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Can High-Capacity Sodium-Ion Compete With Rechargeable Lithium Batteries?

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Lithium-ion batteries are the bane of electronics’ existence: expensive, resource-hogging, and energy intensive, they aren’t very sustainable in the long run.

But sodium may be.

At least, scientists at the University of Birmingham hope so.

Researchers are swapping one element for another, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Sodium is inexpensive and can be found in seawater, making it “virtually limitless.” On the other hand, it is a larger ion than lithium, and may not fit well into our cherished pocket-sized devices.

It can’t, for example, squeeze between the carbon layers of a lithium-ion battery’s graphite anode.

So, the team needed to find new materials to help sodium-ion compete with lithium for capacity, charging speed, energy, and power density.

In 2016, senior Birmingham fellow Andrew Morris predicted how phosphorus would behave as an electrode. (Spoiler alert: it forms helices at intermediate stages of charging.)

Now, in collaboration with Lauren Marbella and Clare Grey from the University of Cambridge, Morris was able to verify and improve on those predictions.

Based on their research, sodium provides a volume of charge carriers seven times that of graphite for the same weight—good news for the future of high-capacity sodium-ion anodes.

“This is a huge win for computational materials science,” Morris said in a statement. “It’s amazing how powerful combined theory-experimental approaches are.”

You’re telling me.

A soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal, sodium is an alkali metal; it is the sixth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and exists in numerous minerals like feldspars, sodalite, and rock salt (NaCl).

But can it compare to sulfur—the proposed secret to next-generation battery technology?

By adding sulfur to lithium, manufacturers can create a power unit that’s cheaper, lighter, more environmentally friendly, and able to hold three to five times the charge of lithium-ion alone.

Samsung is already working on “graphene ball” technology for higher capacity and faster charging. Meanwhile, researchers may have found a way to prevent lithium-ion battery fires. Keep up to date on all things battery-related here.

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Autonomous Sexbots Are the Future

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In a 2017 TEDx talk, University of London lecturer and writer Kate Devlin pointed out that “There are no actual sex robots in production yet—just dolls.”

What a difference a year makes.

Chinese robotics developer DS Doll is currently working on the world’s first autonomous sex robot.

According to Daily Star, the Dalian-based firm is 3D-printing component parts for its AI-powered humanoid. The advanced technology helps boost production speed and efficiency, allowing for the mass production of sexy cyborgs.

Able to move its eyes, mouth, head, shoulders, and arms, the first prototype is “almost complete,” DS Doll told the UK tabloid; engineers are putting the finishing touches on the mobile legs.

A slew of video clips shared via the company’s Twitter account highlight the unnamed android’s … talents: Watch her shake to life before fitfully stretching her arms and turning her silicone head.

Not exactly the smooth operator you’d hope to bed, the electronic skeleton is designed to mimic the human body. DS Doll uses 3D printing to develop and stamp out specific, uniform shapes. It can even scan full human bodies and prototype parts for replication.

The company constructs 400 custom models each month; its premium-range mannequins sell for around $5,000.

“We are still in the researching process,” DS Doll chief development officer Qiao Wu told the Daily Star.

“The full-body robot will have more physical expression to help with human communication,” he explained. “One day, we hope the robot can be used in etiquette, presentation, human companionship, front-desk services, and other areas.”

Sex dolls (because Devlin’s right—most of these devices are nothing more than life-sized hunks of plastic with no understanding of consent) have come a long way from the tacky, low-grade inflatable masturbation toys of yore.

They still have a long way to go, though.

The line between man and machine continues to blur. Which is why activists are calling for sex robot regulations. Learn everything you always wanted to know about sex robots (but were afraid to ask) and more here.

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SpaceX Signs First Private Passenger For Lunar Flight

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DIY a Desktop Arcade Cabinet With Retro Picade Kit

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This is the year of retro gaming: Classic titles are reappearing on modern consoles, and nostalgic appliances are reappearing as modern consoles.

So it’s no surprise that hobbyist electronic firm Pimoroni recently launched a redesigned version of its Raspberry Pi-powered mini arcade machine.

Unveiled in August, the build-it-yourself Picade features authentic controls, a high-res 4:3 display, and a “punchy speaker to hear those 8-bit game soundtracks at their best.”

The kit takes about two to three hours to build (according to the experts who created it). All you need is a Raspberry Pi, micro-SD card, power supply, and £150 ($198) to spare.

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The original Picade was introduced in 2012 as the UK’s first Kickstarter project, collecting more than £74,000 ($98,000) toward a £33,000 ($44,000) goal.

Six years later, Pimoroni has updated its “ultimate desktop retro arcade machine,” now more compact, with a better display, dedicated power button, and Picade X HAT “packed full of useful features.”

Fans may also notice splashier artwork and packaging. Each Picade comes with “a bunch of extra goodies,” like an enamel pin, sticker selection, poster, and assembly instructions.

In an effort to drum up interest in the new toy, Sheffield-based Pimoroni asked folks around the world to come up with a retro game concept that would suit the new Picade.

Entries from the UK, Europe, and US included hand-drawn posters, punny titles, and “screenshots.” Ultimately, the team behind Trolley Wars—a Supermarket Sweep-like game—won for its “simplicity and button-bashing of arcade favorites of old.”

New packaging for a new machine (via Pimoroni)

Everything old is new again, and arcade cabinets are no exception: British manufacturer STOA last year rolled out custom-built cupboards, each handcrafted from start to finish for one or two players.

In place of traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, STOA uses modern LCD screens, with the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the Picade. Every device comes with a curated selection of games (Ms. Pac-Man, Street Fighter II, Paperboy, Mortal Kombat, Space Invaders, etc.), tailored to the client’s preference and design.

You can do anything with a Raspberry Pi and a little imagination: DIY a Spotify speaker, upcycle a karaoke machine, track foosball scores. Check out our recent Geek Pick, the Retroflag SUPERPi case for Nintendo lovers. And stay up to date on all things Raspberry Pi here.

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