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Hardware
Advanced Materials on Display

Sterling, VA-based market researcher NanoMarkets predicts that two emerging types of electronics will soon become common in displays: those made with carbon nanotubes and “plastic electronics” made with organic polymers or small molecules. The new displays promise to be exceptionally thin, lightweight, bright, and even bendable, and to consume much less power than traditional displays. NanoMarkets projects that sales of such displays will near $9 billion in 2012.

Electronics
Light Construction

A U.S. department of energy study says that if homes and offices swapped their light bulbs for white light-emitting diodes (LEDs), they could slash U.S. electricity costs by $100 billion over the next 20 years. But the LEDs themselves are expensive enough that their use for general illumination has been limited mainly to high-end buildings. So a number of major LED and lighting companies – Nichia, GE spinoff GelCore, Osram Opto Semiconductors, and Philips – are now launching an alliance to find economical ways to build LEDs into offices and homes.

The effort is now taking shape in a demonstration lab sponsored by alliance members and being built at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. There, researchers intend to create a uniform set of snap-together wall, ceiling, and LED-based lighting panels that are all prewired with safe, low-voltage electrical connections. The idea is that the panels would replace both plasterboard and conventional wiring and lighting fixtures. This, says Nadarajah Narendran, director of research at RPI’s Lighting Research Center, would cut construction costs enough to balance out the higher costs of LEDs; it would also make it easy and inexpensive to reconfigure living spaces. RPI is scheduled to open the demonstration lab this summer and begin holding the first focus groups with construction experts and building-materials manufacturers.

Telecom
Software-Defined Radio

Any one of today’s radio-based devices, such as cell phones, GPS receivers, and wireless modems, is likely hardwired to use a single communication protocol and frequency–one reason that many cell phones don’t work when you travel abroad. Imagine instead devices that could switch easily between different protocols, frequencies, or even functions. That’s the goal of software-defined radio technology, which allows the radio chip in a wireless device to change its reception and output frequency and protocol via a change in software. Military customers have been early adopters. Market researcher Venture Development predicts that further adoption by militaries, followed by the cellular and public-safety industries, will drive market revenues in North America and Europe to more than $5 billion in 2007.

From “The Case for Fuel-Cell-Powered Vehicles”
(August/September 1980, p. 60)

Fuel-cell-powered golf cart developed at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.
Air and tanks of hydrogen currently feed the fuel cell, which is enclosed by insulation. The addition of a reformer would permit the use of methanol-water fuel mixture.

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