Monday, 31 December 2018


The Biggest Tech Fails of 2018
By Chloe Albanesius,
PCMag, 30 December 2018.

This has been...a year. Honestly, if you'd asked me when the Snapchat redesign kerfuffle and that fake Hawaii missile alert had occurred, I'd have sworn they happened three years ago. But no, they were among the blessings bestowed upon us in 2018.

But they were not the only tech fails this year. Not by a long shot. As usual, security breaches made headlines quite regularly, from Orbitz and MyFitnessPal to T-Mobile and Marriott. (Password manager, anyone?) Malware hit routers, while ransomware hobbled cities like Atlanta.

Below we'll chronicle some of Silicon Valley's other notable facepalms. Read on for the stories that made us shake our heads and kept execs, shareholders, and PR teams up at night.

1. Meltdown and Spectre


Intel was one of several tech companies that had a rough year, but its troubles started just as 2018 got going with revelations that security flaws in chips powering PCs, laptops, servers, phones, and other devices had gone unnoticed for years. And fixes for those flaws would reportedly result in a performance hit to each system - as high as 30 percent.

The flaws, code-named Meltdown and Spectre, could be exploited to pull sensitive information from vulnerable machines. Meltdown was found mostly in Intel processors as far back as 1995, but Spectre was also found in AMD and ARM-based chips. Fix rollouts were complicated, but on the bright side, we tested four PCs from a variety of manufacturers and found that while each of the systems did suffer a slowdown in computing performance, it was slight enough that most users won't notice the difference.

2. Hawaii Is (Not) Under Attack


In the early morning of Jan. 13, those in Hawaii got a shock when their phones lit up with an ominous emergency alert: "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill," it read. Except it was. According to an FCC report, a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) employee - who has since been fired - flaked and mistook a drill message (which started and ended with someone saying "exercise, exercise, exercise") for the real thing, flipped the switch, and all hell broke loose. Heckuva job.

3. VPN Slip Reveals 'Guccifer 2.0' Identity

Image: Richard Patterson/Flickr

First rule of cyber espionage? Log into your VPN. In March, The Daily Beast reported that Guccifer 2.0, the hacker reportedly responsible for the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack, is an officer with Russia's GRU military intelligence agency. The hacker, who claimed to be a "lone" Romanian hacktivist, made a key mistake which revealed his actual identity: forgetting to activate his VPN client before logging on.

4. Members of Congress or Criminals?


As the photo above demonstrates, Congress has plenty of average-looking business types who many of us couldn't pick out of a lineup. As it turns out, sophisticated facial-recognition technology from Amazon has no idea who is representing us in our nation's capital either. This summer, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tested Amazon's controversial Rekognition system and found that it incorrectly matched the photos of 28 US lawmakers with mug shots of people who had been arrested for a crime. The ACLU's test results were later replicated by Joshua A. Kroll, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who used the same database of mug shots.

5. 'Active Shooter' Video Game


One might assume that making a video game called Active Shooter, in which players assume the role of the attacker or a SWAT team member in various scenarios, including a school, would be in poor taste. But Acid and Revived Games, the publisher and developer of such a game, had no such qualms. They made the game and planned to publish it on Steam in June before public outcry from the parents of school shooting victims prompted Valve to pull it.

The incident kicked off a discussion about what type of content Valve would allow on Steam. Ultimately, it decided not to censor any games for controversial content, "except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling." The developer of Active Shooter fell into the troll category because, Valve said, he has "a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation." The developer, Ata Berdyev, denied any wrongdoing.

6. Farewell, Google+


The demise of Google+ is not super surprising. By Google's own admission, "90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds." And the search giant has never hesitated to jettison products, even popular ones (RIP Google Reader). But Google's social network met its maker this year after Google discovered a bug that left private user information open to developers. Okay, security breaches happen. The trouble is, Google discovered the bug in March, but declined to alert users for fear of regulatory scrutiny, according to the Wall Street Journal. Oops. As a result, Google announced in October that it would shut down the consumer version of Google+ in August 2019 - a move that it pushed up to April 2019 after the discovery of another bug earlier this month.

