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Nov 27, 2020

Apple Wins a Patent for Future Smart iPhone Cases and Watch Bands that use Quantum Tunneling Material

Posted by in categories: mobile phones, quantum physics

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 68 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we cover Apple’s invention that reveals breakthrough quantum tunneling touch sensitive materials for future iPhone smart cases and Apple Watch bands.

Nov 25, 2020

A microscope for everyone: Researchers develop open-source optical toolbox

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, education, mobile phones

Modern microscopes used for biological imaging are expensive, are located in specialized laboratories and require highly qualified staff. To research novel, creative approaches to address urgent scientific issues—for example in the fight against infectious diseases such as COVID-19—is thus primarily reserved for scientists at well-equipped research institutions in rich countries. A young research team from the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena, the Friedrich Schiller University and Jena University Hospital wants to change this: The researchers have developed an optical toolbox to build microscopes for a few hundred euros that deliver high-resolution images comparable to commercial microscopes that cost a hundred to a thousand times more. With open-source blueprints, components from the 3D printer and smartphone camera, the UC2 (You. See. Too.) modular system can be combined specifically in the way the research question requires—from long-term observation of living organisms in the incubator to a toolbox for optics education. The research team presents its development on November 25, 2020 in the renowned journal Nature Communications.

The basic building block of the UC2 system is a simple 3D printable cube with an edge length of 5 centimeters, which can host a variety of components such as lenses, LEDs or cameras. Several such cubes are plugged on a magnetic raster base plate. Cleverly arranged, the modules thus result in a powerful optical instrument. An optical concept according to which focal planes of adjacent lenses coincide is the basis for most of the complex optical setups such as modern microscopes. With the UC2 toolbox, the research team of Ph.D. students at the lab of Prof. Dr. Rainer Heintzmann, Leibniz IPHT and Friedrich Schiller University Jena, shows how this inherently modular process can be understood intuitively in hands-on-experiments. In this way, UC2 also provides users without technical training with an optical tool that they can use, modify and expand—depending on what they are researching.

Nov 25, 2020

Physicists Successfully Modify a Semiconductor to Create a Superconductor

Posted by in categories: computing, mobile phones, physics

Three physicists in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, together with their colleagues from the Southern University of Science and Technology and Sun Yat-sen University in China, have successfully modified a semiconductor to create a superconductor.

Professor and Department Head Hanno Weitering, Associate Professor Steve Johnston, and PhD candidate Tyler Smith were part of the team that made the breakthrough in fundamental research, which may lead to unforeseen advancements in technology.

Semiconductors are electrical insulators but conduct electrical currents under special circumstances. They are an essential component in many of the electronic circuits used in everyday items including mobile phones, digital cameras, televisions, and computers.

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Nov 23, 2020

Why You Should Stop Texting From Your Android Messages App

Posted by in categories: encryption, mobile phones, security

If you’re a user of Google’s Messages app on your Android smartphone, then you will now likely have the RCS update intended to bring standard text messaging into the current century. RCS is now available in all major countries except China, Russia and Iran. Building on standard SMS capabilities, this adds chat functionality to compete with WhatsApp and iMessage. But, in truth, it doesn’t compete at all. There’s a glaring issue that doesn’t look like being properly fixed anytime soon. This is now bad enough that you should now go use something else.

The issue, of course, is end-to-end encryption. Six months ago, reports emerged that Google was developing this level of security to upgrade RCS. As of this week, this is now finally available for public beta testing. On the surface, its intent is to deliver Android users with an iMessage alternative. But there is a glaring issue—and it’s a deal breaker. This deployment of end-to-end encryption on RCS is not available for groups—that’s seemingly too complex to handle right now. And there’s also no word yet as to when this limited upgrade might be rolled out.

With that in mind, Android users should opt for a different iMessage-like alternative. Fortunately, there is a simple solution available now. While its standard messenger is not end-to-end encrypted by default, Android offers users the option to select an alternative default messenger that does. Signal is the best secure messenger available. And while its install base is modest in comparison to WhatsApp or iMessage, it’s growing fast.

