News in Brief

Posted on April 16, 2012


Apple down, ARMS up

At a time when technology giant Apple is facing huge and growing problems with its latest product, the much smaller Cambridge-based company ARM Holdings is looking like a major British success story. They have developed a new energy-saving microchip which the company claims might enable a whole new wave of internet-connected gadgets.

Apple iPhone 3GS, Motorola Milestone and LG GW60The chip, so the company claims, has the same sort of processing power as is found in modern smartphones but uses only one-third of the power. This, they say, will allow the chip to be included on a wide variety of household gadgets such as fridges, cookers or even irons and will wirelessly connect them to the internet without putting a strain on the national grid or on the household electricity bills.

Changed Times are forced to wonder why, if it is so good, they don’t mention making new smartphones with the chip and save us all from the daily grind of telephone recharging.

Future Fabrics

Green LEDs woven or sewn into a piece of women...While on the subject of power supplies and use, we were attracted by a recent article in New Scientist magazine about so-called “smart fabrics.” For many years, there have been regular rumours of flexible conductors that could be woven into fabrics and we have even seen the odd flat, flexible, battery in T-shirts adorned with flashing or changing LEDs as part of the design such as in the annoying “Wi-Fi Signal” shirts that indicate the strength of the local wireless signal. Such things have, though, been additions to the fabric rather than oven into the very fabric of the shirt itself. Now, it seems that Maksim Skorobogatiy and collegues at the Polytechnic School of Montreal have done exactly that.

The battery is built by putting a solid polyethylene oxide electrolytebetween a lithium iron phosphate cathode and a lithium itanate anode. Since all of these are thermoplastic, they can then be stretched under mild heat to make a material that looks a little like artificial leather. Strips of this can then be woven into cotton fabrics along with conductive threads to connect the batteries in series.

While at the moment they can be used to light LEDs, it is suggested that a garment could be made to deliver hundreds of volts to neable applications where clothes deliver power for use in emergencies, such as a personal distress signal or even a wearable defibrillator.

Chew on this

In the world of 3D printing we have so far been pretty much limited to small trinkets or very expensive components for other machines but now, so it seems, we are moving into the era of printable medical prosthetics.

Belgian JawboneAn 83-year-old woman from Belgium had her jawbone destroyed by an infection of osteomyelitis but has now been provided with a prosthetic replacement. A team at Biomed, the research department of the Hasselt University, used an MRI scan of the patient’s jaw to get the shape right and then fed the details into a laser sintering 3D printer which fused titanium particles to recerate the shape of her missing lower jaw. After coating in biocompatible ceramics, the replacement was then implanted in to unfortunate woman.

Thanks to channels in the printed deice for both nerves and muscle attachments together with a fixed denture replacement, the implanted jawbone has been a remarkable success and the woman is now able to eat, speak and even swallow normally.

Value for Who?

Sykes Farm Trough of Bowland. Taken from Sykes...Now let’s be honest and declare an interest about this from the start: Changed Times is produced in rural Lancashire, just south of the Trough of Bowland where internet speeds are, to be blunt, not good at all. We happen to be lucky enough to reach 3 Mbs and sometimes the dizzy heights of 4 Mbs – but not the fifty to a hundred that marks the “high speed internet” touted by British governments.

As a result, we were delighted to hear that residents and farmers in Bowland are setting up their own high speed internet connection without the help of the government or British Telecom. When completed, they hope to expand it to the Lune and to the south – which may even reach us. In response, the British government chose to remind us that it will be spending £534 million on building its high speed internet because it will benefit everyone in the country, not to mention make it actually possible to use the digital services the government insists we now use!

But take a moment to work that out: £534 million for the 70 million British people it will be useful for works out at just £7.63 per person. Now, compare that to the £36.4 billion pounds they admit to as the cost of the ner-useless HS2 rail line. That line will be useful to the 35 million people who can’t get where they are going on the East Coast line – but only to the 11 million of them living along it. Even then, only at best 250,000 of them will be able to afford and make use of it so that works out at about £150,000 per person.

If anyone in government would like to explain why something useful to everyone is worth spending only one twenty-thousandth of the cost of something of very limited use, we would love to hear it.