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Scientists have combined biology, agriculture, and technology into a cohesive science to do the impossible. They have managed to construct a cyborg rose that has polymer veins running through it. This could be an evolutionary find that defines the whole field of crop growth and agriculture in a new way.
The concept of incorporating plants with computers and electric circuits can help scientists regulate and control the growth of plants, trees, and crops. This exceptional feat was made possible by Magnus Berggren and his team at the Linkoping University in Sweden. They started their research with the idea that the living tissue and veins inside a human body act as a conductive material to transfer neural messages to the brain.
This concept was then applied to a rose by plugging the rose with fuel cells that can power the plant to maintain its physiological properties by regulating the process of photosynthesis. This experiment has opened the doors to a completely new field of science, which will allow scientists to weave electrical circuits into plants and manipulate their growth and produce per capita.
However, this research was not completely uneventful. It was difficult at first to find a suitable conductive material for the plant’s flesh, which has to conduct electricity and be water soluble at the same time. The scientists faced many difficulties as most of the materials they used were toxic and caused the vascular system of the rose to clog while failing to adhere to the inner surface and xylem.
Finally, after much struggle, they found a polymer named PEDOT (poly 3, 4-ethylenedioxythiophene), which readily soaked into the rose and converted into a conductive solid gel. When the outer layer of the plant’s flesh was removed for evaluation, the scientists found a system of intricate wires winding through the stem of the rose. A postdoctoral researcher, Eleni Stavrinidou, took microscopic pictures of the electrical system inside the rose and said, “The performances, the shape of the wires, were just outstanding, unbelievable.”
The research team, after their success, is looking forward to manufacturing botanical circuits that will have the ability to record hormonal changes in plants. This biological circuitry will influence the physiological and growth properties of the plant, which is a better option than genetic modification.
One of the hurdles that the research team is now facing is the mortality rate of the polymer-embedded rose. Their goal is to keep the plant alive until it is completely flushed with the conductive gel. With this discovery, there will be a time, in a not so distant future, when we will be able to eradicate the woes of world hunger by producing food that is safe from GMOs and harmful chemicals.
According to Andrew Adamantzky, Director of Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of West of England, Bristol, UK, “In the very distant future – neither ourselves nor our kids will see this – we can grow vegetable computers in our gardens.”
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will have to do without one power channel for the time being due to a small electrical fault, NASA has announced.
NASA says the fault reduces the available power channels from 8 to 7, which happened as a result of a short circuit on equipment on the station’s framework.
The short tripped a current switching device in one of the power channels, making it unusable, but luckily does not put the astronauts at risk at the moment.
For the time being, the astronauts have switched systems, and, unfortunately, there are no appropriate spares on board for a quick fix.
As a result, NASA plans to send spare parts aboard a SpaceX delivery that’s scheduled for early 2016.
Some of you may remember a similar problem occurred back in 2014 that was eventually resolved by performing a spacewalk.
Electricity: The Great Equalizer
The creator of 5-Hour Energy drinks, Manoj Bhargava, with a net worth estimated at more than $4 billion, has just announced he will donate 10,000 free electric bicycles invented by his team as part of the new Free Electric Movement. Bhargava believes that by donating bicycles to people around the world who do not have reliable access to power he can help improve people’s lives, the environment, and sustainability.
The following is a video in which Bhargava explains the energy-producing bicycles.
A Portfolio of Projects
But that’s not all. Bhargava is actively seeking other technologies and methods to help solve other important global issues on a large scale. For example, Bhargava has invested significantly in desalination systems to help provide access to clean water, and geothermal energy, another widely available renewable energy resource.
Bhargava’s website, Billions in Change, is a compendium of water, energy, and health projects spearheaded by the entrepreneur.
The following video is an introduction to Billions in Change:
Ever wonder where the bandwidth comes from that makes Gmail and YouTube videos run so smoothly? Google uses its private “B4 Network” which is a undersea network of fiber optic cables. In fact, 99% of the world’s international communications occur beneath the ocean’s waves.
As far back as the 1860’s, the British laid telegraph cables on the ocean floor into the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean as a convenient way to communicate with governors throughout its empire and to conduct diplomatic and military communications.
In the early days of undersea cable unreliable performance was rife and cables short-circuited due to voltage overloads, were cut or sabotaged, got entangled with whales or were severed by large undersea mudslides.
But the advantages to be gained from operational cables were so great that 30 cables were laid by the turn-of-the-century, two thirds operated by the British. During World War I British and German forces competed to destroy communication lines by cutting underwater cables with surface ships and submarines. During World War II, opposing sides frequently cut cables and redirected the flow of information to code breakers.
