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This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here

The votes have been tallied, and the results are in. The winner of the 11th Breakthrough Technology, 2024 edition, is … drumroll please … thermal batteries!

While the editors of MIT Technology Review choose the annual list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies, in 2022 we started having readers weigh in on an 11th technology. And I don’t mean to flatter you, but I think you picked a fascinating one this year.

Thermal energy storage is a convenient way to stockpile energy for later. This could be crucial in connecting cheap but inconsistent renewable energy with industrial facilities, which often require a constant supply of heat.

I wrote about why this technology is having a moment, and where it might wind up being used, in a story published Monday. For the newsletter this week, let’s take a deeper look at the different kinds of thermal batteries out there, because there’s a wide world of possibilities. 

Step 1: Choose your energy source

In the journey to build a thermal battery, the crucial first step is to choose where your heat comes from. Most of the companies I’ve come across are building some sort of power-to-heat system, meaning electricity goes in and heat comes out. Heat often gets generated by running a current through a resistive material in a process similar to what happens when you turn on a toaster.

Some projects may take electricity directly from sources like wind turbines or solar panels that aren’t hooked up to the grid. That could reduce energy costs, since you don’t have to pay surcharges built into grid electricity rates, explains Jeffrey Rissman, senior director of industry at Energy Innovation, a policy and research firm specializing in energy and climate. 

Otherwise, thermal batteries can be hooked up to the grid directly. These systems could allow a facility to charge up when electricity prices are low or when there’s a lot of renewable energy on the grid.

Some thermal storage systems are soaking up waste heat rather than relying on electricity. Brenmiller Energy, for example, is building thermal batteries that can be charged up with heat or electricity, depending on the customer’s needs.

Depending on the heat source, systems using waste heat may not be able to reach temperatures as high as their electricity-powered counterparts, but they could help increase the efficiency of facilities that would otherwise waste that energy. There’s especially high potential for high-temperature processes, like cement and steel production.

Step 2: Choose your storage material

Next up: pick out a heat storage medium. These materials should probably be inexpensive and able to reach and withstand high temperatures.

Bricks and carbon blocks are popular choices, as they can be packed together and, depending on the material, reach temperatures well over 1,000 °C (1,800 °F). Rondo Energy, Antora Energy, and Electrified Thermal Solutions are among the companies using blocks and bricks to store heat at these high temperatures.

Crushed-up rocks are another option, and the storage medium of choice for Brenmiller Energy. Caldera is using a mixture of aluminum and crushed rock.

Molten materials can offer even more options for delivering thermal energy later, since they can be pumped around (though this can also add more complexity to the system). Malta is building thermal storage systems that use molten salt, and companies like Fourth Power are using systems that rely in part on molten metals.

Step 3: Choose your delivery method

Last, and perhaps most important, is deciding how to get energy back out of your storage system. Generally, thermal storage systems can deliver heat, use it to generate electricity, or go with some combination of the two.

Delivering heat is the most straightforward option. Typically, air or another gas gets blown over the hot thermal storage material, and that heated gas can be used to warm up equipment or to generate steam.

Some companies are working to use heat storage to deliver electricity instead. This could allow thermal storage systems to play a role not only in industry but potentially on the electrical grid as an electricity storage solution. One downside? These systems generally take a hit on efficiency, the amount of energy that can be returned from storage. But they may be right for some situations, such as facilities that need both heat and electricity on demand. Antora Energy is aiming to use thermophotovoltaic materials to turn heat stored in its carbon blocks back into electricity.

Some companies plan to offer a middle path, delivering a combination of heat and electricity, depending on what a facility needs. Rondo

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By: Casey Crownhart
Title: How to build a thermal battery
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/04/18/1091481/how-to-build-a-thermal-battery/
Published Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters

2RH3G6B

Seven days

No matter who he called—his mother, his father, his brother, his cousins—the phone would just go to voicemail. Cell service was out around Maui as devastating wildfires swept through the Hawaiian island. But as Raven Imperial kept hoping for someone to answer, he couldn’t keep a terrifying thought from sneaking into his mind: What if his family members had perished in the blaze? What if all of them were gone?

Hours passed; then days. All Raven knew at that point was this: there had been a wildfire on August 8, 2023, in Lahaina, where his multigenerational, tight-knit family lived. But from where he was currently based in Northern California, Raven was in the dark. Had his family evacuated? Were they hurt? He watched from afar as horrifying video clips of Front Street burning circulated online.

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Much of the area around Lahaina’s Pioneer Mill Smokestack was totally destroyed by wildfire.ALAMY

The list of missing residents meanwhile climbed into the hundreds.

Raven remembers how frightened he felt: “I thought I had lost them.”