7. Unwiped Servers Sold on Craigslist


When a company goes bankrupt what happens to the customer data? In one case, it ended up for sale on Craigslist. That's what a system analyst in Canada discovered in September. A shady Craigslist dealer was offering access to millions of customer records taken from unwiped servers used by the electronics retailer NCIX, which went bankrupt in 2017.

8. Jack Dorsey's Myanmar Meditation Sessions


Earlier this year, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, did a "10-day silent vipassana meditation" for his birthday. A little pretentious, but whatever works for you. The problem? His meditation journey happened in Myanmar, where the military has been murdering the Rohingya people, and his tweetstorm about his "extremely painful and demanding physical and mental work" concluded with a call for meditation enthusiasts to visit the country.

After some pushback, Dorsey returned to the thread to say he was "aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar. I don’t view visiting, practicing, or talking with the people, as endorsement. I didn’t intend to diminish by not raising the issue, but could have acknowledged that I don’t know enough and need to learn more."

The gaffe was all the more striking because social networks like Facebook have been accused of not doing enough to stop disinformation that has led to violence in the region - something Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was quizzed about during a September Senate hearing where Dorsey also appeared.

9. Facebook [Insert Scandal of the Moment]


Speaking of Facebook, 2018 is probably a year Mark Zuckerberg would like to forget. It's hard to narrow it down, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal is probably the biggest fail out of Menlo Park this year. Still, that was really just the beginning. Here's a sampling of what likely gave the social network's PR team a few eye twitches in 2018:
10. Hey Siri, Define 'Mother'

Image: Apple/Wikimedia Commons

As some Reddit users learned in April, asking Siri to define the word "mother" yielded an inappropriate second response. "As a noun, it means 'a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth' do you want to hear the next one?" Siri responded. Those who said "yes" heard Apple's digital assistant say: "As a noun, it means 'short for motherfucker,' want to hear one more?" Maybe later, Siri.

11. Alexa Sends Family's Conversation to Contacts


In May, a family in Portland says their Amazon Echo recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random person on their contact list. Amazon's response? Alexa was confused; she thought she heard her name and the command to send message. (Sure, Jan.) That came shortly after Alexa started laughing maniacally for no reason.

12. Huawei Fakes Camera Phone Photos in Ad


Don't always believe what you see. An August commercial from Huawei tried to pass off DSLR-captured photos as images taken by a company smartphone. The commercial, which ran in Egypt, played up the selfie-taking capabilities of Huawei's Nova 3 handset, including what the photos will supposedly look like. According to the ad, the images can look surprisingly vivid and sharp. However, an observant user on Reddit posted that the photos promoted in the commercial were likely faked.

13. MacBook Butterfly Keys


Apple's flat "butterfly" keyboards were so unpopular that customers sued over their shoddy design. By June, Apple offered free fixes for MacBook and MacBook Pro models with keyboards that unexpectedly repeat letters, fail to type them, feel "sticky," or respond inconsistently

14. MoviePass' Roller Coaster Year


Ah, MoviePass. Going into 2018, the company was already facing trouble. But it kicked off 2018 with an outage and followed that up with multiple, confusing price changes and movie restrictions. It's now facing competition from the likes of Sinemia and AMC, which seem to have a better handle on their businesses - for now.

15. Elon Musk Booted From Tesla Board


Speaking of roller coasters, Elon Musk in September was ordered to pay a $20 million fine and step down as chairman of Tesla's board to settle securities fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

At issue was an Aug. 7 tweet from Musk that said he was "considering taking Tesla private at $420" and asserted that he'd secured funding for the move. According to the SEC, however, "Musk knew that the potential transaction was uncertain and subject to numerous contingencies."