During the 20th century cables were cut as they were dragged out of position by fishing nets. And in 2007 a seven mile (11km) cable with 100 tons of copper was cut from a section of the T-V-H cable connecting Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong; pirates were arrested attempting to sell the metal as scrap.
Over time the number of underwater communication cables has multiplied exponentially and rest on the floors of all the world’s oceans, except for Antarctica, which even today presents technological challenges that have yet to be overcome. Fiber-optic cable needs to withstand temperatures of -80°C and resist strain from ice flows despite the fact that it’s less malleable than copper.
Modern Undersea Cables
Modern undersea communications cables use fiber-optic technology to carry data, phone, Internet, as well as private data traffic. Undersea cables are now fit with GPS devices so they can be located quickly when repairs are necessary. Methods of laying deep-sea cables have been revolutionized so that the cost is now just $1000 per mile. Thinner cables are used for shallow ocean depths and thicker cables for deep ocean beds. Some cable is laid as deep as 20,000 feet and needs to withstand from 12,000-22,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.
A New Type Of Fishing
With the huge number of undersea cables, scientists are beginning to study the oceans by connecting the seafloor to the Internet. A project called NEPTUNE Canada is connecting hundreds of oceanographic instruments to a 500 mile (800km) fiber-optic cable that circles the northern Juan de Puca tectonic plate.
With projects such as this coming online all the time, a continuous data stream will allow scientists to study the ocean and address issues such as earthquakes, acidity and climate change.
GE has partnered with the maker of bendy power strips and balance boards, Quirky, in order to create an 8,000 BTU window unit smart air conditioner.
Similar to Nest, the new Aros air conditioner can be controlled with its associated mobile app and uses power only when someone is in the room.
Aros is priced at $300, which isn’t too bad for a good looking unit and app that the company claims will give you advice on how to save money each month after studying your energy usage.
With over 13 million sold in the past 30 years, the FX series from Mitsubishi is the world’s most popular brand in compact PLCs.
Recently, Mitsubishi Electric unveiled a new generation of the successful FX compact PLC, the FX5, claiming the new product is three times faster than any compact PLC they have developed thus far.
The new generation is said to reduce energy consumption and running costs through its increased speed and efficiency and the ability to perform more complex positioning tasks without any extra modules.
- Can control as many as four independent axes of motion
- Fast counters and pulse outputs up to 200kHz built in
- Ethernet interface
- Analogue I/Os for PID controls
- Controllers available with 32, 64, or 80 I/O – can be expanded
- Controllers operable on 100-240V AC or 24V DC supplies
- Choice of digital relay or transistor outputs
- Backwards-compatible with the existing FX3 range
- SD memory card slot
Occam’s Razor is based on the principle that the simplest solution is most often the correct one. In the world of troubleshooting, Occam’s Razor is absolutely critical for making the best use of time and resources. Whether you service your own equipment in-house or service customer equipment in the field, the 80/20 rule applies to troubleshooting in a number of ways. The majority of all equipment breakdowns can be explained by a small number of component failures.
Failure Modes and their Frequency
While the possible failure modes for a given piece of equipment are numerous, most of them seldom or never happen. For example, a copying machine will predictably need the fuser replaced after some time in service, so it’s important to train a new copier technician on how to identify and fix (or replace) a bad fuser. On the other hand, an I/O chip on the copier’s main control board could burn out, but this is not likely. Because different failure modes occur at different frequencies, it’s important to quickly decide which ones are likely. Your troubleshooting process, therefore, needs to incorporate Occam’s Razor. By nature, the simplest problems tend to be the ones that occur most often.
Define a Support Escalation Process
Technical support help lines define some sort of escalation process. The person who answers the phone will be a level one support technician. Level one support is trained to deal with a small number of problems that cause the majority of breakdowns. If level one cannot resolve the problem, a level two technician gets involved. Do you have this type of chain in place for your organization? If you create an escalation process, it will force you to think about how to apply Occam’s Razor to your support structure. A machine operator should typically be expected to resolve certain types of problems, and there should be a definition of what type of problem requires an electrician or electrical technician to investigate.
Look for the Most Recent Change
Technicians who know how to ask good questions and make careful observations can save themselves hours of work. It’s all too common to see someone tearing a piece of equipment apart, probing into a cabinet with an oscilloscope, or spending hours trying to diagnose a problem that could have been quickly identified. The first question to ask: what just changed? For example, if a setting was just changed on a control computer, is it possible to revert that setting and see if the problem goes away? If a wiring configuration was changed, could that be related to the problem? Sometimes, finding out what was changed requires asking the right questions. An operator might have changed a machine configuration and not realized that the change was worth mentioning.
It’s easy to overcomplicate the process of troubleshooting a non-operating piece of equipment, given the vast number of connection points and inter-related components. To avoid getting overwhelmed with possible problems and solutions, it’s important to remember to keep your approach simple.