Raven had spent his youth in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, cream-colored home on Kopili Street that had long housed not just his immediate family but also around 10 to 12 renters, since home prices were so high on Maui. When he and his brother, Raphael Jr., were kids, their dad put up a basketball hoop outside where they’d shoot hoops with neighbors. Raphael Jr.’s high school sweetheart, Christine Mariano, later moved in, and when the couple had a son in 2021, they raised him there too.

From the initial news reports and posts, it seemed as if the fire had destroyed the Imperials’ entire neighborhood near the Pioneer Mill Smokestack—a 225-foot-high structure left over from the days of Maui’s sugar plantations, which Raven’s grandfather had worked on as an immigrant from the Philippines in the mid-1900s.

Then, finally, on August 11, a call to Raven’s brother went through. He’d managed to get a cell signal while standing on the beach.

“Is everyone okay?” Raven asked.

“We’re just trying to find Dad,” Raphael Jr. told his brother.

Raven Imperial sitting in the grass
From his current home in Northern California, Raven Imperial spent days not knowing what had happened to his family in Maui.WINNI WINTERMEYER

In the three days following the fire, the rest of the family members had slowly found their way back to each other. Raven would learn that most of his immediate family had been separated for 72 hours: Raphael Jr. had been marooned in Kaanapali, 4 miles north of Lahaina; Christine had been stuck in Wailuku, more than 20 miles away; both young parents had been separated from their son, who escaped with Christine’s parents. Raven’s mother, Evelyn, had also been in Kaanapali, though not where Raphael Jr. had been.

But no one was in contact with Rafael Sr. Evelyn had left their home around noon on the day of the fire and headed to work. That was the last time she had seen him. The last time they had spoken was when she called him just after 3 p.m. and asked: “Are you working?” He replied “No,” before the phone abruptly cut off.

“Everybody was found,” Raven says. “Except for my father.”

Within the week, Raven boarded a plane and flew back to Maui. He would keep looking for him, he told himself, for as long as it took.

That same week, Kim Gin was also on a plane to Maui. It would take half a day to get there from Alabama, where she had moved after retiring from the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office in California a year earlier. But Gin, now an independent consultant on death investigations, knew she had something to offer the response

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By: Erika Hayasaki
Title: This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/05/16/1092484/rapid-dna-analysis-ande-mass-disaster-victim-identification-maui/
Published Date: Thu, 16 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/how-cuddly-robots-could-change-dementia-care/

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How cuddly robots could change dementia care

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This article first appeared in The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, and read articles like this first, sign up here 

Last week, I scoured the internet in search of a robotic dog. I wanted a belated birthday present for my aunt, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that having a companion animal can stave off some of the loneliness, anxiety, and agitation that come with Alzheimer’s. My aunt would love a real dog, but she can’t have one.

That’s how I discovered the Golden Pup from Joy for All. It cocks its head. It sports a jaunty red bandana. It barks when you talk. It wags when you touch it. It has a realistic heartbeat. And it’s just one of the many, many robots designed for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

This week on The Checkup, join me as I go down a rabbit hole. Let’s look at the prospect of  using robots to change dementia care.

Golden pup robot with red kerchief

As robots go, Golden Pup is decidedly low tech. It retails for $140. For around $6,000 you can opt for Paro, a fluffy robotic baby seal developed in Japan, which can sense touch, light, sound, temperature, and posture. Its manufacturer says it develops its own character, remembering behaviors that led its owner to give it attention.  

Golden Pup and Paro are available now. But researchers are working on much more sophisticated robots for people with cognitive disorders—devices that leverage AI to converse and play games. Researchers from Indiana University Bloomington are tweaking a commercially available robot system called QT to serve people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The researchers’ two-foot-tall robot looks a little like a toddler in an astronaut suit. Its round white head holds a screen that displays two eyebrows, two eyes, and a mouth that together form a variety of expressions. The robot engages people in conversation, asking AI-generated questions to keep them talking.

The AI model they’re using isn’t perfect, and neither are the robot’s responses. In one awkward conversation, a study participant told the robot that she has a sister. “I’m sorry to hear that,” the robot responded. “How are you doing?”

But as large language models improve—which is happening already—so will the quality of the conversations. When the QT robot made that awkward comment, it was running Open AI’s GPT-3, which was released in 2020. The latest version of that model, GPT-4o, which was released this week, is faster and provides for more seamless conversations. You can interrupt the conversation, and the model will adjust.

The idea of using robots to keep dementia patients engaged and connected isn’t always an easy sell. Some people see it as an abdication of our social responsibilities. And then there are privacy concerns. The best robotic companions are personalized. They collect information about people’s lives, learn their likes and dislikes, and figure out when to approach them. That kind of data collection can be unnerving, not just for patients but also for medical staff. Lillian Hung, creator of the Innovation in Dementia care and Aging (IDEA) lab at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told one reporter about an incident that happened during a focus group at a care facility. She and her colleagues popped out for lunch. When they returned, they found that staff had unplugged the robot and placed a bag over its head. “They were worried it was secretly recording them,” she said.