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Nov 20, 2020

The Coming NEV War? Implications of China’s Advances in Electric Vehicles

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, business, economics, education, finance, government, law, mobile phones, policy, robotics/AI, security, space, sustainability

Download the Brief The Issue China’s economy appears to have sprung back to normal. While the overall growth numbers have recovered and China has put forth an ambitious economic agenda for the next five years, optimism has also returned to the new-energy vehicles (NEV) sector, a good metric for the new economy. At the Beijing Auto Show, held in late September, automakers unveiled a dizzying 785 new models, 160 of which were electrified. There is growing speculation that China’s NEV sector is ready to burst onto the global stage and become an export powerhouse. But despite the glitzy new models, incremental progress on several fronts, and initial signs of expanding business abroad, China’s NEV sector still faces substantial roadblocks. Some are the result of continuing economic troubles, while others paradoxically are a result of gradual success. Consequently, the new wave of enthusiasm is a bit premature. The Shiny Exterior China has staked much of its transportation future on the new-energy vehicle sector. Massive state support is meant to drive this industry forward and help the country address three problems: reliance on the West for technology, dependence on oil imports, and air pollution. Yet progress in achieving these goals has been halting, slowed by technical challenges, investment by too many players, and insufficient consumer enthusiasm. This update of CSIS’s work from 2018 and 2019 focuses on the first challenge, industrial competitiveness. The NEV sector has grown rapidly, but it has struggled to maintain forward momentum as a result of uneven technological progress, growing pains within some individual companies, and volatile consumer demand. These issues intensified amid the pandemic, but prospects have brightened since. Sales lagged in 2019 and tanked in the first quarter of 2020, but they started recovering this summer. In July, 2020 sales figures surpassed their 2019 levels for the first time (see Figure 1). NEV sales reached 138,000 in September, and if historic patterns hold, with a big jump in year-end sales, it is entirely feasible that China will break its December 2018 record of 225,000 sales of NEVs. Even as overall auto sales have improved from the anemic levels of the first part of 2020, NEV sales are growing faster, and as a result, their share of the total is steadily rising, up from 2.3 percent in January to 5.4 percent in September (see Figure 2). As in the past, the NEV share should continue to climb toward the end of the year. There also has been a recent spate of positive news about individual domestic producers, many of whom have been struggling. Although American producer Tesla has received the most attention lately, Chinese brands are drawing positive attention. The Wuling Mini EV, a new model produced by a joint venture with General Motors, sold over 20,000 units in September, ahead of the second-place Tesla Model 3 (11,300) and BYD’s Qin EV (8,100). NIO, the flashy upstart listed on the NYSE, delivered 4,700 vehicles in September, a big jump from a year earlier. Another well-known start-up, XPeng, recently produced its 10,000th vehicle. And more traditional producers, such as SAIC Motors, have poured more resources into NEVs and have announced plans for high-end models. Equally important, foreign automakers, who have been hesitant to ramp up production because of fears about market saturation, have started to roll out NEV models. In 2017, China announced the initiation of a “dual-credit” policy that incentivizes car companies producing in China to have a minimum percentage of their fleets be NEVs and to raise vehicle fuel efficiency. Modeled on California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Program, automakers that do not produce enough NEVs and do not sufficiently raise their average fuel economy levels must buy credits from those with a surplus. China set low voluntary targets in 2018, announced that it would steadily raise the minimum threshold annually, and in 2019 made the system mandatory for all but the smallest producers (those with total production under 30,000 vehicles). The Chinese government has started issuing data on automakers’ performance record with the dual-credit system. Interpreting the data requires caution because the system’s rules are complex, and it is unclear if officials and firms are following the written procedures. Accepting that proviso, the data on production shows a huge difference between local- and foreign-invested automakers (see Figure 3). The former (represented by green dots), perhaps viewing the dual-credit system as a mandate, immediately started expanding NEV capacity, with some going far beyond the minimum threshold. By contrast, global players (the blue dots) initially held back, and almost none of them reached the 2018 baseline. But in 