technology in a more dangerous world. And some are not optimistic that its efforts to change will succeed.

“Ash Carter’s laudable outreach efforts are doomed to break his heart,” says Mr Mancuso. “To show up saying you are from the government and are there to help is not the best way to win friends and influence people in Silicon Valley.”

Additional reporting by Richard Waters

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How to make sense of human resources technology – VentureBeat

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How to make sense of human resources technology – VentureBeat

The world of human resource management is under siege. Human resources technology has been changing the way HR personnel manage all that they do for years. And there is no sign of slowing. Recruiting, scheduling, employee training and the many other HR functions are being transformed by a sea of innovative software platforms and vendors.

There are dozens of technologies that manage overall human resource management and hundreds more that offer individual functionality in recruiting/staffing, workforce management, talent management and learning management.

This chart shows the VB Profiles HR Technology Landscape. (Disclosure: VB Profiles is a cooperative effort between VentureBeat and Spoke Intelligence.)

Above: VB Profiles HR Technology Landscape. (Disclosure: VB Profiles is a cooperative effort between VentureBeat and Spoke Intelligence.)

Image Credit: VB Profiles

This article is part of the HR Technology Landscape. You can download a high-resolution version of it here.

The process of selecting HR tech

As you can see from this sea of HR software, companies have a complicated decision to make. For smaller companies, a streamlined employee scheduling tool may be all that is needed while large organizations may need a full HRM software suite that includes workforce/talent/learning management functionality.

So, how do you know what HR technology your organization needs?

This is where a software requirements gathering exercise is imperative. Software selection requirements gathering is a growing need in companies of all sizes considering how much IT spend is wasted. If HR tech is roughly a $20-40B market (2015) and 70% of IT spend is wasted – billions of dollars are being wasted in poorly selected HR technology.

Using requirements gathering templates and a software selection platform will help you better manage and increase your likelihood of getting the right solution. This is especially important in today’s HR tech cycle considering 40% of companies are planning on a HRMS overhaul.

What’s underneath all of these company logos?

Obviously the accompanying graphic paints a high-level picture of HR technology categories and the bounty of solutions available in each. In reality, these technologies have a deep set of features that can provide real value to any human resource department or recruiting firm.

Wading through all of these possible solutions is a challenging task. Aside from the formal requirements gathering, you have to learn more about the best-fit solutions based on the needs you are after. For example if you’re looking for a Core HR/Human Resource Management solution there are countless product directories that will tell you more about the solution including user ratings and reviews.

Further, you can also delve into all the content each of these HR tech companies provide that will not just educate you on their products but educate you on how to get the most out of HR tech in general.

Understanding the Different Categories of HR Tech

Core human resource management

There are also comprehensive HR software tools that help human resource departments better manage many of their responsibilities. This includes hiring and firing under that general umbrella of HR services, but also includes elements of payroll and other processes that are paperwork-intensive.

The best human resource management platforms have easy and user-friendly modules for payroll, accounting and tax information purposes. They’ll have ways to track the relationships of each individual employee to the business, and they’ll have other functions related to looking at how someone is performing, and tools for discovering any potential problems with their responsibilities in their given job roles.

Recruiting and staffing

 Often, the move toward technology starts with bringing people in the door. Companies are moving toward using automated processes for hiring and recruiting – bringing more efficient, digitally supported approaches to finding the best talent in the open market.

Features in these platforms help companies plug in detailed information about each candidate, in much the same way that Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms progressively build files on every single prospect and customer.

Talent management

Later in the pipeline, talent management software can support various functions including those of the previous category, recruiting, along with performance management, ongoing learning / employee development programs as well as compensation management.

Workforce management

 After people are hired, workforce management tools help companies to approach that big-picture job of managing teams of people and directing them toward results.

Workforce management software has many capabilities from payroll, attendance, forecasting/scheduling, labor budgeting, leave management and more.

Learning management

 Learning management software focuses on ongoing employee training, supporting an organization’s ability to retain employees while also helping to improve the quality and productivity of employee’s work. These platforms create the curriculum, deliver online training programs and track employee training progress and results.

Clearly some of these categories have overlapping functionality which is all the more reason to make sure you define your requirements thoroughly.

Wrangling the chaos of human resources

With the development of all of these new products, we can see where HR management is going in the future. Instead of moving forward in a vague environment or in operational chaos, managers will be able to call on particular metrics and analytical platforms to make data-drive decisions.

These software platforms are all part of a newly automated and upgraded digital set of systems that help companies to automate the complicated process of tracking employees, allowing them to focus more keenly on core operations and innovate in their markets. HR technology is fundamentally changing how companies relate to their workers, as we continue into our profoundly data-centric and technical age.

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The biggest breakthrough technology at Eurobike? – VeloNews

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The biggest breakthrough technology at Eurobike? – VeloNews

Photo: John Bradley | VeloNews.com

For all the great stuff one sees at Eurobike, true “holy s—t!” products are rare. This new tech product from Argon 18 is, we’ll say it, a holy shit product.

