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Artificial muscles using folded graphene

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Folded Graphene Concept

Two years ago I wrote a blog on future hosiery where I very briefly mentioned the idea of using folded graphene as synthetic muscles:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/the-future-of-nylon-ladder-free-hosiery/

Although I’ve since mentioned it to dozens of journalists, none have picked up on it, so now that soft robotics and artificial muscles are in the news, I guess it’s about time I wrote it up myself, before someone else claims the idea. I don’t want to see an MIT article about how they have just invented it.

The above pic gives the general idea. Graphene comes in insulating or conductive forms, so it will be possible to make sheets covered with tiny conducting graphene electromagnet coils that can be switched individually to either polarity and generate strong magnetic forces that pull or push as required. That makes it ideal for a synthetic muscle, given the potential scale. With 1.5nm-thick layers that could be anything from sub-micron up to metres wide, this will allow thin fibres and yarns to make muscles or shape change fabrics all the way up to springs or cherry-picker style platforms, using many such structures. Current can be switched on and off or reversed very rapidly, to make continuous forces or vibrations, with frequency response depending on application – engineering can use whatever scales are needed. Natural muscles are limited to 250Hz, but graphene synthetic muscles should be able to go to MHz.

Uses vary from high-rise rescue, through construction and maintenance, to space launch. Since the forces are entirely electromagnetic, they could be switched very rapidly to respond to any buckling, offering high stabilisation.

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The extreme difference in dimensions between folded and opened state mean that an extremely thin force mat made up of many of these cherry-picker structures could be made to fill almost any space and apply force to it. One application that springs to mind is rescues, such as after earthquakes have caused buildings to collapse. A sheet could quickly apply pressure to prize apart pieces of rubble regardless of size and orientation. It could alternatively be used for systems for rescuing people from tall buildings, fracking or many other applications.

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It would be possible to make large membranes for a wide variety of purposes that can change shape and thickness at any point, very rapidly.

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One such use is a ‘jellyfish’, complete with stinging cells that could travel around in even very thin atmospheres all by itself. Upper surfaces could harvest solar power to power compression waves that create thrust. This offers use for space exploration on other planets, but also has uses on Earth of course, from surveillance and power generation, through missile defense systems or self-positioning parachutes that may be used for my other invention, the Pythagoras Sling. That allows a totally rocket-free space launch capability with rapid re-use.

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Much thinner membranes are also possible, as shown here, especially suited for rapid deployment missile defense systems:

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Also particularly suited to space exploration o other planets or moons, is the worm, often cited for such purposes. This could easily be constructed using folded graphene, and again for rescue or military use, could come with assorted tools or lethal weapons built in.

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A larger scale cherry-picker style build could make ejector seats, elevation platforms or winches, either pushing or pulling a payload – each has its merits for particular types of application.  Expansion or contraction could be extremely rapid.

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An extreme form for space launch is the zip-winch, below. With many layers just 1.5nm thick, expanding to 20cm for each such layer, a 1000km winch cable could accelerate a payload rapidly as it compresses to just 7.5mm thick!

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Very many more configurations and uses are feasible of course, this blog just gives a few ideas. I’ll finish with a highlight I didn’t have time to draw up yet: small particles could be made housing a short length of folded graphene. Since individual magnets can be addressed and controlled, that enables magnetic powders with particles that can change both their shape and the magnetism of individual coils. Precision magnetic fields is one application, shape changing magnets another. The most exciting though is that this allows a whole new engineering field, mixing hydraulics with precision magnetics and shape changing. The powder can even create its own chambers, pistons, pumps and so on. Electromagnetic thrusters for ships are already out there, and those same thrust mechanisms could be used to manipulate powder particles too, but this allows for completely dry hydraulics, with particles that can individually behave actively or  passively.

Fun!

 

 

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Sky lines

High altitude solar array to power IT and propel planes

High altitude solar array to power IT and propel planes

Skylines are a zero carbon hypersonic air travel solution, a high altitude solar farm, a base for all sorts of high altitude electronics and even as a booster to reduce rocket engine size to get to orbit by getting spacecraft up to high hypersonic speeds before they need to fire engines. Well, most of the bits would be made of carbon materials, but it wouldn’t emit any CO2.