In electromechanical systems with servo motors, chain drives, and other physical moving parts, it’s not as easy to tell a mechanical problem apart from an electrical problem as you might think. There are a lot of gray areas and symptoms that may look like one or the other. Also, it may be a combination of both. Here are a few situations where there can easily be confusion between mechanical issues and electrical issues.
Photocells are often used in different parts of a machine to keep counts and ensure that a machine is working. If a machine processes paper, if there is a lot of oil or grease, or if there are other sources of dust and particulate matter in the environment, it is easy for photocells to get dirty over time. Occasionally, photocells may become defective, but generally speaking, they’re pretty rugged. When a photocell gets dirty, it goes into a “blocked” state all of the time. Depending on the position and role of the photocell in machine operation, it can create confusion as to whether mechanical subsystems are working correctly or not.
Low Quality Parts
Unfortunately, there are some components that fail easily and often simply because they were built poorly to begin with. For example, low quality switches can cause a host of problems that appear to be either electrical or mechanical because their contacts will intermittently close for a fraction of a second when they should be open (or open when they should be closed). Poorly made parts are also especially sensitive to dust and contaminants because they are not properly sealed. Low quality motor encoders can result in drive errors, overcurrent, overheating, and can even ruin motors. If you are in a situation where you constantly replace certain parts on your equipment, it may be worth re-evaluating which type of part to use.
Dislocated Proxes and Sensors
Magnetic proximity sensors are commonly used to time and synchronize machine cycles, as well as auto-calibrate home positions. If the positioning of a prox is out of whack, it can knock machine timing out of sync. Depending on the type of drive being used, a dislocated prox might sometimes cause an error condition that will stop the machine, but not always. If a prox or sensor is just a little bit too far away from its position, it can cause the sensor to be tripped some of the times but not others.
If a drive chain or drive belt is obstructed, this will cause a spike in motor current since the motor has to work harder. If the motor is controlled by a drive, the drive should register an error condition if this occurs. If the motor is not connected to a drive, a jam might cause a breaker to trip or a fuse to blow. This is one case where a mechanical problem will manifest as an electrical symptom.
Most of these problems can be avoided by proper preventative maintenance and cleaning. Also, training technicians adequately is essential so that they know how to recognize commonly-appearing symptoms.
If you spend any time on call for maintenance support, there are a number of things you can do to prevent that dreaded 2:00 AM phone call. Aside from your regular PM routine, there are a few other things you can look at to help minimize the type of electrical failures that can occur without warning.
Replace Straight Plugs with Angle Plugs
Straight plugs can put a lot of weight on the plug, pulling at the wrong angle—especially if wires are not properly wire-tied. Over time, this can cause wires to bend and break. It can also put excessive wear on jacks, particularly when they are soldered directly to circuit boards. Angle plugs are designed to relieve the strain, and they are also less prone to popping out.
Clean and Lubricate all Mechanical Assemblies
Insufficient or improper cleaning and lubrication is a major cause of mechanical breakdowns, and bumps and burrs can also cause a spike in current. If your equipment is motorized and connected to a servo drive, this type of condition can trigger an error condition that will stop a motor. This scenario, when it occurs, is often difficult to diagnose because it will usually happen intermittently. Bad bearings or excessively worn drive chains can also create this type of condition.
Check all Fuse and Breaker Ratings
Improperly-rated fuses and circuit breakers can create unexpected problems, particularly in high-current applications like AC motors. This is often not immediately obvious. For example, if you put a 2-amp breaker into a circuit with a motor whose current typically does not exceed 1.5 amps, the breaker might not trip at all for months. Since all circuitry is prone to spikes, the motor current may sooner or later reach 2.1 amps, at which point the breaker will trip. Double check each fuse and breaker to ensure that the installed component is rated to match the system specifications.
Check Switch Contacts
Switch contacts can create a host of problems, particularly in environments where there is a lot of dust, dirt, and oil. Periodically check the switches with an ohmmeter for consistent continuity, and also verify good solid mechanical switch operation. Replace any switches that stick or that open and close inconsistently. This is especially true for emergency stop switches and door guard interlocks as a fault in any of these switches can shut down a whole line.
Pre-Program Spare Controllers
If you keep spare motors, PLCs, I/O controller cards, or other spares for critical machine functions, download any flash programs or software to them ahead of time. You might consider putting a spare into the machine to test its functionality during a non-critical period of the day. This will eliminate the need to scramble to get a board programmed while the production clock is ticking. It might also allow someone else at the facility to perform a basic replacement if they are qualified to do so.
Most problems can be prevented, but equipment often breaks down simply because an effective maintenance process was not implemented.