2019, several of the foreign-invested producers, such as GM-SAIC-Wuling and BMW Brilliance, met the minimum production target even as it was raised from the prior year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the data for 2020 will likely show even more widespread compliance for both domestic and global players. Just as important, the growing ability of more carmakers to meet or exceed the dual-credit system’s production target has not yet resulted in massive overcapacity generally. Although the situation may be more problematic in certain market segments, there usually has not been a huge gap between supply and demand (see Figure 4). Periods of overall surpluses and shortages appear to have been relatively brief. Progress among automakers and the industry more broadly has been built on and reinforced advances among parts makers, battery producers, and in charging infrastructure. China’s auto battery industry is doing even better than the carmakers. As of August 2020, Fujian-based CATL ranks second in production to LG Chem and is poised to take the top spot by the end of the year (see Figure 5). Three Chinese manufacturers made it into the top 10. CATL has become a major supplier to Tesla and has also inked deals to supply batteries to European automakers. China is already a major parts supplier for traditional automakers, and there is talk that Tesla may start sourcing its motors from a Chinese producer. And as of June 2020, China’s charging infrastructure had expanded significantly, with 764,000 charging poles for private residences and 558,000 public charging stations. By contrast, the United States has only has 101,000 charging outlets. Finally, China is making gradual progress in parallel sectors. It is starting to place more attention on hydrogen fuel cells, with various initiatives in basic research and applications for larger vehicles, the current best use case for hydrogen. Toyota, a global leader in hydrogen, recently announced a joint venture deal with five Chinese partners to develop fuel cell technology. Simultaneously, China is making incremental progress with autonomous vehicles. The Baidu-led Apollo project, Pony.ai, and the trucking company TuSimple have all expanded their testing in China and the United States for Level-3 autonomy and rolled out related pilots. Dependence on Subsidies Despite the genuine progress, it is far too early to declare China’s leap into NEVs an unequivocal success. There are still a variety of problems and challenges to overcome. First, the creation and growth of the NEV sector—to this day—has been heavily dependent on Chinese government subsidies. By our calculations, through the end of 2017 central and local authorities had already poured over RMB 393 billion ($58.7 billion) into the sector (see Figure 6). Most support went to reduce the burden of buyers through subsidies and rebates and an exemption from sales taxes, but significant state support also went to R&D, charging infrastructure, and government procurement. Recently, Beijing has lowered outright support for buyers per vehicle (reducing the subsidy and tax rebate rates), but outlays for R&D and government procurement have risen. By CSIS’s estimates, total government funding for the NEV sector was RMB 148.2 billion in 2018 ($7.2 billion) and RMB 134.9 billion ($20.1 billion) in 2019, meaning total outlays over the past decade of RMB 676 billion ($100.9 billion).1 Over a decade after government encouragement began, its support in 2019 still accounted for a whopping 30.7 percent of the total value of NEV sales. And this only includes direct support and not other benefits, such as corporate income tax reductions and cheap land for factories. Not only does current demand for NEVs not reflect market fundamentals, China recently issued an ambitious plan for the sector’s growth that includes continued massive spending on R&D, infrastructure, and government procurement. In short, there is no plan to wean producers and buyers off of subsidies. One consequence of massive state largesse is the continued presence of too many players. There were 112 active NEV producers in 2018, and in 2020 there are even more, 119. Even assuming extremely healthy sales in 2020 of 1.5 million NEVs, that would average out to 12,600 per producer, certainly far short of sustainable economies of scale. Hence, it is no surprise that a large number of NEV makers have run into financial problems, even before the pandemic. There needs to be a major industry consolidation, but it is not clear if the Chinese government has the stomach to let companies go out of business or the ability to coax competitors into merging. Global Tensions The ongoing dependence on subsidies and state directives is also connected to three kinds of major challenges China faces with the global NEV sector. The first is the uneven results of the dual-credit system and the potential additional costs it places on foreign-invested producers, including U.S. automakers operating in China. It appears that Chinese domestic automakers have seen the dual-credit system as a mandated minimum quota, while foreign