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MEMS-Based Mirror Array For Optical Beam Forming And Steering

Self-driving cars, drones, robots and other autonomous systems rely on various sensors for obstacle detection and avoidance to navigate safely through environments. One of the most common methods to sense obstacles is light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), which uses light in the form of a pulsed (or amplitude/frequency modulated CW) laser to measure variable distances. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the surrounding environment and its surface characteristics. While LiDAR is a well established and utilized system within many mobility companies, it’s large size and high cost-per-unit has prevented its implementation in many commercial applications. Solid state LiDARs with non-mechanical scanning elements have received increasing interests. In particular, the optical phased array (OPA) provides non-mechanical scanning in a compact form factor. More importantly, at reduced size OPAs enable sophisticated beamforming such as simultaneous scanning, pointing, and tracking of multiple objects, or even direct line-of-sight communications. Unfortunately, at large-scale OPAs have been found to have slow response times, making their application for commercial use impossible. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have designed an optical phased array with rapid response time. This novel technology utilizes arrays of micromirrors actuated by micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). This novel OPA operates with a larger field of view, with a wide range of laser wavelengths, and without the need for high voltage electronics. It is also far more compact and sophisticated than bulky and intrusive mechanical LIDAR technologies.

Distributed Dynamic Strain Fiber Optics Measurement For Use In Sensors

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Modular Rod-Centered, Distributed Actuation & Control Architecture For Spherical Tensegrity Robots

The potential for robots to perform complicated tasks in highly dynamic environments, could be challenging for robots with rigid bodies. Accordingly, the emerging field of soft robotics is exploring tensegrity structures – which are isolated solid rods connected by tensile cables. These tensegrity structures are highly flexible, and that makes them suitable for uneven and unpredictable environments in which traditional robots struggle.Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed novel methods to position all the required components for tensegrity robots to be fully functional and protected while being transported. This technology keeps the actuators, as well as other electronics components, protected from impact forces, while successfully providing the actuation necessary for locomotion. 

Zero-Quiescent Power Transceiver

Trillions of sensors are envisioned to achieve the potential benefits of the internet of things.  Realizing this potential requires wireless sensors with low power requirements such that there might never be a need to replace a sensor’s power supply (e.g. battery) over the lifetime of that device.  The battery lifetime of wireless communications devices is often governed by power consumption used for transmitting, and therefore transmit power amplifiers used in these devises are important to their commercial success.  The efficiencies of these power amplifiers are set by the capabilities of the semiconductor transistor devices that drive them.  To achieve improved efficiencies, researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a novel method and structure for realizing a zero-quiescent power trigger sensor and transceiver based on a micromechanical resonant switch.  This sensor/transceiver is unique in its use of a resonant switch (“resoswitch”) to receive an input, amplify it, and finally deliver power to a load.  This novel technology also greatly improves short-range communication applications, like Bluetooth.  For example, with this technology, interference between Bluetooth devices would be eliminated.  Also, Miracast would work, despite the presence of interfering Bluetooth signals.

Rapid Running Robot

There are many who work to build ever-improving legged robots for new and improved applications in military, surveillance, leisure, and education. Animals have a well-defined approach to running at high velocities With respect to small-scale engineered systems, limitations on stride kinematics are common across many dynamic running robots. Kinematic adaptations which would increase the stride length of these robots are possible, but they incur a cost in complexity either in hardware, control, or both. To help solve these challenge, researchers at Berkeley have investigated the efficacy of locomotion strategies in their respective limits, and have developed milliscale and microscale robots using the Smart Composite Microstructures (SCM) process which creates linkages by combining rigid and flexible materials using planar processes. Their latest creation, the X2-VelociRoACH, is made primarily out of cardboard and measures just 10 cm long, yet it can run at stride frequencies up to 45 Hz and velocities up to 4.9 m/s, making it the fastest legged robot relative to size (the X2-VelociRoACH is actually faster than a real roach, which can achieve 1.5 m/s). With the X2-VelociRoACH, the researchers have demonstrated a stride frequency of a legged robotic platform far beyond what an animal of equivalent size would use.

High-Throughput Rapid Screening Platform For Microalgal Biofuel Applications

Algal photosynthesis is now considered a sustainable alternative and renewable solution for green energy, however, the large number of screening processes required significantly delay the time for the pragmatic applications.  Therefore, the success of algal biofuel energy production depends on the rapidity and efficiency of algal strain selections for various biofuel aspects.   UC Berkeley researchers have developed a high-throughput rapid screening platform for microalgal biofuel applications.  The screening platform enables optical field enhancement with an optical spectrum favorable to photosynthesis and enhanced intercellular interactions.  The platform shows a high rate of population growth and a significant reduction of lag-phase duration.  