The pic says it all. A linear solar farm suspended in the high atmosphere (20km – 30km high) to provide an IT platform for sensors, comms and other functions often accomplished by low orbit satellite. It would float up there thanks to being fixed to a graphene foam base layer that can be made lighter than helium (my previous invention, see

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/could-graphene-foam-be-a-future-helium-substitute/

which has since been prototyped and proven to be extremely resilient to high pressures too). Ideally, it would go all the way around the world, in various inclinations at different altitudes to provide routes to many places. More likely, it would connect a few major locations. Carbon materials are also incredibly strong so the line can be made as strong as can reasonably be required. Graphene is ideal for its weight, strength and most of all its electrical properties. It is perfect for making the various electrical circuits and as a base for solar panels.

This linear solar array would produce huge electric power, which is a potential use in itself, but housing various low ‘satellites’ would be even more useful, especially for comms where the latency would be lower than higher satellites and for surveillance where monitors will be closer to the ground.

As well as these, the flotation layer could also supports a hypersonic linear induction motor that could provide direct propulsion to a hypersonic glider or to electric props on a powered plane. Obviously this could also provide a means of making extremely low earth orbit satellites that continuously circumnavigate the ring. Once a plane is being pulled, it doesn’t need to breathe air for its engines, and with very thin air heating is less of an issue so it could go faster. High hypersonic speeds may be possible, making global air travel much faster and less environmentally damaging.

I know you’re asking already how the planes get up there. There are a few solutions.  Most likely they would use conventional engines to do so, and dock with a tether and sled once at a suitable height. Tethers could move to intercept, like a relay team’s members coordinating speed for handing over the baton, and a longer tether obviously means the plane doesn’t have to climb so high. Once it is tethered, of course it could climb a lot higher to escape air resistance, and some kinds of planes could even fly above the skyline, in very thin air, for super high speeds or even to assist in sub-orbital launches by reducing the needs for rockets. In theory, tethers could come all the way to ground level to airports, and electric engines powered by the skyline would then be used to get to height where the plane would pick up a sled-link, or else stronger links to the ground would allow planes to be pulled up by sleds, though these options would be far less feasible, because both mean that the air would have dangerous tethers dangling causing potential risks to other craft.

The power levels needed can be determined by looking at existing planes engines. The engines on a Boeing 777 generate about 8.25MW. A high altitude solar cell, above clouds could generate 300W per square metre. So a 777 equivalent plane needs 55km of panels if the line is just one metre wide. That means planes need to be at least that distance apart, but since that equates to around a minute, that is no barrier at all.

If you still doubt this, the Hyperloop was just a crazy idea when it was invented a century ago too. Now various companies are building demonstrators.

To finish on a tease, I mention above the potential for this to help spacecraft up to speed before they need to fire rocket engines. Although skylines are both feasible and useful for this, Carbon Devices is currently exploring some far superior ways of reaching space, but we are not ready to disclose them quite yet.

High Rise Rescue

A quick googling turned up this great idea, using an escape chute attached to the top of a fire crane. The chute has a fireproof external layer and people slow or speed their descent in it simply by varying their posture. Read the pdf for more details:

http://www.escapeconsult.biz/download.php?module=prod&id=26

The picture tells all you really need to know. You can see it reaches very high, up to 100m with the tallest fire appliance.

It is a great idea, but you can still see how it could be improved, and the manufacturer may well already have better versions on the way.

Firstly, the truck is already leaning, even though it has extendable feet to increase the effective base area. This affects all free-standing fire rescue cranes and ladders (suspension ladders, or ladders able to lean against a wall obviously include other forces). Physics dictates that the center of gravity, with the evacuees included, must remain above the base or it will start to topple. The higher it reaches and the further from the truck, the harder that becomes, and the fewer people can simultaneously use the escape chute. Clearly if it is go even higher, we need to find new ways of keeping the base and center of gravity aligned, or to prevent it toppling by leaning the ladder securely against a sound piece of wall that isn’t above a fire.

One solution is obvious. Usually with a high-rise fire, a number of fire appliances would be there. By linking several appliances to the ladder in a stable pattern, the base area then becomes far larger, the entire area enclosed by the combined appliances. At the very least, they can spread out across a street, and sometimes as in the Grenfell Tower fire, there is a lot of nearby space to spread over. With a number of fire appliances, the crane is also not limited to the carrying capacity of a single appliance.

If these are specialist hi-rise appliances, one or two would carry telescopic arms to support the rescue equipment, with one or more trucks using tension wires to increase the base area.

