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  1. Supergrids

    A high-power circuit breaker could finally make DC power grids practical.

  2. Smart Watches

    The designers of the Pebble watch realized that a mobile phone is more useful if you don’t have to take it out of your pocket.

  3. Ultra-Efficient Solar Power

    Doubling the efficiency of solar devices would completely change the economics of renewable energy. Here is a design that just might make it possible.

  4. Memory Implants

    A maverick neuroscientist believes he has deciphered the code by which the brain forms long-term memories.

  5. Prenatal DNA Sequencing

    Reading the DNA of fetuses is the next frontier of the genome revolution. Do you really want to know the genetic destiny of your unborn child?

  6. Deep Learning

    With massive amounts of computational power, machines can now recognize objects and translate speech in real time. Artificial intelligence is finally getting smart.

  7. Additive Manufacturing

    GE, the world’s largest manufacturer, is on the verge of using 3-D printing to make jet parts.

  8. Big Data from Cheap Phones

    Collecting and analyzing information from simple cell phones can provide surprising insights into how people move about and behave—and even help us understand the spread of diseases.

  9. Temporary Social Media

    Messages that quickly self-destruct could enhance the privacy of online communication and make people feel freer to be spontaneous.

  10. Baxter: The Blue-Collar Robot

    Rethink Robotics’ new creation is easy to interact with, but the innovations behind the robot show just how hard it is to get along with people.

  • At ABB’s lab in Sweden, equipment such as corona shields—polished disks linked to form spheres—are used to test a high-voltage DC circuit breaker.
  • Supergrids

    A high-power circuit breaker could finally make DC power grids practical.

  • by Kevin Bullis
  • High-voltage DC power lines can efficiently transport electricity over thousands of kilometers and for long distances underwater, outperforming the AC lines that dominate transmission grids now. But for a century, AC prevailed because high-voltage DC could be used only for point-to-point transmission, not to form the integrated grid networks needed for a stable electricity system.

    The Swiss conglomerate ABB has solved the main technical hurdle to such grids. It has developed a practical high-voltage DC circuit breaker that disconnects parts of the grid that have a problem, allowing the rest to keep working.

    DC grids would be more efficient at connecting far-flung sources of renewable energy, allowing utilities to average out local variations in wind and solar power while bringing power to areas without much sunshine or wind. Solar power from the Sahara could power cloudy Germany, and wind power from all over Europe could keep the lights on at night. The result: more reliable renewable energy that can better compete with fossil fuels.

    A simulation center develops controls for DC grids.
    ABB workers at a DC-to-AC conversion station.

    Hear more about renewable energy at EmTech MIT 2017.

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