The tweet caused Tesla's stock price to jump by over 6 percent that day "and led to significant market disruption," the agency said.

As part of the SEC settlement, Tesla must "put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk's communications," but Musk told 60 Minutes that no one's approving his tweets.

16. Verizon Throttles Firefighters


While firefighters in Santa Clara, California, were responding to wildfires that spread across the state earlier this summer, Verizon Wireless was throttling the fire department's data. Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden disclosed the throttling incidents as part of an ongoing lawsuit to restore net neutrality rules. Specifically, the brief lists an emergency response vehicle named OES 5262 that uses a Verizon SIM card for internet access and was unable to function effectively during the fire due to throttled data speeds. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

17. Amazon Prime Day 404s


Amazon is now big enough to have a shopping holiday to rival Black Friday, but when its now-annual Prime Day deals went live this summer, someone apparently failed to give its servers a heads up. Eager shoppers were met with 404 pages for the first few hours, but those pages featured cute dogs, so who could be mad?

18. Everyone Hates Snapchat's Redesign


Following the US debut of Snapchat's redesign in early February, users launched more than 30 protest petitions in a single day. They complained that the app was "too over complicated," that it was harder to find their friends, and that some contacts weren't even showing up. By May, Snap released some changes that put your Snaps and Chats in chronological order again, and moved Stories from your friends back to the right side of the app.

19. Lime Scooters: Too Hot to Handle


Scooters were all the rage this year; Lyft, Uber, and even Ford got in on the action. But a few Lime scooters were a bit too hot - Lime had to remotely kill them to prevent them from catching on fire. The fault affected around 2,000 of Lime's scooters, which were spread across Los Angeles, San Diego, and Lake Tahoe.

20. Amazon Workers Hit With Bear Repellent Spray


Happy holidays! Earlier this month, one of Amazon's many automated robots managed to puncture a nine ounce can of bear repellent spray in a New Jersey warehouse. In doing so, a concentrated form of Capsaican, an active component of chili peppers and a very effective irritant for bears and humans, was released into the air and nearby workers were exposed to it. Thirty workers were treated at the scene and 24 needed to go to hospital. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

21. CenturyLink 911 Fail


Internet service provider CenturyLink ended the year with a few PR headaches. First, it was accused of blocking people's internet access in Utah unless they clicked through ads for the company's parental control software. Then, the FCC opened an investigation into a nationwide outage that disrupted 911 services in some areas around the country.

22. Drones Shut Down Gatwick Airport


Traveling during the holidays can be a nightmare, particularly if there's a ground stop at your airport due to drones. Just before Christmas, England's Gatwick Airport was shut down after reports of drones near the runway; approximately 1,000 flights were cancelled between Dec. 19 and 21. There was some brief confusion after a Sussex police officer suggested there were never any drones, according to the BBC, but that appears not to have been accurate. Anti-drone equipment has since been installed at the airport. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

23. Instagram's Horizontal Scroll


Facebook last week briefly rolled out an update for some people that made the main feed scroll horizontally instead of vertically. According to new Instagram Head Adam Mosseri, "was supposed to be a very small test that went broad by accident." Pour one out for the employee who flipped the switch on that rollout. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

In Memoriam: The Tech That Died in 2018


Not every idea is a winner. And not every winning idea will last forever. From Google+ to Tumblr porn, let us reflect on the tech we lost in 2018.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: PCMag. Some images added.]

Sunday, 30 December 2018


10 Nightmarish Flesh-Eating Pathogens That Consume Humans
By Joe Duncan,
Listverse, 30 December 2018.

The phrase “flesh-eating” is nightmarish enough to stop anyone dead in their tracks, conjuring up images of flesh falling off of the bone, deep black necrosis, or perhaps a zombie apocalypse in which the undead are biting flesh from bone. Be it flesh-eating zombies, flesh-eating animals, or, even more terrifying, flesh-eating microscopic organisms, the idea of being eaten alive is downright terrifying, and when it comes to the latter, it’s more frightening to think of something you can’t see that slowly eats away at you.

