This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
A multidisciplinary team led by researchers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has created a new fabrication technique for fully foldable robots that can perform a variety of complex tasks without relying on semiconductors. By embedding flexible and electrically conductive materials into a pre-cut, thin polyester film sheet, the researchers created a system of information-processing units, or transistors, which can be integrated with sensors and actuators. They then programmed the sheet with simple computer analogical functions that emulate those of semiconductors. Once cut, folded, and assembled, the sheet transformed into an autonomous robot that can sense, analyze, and act in response to their environments with precision. Pre-assembled robots built by this flexible technique could be transported in flat packaging for space missions, where every cubic centimeter counts. The lightweight and simple-to-fabricate robots could also lead to innovative educational tools or toys.
Contact: Christine Wei-li Lee
Researchers have discovered a way to “translate” quantum information between different kinds of quantum technologies, with significant implications for quantum computing, communication, and networking. Photons are essential for quantum information technologies, but different technologies use them at different frequencies. If you want to build a quantum network, or connect quantum computers, you can’t send around microwave photons because their grip on their quantum information is too weak to survive the trip. The solution is to transfer the quantum information to a higher-frequency photon, called an optical photon, which is much more resilient against ambient noise. The technology works both ways: It can transfer quantum information from microwave photons to optical photons, and vice versa, thereby, serve as a fundamental building block to a quantum internet.
Contact: Emily Edwards
Sensor-Free Valve Control
New technology is making it possible to control valves and locking devices without the need for any additional sensors. A metal piston, a tiny chip, and small pulses of current — that’s all that the drive systems specialists led by Professor Matthias Nienhaus of Saarland University need for their patented technology. The continuously adjustable piston can move back and forth slowly or quickly as required, can hold any position, and can return softly to its stop position if desired. The actuation technology requires very little energy and can be integrated into systems via a specially developed chip. The solution doesn’t require any additional sensors. Especially when it comes to systems that continuously need power to hold a position such as ‘open’ or ‘closed’, the new technology can minimize the energy required. All that’s needed is a magnetically conductive metal pin in a coil of wound copper wire and a small microchip within the drive electronics.