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Technology


Battery Technology

Batteries have come a long way. There are still a lot of things we can do with existing technologies and this was covered in Making Batteries Better.

Lithium Ion Battery

The leading Rechargeable Battery Technology at present is the Lithium Ion Battery because of the high energy density and reduced weight compared to Lead Acid Battery technology. But there is a problem with them wanting to explode so a lot of care is required in both making and using the Lithium Ion Batteries. And there are different types suited to different applications including non-rechargeable Primary Cell application.

Sodium Ion Battery

An emerging Battery Technology is the Sodium Ion battery. And it has a number of advantages.

Sodium Ion Battery Pack

Sodium Ion Battery Pack

The advantages it brings to the table are:

  • not a rare material like Lithium
  • much more stable
  • can be charged faster
  • can deliver higher discharge currents
  • are able to supply the same voltage range (around 3.6V)
  • will be cheaper to make, and use, and recycle

The idea has been around since the 1970s but took a back seat to Lithium Ion Battery technology. Now Sodium Ion Battery technology it is coming to the fore and key researchers in Australia are helping to make that happen. The diagram below shows how it works. Click on the diagram for a full sized view.

Sodium Ion Battery Chemistry

This schematic illustrates the functioning of sodium-ion batteries. The high cost and scarcity of lithium are driving research to develop alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, especially to meet future needs in energy storage. One potential alternative is sodium-ion batteries. (Purdue University image/Vilas Pol)

Some further reading for those interested:

Better and more affordable batteries will be one aspect of adding storage to the Electrical Grid and make renewables more viable for base load demand satisfaction.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Electrical Power Distribution

Electricity is essential to the modern world. It is the power source behind the vast majority of modern appliances. And for large quantities of it, we are currently mostly burning things to produce heat to run generators to create AC power to transformers to high voltage power lines to more transformers, low voltage power lines and eventually, homes, businesses and facilities.

AC power distribution has become the dominant way power is distributed because it was easier and more reliable to make big transformers than do DC/DC power conversion. And to reduce heat losses in wires higher voltages at lower currents is a good strategy. This is Electrical Engineering 101 material.

Today however, this has changed. DC/DC power conversion is now routinely used at high voltages and is more efficient than a transformer. So that saves some of the burning which helps reduce carbon emissions and can help with a range of concerns from climate change to pollution.

A good example of this is Basslink which passes power from Tasmania to Victoria at 400kVDC. While there is some criticism that it doesn’t deliver the originally planned 630MW (only goes to 500MW) it is still a good example of this type of technology.

Reducing Losses

There are other options for reducing losses and Power Factor Correction is one of the primary ones. This process add leading power factor capacitive reactance to the distribution grid by putting capacitors in to correct for lagging current due to lagging power factor inductive reactance from the dominant loads in the system such as motors etc. A good example of products that manage this are the ABB CQ900 and CQ930 smart power controllers. Both Australian design and made products. These are networked and Smart Grid enabled.

ABB CQ900R Smart Controller

ABB CQ900R Smart Controller

The other strategy is reduces losses at the loads. So LED lighting, building management systems, better insulation and better business models that make it worth the while of the asset developers to consider the long term energy footprint of running the asset. This is covered very will in Natural Capitalism.

Natural Capitalism

Natural Capitalism

Improving Distribution

In Electricity Grid 2.0 and Global Power Grid we explored what a world electricity grid could look like if we started again now. And High Voltage Direct Current plays a key role as do renewables and storage. However, if it really is a world grid then the sun will always be shining somewhere and when it is winter here is is summer elsewhere so a lot of the issues with variability can be averaged out.

 

Improving Load Management

Companies like Rectifier Technologies Pacific design and make higher efficiency power supplies for backup power, uninterruptible power supplies and data centers. This is an important way to reduce power losses. It also won them some iAwards.

Rectifier Technologies Pacific

Rectifier Technologies Pacific

 

Another approach is to micromanage the AC power itself and this is being done by companies like 3DFS that are putting microsecond level load demand management into data centers. They call is Software Defined Electricity. and it works by cleaning up the fluctuating demand distortion of the AC sine wave our Power Distribution Network is meant to be delivering.

3DFS Cleaning Up AC Power

3DFS Cleaning Up AC Power

They have some very advanced ideas on how to go about this and already have products in the market. You can get a good understanding of their overall strategy from the video below.

An even more interesting idea is that of making devices smarter so they work with the grid to manage their own demand so the total process is more efficient overall.