We also need to speed up entry to the chute and preferably make it accessible to more windows. The existing system has access via a small hole that might be slow to pass through, and challenging for larger people or those with less mobility. A funneled design would allow people to jump in from several windows or even drop from a floor above. Designing the access to prevent simultaneous arrivals at the chute is easy enough, even if several people jump in together

Also, it would be good if the chute could take evacuees away from the building and flames as fast as possible. Getting them to the ground is a lesser priority. Designing the funnel so it crosses several windows, with a steep slope away from the building (like an airplane escape slide) before it enters the downward chute would do that.

Another enhancement would be that instead of a broad funnel and single chute, a number of chutes could be suspended, with one for each window. Several people would be able to descend down different chutes at the same time. with a much broader base area, toppling risk would still be greatly reduced.

If a few support arms could be extended from the crane towards the building, that would provide extra stability until their strength (or building fabric) is compromised by fire. Further support might sometimes be available from window cleaning platform apparatus that could support the weight of the rescue chutes. If emergency escape chutes are built into the platforms could even make for an instant escape system before fire services arrive.

With these relatively straightforward enhancements, this evacuation system would be even better and would allow many people to escape who otherwise wouldn’t. OK, here’s a badly drawn pic:

All of this is possible with 2017 materials. As new carbon materials become economically available, it will be feasible to make the reach and size of this much greater and still stay within reasonable weight.

Carbon Devices (CD) is currently investigating mechanisms for rapid deployment of adaptive landing bags made from CD’s innovative graphene-based FG technology, that behave rather like smart air bags onto which people could safely jump, that could both actively intercept them if they don’t jump accurately, and give them a managed safe deceleration on landing.

Our FG is also the basis of rapid-deployment high towers also under investigation that could be used to get fire crews and equipment (or robotic equipment) to height to tackle fires. FG could greatly accelerate the processes of evacuation and getting fires under control.

FG will have a variety of other types of applications, since it can be used to make almost any volumetric or planar construction extremely rapidly, using enormous expansion capability coupled to high strength. In fact, in the above diagram, FG could provide the the tension members, compression members and support arms, as well as the escape chutes.

Carbon Devices Ltd has just been set up

Well, this all started with a frivolous idea a few years back when I invented a bunch of stuff for my sci-fi book Space Anchor. Recently, I have made a number of inventions (dozens in fact) that rely on graphene or carbon nanotubes or other carbon-based materials. Some are civil, many are weapons, and the company will own both sites, carbonweapons.com and this one, carbondevices.com.

I decided it is about time to set up a proper company rather than just a blog site. So I did, Carbon Devices Ltd.

It will own all the carbon-related intellectual property that I have invented over the last years. This site currently shows a few older ideas, as does the partner site carbonweapons.com, but all of the company’s recent intellectual property is as yet unpublished. Patenting or blogging ideas removes the bulk of their commercial value as inventions and publicity and ‘exposure’ is insufficient as a business model. Instead, short descriptors of ideas will sometimes be released that do not convey the important engineering details.

Some important ideas and concepts will however be fully disclosed for the public good, where the company does not intend to develop or sell them, but wants to make them publicly available to anyone free of charge and restriction and prevent others from seizing or controlling them. Such technical disclosures will be intended to disclose sufficient engineering detail to prevent others patenting them.

Some recent exciting and valuable space ideas will fall into that category. Watch this space!

Driverless pod transport system

I badly documented my latest idea of an ultra-cheap transport system in https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/an-ultra-cheap-future-transport-system/. I think I need another blog to separate out the idea from the background. Look at my previous blog for the appropriate pictures.

We’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm now for electric cars and in parallel, for self-driving cars. I support both of those, and I like the new Next system that is extremely close to my own ideas from 1987 when I first looked at cars from a performance engineer’s viewpoint and realized that self driving cars could drive millimeters apart, reducing drag and greatly reducing congestion. I estimated back then that they could improve road capacity by a factor of 5. Many others have since simulated such systems and the same factor of 5 has popped up a few times now.

Self-driving pods and electrically assisted bike lane

Self-driving pods and electrically assisted bike lane

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Next have visualized the same idea nicely, but the world is more receptive now. http://www.techinsider.io/italys-next-created-self-driving-pods-that-can-connect-in-motion-to-form-a-train-2015-10

https://youtu.be/Wk12TmZ3GiQ for their nice video, although I’d envisage rather more pods in most areas, almost filling the entire road area.