The world of pathogens is a strange world indeed, and there are some pretty nasty critters out there that would love nothing more than to take a bite out of your flesh - and sometimes bone. Some pathogens hijack the minds of their human hosts, controlling their behavior, their thought patterns, and even their actions. Others lodge themselves inside you and consume you from the inside out. Here are ten nightmarish flesh-eating pathogens and their destructive ways.

10 Necrotizing Fasciitis


Necrotizing fasciitis deserves an honorable mention here at the top of the list, as it’s the result of several infections on this list. Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by the presence of pathogens which cause the skin to rot, especially when they become entrenched into the inner layers of the flesh. If it isn’t treated right away, necrotizing fasciitis can kill you, with anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of the cases being fatal.

Necrotizing fasciitis has earned the moniker “flesh-eating disease,” which is quite the terrifying name. While the infections that cause it vary, the pathogens don’t literally eat the flesh but rather excrete toxins that destroy tissue, causing the condition. Drug and alcohol users as well as diabetics and those who are immunocompromised are particularly at risk for necrotizing fasciitis.

9 Vibrio Vulnificus

Photo credit: Sarah Gamard/KSDK

Vibrio vulnificus is often found in a place that’s a perfect climate for the bacterium to grow and also possesses the large bodies of water which it likes to flourish in: Florida. A person can become infected either by going into the water with an open cut or wound or consuming undercooked or uncooked seafood, as it lives and thrives in salt water. Vibriosis, the disease spawned from the Vibrio genus of bacteria, can be fatal. It should be noted, as alluded to above, that V. vulnificus causes the flesh to rot rather than eating it, but that difference is quite irrelevant when you see chunks of your arm missing.

Even more terrifying is that V. vulnificus not only attacks the surface flesh but can bury itself and get underneath the top layer of tissue. It can even seep in and cause the internal organs to rot away and even eventually shut down. Sometimes, people lose limbs to the disease. Again, the immunocompromised are much more likely to contract this flesh-rotting bacterium, as well as people with liver problems. The Centers for Disease Control in the United States suggests not eating raw or undercooked fish if you’re trying not to catch this, and 80 percent of cases come between May and October, when the water is warmer, so these are the best times to avoid the water to avoid the disease.

8. Donovanosis

Photo credit: SOA-AIDS Amsterdam

Donovanosis, also known as granuloma inguinale, is a disease that comes from the bacterium Klebsiella granulomatis. It’s relatively new on the scene, and it may very well be the scariest thing on this list. Why? Because it’s an STD. That’s right, donovanosis is a flesh-eating STD. The bacteria can destroy the flesh in, around, or on the genitals and can do more damage if they spread to other parts of the body. The damage to the exterior flesh can cause large, red, vascular lesions, and these holes in your flesh bleed.

This disease typically makes its initial home at sites in and around the pelvis but can work its way up inside of you and get into your organs, damaging them, too. If that wasn’t bad enough, in extreme cases, Klebsiella granulomatis can get into your bones as well if not treated promptly. Fortunately, the treatment is rather simple, with broad-spectrum or targeted antibiotics. But imagine waking up one day to find your genitals and the surrounding areas slowly rotting- even if it’s treatable, this is a day that nobody wants to see.

7. Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Photo credit: CDC/Janice Haney Carr

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that grows pretty much everywhere and on pretty much everything, though it doesn’t always infect us - instead, it waits for an opportune opening, such as a cut or scrape, and when the conditions are just right, it will seep into the wound and multiply. P. aeruginosa can cause necrotizing fasciitis. The good news is that healthy people generally have a very low risk of becoming infected by this particular bacterium, but as is often the case, those who have immune system deficiencies can experience problems with it.