Semi-Passive Assistive Devices For The Upper Limbs

Assistive exoskeletons are designed to enable humans to perform tasks otherwise beyond their capacities. One area of particular interest is the upper limb. Existing devices for upper limb assistance are powered by active or passive methods. Active devices use motors, but require complicated controllers and consistent power to perform tasks. Passive devices do not require power, but often have fixed parameters meaning that they are not especially versatile. Moreover, the devices that currently exist tend to be bulky, costly, and inefficient. To address those deficiencies, UC Berkeley researchers have developed a semi-passive assistive device for upper limbs. The Berkeley device is lightweight, reduces user fatigue, and increases load carrying capacity. The device is highly versatile, and is able to increase the mobility and functionality of a user’s arm.

Next-Generation Metal-Organic Frameworks With High Deliverable Capacities For Gas Storage Applications

There are many applications that require the storage of a high density of gas molecules. The driving range of vehicles powered by natural gas or hydrogen, for instance, is determined by the maximum density of gas that can be stored inside a fuel tank and delivered to the engine or fuel cell. In certain situations, it is desirable to lower the pressure or raise the temperature needed to store a given amount of gas through the use of an adsorbent. Developments in next-generation adsorbents, such as metal-organic frameworks and activated carbons, have shown certain weaknesses in terms of the amount of gas that can be delivered when an application has a minimum desorption pressure greater than zero and when a significant amount of heat is released during adsorption or cooling occurs during desorption. To help solve these problems, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a next generation of materials using novel porous metal-organic frameworks that demonstrate unprecedented deliverable gas capacities. These engineered adsorbents maximize the amount of gas delivered during each adsorption/desorption cycle. This shows promise in developing next generation gas storage materials for applications with a wide range of operating conditions.

Flywheel System for Effective Battery Energy Storage And Power

In recent years there has been a greater interest in making more energy efficient automobiles.  A number of plug-in vehicles (PEVs) or hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are offered by nearly every automaker today.  Although these vehicles offer a cleaner and more energy efficient alternative to traditional petroleum-fueled vehicles, mainstream consumer acceptance of these technologies is stymied by considerations of their premium price, limited travel range, and extended charging times, all consequences of current battery technologies. To address these problems, UC Berkeley researchers have developed an electro-mechanical flywheel system to be incorporated into PEVs and HEVs which increases efficiency, extends battery life and extends travel range making this battery/flywheel system more cost effective and more appealing to the mainstream consumer.  The system combines the chemical energy storage in a battery with the electro-mechanical energy storage in a flywheel to provide the system with both high power capability and high energy density.   

Regenerative Thermophotovoltaics

Thermophotovoltaics (TPVs) converts infrared rays from a very hot thermal source into photovoltaic electricity. This process is analogous to using solar cells, but TPVs use thermal emitter and a photovoltaic diode cell to change energy forms. Conventional silicon solar cell is effectively a TPV device in which the sun functions as the emitter, and the cell’s silicon structures absorb in the visible portion of the spectrum. Many solar cell systems neglect the small infrared photon emissions due to known physical and design constraints. Thermophotovoltaic devices are uniquely positioned to overcome that limitation by harvesting the unconverted thermal-infrared emissions. Historically, the efficiency for such devices (with spectral selectivity) reach only 15%. For a world with increasing energy and conservation needs, a thermophotovoltaic module solution would need to perform at higher efficiencies for a variety of high- and low-power demand scenarios. To address these problems, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed the "Regenerative Thermophotovoltaics" framework which is designed to exploit the small infrared photons typically lost in thermophotovoltaic cells, while architecting the device for optimal variable-demand performance. The Berkeley device framework effectively captures and recycles unused photons in the photovoltaic cell that are generally below ~0.8eV energy. By putting these thermal-infrared photons to work, conversion efficiencies >50% may be produced, which could contend with conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) approaches. 

Novel Porous Organic Polymers for Ammonia Adsorption

Ammonia is used in many industrial and commercial applications, for example in the manufacture of fertilizers and cleaners.  However, ammonia is toxic at high concentrations and, therefore, safe storage and transportation of ammonia is required. In addition, trace amounts of ammonia in the atmosphere contaminate and interfere with certain industrial processes, such as semiconductor fabrication, which requires ultra-pure air. Proper ammonia management includes the adsorption of the gas under each of these pressure regimes: high-pressure adsorption for safe storage and transportation and low-pressure adsorption for the removal of trace contaminants from the ambient air. Current methods of adsorption include simple salts, such as MgCl2, but these are not efficient for low-pressure adsorption and furthermore their ammonia cycle is inefficient, requiring significant heat exchange and large changes in volume. Investigators at UC Berkeley have developed a novel polymer for ammonia adsorption that uses acidic materials placed in a spatial arrangement that allows for cooperative adsorption. This not only increases the efficiency of adsorption but also is effective at both high-pressure and low-pressure ammonia adsorption, resulting in multiple applications of the technology. 

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