I’ve lectured in vain many times to persuade authorities to divert investment away from 20th century rail system to roads using self driving cars. The UK’s HS2 system is no more than lipstick on a 20th century pig. Pig it remains, obsolete ages ago, though our idiotic government remains determined to build it anyway, wasting £70Bn even by charitable estimates. Systems similar to Next’s could replace HS2 and reduce journey times for everyone, not just those whose starting point and destination are very close to the terminals. I wish them well. But I think there is an even better solution, that is feasible in a similar time-frame, and I have no doubt they could pick it up and run with it. Or Tesla or Google or Apple or Toyota or any other car company.

My realization is that we don’t need self driving cars either. Take exactly the Next system, with its nicely trapezoidal pods that nest together. They will need a smooth road surface if they are to ride in contact or millimeters apart, or they will constantly bump into each other and create irritating vibration. Make them ride a centimeter or two apart and it will solve that.

Then start looking at each part of the system.

They each have a computer on board to drive the pod. You don’t need that, because everyone has a smart phone now which already has formidable computing power and is connected to the cloud, which has vast amounts more. Together, the entire system can be easily managed without any computers on board at all.

Similarly, much of the internal decor in cars is there to make it look pretty, offer interfaces, information or displays for passenger entertainment. All of that could easily be done by any half-decent augmented reality visor.

Then look at the power supply and engines. We should at the very least expect electric motors to replace fossil fuel engines. Most self-driving cars have expensive batteries, using scarce resources, and lithium batteries may catch fire or explode. So some systems in R&D now use the idea of super-capacitors instead. Furthermore, these could be recharged periodically as they drive over special mats on the road surface, so they could be smaller, lighter and cheaper. Even that is now being trialed. So these systems would already be better in almost every way to today’s transport.

However, we don’t even need the electric motors and super-capacitors. Instead we could update the ancient but well-proven idea of the linear induction motor and make factory-produced mats containing circuits that can be instructed to make steerable magnetic wells that pull the cars along, as well as navigate them correctly at every junction. Again, the management can all be done by the cloud plus smartphones, and the circuits can reconfigure on command as each pod passes over them. So they won’t need batteries, or super-capacitor banks, or engines or motors. They would just be pulled along by magnetic fields, with no moving parts (apart from the pods as a whole of course) to go wrong, and almost nothing needing expensive maintenance. Apart from wheels, suspension and brakes.

So the driverless pod would not need a built-in computer, it would not need an engine or motor, and not need a battery or super-capacitor. Already it would be vastly cheaper.

The last remaining moving parts can also be dispensed with. If the pod rides above a mat that can generate the magnetic fields to drag it along, why not let other magnetic fields suspend it above the ground? That would mean it doesn’t need suspension, or wheels. Conventional brakes could be dispensed with using a combination of magnetic fields for normal braking,  combined with a fallback of gravity and brake strips for emergency braking. Reducing the levitation field would create friction with the road surface and stop the vehicle very quickly, far more quickly than a conventional car can stop, only really limited by comfort limitations.

So my proposal is a system that would look and behave very similar to what Next have designed, but would not need engines, batteries, on-board computers or even wheels. My pods would be no more than simple boxes with comfy seats (or empty for freight transport) and a couple of strips on the bottom and might cost no more than $200 each. The road would have a factory-made mat laid on top for the magnetic well trains and levitation. Adapting a road to the system would be an overnight laying out of the mat and plugging it in to the electricity supply. In cold seasons, that electricity supply could also power on-board heating (but that would incur extra expense of course)

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transport system

It won’t be long before such a system could be built. I can’t see any fundamental barriers to a prototype appearing next year if some entrepreneur were to try. It could make self driving car systems, even Next’s current proposals, redundant before they are implemented. If we were to change the direction of current plans to utilize the latest technology, rather than using ideas from 30 years ago, we could have a cheaper, better, more environmentally friendly system even faster. We could probably build such as system in every major city for what we are going to waste on HS2. Surely that is worth a try.

The future of nylon: ladder-free hosiery

Last week I outlined the design for a 3D printer that can print and project graphene filaments at 100m/s. That was designed to be worn on the wrist like Spiderman’s, but an industrial version could print faster. When I checked a few of the figures, I discovered that the spinnerets for making nylon stockings run at around the same speed. That means that graphene stockings could be made at around the same speed. My print head produced 140 denier graphene yarn but it made that from many finer filaments so basically any yarn thickness from a dozen carbon atoms right up to 140 denier would be feasible.