producers see it as a market-based incentive system with no penalties beyond the need to buy credits to stay in the government’s good graces. With demand uncertain and the high costs of developing electric models and production lines, foreign producers have been more cautious about taking the NEV leap. That said, between 2018 and 2019 they substantially increased their output of NEVs, lowering their overall credit deficit with respect to production (see Figure 7). However, as Figure 7 also shows, when it comes to fuel economy targets, the picture is more worrisome, as the credit balance for foreign makers rose four-fold from 2018 to 2019 (from 621,000 to over 2.5 million credits). As a result, when one translates the dual-credit performance of automakers into potential financial costs using a conservative estimate of each credit being valued at RMB 200 (one interview source estimates their current value at RMB 500), the net deficit for foreign makers in 2019 rose to RMB 619 million ($92.4 million), while domestic producers gained a net windfall of RMB 1.53 billion ($229 million). Several global automakers, including Volkswagon and General Motors, potentially face substantial penalities (Figure 8). Compared to the RMB 135 billion in direct subsidies to the sector or the industry’s total sales, this is a relatively small shift in wealth. In addition, the government may not have required all producers to actually buy or sell credits in 2019 as originally mandated, perhaps in an effort to reduce burdens during the pandemic and reassure foreign producers in the midst of tensions with the United States. However, we should expect that the dual-credit system will eventually be truly operational, and if past patterns hold, foreign automakers could face growing costs. Although significant, the unbalanced results of the dual-credit system pale in comparison to the sector’s other challenges. China’s domestic NEV sector has made genuine progress, but it is incomplete. After over a decade of intense state support and protection, China’s NEV sector may be in the same subordinate status that its traditional automakers have long been relegated to relative to the world leaders. The joint venture strategy, which began in the early Reform era, was meant to promote the transfer of technology and know-how from the global leaders to local firms so that they could eventually graduate to be independent and then challenge their tutors. Despite the best-laid plans, the Chinese partners have continued to depend on their foreign counterparts. Independent domestic private makers have arisen in the last two decades, and although they have made substantial progress, the top-tier of the Chinese market is still dominated by automakers from Europe, North America, Japan, and South Korea. The NEV sector was supposed to be different and break this cycle, with China ramping up rapidly while producers and governments elsewhere dithered. The story is not yet over, but at this stage it appears Chinese firms have not lept ahead of their foreign rivals. China’s domestic NEV sector has developed mainly at the low and middle tiers of the market. The best-selling Wuling Mini EV is a budget subcompact. Several local producers and others with strong local roots (such as NIO) have ventured into the luxury space, but Tesla arrived on the scene before they could become worthy competitors and firmly hold their own. As BMW, Audi, Mercedes, and other luxury brands roll out more NEV models, the room for local Chinese brands in the higher segments of the market, where the higher profits are, may shrink further unless domestic makers achieve greater progress. Although Chinese producers have broken the dominance of global makers in mobile phones—Apple and Samsung have ceded a lot of the mobile phone market to Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo—hierarchies in the auto sector may be more resilient and harder to upend. The greatest international challenge of all concerns the global prospects for China’s NEV sector, both exports and overseas production. As noted above, China’s leading battery maker, CATL, is already exporting and has opened up production facilities abroad. Chinese firms have also become the largest investors in cobalt mining and processing facilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to a large proportion of the world’s cobalt, a critical element used in many NEV batteries. These investments have raised significant concerns about the availability and price of cobalt as well as the treatment of workers. This is one reason Tesla and others are developing new batteries that do not use cobalt. However, China so far has had much less success with vehicle exports. In 2019, Chinese NEV sales abroad accounted for only 1.7 percent of the world total, far below the industry’s true powerhouses in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Germany. According to China’s Commerce Ministry, in 2019 Chinese automakers sold almost 254,000 NEVs abroad, with the vast majority going to South Asia, including 57 percent to Bangladesh and another 25 percent to India. Third was the