If left untreated, Pseudomonas aeruginosa can reach the internal organs and cause death. If left alone, it will eat all the way down to the bone. As with other Pseudomonas species, some of the more severe cases invole infections in the blood or the lungs. What’s really the most terrifying thing about Pseudomonas is the fact that many strains of it have developed antibiotic resistance and are quite difficult to treat, meaning that P. aeruginosa could eat away at you while doctors attempt to find an antibiotic regimen that will work to eliminate the bacteria.

6. Staphylococcus Aureus


Yes, as freaky as it sounds, the common staph infection can become necrotic and flesh-eating. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is Staph aureus with additional antibiotic resistance, making infections rather difficult for modern medicine to treat. Fortunately, not all cases of staph and MRSA turn into flesh-eating necrosis, but doctors can’t actually tell which strains and cases will eventually turn into a condition that eats away at the flesh, so it’s better to treat all situations involving these bacteria as if they were about to become necrotic.

Staph aureus and its antibiotic-resistant counterpart both present with a nasty, thick pus which can get deep into the skin, working its way into muscles and ultimately into the bloodstream - once these infections seep into the blood, a powerful and brutal sickness ensues, and death is a likely possibility. On top of that, if the condition brings about necrotizing fasciitis, you’ll have some serious decay and blackening of the tissue layers as the excreted toxins from the bacteria wreck havoc.

5. Naegleria Fowleri


Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that severely affects the brain on the rare occasion that it inhabits a human host - these dangerous critters love to hang out and reproduce in fresh water, making them ample under the right climate conditions, though they need to travel up the nose and into the brain in order to “hijack” your mind. How do they do that? By reproducing and spreading quickly and then slowly eating away at your brain, that’s how.

Under certain conditions, the amoeba just forms into a cyst that’s inactive and doesn’t do much of anything, but when conditions become right, they become active and begin to feed. The Centers for Disease Control says about the mechanism of death from this particular amoeba: “The infection destroys brain tissue causing swelling and death.” This is definitely not a fun pathogen to catch by any stretch of the imagination.

4. Clostridium Perfringens


Clostridium perfringens is another nasty one. It can be found in soil, water, and the human intestinal tract. This bacteria can cause a specific kind of gangrene called gas gangrene, and it definitely does not at all look very fun. The toxins which are excreted by the bacteria travel through veins, blood vessels, and other bodily systems, and they kill off the flesh inside of the body by poisoning it.

This causes massive distention, huge pockets of bloating gas that come from the bacteria feeding and releasing of gasses inside the body. Massive bulbs of purple and red swelling show up on the outside of the body as the internal gasses protrude and push outward.

3. Streptococcus Pyogenes


Possibly the best-known cause of necrotizing fasciitis is Streptococcus pyogenes, also referred to as “Group A Streptococcus.” This bacterium also causes strep throat, which many people, even in the developed world where antibacterial everything is prevalent, end up catching at one point, often as children. Like the others on this list, Streptococcus pyogenes produces toxic byproducts which cut through tissue layers of fat, muscle, and skin like butter. This infection starts off rather mild, most commonly presenting as a sore throat, but it can progress and eat away at the tissue of the infected and even cause toxic shock syndrome, a condition that comes with headache, nausea, vomiting, and much more and is also definitely no fun to get.

While most cases of strep throat don’t turn into “the flesh-eating disease,” some of them do, and the effects can be both long-term and devastating. This happens when the body’s immune response isn’t quick or powerful enough to fight off the invasive strep, and the results can be deadly. Yes, the common strep throat can actually eat your flesh until you die.

2. E. Coli

Photo credit: Hila Shaked et al.

