Nanowires. Probably the most interesting breakthrough is that Vanderbilt University student Junhao Lin has created nanowires that measure only three atoms wide. These wires are made from the same semiconducting materials that are used today to make chips and circuits. These nanowires are completely flexible and yet strong and could be used to build electronic devices that are completely flexible. Imagine a television that you could jam into your pocket and then unroll and watch later.
But the real potential for these nanowires is that they could be used to create 3D circuits. The semiconductor world has been following Moore’s law and constantly making circuits smaller. But they are now bumping into the limits of physics as the boards have gotten components the size of molecules. In all of the improvements we have kept to the idea of using circuits that lay out electronics on a flat surface in the same way that we made the first transistor boards. But going to 3D circuits would allow the creation of smaller and more complex circuits in a much smaller space. Think of a complex circuit board the size of the head of a pin. Think of circuits that can finally mimic the structure of the human brain.
Swarming Robots. Researchers at Harvard have been developing tiny swarms of robots that mimic the action of termites. They see these robots as a way to build structures in the future. Termites are interesting in that they work collectively to build complex yet strong structures and some of the African termites can build enduring mounds that are strong and lasting
The beauty of termite-like robots is that they could build structures without human intervention. Set them loose with a pile of building materials and they could construct buildings or other needed structures anywhere. Think of this as a low cost way to provide cheap shelter and housing, to build rural cellular repeaters or to build structure on Mars that would be ready for a future colony
Free Cellphone Charging. Engineers are working on a number of different ways to keep our cellphones perpetually charged without having to rely on being plugged into the walls. And these same technologies can be used to power the small devices that are going to power the Internet of things. There are different technologies being tried, and it might require the combination of a few of these ideas to make a phone or device that always stays charged.
One field of research has to do with thermoelectricity that takes advantage of temperature differences. Electrons flee from hot to cold and it only takes small temperature differences to drive this, such as the difference between the human body and a smartphone. Electricity can also be generated by piezoelectric means using materials that generate electricity when compressed or shaken. This might make it possible to charge your phone using the vibrations from being in a moving vehicle. Finally, electricity can be generated by biomechanical means. It’s possible that the movement of a person walking could be harvested to charge their phone.
Beam Me Up Scotty. A team at Delft University in the Netherlands has recently been able to transmit 100% accurate information about subatomic particles for a distance of three meters. This involves using what is called entanglement, meaning that particles that are far apart can be brought into perfect alignment. Their next experiment will be to try this from locations many miles apart.
While it’s a long way to go from these early experiments that are proving that entanglement can be achieved, the technology could eventually make it possible to have real-time transmission of information over large distances. This could be used to create faster-than-light radios or ‘beaming’ specifications to construct an exact duplicate of an object possible.