Canonical Attempting to Crowd Fund a Superphone

Tech company Canonical has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the development of a smart phone that runs both Ubuntu and Android operating systems. The phone is planned to contain a mixture of standard and high-end hardware. On the conventional side, the phone will feature 4G LTE, an 8MP camera, and near-field communication chips, along with the usual array of sensors like GPS and accelerometers.

That’s where conventional ends, however. The device will sport a 128 GB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM. To put that in perspective, the iPhone 5 has 64 GB of storage and 1 GB of RAM while the Galaxy S4 has 2 GB of RAM and only reaches 128 GB of storage with an expensive 64 GB microSD. Canonical also vaguely states that the Ubuntu Edge will feature “the fastest multi-core processor.” The screen will also be unique, as instead of glass it will be made with Aluminum Oxide, the basic crystal for Sapphire. Sapphire is incredibly scratch resistant: only Diamond, crystallized Boron, and a handful of substances even more obscure than crystallized Boron can scratch it.

What makes the phone really interesting isn’t just its hardware, but the source of it’s development. As I mentioned briefly, Canonical is crowd-funding the phone using an Indiegogo campaign. Crowd-funding involves raising money from the public in order to fund some kind of good or service in development. The public isn’t just donating out of the goodness of their hearts, of course; a crowd-funding campaign sets reward tiers that offer tangible benefits for giving over a certain amount. For example, the Ubuntu edge offers access to updates regarding the phone at lower levels, or an actual phone at higher ones, all the way up to a set of 100 phones at the highest tier.

Crowd-funding has another catch, however. The company or individual sets a target for collection, and if that target isn’t met all the money is returned. The Edge is poised to break records with a goal of a whopping $32 million. The number is not unheard of for major tech launches, and as such it offers the question of whether crowd-funding could be a viable way for companies to launch opensource products like the Edge in the future. Only time will tell if the Edge will make it to production and pave the way for the crowd-funding of bold new technologies in the future.


Steelcase Gesture: A New Way to Sit


Well, nine new ways to sit, to be more specific. The problem was really that you were already sitting in these positions, but most chairs didn’t support them. With nearly two thirds of workers using two or more devices (Tablet, Smartphone, Computer, etc.) every day*, the standard chair design’s expectation for users to be straight-backed with eyes forward and feet flat on the floor was increasingly cumbersome. Engineers at Steelcase decided to tackle the problem with Gesture, a chair that moves like you do.

The core of the system features a back and seat that move along with the user. shifting and tilting to keep the back cradled in as many positions as possible. In addition, the edges of the seat are designed to be flexible to allow for shifting between postures with minimal obstruction. The basic concept remains obvious, people are sitting in many very strange ways, and the chair is meant to augment that.

But the real innovation in the chair are its arms. While many other office chairs have a wide range of arm adjustments allowing for side to side, forward back, and rotation around a pivot, the Gesture put the arm rests atop four pivot points to allow for a much wider range of motion. The system essentially allows for an orbit that can, for example, move up and in for using a smartphone, or down and forward for lounging back. Moreover, all these adjustments can be made “as easily as adjusting your posture.”

The chair is expected to become available in November this year, and make quite an impact when it does.

*According to the June 2013 Popular Science

Green Spotlight: A Battery Made from Wood

After a brief break from blogging, we’re back, and we’re going to start the ball rolling with some news fro the green technology front. Researchers out of the Energy Research Center at the University of Maryland have created an environmentally friendly battery made of wood.The image that may spring to mind may be something akin to an old-school lemon battery with a penny and a nail jammed into a log, but the “wood” employed here is actually a nano-scale cellulose fiber being used to ease the movement of ions (and thus electric charge).

This technology offers a few unique advantages over current batteries. Perhaps the most obvious that the ions employed here are Sodium ions, while the battery in your phone employs more expensive Lithium. The Sodium isn’t as energy dense as Lithium, so the wood batteries won’t make their way into your pocket anytime soon, but it makes stringing together huge farms of the nano-batteries for large scale storage more cost effective. This allows for more efficient storage of solar or wind energy to use on windless nights.

So these new batteries use Sodium, what’s that got to do with wood? Well Sodium batteries use Tin as their anode (the thing that coaxes the Sodium into giving up electrons to flow around circuits), and Tin has a tendency to lose its grip on the battery after just a few charge cycles. But cellulose fibers are used plant matter for transporting electrolytes around the organism, meaning that clinging to the Tin ions while allowing the Sodium to flow is close to its original, biological purpose.

During the course of their research, the team also discovered that the cellulose had a mechanism to aid it in being used for multiple charge cycles. As the battery was charged and discharged the fibers would wrinkle and relax, allowing for far more cycles than other nano-batteries.

While the technology is still a prototype with a long ways to go before becoming commercially viable, it is easy to see the potential is has to change the face of green technology.