Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CERN: 'Don't believe the Higgs-Boson hype'

CERN is pouring cold water on the rumor it's gonna announce the discovery of the Higgs at today's seminar in Zurich. For the uninitiated: the Higgs-Boson is the particle that is believed to give all things mass: it surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. The scuttlebutt is that the ATLAS sensor picked up a Higgs with a mass of 125GeV (gigaelectronvolts) and rated at three-point-five-sigma -- a one sigma barely warrants a mention, a five-sigma is a bona-fide scientific discovery. CERN hasn't confirmed or denied anything, claiming it's still got five inverse femtobarns worth of data (roughly 5 x 70 x 10^12 of individual collisions) to examine before it can be sure, so just chuck the one bottle of champagne into the refrigerator -- better to be safe, eh?

Update: Looks like we don't need to bust out the bubbly, after all. The conclusion from the two-hour presentation is that the ATLAS detector has been able to narrow down the region it believes the Higgs is in to 115.5GeV to 131GeV and that any discovery so-far only has a rating of two point three sigma. The CMS is similarly inconclusive, with results bobbing around the two sigma region. In short, whilst they know where they should look, they haven't been able to find one -- yet.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aldebaran Robotics announces Nao Next Gen humanoid robot

Aldebaran Robotics' Nao robot has already received a few upgrades from both the company itself andother developers, but it now has a proper successor. Aldebaran took the wraps off its new and improved Nao Next Gen robot today, touting features like a 1.6GHz Atom processor and dual HD cameras that promise to allow for better face and object recognition even in poor lighting conditions. What's more, while robot's outward appearance hasn't changed much, it has also received a number of software upgrades, including Nuance voice recognition, an improved walking algorithm, and a number of other measures to cut down on unwanted collisions. As before, the robot is aimed squarely at researchers and developers, but the Aldebaran's chairman notes that the company is continuing to pursue its goal of providing a Nao intended for individuals -- a goal he notes is being aided by the contributions from itsdeveloper program. Check out the gallery below and the video after the break for a closer look.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

ZOMM Wireless Leash Plus speaks up for abandoned iPhones

ZOMM's Wireless Leash plus is a hockey puck you clip onto your keychain and forget about -- until things start to go wrong. Tethering to your iPhone over Bluetooth, it'll start raising hell if your phone gets too far away from you. It's also a speakerphone (with a noise-canceling microphone) for taking calls on the road, a personal attack alarm, and it'll call the emergency services at the push of a button. Paired to the free myZOMM app, you can geotag your car so you remember where it is in the multi-story lot or check out the last known location of your most precious stuff. It's shipping now for $80 and a further $30 will get you a safe driving kit, not that we need to remind you that driving with a phone in your hand is a bad thing, right?


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kobot personal EV concept collapses, lets Cat Woman park anywhere she wants

Kobot EVs

We've seen our fair share of folding cars, but here's where those concepts and the Kobot EVs differ -- these might actually come to market. These personal transportation vehicles are already far enough along to be rolling about the floor of the Tokyo Motor Show and Kowa Tmsuk (the joint venture between medical supply company Kowa and robot manufacturer Tmsuk) plan to have the first model out by fall of next year. There were three varieties on display at the show: the sporty, red Kobot ν (nyu) being ridden by Cat Woman in the photo above; the green Kobot β (beta), which collapses to just a 30-inch footprint (a tad under one foot); and the two person Kobot π. The electric "cars" shrink with the tap of a button on a smartphone, only have a top speed of 30 km/h (about 19MPH) and are intended for short urban jaunts where parking is at a premium. Check out the source for a bunch more photos and head after the break for a clip of the personal propulsion pods in action.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Samsung teases flexible, transparent display in concept video

Samsung's flexible display technology isn't slated to hit the market until 2012, but the Korean manufacturer is already giving us a glimpse of how it may transform our lives, with a freshly released concept video. Yes, it's just a concept ad, and a relatively brief one at that, but it still paints a pretty mouth-watering portrait -- one full of transparent, flexible screens, smartphone-tablet hybrids, and augmented reality. Check it out for yourself, after the break.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why smart managers tell stupid lies

U. TORONTO (CAN) —A new study may explain why corporate managers, like those in the Enron scandal, lie about their companies’ earnings, even though it will hurt their own careers and the businesses they work for.

Unless current shareholders also suffer a penalty for earnings manipulation and insider trading, they will encourage unethical and damaging behavior that may harm the company later, a new study suggests.

A limited capacity to see the whole picture—known as “bounded rationality”—combined with a faulty ethical compass are two big reasons, shows a new study from the University of Toronto. The study, reported in the journal Accounting and Public and Policy, also finds that shareholders are just as guilty of the same weaknesses and that insider trading is linked to earnings manipulation.

“For a long time we’ve asked ourselves, ‘How come smart, rational people carry out short-term schemes that in the long-term undoubtedly are going to sink them?” says author Ramy Elitzur, associate professor of accounting.