And finally, Low Power Electronics devices can reduce the amount of power needed to achieve a function. Some of the technologies we are working with now allow up to reduce power consumption by 3 orders of magnitude.

So there are lots of ways we can do it better and if we work together and use all the tools available to us then it is likely we will succeed at achieving that. The place to start is knowing it is possible.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

What is wrong with Diodes?

At one level, nothing. The humble Diode conducts current in one direction only, can have very large voltage blocking capabilities and a Schottky Diode can have lower forward voltages so it dissipates less heat.

diode transfer function

diode transfer function

All very well and good while currents are modest. But very high currents lead to high power dissipation in the Diode. So I was very interested to read about a new method of blocking reverse current at a fraction of the forward voltage drop of conventional diodes.

Honeycomb Lattice Magnetic Diodes

Honeycomb

Honeycomb

A new Honeycomb Lattice built at nano scale operates on magnetic rather than electric fields to control current flow. The result is a significant reduction in forward voltage. And the technology may prove capable of creating magnetic transistors with similar advantages.

Honeycomb Lattice Magnetic Diode

Honeycomb Lattice Magnetic Diode

These are very early days with patents lodged and a lot of work required before it is ready at commercial scale but it is always encouraging to see new breakthroughs like this. And technology breakthroughs like this are key to future opportunities for Low Power Electronics.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

Big Data

Big Data has been touted as the answer to many problems. Currently many organisations are collecting everything they can get their hands on in order to try and make sense of it, either now, or eventually. And then of course to leverage that for profit, advantage, protection, whatever…

But there is a massive flaw in one aspect of this. For instance, you can determine that there is a statistical correlation between 2 sets of numbers, but that doesn’t mean it is causative.

Tyler Vigen

Tyler Vigen

Tyler Vigen has written Spurious Correlations to demonstrate just this issue. Below are 2 examples.

Spurious Correlation #1

Spurious Correlation #1

So it looks like the US spending on science correlates with suicides. But does it cause it? Or is this merely a coincidence?

Spurious Correlation #2

Spurious Correlation #2

Same here. Would suggest spelling bees stick to short words only to limit the damage they could be doing.

And this is what we need to be careful of. Now this doesn’t mean our own thinking can’t be fooled. Rolf Dobelli in The Art of Thinking Clearly documents 99 more common cognitive biases we can suffer from. Think of these as bugs in our thinking algorithms. An example is Confirmation Bias. Most people believe they are above average. Nearly half of them are wrong. This is called Illusory Superiority.

So the danger is concluding there is a cause and effect relationship when there is not. Leading to decisions being made and outcomes not working out as expected. There are no simple answers here. The above examples are selected because it is easy to conclude there isn’t a direct relationship. It is harder to discern when the data is big and an auto-correlating algorithm is coming to it’s own conclusions.

The Art of Thinking Clearly

The Art of Thinking Clearly

And to round off, here is Rolf Dobelli talking about The Art of Thinking Clearly.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Artificial Intelligence

There has been hype about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, ever since we starting thinking about creating it. Moves to create truly independently thinking systems are still struggling but expert and self-learning systems have made a lot of progress.

So I was interested to get an email from Karthik Reddy of 16best.net  with a new blog post from them about how brands are using AI to enhance their marketing.

Here is a snippet. Click on it for a more readable version.

Artificial Intelligence Use Now

Artificial Intelligence Use Now

The projection that really interested me is “100% of IoT initiatives will be supported by AI by 2019″. That is a pretty substantial claim. And of course not all the support will be in field as the processing power to make a difference is usually in the back end systems. Given we do a lot of projects for devices that fit the Internet of Things category I’m fairly confident that this is likely to be true. I’m not convinced it will be 100% but it will be high. And this is because once you have devices in the field gathering data, you start making connections between the data and outcomes, and then it becomes valuable.

A good example of this is the arcHUB Smart Cities Sensor devices. Once you have the data, you can learn a lot from it. And then you can start making better decisions. And then you can actually measure the improvements.

You can see all the details in How Brands Use AI including detailed statistics from many well known companies on how they are using AI.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Self Driving Cars

Waymo, the Google spin out that is progressing their Self Driving Car technology, also know as the Autonomous Vehicle, has released a video showing how the current technology works and what being in a Self Driving Car looks like for a passenger.

Enjoy.


While this is still an emerging technology, it is also quite mature. And this is understandable given the consequences of failure. So far they have 5 million miles of self driving experience. So how is the safety progressing? To quote big think “Google’s self driving car is ridiculously safe” with the conversation moving in the direction where we might find manual driving outlawed. The feature some commentary from Brand Templeton which is well worth listening to.