The plastic nose unit on the front of this bike houses a computer that pulls data from 22 sensors — a collection of strain gauges, accelerometers, proximity sensors, wind-speed sensors, proximity gauges, and a barometer. The resulting data provides real-time and post-ride analysis of aerodynamics and rider position. (The latter is even more accurate with optional body sensors.)

Craziest part: This will be a consumer product when it launches next year, available both integrated into Argon 18 bikes and as an aftermarket unit for any road or tri bike. There’s no name at the moment. The company is just calling it the Smart Bike internally but will launch with a new product name. Pricing isn’t set, either, but the goal is to have it priced comparably to current power meters.

Photo: John Bradley | VeloNews.comPhoto: John Bradley | VeloNews.com

Marc Graveline, the retired engineer and tech executive who developed the system, says final production versions will be much smaller. The prototype unit is oversized to allow engineers to easily swap out components. (Graveline retired young and is an avid triathlete, which led him to this project.)

While data, including aerodynamic drag, can be displayed in real time on a Garmin head unit, post-ride data playback will include rider animations showing how shifts in position affect drag and power output.

Basically, if the system works as advertised, the data that people can currently get only in low-speed wind tunnels will now be available on every single ride. That’s worth geeking out about.

Photo: John Bradley | VeloNews.comPhoto: John Bradley | VeloNews.com

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Sony to boost smartphone batteries because people aren't replacing phones – The Guardian

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Sony to boost smartphone batteries because people aren't replacing phones – The Guardian

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The Guardian
Sony to boost smartphone batteries because people aren't replacing phones
The Guardian
The Japanese electronics firm has partnered with Californian adaptive charging company Qnovo to put technology into its Xperia smartphones. This includes the new top-end Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact, which Sony reckons will double the life of the …

and more »

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Let There (Not) Be Light! How Technology Can Help You Get Better Sleep – Entrepreneur

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Let There (Not) Be Light! How Technology Can Help You Get Better Sleep – Entrepreneur

We’ve all heard the expression, “There’re not enough hours in the day.” And, if you’re like me and practically everyone else I know, you’ll see that statement as describing long slogs of work after the sun has set — a seeming requirement for more and more entrepreneurs these days.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Should Never Feel Guilty for Sleeping (Infographic)

For us as business owners, in fact, our days are artificially longer, and our nights, shorter, leading to less sleep and the negative side effects that that entails.

I’m not just talking crabbiness. Sleep insufficiency is linked to motor vehicle crashes, occupational errors and chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The federal agency estimates that fully 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder.

That leads inevitably to a discussion about something called sleep hygiene. The CDC defines sleep hygiene as the promotion of good sleep habits: going to bed at the same time each night and avoiding large meals, caffeine or alcohol before bed. Sounds easy, right?

Sure, you can also stop checking emails at the exact same time each night, magically get the kids on to the perfect sleep schedule and, while you’re at it, summon the will to never check Facebook or Instagram after 8 p.m. But there’s seldom just one cause to the problem: “Sleep insufficiency,” the CDC warns, “may be caused by broad-scale societal factors, such as round-the-clock access to technology and work schedules.”

Let there be light! But only the right kind.

Changing our routines or behavior isn’t impossible, it’s just not very realistic (e.g., how many times have you actually kept your New Year resolutions?). Besides, there are much easier things we can do to help get a better night’s sleep. I’m not talking about changing your dinner time, but working with one thing in particular that already helps us regulate sleep: light.

Studies on light, and how it affects our circadian rhythm — or internal clock — are becoming more common, given our dependence on technology that has us staring at bright computer and phone screens all day, before bedtime and sometimes all night.  

The problem is that the screens on our phones, tablets and computers emit blue light, which is on the same wavelength as the sun and tells our bodies that it’s daytime — which keeps us alert. Blue light suppresses our body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that tells us it’s time to get sleepy. This artificially afters our circadian rhythm and impacts our mood, behavior, sleep patterns, even our bodily functions, down to the cellular level.

Related: Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea Might Be Why You’re Drowsy All Day

It’s not only personal tech devices that are having this blue-light effect, but tech on a larger scale, such as LED street lights.

On the flip side, warmer lighting, on the amber spectrum, doesn’t impact our body the way blue lighting does and is what our body needs when it’s time to relax and fall asleep. Amber lighting emits warmer hues of light like that of a candle’s glow, allowing us to wind down and let our melatonin do its job.

When the bad guy turns good

Despite all of our sub-par sleep (thanks to our dependence on staying connected), continued research and innovation are helping us turn the tide and use technology-emitted light to our advantage. A great example is Apple’s recent addition of the Night Shift feature on iPhones. Turning on Night Shift lets you customize the color temperature that your screen emits at a time of your choosing; you can even align it with the rising and setting of the sun. Set it up and go: You don’t have to do anything but turn it on.

Another stellar tool is f.lux, a computer software that is very similar to Night Shift.  However, f.lux offers more customization options that let you change the color effects to “Darkroom,” so the software emits only red light and let you set a “backwards alarm clock”; that way, you know how much sleep you’ll get if you go to bed at any given moment.