The huge difference is that a 140 denier graphene thread is strong enough to support a man at 2g acceleration. 10 denier stockings are made from yarn that breaks quite easily, but unless I’ve gone badly wrong on the back of my envelope, 10 denier graphene would have roughly 10kg (22lb)breaking strain. That’s 150 times stronger than nylon yarn of the same thickness.

If so, then that would mean that a graphene stocking would have incredible strength. A pair of 10 denier graphene stockings or tights (pantyhose) might last for years without laddering. That might not be good news for the nylon stocking industry, but I feel confident they would adapt easily to such potential.

Alternatively, much finer yarns could be made that would still have reasonable ladder resistance, so that would also affect the visual appearance and texture. They could be made so fine that the fibers are invisible even up close. People might not always want that, but the key message is that wear-resistant, ladder free hosiery could be made that has any gauge from 0.1 denier to 140 denier.

There is also a bonus that graphene is a superb conductor. That means that graphene fibers could be woven into nylon hosiery to add circuits. Those circuits might be to harvest radio energy, act as an aerial, power LEDS in the hosiery or change its colors or patterns. So even if it isn’t used for the whole garment, it might still have important uses in the garment as an addition to the weave.

There is yet another bonus. Graphene circuits could allow electrical supply to shape changing polymers that act rather like muscles, contracting when a voltage is applied across them, so that a future pair of tights could shape a leg far better, with tensions and pressures electronically adjusted over the leg to create the perfect shape. Graphene can make electronic muscles directly too, but in a more complex mechanism (e.g. using magnetic field generation and interaction, or capacitors and electrical attraction/repulsion).

Video make-up

My fictional superheroine Carbon Girl wears smart makeup, but although she is fictional, it is entirely feasible and and this is how it might work. A variation of this is that isn’t so carbon-based is on my other blog: https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/the-future-of-make-up/

Butterfly wings can be very pretty with complex iridescent colours. But they use diffraction to make colours rather than dyes. Fortunately, graphene flakes will work just as well as scales on a butterfly. And copying nature makes Carbon Girl happy.

Carbon-based smart make-up could use a suspension of graphene flakes, carbon foam and strands of nanotube.

Every month, a woman would have active skin printed over her skin, which would be painless and take 10 minutes or maybe half an hour. This is a super-thin graphene layer that makes an intricately patterned electrical circuit covering her whole skin, though self-organisation and rapid reconfiguration mean that minor errors or damage from everyday wear only slowly and gradually degrade its functioning. This circuit can use differences in skin temperature to generate electricity for regeneration pulses a few times every hour, on ordinary women, and can also be charged when they uses electric toothbrushes or mobiles, or are near a wireless LAN.

The pulses in this electronics layer create a magnetic field, and that causes eddy currents in the graphene flakes, which then produce their own magnetic field. The interaction of these fields allows the particles in the make-up to be manipulated into their required orientation, and over a patch of skin, the custom orientation of millions of particles changes the colour of the make-up.

None of the electronics layer would be visible to the naked eye, circuitry being typically just a few microns across and an atom thick. Only the skin and make-up would be visible.

A woman would just smear smart make-up all over her face, snap her fingers, and the make-up immediately takes on her chosen appearance. Her active skin immediately recharges and since the flakes can reorientate many times every second, she has video make-up.

Her active skin knows where she is, who she is with, and what time it is, so her appearance automatically changes as she goes through the day, video here, a static appearance there. But she can over-rule it any time using thought recognition.

The make-up gives her the appearance she wants, but it also is useful to enable disguises and camouflage. But mainly, with a 30 minute session once a month for the active skin renewal, and then just a few seconds a day to put the make-up on, it saves her lots of time. So she can do even more to save the world. Every little helps.

Components of perfume can also be selectively vaporized according to the context of her situation, using printed active skin heating elements. Pheromones help her to influence others too.

The appearance of her make-up could be controlled by her electronic jewelry, or on voice or thought command, but it can also tap directly into her emotional state when she isn’t actively controlling it. When she wants to show her emotions, her make-up amplifies her expressions. When she wants to hide them, it works well to give the opposite impression. When she is distracted while talking to someone, her make-up can run on autopilot to mimic attention.