Netherlands, with only 6,300 NEVs (2.5 percent). The only Chinese NEV maker to have substantial success in developed markets has been BYD, which has both exported buses to and manufactured in the United States and Europe. BYD’s prospects, though, are clouded by language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020 that could effectively bar local transportation authorities from buying BYD buses beginning in late 2021. China’s NEV and traditional automakers have signaled that they are setting their sights on the European and American markets. Beyond Tesla itself planning to export from China, the first major step involving domestic producers may be for Chinese-foreign joint ventures to begin producing NEVs in sizeable quantities for exports to developing and advanced economies alike. The next step, though, may come when Chinese NEV makers try to follow up with their own brands. Whether from a foreign firm, joint ventures, or purely local firms, as documented above, China-based exports of NEVs will benefit from extensive government support. If such support translates into NEVs being sold at relatively low prices, they inevitably will invite complaints from other countries’ domestic automakers and action from regulators in the form of fair-trade remedies. Implications for the United States The one upside of the ongoing domestic challenges for China’s NEV sector is a likely delay in the outbreak of a possible “NEV war” between an upstart China and the world’s dominant producers. For the immediate future, the contest will still be primarily in the Chinese market, but eventually the field of play could move to showrooms around Europe and North America and, by implication, present a new challenge to domestic automakers and their workers. To the extent these cars come equipped with automous vehicle or driver-assistance capabilities or are otherwise connected to the internet, vehicles from China could also raise national security concerns related to vehicles’ performance and passenger data. One appropriate reaction would be defensive. Trade lawyers and officials within the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration could sharpen their pencils in preparation for a bevy of antidumping and countervailing duty cases. And officials elsewhere in Washington will need to develop regulatory protections because of the potential national security risks related to network security, data storage, and data privacy. But an equally if not more important response will be offensive—for U.S. industry, educational and training institutions, consumer groups, and government to collaborate in strengthening the United States’ own NEV industry from top to bottom. This means: fostering design and engineering talent (which includes attracting international students and workers to the United States); conducting R&D for batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, other alternative energy sources, car components, and chasis materials; encouraging transportation manufacturing clusters in multiple regions; investing in private and public charging infrastructure; expanding incentives for producers; offering larger buyer rebates to make NEVs more affordable for everyone; and integrating developments in NEVs with autonomous vehicle technology, other transportation systems, and urban and regional planning. Beyond being proactive at home, the United States’ international strategy likewise should not be purely defensive. The United States needs to be more supportive without violating its international trade commitments and copying any of China’s discriminatory practices. Washington certainly should oppose China’s unfair trade practices and any threats to our national security, but successfully developing NEVs and transportation systems requires greater coordination with other economies and in international institutions on setting technical standards, engaging in R&D, developing trusted supply chains, and protecting data. There is no doubt China is accelerating its efforts in NEVs. If the United States is going to win this competition, it must develop and execute on its own effective playbook. And the sooner it does so, the better. Scott Kennedy is senior adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This report is made possible by general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this report. CSIS Briefs are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s). © 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved. Related CSIS Publications Blog Post: Scott Kennedy and Mingda Qiu, “China’s Auto Market Slowdown Finally Hits New-Energy Vehicles,” CSIS, June 25, 2019. Blog Post: Jason Li, “Chinese NEV Policies Drive Transition Toward More Advanced Batteries,” CSIS, January 16, 2019. Blog Post: Brian Hart and Mingda Qiu, “Coastal Provinces Are Leading in Public Charging Infrastructure for New-Energy Vehicles in China,” November 2018. Report: Scott Kennedy, China’s Risky Drive into New-Energy Vehicles, CSIS, November 2018). Commentary: Scott Kennedy and Mingda Qiu, “China’s Expensive Gamble on New-Energy Vehicles,” CSIS, November 6, 2018.

