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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10 Innovative Technologies You Need to Know for 2009

From picotech to compressed air energy storage, here are the big ideas that will make headlines next year. (Published by the Popular Mechanics; also in their December 2008 print edition)

1. T-Rays
Terahertz radiation, or T-rays, occur at a frequency of around a trillion hertz—between microwaves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. Unlike X-rays, T-rays are nonionizing, so they don’t carry a cancer risk.

2. Hydrogel Tissue Engineering
The science of tissue engineering aims to build or grow replacement bones, vessels and organs. The field’s most promising new research has been with hydrogels—networks of super-absorbent polymer chains that function like scaffolding to support the growth of new tissue.

3. Picotechnology
The frontiers of science have recently progressed from microtechnology (a micrometer is a millionth of a meter) to nanotechnology (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter), but we now may be entering the age of picotech (one trillionth of a meter).

4. HALE (high-altitude long-endurance) UAVs
A recent HALE prototype, dubbed Zephyr, built by British company QinetiQ, flew for a record 82 hours last summer, powered by paper-thin solar panels on its wings that charged lithium-sulfur batteries to keep it aloft at night.

5. Secure Super Grids
Project Hydra (the code name for the Manhattan grid upgrade scheduled to start in 2010) will use American Superconductor’s liquid-nitrogen-cooled Secure Super Grid cables, which can transfer 10 times more power than conventional copper cable, with lower impedance.

6. Autostereoscopy
It’s 3D without the glasses (“spectacular without the spectacles,” as manufacturer Philips puts it).

7. Collaborative Search
People who work on group projects often duplicate each other’s Web-search efforts. Collaborative search lets groups of people combine forces and search more efficiently.

8. Low Rolling-Resistance Tires
Previously found mainly on hybrids, these tires have become standard equipment on many new cars to boost EPA fuel- economy ratings.

9. Energy Scavenging
According to a February report by the Department of Energy, newly discovered thermoelectric materials are 300 percent more efficient than first-generation versions.

10. Compressed-Air Energy Storage
To make wind power useful when the wind isn’t blowing, power companies need utility-scale energy storage—but batteries that big aren’t yet practical. One option is to use wind power to compress air for storage in tanks or caverns underground, then use the air to run a generator.

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