“The answer is— we’re not rational. We’re rational only in a limited sense.”

The study bases its findings on a model of the manager-owner relationship over time. The model is also noteworthy for combining principles of game theory—used to predict strategic behavior—with the idea of bounded rationality—that our decisions are always made within the limits of available time, information, and the human capacity to analyze it.

“It tells us, for example, that if we would like to have managers who engage less in earnings manipulation and in insider trading, we should look for managers who are more ethical and suffer less from bounded rationality,” says Elitzur.

That’s not a trivial finding, he says, because the model also shows that choosing less ethical managers may be in the best interests of current shareholders, but not future ones.

Unless current shareholders also suffer a penalty for such a choice, they will encourage unethical and damaging behavior. Some provisions in the U.S. Senate’s Financial Regulation Overhaul bill from 2010 help to guard against these tendencies, the study says.

The case of Enron is well known. The scandal at Satyam Computer Services was dubbed “India’s Enron,” and broke in 2009. Prior to his resignation, Satyam’s chairman Ramalinga Raju admitted to years of systematic inflation of earnings and assets, beginning with small manipulations of account statements that eventually got out of control.

Elitzur says that it took a decade to develop his model and get it published, partly because of initial resistance to his findings.

“Many accountants believed that markets are efficient and as such, a lot of the issues of earnings management would be corrected by the markets,” he says.

“But this belief has changed over time, and we understand better now that earnings manipulation occurs and does indeed affect markets.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New phone battery charges 10x faster

NORTHWESTERN (US) — A new lithium-ion battery not only holds a charge up to 10 times longer than current technology, but can also charge 10 times faster.

By combining two chemical engineering approaches, researchers were able to address two major lithium-ion battery limitations—energy capacity and charge rate—in one fell swoop. In addition to better batteries for cellphones and iPods, the technology could pave the way for more efficient, smaller batteries for electric cars.

Researchers combined two chemical engineering approaches to address two major limitations faced by rechargeable batteries like those found in cellphones and iPods—energy capacity and charge rate—in one fell swoop. The technology could also pave the way for more efficient, smaller batteries for electric cars.

The technology, reported in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, could be seen in the marketplace in the next three to five years, researchers say.

“We have found a way to extend a new lithium-ion battery’s charge life by 10 times,” says Harold H. Kung, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. “Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today.”

Lithium-ion batteries charge through a chemical reaction in which lithium ions are sent between two ends of the battery, the anode and the cathode. As energy in the battery is used, the lithium ions travel from the anode, through the electrolyte, and to the cathode; as the battery is recharged, they travel in the reverse direction.

With current technology, the performance of a lithium-ion battery is limited in two ways. Its energy capacity—how long a battery can maintain its charge—is limited by the charge density, or how many lithium ions can be packed into the anode or cathode. Meanwhile, a battery’s charge rate—the speed at which it recharges—is limited by another factor: the speed at which the lithium ions can make their way from the electrolyte into the anode.

In current rechargeable batteries, the anode that is made of layer upon layer of carbon-based graphene sheets, can only accommodate one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms. To increase energy capacity, scientists have previously experimented with replacing the carbon with silicon, as silicon can accommodate much more lithium: four lithium atoms for every silicon atom.

But silicon expands and contracts dramatically in the charging process, causing fragmentation and losing its charge capacity rapidly.

Currently, the speed of a battery’s charge rate is hindered by the extreme thinness of the graphene sheets: just one carbon atom thick, but by comparison, very long. During the charging process, a lithium ion must travel all the way to the outer edges of the graphene sheet before entering and coming to rest between the sheets. And because it takes so long for lithium to travel to the middle of the graphene sheet, a sort of ionic traffic jam occurs around the edges of the material.

Kung and colleagues have combined two techniques to combat both problems. First, to stabilize the silicon in order to maintain maximum charge capacity, they sandwiched clusters of silicon between the graphene sheets, allowing for a greater number of lithium atoms in the electrode while utilizing the flexibility of graphene sheets to accommodate the volume changes of silicon during use.

“Now we almost have the best of both worlds,” Kung says. “We have much higher energy density because of the silicon, and the sandwiching reduces the capacity loss caused by the silicon expanding and contracting. Even if the silicon clusters break up, the silicon won’t be lost.”

Kung’s team also used a chemical oxidation process to create miniscule holes (10 to 20 nanometers) in the graphene sheets—called in-plane defects—so the lithium ions would have a shortcut into the anode and be stored there by reaction with silicon. This reduced the time it takes the battery to recharge by up to 10 times.

This research focused on the anode. The next step, Kung says, is to begin studying changes in the cathode that could further increase effectiveness of the batteries and look into developing an electrolyte system that will allow the battery to automatically and reversibly shut off at high temperatures—a safety mechanism that could prove vital in electric car applications.