Nov 20, 2020

Physicists built an ‘anti-laser’ to charge your phone from across a room

Posted by in categories: mobile phones, physics

A device demonstrated in a groundbreaking new experiment acts like a laser, only backwards. And someday it might send power invisibly through the air.

Nov 19, 2020

Going beyond the anti-laser may enable long-range wireless power transfer

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, computing, mobile phones

Ever since Nikola Tesla spewed electricity in all directions with his coil back in 1891, scientists have been thinking up ways to send electrical power through the air. The dream is to charge your phone or laptop, or maybe even a healthcare device such as a pacemaker, without the need for wires and plugs. The tricky bit is getting the electricity to find its intended target, and getting that target to absorb the electricity instead of just reflect it back into the air—all preferably without endangering anyone along the way.

These days, you can wirelessly charge a smartphone by putting it within an inch of a charging station. But usable long-range wireless power transfer, from one side of a room to another or even across a building, is still a work in progress. Most of the methods currently in development involve focusing narrow beams of energy and aiming them at their intended target. These methods have had some success, but are so far not very efficient. And having focused electromagnetic beams flying around through the air is unsettling.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD), in collaboration with a colleague at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, have developed an improved technique for wireless power transfer technology that may promise long-range power transmission without narrowly focused and directed energy beams. Their results, which widen the applicability of previous techniques, were published Nov. 17, 2020 in the journal Nature Communications.

Nov 19, 2020

A battery technology worth its salt

Posted by in categories: computing, mobile phones, sustainability, transportation, wearables

With lithium-containing batteries facing constraints on many of the metals they contain, Nina Notman looks at whether its group 1 neighbour sodium can supply the answer.

The lithium-ion battery powers much of our modern lives, a fact reflected in this year’s Nobel prize. It resides in devices ranging from very small wearable electronics, through mobile phones and laptops, to electric vehicles and ‘the world’s biggest battery’ – the huge 100MW/129MWh Tesla battery installed on an Australian wind farm in 2017.

‘Lithium-ion has a massive span of applications,’ explains Jonathan Knott, an energy storage researcher at the University of Wollongong in Australia. ‘It is being used as a hammer to crack every nut and we need to start getting a little bit more sophisticated in the use of the best tool for the job.’

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Nov 17, 2020

Researchers describe a new beam scanning device utilizing ‘photonic crystals

Posted by in categories: food, mobile phones, robotics/AI

Scanning lasers—from barcode scanners at the supermarket to cameras on newer smartphones—are an indispensable part of our daily lives, relying on lasers and detectors for pinpoint precision.

Distance and using LiDAR—a portmanteau of light and radar—is becoming increasingly common: reflected beams record the surrounding environment, providing crucial data for autonomous cars, agricultural machines, and factory robots.

Current technology bounces the laser beams off of moving mirrors, a mechanical method that results in slower scanning speeds and inaccuracies, not to mention the large physical size and complexity of devices housing a laser and mirrors.

Nov 14, 2020

Was Samsung chief just caught with a stretchable smartphone prototype?

Posted by in category: mobile phones

Samsung Chairman Lee Jae-yong knows a thing or two about returning to the public eye in style. His latest comeback happened less than a full day ago, bringing some interesting news about Samsung’s long-term design strategy.

What’s even more interesting, however, is the above photograph of Lee during his Thursday tour of Samsung’s main research and development center in Seoul. As the image shows the executive holding a curious smartphone prototype unlike anything else we have seen from the tech giant to date.

Speculation about the device in question is already running rampant, and the currently most popular theory among Korean media is that we are looking at a smartphone with an expandable display.

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