On the other hand, robots have some advantages over humans in talking to people with dementia. Their attention doesn’t flag. They don’t get annoyed or angry when they have to repeat themselves. They can’t get stressed.

What’s more, there are increasing numbers of people with dementia, and too few people to care for them. According to the latest report from the Alzheimer’s Association, we’re going to need more than a million additional care workers to meet the needs of people living with dementia between 2021 and 2031. That is the largest gap between labor supply and demand for any single occupation in the United States.

Have you been in an understaffed or poorly staffed memory care facility? I have. Patients are often sedated to make them

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By: Cassandra Willyard
Title: How cuddly robots could change dementia care
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/05/17/1092604/how-cuddly-robots-could-change-dementia-care/
Published Date: Fri, 17 May 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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The Download: cuddly robots to help dementia, and what Daedalus taught us

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How cuddly robots could change dementia care

Companion animals can stave off some of the loneliness, anxiety, and agitation that come with Alzheimer’s disease, according to studies. Sadly, people with Alzheimer’s aren’t always equipped to look after pets, which can require a lot of care and attention.

Enter cuddly robots. The most famous are Golden Pup, a robotic golden retriever toy that cocks its head, barks and wags its tail, and Paro the seal, which can sense touch, light, sound, temperature, and posture. As robots go they’re decidedly low tech, but they can provide comfort and entertainment to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Now researchers are working on much more sophisticated robots for people with cognitive disorders—devices that leverage AI to converse and play games—that could change the future of dementia care. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly health and biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

What tech learned from Daedalus

Today’s climate-change kraken may have been unleashed by human activity, but reversing course and taming nature’s growing fury seems beyond human means, a quest only mythical heroes could fulfill.

Yet the dream of human-powered flight—of rising over the Mediterranean fueled merely by the strength of mortal limbs—was also the stuff of myths for thousands of years. Until 1988.

That year, in October, MIT Technology Review published the aeronautical engineer John Langford’s account of his mission to retrace the legendary flight of Daedalus, described in an ancient Greek myth. Read about how he got on.

—Bill Gourgey

The story is from the current print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is on the fascinating theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to receive future copies once they land.

Get ready for EmTech Digital

AI is everywhere these days. If you want to learn about how Google plans to develop and deploy AI, come and hear from its vice president of AI, Jay Yagnik, at our flagship AI conference, EmTech Digital. We’ll hear from OpenAI about its video generation model Sora too, and Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, will also join MIT Technology Review’s executive editor Amy Nordrum for an exclusive interview on stage.

It’ll be held at the MIT campus and streamed live online next week on May 22-23. Readers of The Download get 30% off tickets with the code DOWNLOADD24—register here for more information. See you there! 

Thermal batteries are hot property

Thermal batteries could be a key part of cleaning up heavy industry and cutting emissions. Casey Crownhart, our in-house battery expert, held a subscriber-only online Roundtables event yesterday digging into why they’re such a big deal. If you missed it, we’ve got you covered—you can watch a recording of how it unfolded here.

To keep ahead of future Roundtables events, make sure you subscribe to MIT Technology Review. Subscriptions start from as little as $8 a month.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 OpenAI has struck a deal with Reddit 
Shortly after Google agreed to give the AI firm access to its content. (WSJ $)
The forum’s vocal community are unlikely to be thrilled by the decision. (The Verge)
Reddit’s shares rocketed after news of the deal broke. (FT $)
We could run out of data to train AI language programs. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Tesla’s European gigafactory is going to get even bigger
But it still needs German environmental authorities’ permission. (Wired $)

3 Help! AI stole my voice
Voice actors are suing a startup for creating digital clones without their permission. (NYT $)
The lawsuit is seeking to represent other voiceover artists, too. (Hollywood Reporter $)

4 The days of twitter.com are over
The platform’s urls had retained its old moniker. But no more. (The Verge)

5 The aviation industry is desperate for greener fuels
The future of their businesses depends on it. (FT $)
A new report has warned there’s no realistic or scalable alternative. (The Guardian)
Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The time for a superconducting supercomputer is now
We need to overhaul how we compute. Superconductors could be the answer. (IEEE Spectrum)
What’s next for the world’s fastest supercomputers. (MIT Technology Review)

7 How AI destroyed a once-vibrant online art community
DeviantArt used to be a hotbed of creativity. Now it’s full of bots. (Slate

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: cuddly robots to help dementia, and what Daedalus taught us
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/05/17/1092631/the-download-cuddly-robots-to-help-dementia-and-what-daedalus-taught-us/
Published Date: Fri, 17 May 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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