Discarded Electronics Are Literal Gold Mines

If you have seen any dystopian film or have read any piece at all of dystopian literature, you would know that a landscape made of metal offers intense horrors that bank on some of the deep-seated fears of today’s society.

Realistically speaking, we have been inventing ways to address the problem of metal such as recycling laptop batteries into a source of alternative energy or something as strangely innovative as making stylish backpacks out of car parts, but there is a need to push further. A trio of researchers recently took a shot at that and conducted a study which tries to answer how profitable it is to recover metals from old electronics.

In 2016 alone, the world discarded 44.7 million metric tons of unusable or simply unwanted electronics, according to the United Nations’ 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor report. That’s 4,500 Eiffel Towers-worth of phones, laptops, microwaves, and TVs. Only 20 percent of this e-waste was properly recycled that year. The rest was likely either incinerated, pumping pollution into the atmosphere, or added to a landfill somewhere, with its toxins now leaking into our soil and water supply.

It turns out, urban mining costs much less than traditional mining. The researchers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Sydney’s Macquarie University published their results in a scientific journal after collecting data from recycling companies in China. While the cost of recycling might vary from country to country, China’s status as the world’s biggest producer of e-waste makes light of the truth that the practice of urban mining could have a big impact on both economic and environmental matters.

[W]e already knew electronics contain precious metals in addition to all that glass and plastic. While a single smartphone might not contain all that much, consumers buy about 1.7 billion of the devices each year. In just one million of those, you’ll find roughly 75 pounds of gold, 35,000 pounds of copper, and 772 pounds of silver.

Necessary reminder though: this is no reason at all to justify our technological consumption practices. If anything, it should make us ask more conscientiously, what do I do with my smartphone once I find a new replacement that has great upgrades and loads informative online articles (like this!) much faster?

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Cheap Solar Device Creates Hydrogen And Electricity

With the rise of solar power comes a great hurdle — bringing it into households. While scientists at the University of Exeter have masterminded glass solar blocks, those at UC Berkeley are working down to the atom. To bring cheaper options to the table, UCLA research teams are testing a solar gadget that creates hydrogen and electricity.

Along with the usual positive and negative electrodes, the device has a third electrode that can either store energy electrically or use it to split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms – a process called water electrolysis.

The pocket-fitting tool produces clean energy to power appliances and vehicles. It also incorporates nickel, iron, and cobalt into hydrogen production, replacing platinum, which is scarce.

“Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it’s cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air – just water,” says [study head Richard] Kaner.

With a lot of work, UCLA’s newest contraption could do wonders for infrastructure and hydrogen cars. It may even bring a little sunshine to rural communities.

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Microsoft Teaching Motor-less Plane To Fly

At the rate technology is advancing, we can teach machines to do almost anything. From programming drones to plant trees to manufacturing a robot that can detect water pollution, gadgets have become more capable than ever. But can we train a device to rely entirely on nature? Microsoft is teaching this motor-less plane to fly just like a bird.

The researchers have found that through a complex set of AI algorithms, they can get their 16 1/2-foot, 12 1/2-pound aircraft to soar much like a hawk would, by identifying things like air temperature and wind direction to locate thermals — invisible columns of air that rise due to heat.

The plane is one of the only AI systems to act based on predictions it makes. In a nutshell, it is is akin to a simple thinking being.

“Birds do this seamlessly, and all they’re doing is harnessing nature. And they do it with a peanut-sized brain,”

If successful, the planes could be implemented in farming and providing internet connections to remote areas. If cars can drive themselves, planes can follow in their tread marks.

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Saliva-Powered Battery Is Spit-tastic

We are in the middle of a technological revolution. Machines are producing clean energy more efficiently than ever. Some are even using biological factors such as sweat to produce power. Now, researchers at Binghamton University have manufactured a saliva-powered battery that requires — you guessed it — your spit.

“The proposed battery has competitive advantages over other conventional power solutions because the biological fluid for on-demand battery activation is readily available even in the most resource-constrained settings, and the freeze-drying technology enables long-term storage of cells without degradation or denaturation,”

The bio-battery can create several tens of microwatt-level power for a few minutes — good enough in most cases. Meant for use in remote areas, the gadget could also be life-saving in terms of where light, heat, or communication is needed. Researchers are continuing to develop the device’s power density so it may be applied elsewhere.

“Now, our power density is about a few microwatts per centimetre square. Although 16 microbial fuel cells connected in a series on a single sheet of paper generated desired values of electrical current and voltage to power a light-emitting diode (LED), further power improvement is required for other electronic applications demanding hundreds of milliwatts of energy,”

If this battery is for you, it’s probably time to give those glands a workout!

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AI Mask Visually Communicates Human Emotions

I’ve seen my fair share of extraneous inventions — from automatic toothbrushes to bulletproof skateboards. While they may seem somewhat pointless, they are also incredibly fascinating. In line with these high-tech novelty items is the Hyperface, an AI mask that visually communicates human emotions.

The Hyperface is worn like a visor, but includes a transparent screen to flip in front of the eyes. A screen at the top of the visor reflects an image onto the one over the wearer’s eyes, making it look like a digital face. Someone looking at the wearer would see a pair of digital eyes staring back at them, which change based on the wearer’s facial expressions.

How does the Hyperface analyze what its wearer is feeling? Simple — a secret algorithm. Creator Eun Kyung Shin argues that the technology can even tell when you are interested in someone (or not).

Shin wanted the device to display a person’s emotions as closely as possible. She refers to faces we normally put on in public as ‘social masks,’ especially when people deal with intense situations.

Is the device futile? That depends. While it aims to help with social anxiety, it seems that Hyperface would also attract unwanted attention. It’s not every day you wear a digital face.

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Energy-Producing Patch Uses Sweat To Create Power

It seems wearable technology is the new craze for gadget enthusiasts. From fitness trackers sewn into fabric to temporary e-skin sensors that monitor your health, anything nowadays seems possible. Lately, innovators have created an energy-producing patch that powers electronics using sweat.

[The] flexible square patch… can be applied to the skin, where enzymes in the device could feed on human sweat to produce power.

Although it measured just a few centimeters in size, a single square, or biofuel cell, was able to generate enough power to run a radio for an entire two days.

Looks like power cuts could be the least of our worries — and I’m not complaining. Later versions of the patch create up to ten times more energy. Biofuel cells are almost limitless. They allow us to monitor health and exchange information, all while being non-invasive.

Eventually, they’ll become less expensive, making them a great alternative to devices like conventional blood glucose monitors that require patients to prick their fingers multiple times per day, or permanent surgical implants like pacemakers.

Wearables have, in the past year, proven to be effective and affordable. If less pain means gain, I’m all for it.

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