I use both Night Shift and f.lux, and they’re brilliant. As happens with anything new, skeptics aren’t bashful about expressing their opinions, but sleep science still validates the need for apps and programs to help us keep our circadian rhythm in check. There has also been a revolution within the lighting industry to create light bulbs that change the color temperature they emit, either manually or through advancements in responsive sensor technology.

Related: Arianna Huffington: ‘Sleep Deprivation Is the New Smoking’

With lights and lighting, then, we seem to be at a turning point when it comes to understanding how technology affects our bodies. Not only do we know more about how light impacts us, but we’re learning how to take advantage of the very medium that exacerbated the problem in the first place — technology.

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The irresponsibility of giant tech companies – The Guardian

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The irresponsibility of giant tech companies – The Guardian

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The Guardian
The irresponsibility of giant tech companies
The Guardian
Rafael Behr is wrong to claim that giant technological corporations possess power that goes beyond the control of elected governments. What they do have is the power to defy weak government – a situation common in Europe, where the prevailing

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Dolby Vision For HDR TVs Is Superior Technology With One Notable Drawback – Forbes

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Dolby Vision For HDR TVs Is Superior Technology With One Notable Drawback – Forbes

[unable to retrieve full-text content]


Forbes
Dolby Vision For HDR TVs Is Superior Technology With One Notable Drawback
Forbes
In an article on HDR (High Dynamic Range) TV, I wrote about Dolby Vision as one of two competing HDR formats and pointed out that the other format, HDR10, currently gives the viewer access to more HDR material. HDR10 is arguably the format of choice …

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Flywheel technology could create new savings for light rail transit – Phys.Org

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Flywheel technology could create new savings for light rail transit – Phys.Org

Flywheel technology could create new savings for light rail transit

UAlberta mechanical engineering professors Marc Secanell and Pierre Mertiny have discovered definite advantages to using flywheel technology in light rail transit. Credit: Richard Cairney/UAlberta Engineering

(Edmonton) University of Alberta mechanical engineering professors Pierre Mertiny and Marc Secanell are looking to make an old technology new again and save some money for transit train operators such as the Edmonton LRT while they do it.

“The flywheel is an old technology, but that’s partly what makes it so sensible,” says Mertiny. “Fundamentally, it’s a really simple technology. We already have everything we need.”

The two recently calculated that the use of flywheel technology to assist light rail transit in Edmonton., Alberta, would produce energy savings of 31 per cent and cost savings of 11 per cent. Their findings are published in the July 2016 edition of the journal Energy (“Analysis of a flywheel storage system for light rail transit”).

A flywheel is exactly what it sounds like: a disk, also known as the rotor, rotates and increases its rotational speed as it is fed electricity. This rotational energy can then be turned back into electrical energy whenever it is needed. It is, in a sense, a mechanical battery. The system loses very little energy to heat or friction because it operates in a vacuum and may even use magnetic bearings to levitate the rotor.

Although we don’t hear a lot about flywheel technology, it is used for ‘high-end’ applications, like the International Space Station or race cars built by Audi and Porsche. In North America, high-capacity flywheels are also used in areas of high population density, such as New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, to buffer electricity to prevent power outages.

Secanell and Mertiny examined the possibility of using flywheel technology to store energy generated when the city’s LRT trains decelerate and stop. Trains such as the LRT are designed with so-called dynamic braking, using traction motors on the train’s wheels, for smooth stops. But the deceleration generates energy, which needs to go somewhere.

“Electric and fuel cell vehicles, already implement regenerative braking in order to store the energy produced during braking for start-up, so why would trains not be able to do so?” says Secanell, whose research also focuses on fuel cell vehicle technologies.

Currently that electricity is considered ‘dirty’ electricity because it is intermittent and therefore difficult to use. Conventional systems simply send the braking electric power to resistors on the train, which convert the electrical energy to heat, which is then released into the air. A flywheel system would take the electrical energy and store it as mechanical energy. This mechanical energy could would then be converted back to electrical energy when the train is ready to leave the station again.

“It’s difficult to use a conventional battery for this purpose,” explains Mertiny. “You need to recharge and discharge a lot of energy very quickly. Batteries don’t last long under those conditions.”

Mertiny and Secanell predict that using a flywheel to capture the electricity generated by a train’s deceleration and applying it for acceleration would produce an energy savings of 31 per cent and cost savings of 11 per cent on the Edmonton LRT system. A flywheel system could result in substantial energy and cost savings for the city.

“The city of Hannover in Germany is already testing flywheel technology for just this purpose,” says Mertiny. “They have banks of flywheels at each station to capture and re-use the electricity generated when their trains come into the station.”

Keeping the flywheels at each station meant that Hannover’s trains did not have to be retro-fitted for the development.

Secanell and Mertiny are involved in a pan-Canadian Energy Storage Network investigating ways to optimize the flywheel energy storage and cost. Mertiny is also currently working with Landmark Homes of Edmonton, through the U of A’s Nasseri School of Building Science and Engineering, to develop a prototype flywheel to store solar energy for household use.

Explore further: Saving energy and the environment with Flywheels

More information: A. Rupp et al, Analysis of a flywheel energy storage system for light rail transit, Energy (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.energy.2016.04.051

Provided by: University of Alberta

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