Escherichia coli is a relatively well-known bacterium which is often responsible for the common food poisoning we all miserably endure every so often. This is the usual E. coli infection, and it’s nothing to shake a stick at, but sometimes, E. coli can go above and beyond the usual case of what we know of as “food poisoning” and become catastrophically worse. As with most bacteria, the body’s immune system as well as antibiotics have fought off the invaders for a very long time, causing variations in the strains which possess radically different traits and can have radically different outcomes upon infection. Some strains of E. coli can cause the death and decay of the skin cells also as they slowly eat away at your flesh.

These strains prey upon people with limited or suppressed immune systems, which can’t fight off the infection - all cases in some studies have been fatal. A specific gene called the cnf1 toxin gene is possessed by the flesh-eating variations of E. coli, which causes them to emit a toxin which destroys flesh like an acid. Animal studies have shown that the presence of this gene in the bacteria causes the toxin to be excreted when animals are infected as well. These E. coli strains are the stuff that nightmares are made of.

1. Mycobacterium Ulcerans


Mycobacterium ulcerans is a bacterium which is the cause of a disease called buruli ulcer, which causes, you guessed it, ulcers to appear within the skin. But much more than this, buruli ulcer is also a flesh-eating condition. Prolonged infection will cause ulcers on the arm and legs typically, and the chunks of flesh which have been eaten away will usually worsen over time. Only ten percent of cases present with flesh-eating ulcers in other parts of the body outside of the limbs, but that’s still a scary ten percent. As the bacteria spread, they produce a toxin called mycolactone, which is responsible for the destruction of flesh in patients who’ve contracted the bacterial infection and allowed it to progress to the disease of buruli ulcer.

Even more terrifying than having this bacterium secrete toxins which eat away at your flesh while you wait helplessly for it to go away, or for your treatments to work, is that beyond just skin, ligament, muscle, and other soft tissues, the disease can eventually spread down to the bone and begin to eat away at that, too. And what’s even more nightmarish than that? They have no idea how this bacterium spreads. Very little is known about how M. ulcerans transmits from one person to the next, so we don’t really know what any of us can do to avoid becoming its next target - yet. Hopefully someday, science will develop methods to eradicate these bacteria as well as new and unique treatments, but for now, we’re stuck with limited knowledge and treatment options.

Top image: Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that causes meningitis. Credit: Manu5/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]


This most innovative battery designs of the year
By Nick Lavars,
New Atlas,29 December 2018.

Access to energy wherever and whenever we need it is fundamental to much of modern society, keeping us warm in the winter, cool in the summer, entertained all year round, and making sure our food is safe to eat. How we store that energy is a constant work in progress, and while plenty of scientists are making important but incremental advances with inventive new materials and electrolytes, others are out to entirely reinvent what we think of as a battery. Here are five examples from 2018 that might open up new doorways in energy storage, and are thought-provoking concepts that came from thinking outside the square.

1. Storing energy in a tower of concrete blocks


Consider a regular spring. If you coil that spring with your finger, you are packing it with potential energy. If you then allow it to uncoil, you are letting that energy free. Now imagine that principle applied to a tower of stackable concrete blocks, with a six-armed crane acting as the finger.

This is the vision of Swiss startup Energy Vault, which is developing a new kind of battery, if you can call it that, designed to store energy from renewables like wind and solar in skyscraper-sized concrete towers. To charge it, the crane lifts blocks off the ground and stacks them to create a tower. To discharge it, the crane lets gravity lower the blocks to the ground and converts the kinetic energy generated during the descent into electricity.

This is a similar premise to pumped hydro plants, which are commonplace and also rely on gravity. These pump water up to into a reservoir during periods of low grid demand, and then capture the power generated as it is released to rush downhill through turbines. Energy Vault says its solution could hold a capacity of up to 35 MWh and 4 MW peak power and offer a roundtrip efficiency of 90 percent. It is deploying its first system in India in 2019.

2. Batteries built to suit a device, rather than devices built to suit a battery


A TV remote control, a watch and a flashlight, these are all everyday items that somewhere in the design process, address the need to accommodate cookie-cutter batteries in cylindrical and rectangular shapes. But what if batteries could be purpose-built in any shape to fit with what would otherwise be an optimally designed product?

