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Flexible time

The world’s first flexible digital clock has been developed by a Japanese watchmaker, which is as thin as camera film and can be bent around the curve of a wall.

The clock is only 3mm thick but has roughly twice the contrast of a reflective LCD, and can be easily read in bright sunlight or in dimly lit environments and at virtually any angle, according to the makers Citizen Watch. The clock, which measures 53 by 130 cm, is the first to use an electronic paper display (EPD) using imaging film developed by US technology company E Ink.

EPDs possess a paper-like high contrast appearance, ultra-low power consumption, and a thin, light form. It gives the viewer the experience of reading from paper, while having the power of updatable information.

EPDs are a technology enabled by electronic ink - ink that carries a charge enabling it to be updated through electronics. Electronic ink is ideally suited for EPDs as it is a reflective technology which requires no front or backlight, is viewable under a wide range of lighting conditions, including direct sunlight, and requires no power to maintain an image.

The principal components of electronic ink are millions of tiny microcapsules, about the diameter of a human hair. Each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid. When a negative electric field is applied, the white particles move to the top of the microcapsule where they become visible to the user. This makes the surface appear white at that spot. At the same time, an opposite electric field pulls the black particles to the bottom of the microcapsules where they are hidden. By reversing this process, the black particles appear at the top of the capsule, which now makes the surface appear dark at that spot.

To form an electronic display, the ink is printed onto a sheet of plastic film that is laminated to a layer of circuitry. The circuitry forms a pattern of pixels that can then be controlled by a display driver. These microcapsules are suspended in a liquid “carrier medium” allowing them to be printed using existing screen printing processes onto virtually any surface, including glass, plastic, fabric and even paper.

E Ink say that ultimately electronic ink will permit almost any surface to become a display. But for now the technology allows product designers to create entirely new designs that were never possible before.

Meanwhile, Citizen’s clock, which is set to be launched early next year retailing at between $4,200-5,000, uses a hundredth of the power of traditional digital displays and is flexible enough to be installed in locations that would otherwise be difficult. We could also be on the cusp of a tide of gimicky applications such as alarm clocks stitched into bed linen and stop watches attached to sports jerseys!

Citizen Watch: http://www.citizen.co.jp/english/, E Ink: http://www.eink.com/

True alarm

Fire alarms are considered an essential bit of security kit in today’s households and businesses.

But with the rate of false alarms currently running at about 90 per cent the resources of fire brigades - which are committed to investigate every alarm logged - are often stretched thin. Also false alarms lead people to mistrust the fire system, with potentially disastrous results.

Now a European technology partnership have developed an electronic nose that can sniff out false alarms, distinguishing between the smoke from a house fire and a Christmas turkey burning in the oven.

The intelligent modular multi-sensor (IMOS) is a fire detection system which as well as employing a traditional optical sensor - which uses light scattering to detect particulates in the air - also utilises conducting polymer sensors - which can “smell” the type of smoke that is producing the particulate.

If the optical sensor detects the presence of particulates it recruits the polymer sensors which set of the alarm if it senses smoke types associated with conflagration.

Conducting polymers sensors work because the electrical resistance in the polymer varies in the presence of gas and once the gas disappears the polymers resistance returns to its resting state.

The IMOS team identified and isolated the specific chemicals associated with the smoke emitted from various sources including wood, cotton, paper, the foam used in chairs and sofas and cigarettes. They then developed dedicated polymer sensors to build an array able to identify these chemicals.

Testing has been successful to date, although the developers are working to speed up the response time of the polymer sensors. They are aiming to complete a finished system by autumn next year.

IMOS: http://imos.fhnon.de/

Grey water turned “green”

More than half the water used in the home and workplace does not need to be of drinkable quality, yet it comes from the same source as our drinking water.

Water Works UK, a London-based company specialising in sustainable water projects, says it has developed a recycling system that uses semi-aquatic plants to treat waste washing water so that it can be re-used.

The plants remove many of the harmful detergents and other pollutants from grey water - leftovers from washbasins, baths and showers - turning into “green water” which, although not drinkable, can then be used for jobs like flushing the toilet or watering the garden. Hence a large quantity of water is used twice before it is dispersed into the communal waste system.

The GROW (green roof water recycling) system consists of an inclined framework of interconnected horizontal troughs constructed on the roof of an office or housing block. Planted in the troughs are specially chosen plants which cleanse the grey water - which is pumped up to the roof - by taking up the dissolved pollutants through their roots.

Species of plants are chosen for their resistance to pollutants. Among the best plants are water mint, which has disinfectant qualities, marsh marigold and the common reed. Several species are used at once so that if one dies other plants will continue the job until the former is replaced.

Users will be able to “tend” the system like a normal garden rather than running up maintenance bills.

Water Works - which has been assisted in the GROW project by Imperial College London and Cranfield University - is now trying to reduce the size of the system so that it can sit above a common household water butt.

Water Works: http://www.wwuk.co.uk/

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