So this is no longer an issue of if, but of when.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

 

C Programming Language

The C Programming Language was developed by Dennis Richie and Ken Thompson at Bell Laboratories between 1969 and and 1973. It was the successor to B and used to create Unix. The recent bad experience with the Multics time sharing operating system development had made Bell Laboratories sensitive to that sort of cost blowout so the project was not widely promoted until the first working version was complete.

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

So what did C bring to the table that made it such a valuable asset? Here is a list:

  • can be used to directly interface to and manipulate hardware and IO
  • so it allows you to get close to the hardware itself
  • was a procedural programming language supporting structured programming
  • can be used to write an operating system
  • or sits very close to the operating system
  • had flexible naming conventions
  • had flexible memory allocation (static, local, global and dynamic)
  • could be compiled to machine language with a relatively simple compiler
  • is portable (mostly)
  • compiles to very fast executing code
  • compiled program can run without an operating system and do not need a virtual machine or any other components

The disadvantage compared to more modern procedural programming languages is that you usually do more typing to achieve the same outcome, it isn’t object oriented by nature and the variable typing is flexible so you can create some spectacular program failures if you get the cast wrong or convert a void pointer (no type associated with it) to the wrong data type. And one big compatibility issue is Endianness where different computing architectures store multi-byte data with the high byte at the top or bottom of the word so you can’t just swap binary data and expect it to always work. So you surely you would think we would have moved on to something better?

Programming Language Usage Trends

A recent study of computer language trends over the past 10 years by Embedded Gurus shows that unlike the anticipated rise of the C++ Programming Language in embedded systems, the use of C is rising and C++ falling. You can read the full article at C: The Immortal Programming Language where we see that Assembly Language use is falling as expected, the use of  C Programming Language is actually rising.

Programming Language Use Trends

Programming Language Use Trends

Now to be clear, this is for Embedded Software Development. In Top Programming Languages 2017 we see that Python is the most used programming language in the world across all domains with the  C Programming Language coming in second overall. This is a very big jump for Python but also a jump for the C Programming Language.

Successful Endeavours Programming Languages

At Successful Endeavours the majority of our embedded systems code is written using the C Programming Language . Our Windows code is a mixture of C and C++. For website development it is PHP and Python. So that’s 4 of the top 10 programming languages listed in Top Programming Languages 2017 .

Top Programming Languages 2017

Top Programming Languages 2017

So I expect we will be continuing to program systems using C for quite some time to come. Especially smaller system that don’t have an Operating System. Now maybe someone should focus a but more attention on teaching C to the next generation of programmers.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Embedded Systems Safety

In The Internet of Insecure Things we got a glimpse into the source of some of those security issues. Today we benefit from another infographic reproduced courtesy of the Barr Group. This time it is a look at the underlying Software Security that is so important to improving the future and no making it even more vulnerable. So read through the list of areas you might not be paying enough attention to. I know there are a couple we are still working on.

The State Of Embedded Systems Safety

The State Of Embedded Systems Safety

Food for thought. Above I reproduced a low resolution version with their permission. You can get a full resolution version by registering at the Barr Group website.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Insecurity in Cyberspace

This is not one of those topics that makes you feel better initially. In IoT Security we looked at how the emerging IoT world needed to protect itself against attacks. This is a different problem to pure Software Security which has its own challenges.

It was with recent interest that I received a copy of the Barr Group 2018 Embedded Systems Safety & Security Survey . We contribute and so get access to a free copy. I recommend you do the same if this is an area of interest.

They have also put together an infographic that speaks to the The Internet of Insecure Things and I am reproducing a low resolution version here with their permission. You can get a full resolution version by registering at the Barr Group website.

The Internet Of Insecure Things

The Internet Of Insecure Things

It speaks to where the insecure aspects come from. As usual, better Embedded Software Development practice leads to better and more secure products.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Light L16 Wins CES Award

Yesterday I wrote an update on the Light L16 and how it was a good example of Disruptive Innovation in Photography

Light L16

Light L16

Today I learn that CES agrees and awarded it the CES 2018 Best of Innovation: Digital Imaging.

CES 2018 Best of Innovation

CES 2018 Best of Innovation

There are now several industry articles recognising the significance of the multi-camera technology. For additional details see:

The last link is a Wired review from mid 2017 and is a good reflection on both the promise and challenge of new technology as well as how much time it can take to overcome those challenges.

So congratulations again to the team at Light.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2018 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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