In October, scientists at Texas State University and Duke University came up with a way to 3D print batteries out of a plastic known as polylactic acid (PLA) in theoretically any shape. Doing so involved some experimentation, because PLA in its typical state is not an ionic conductor.

The scientists got around this little problem by infusing the material with a cocktail of ethyl methyl carbonate, propylene carbonate and lithium perchlorate. They also used graphene in the anode and carbon nanotubes in the cathode, the positive and negative electrodes, respectively.

Through these improvements, the team was able to 3D print a proof-of-concept battery in the shape of a coin cell that actually worked. They built on this by 3D printing a battery into a bracelet equipped with LEDs, which was able to remain illuminated for around 60 seconds. This is far from serving a practical purpose, but with the scientists now working to improve the capacity of their batteries it could one day open up some very interesting opportunities when it comes to product design.

3. The Sun, but in a box


Only a concept at this stage, MIT's so-called "sun in a box" leans on current technology known as a molten salt system, where energy is stored in the form of heat. In these systems, the heat can be stored in molten salts for an extended time and released to boil water, with the resulting steam in turn driving a turbine to generate electricity.

The MIT researchers describe a system that instead of salt uses molten silicon, which is able to store more heat and is not as corrosive at high temperatures. Additionally, at high temperatures it shines extremely brightly. This means that instead of using a heat exchanger to boil water to generate electricity, the molten silicon system is able to use multijunction photovoltaic solar cells to generate electricity from the light the silicon emits

They have tested out this concept with a miniature tank, but say it could be channeled into a system comprising two tanks each measuring 33 ft (10 m), which would provide enough power for 100,000 homes. They also say the design can be implemented anywhere, and would be much cheaper than the current gold standard in energy storage, pumped hydro.

"This is geographically unlimited, and is cheaper than pumped hydro, which is very exciting," says Asegun Henry, lead researcher. "In theory, this is the linchpin to enabling renewable energy to power the entire grid."

4. Fast charging battery with one big twist


Standard batteries we use today consist of a cathode at one end and an anode at the other, with a non-conducting separator in the middle. Scientists at Cornell University have combined their powers in an interesting battery design that intertwines these components in a swirling shape, a configuration that allows it to charge up in just seconds.

The key to the battery is the porous nature of the anode structure, containing thousands of tiny pores each just 40 nanometers wide, which are filled in with other essential battery components. That includes an ion-conducting separator material along with sulfur, which serves as the spiraling battery's cathode, and a dash of electronically conductive polymer.

This means that inside every one of those thousands of pores is everything needed for energy storage and delivery, essentially making them into tiny little batteries themselves. Shrinking them down to the nanoscale offers far greater power density, which means that the energy can be accessed much more readily than a regular battery.

"By the time you put your cable into the socket, in seconds, perhaps even faster, the battery would be charged," says study lead Ulrich Wiesner, speaking of how a fully developed version of the twisting battery might function.

5. Battery got back


Just like the 3D-printed PLA battery mentioned above, flexible batteries promise to weave energy storage functionality into products of interesting shapes and sizes, something that is particularly promising in the world of wearable tech. One very intriguing example of this is a battery built this year at Columbia University inspired by the human spine.

It consists of different sets made up of cathodes, anodes, separators and current collectors, with each of these units joined together through so-called "flexibility providers." Just like disks and ligaments allow your spine to bend, these flexibility providers enable the battery to be twisted and contorted, all while maintaining a stable voltage.

Though the scientists behind it won't divulge what the flexibility providers are made of exactly, they claim their flexible battery boasts among the highest energy densities in its class, and is capable of around 85 percent of what you'll get from a regular lithium-ion battery today.

The Energy Vault grid-level energy storage system that uses concrete blocks, stacked in a tower. Credit: Energy Vault.

[Source: New Atlas.]