Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Latest Israeli high-tech achievements

I have been hearing about "digital ink" for years but hadn't seen any real applications until now:
Digital billboards are the next step in the evolution of signage - displaying still pictures or video footage that can be updated wirelessly and remotely with different images for different locations and at different times. But until now, strong sunshine reflecting off an outdoor digital billboard has completely obscured the picture and dazzle passers-by. Companies have spent millions trying to overcome this problem.

Israeli start-up Magink went back to the chemistry lab to come up with new digital ink technology that actually uses sunlight instead of fighting it. The first network of billboards was erected by JCDecaux, the largest outdoor advertising company in Europe and Asia, on the boulevards of Cannes for the 59th Film Festival, and Magink's technology is soon to be seen on London's streets too.

"The concept is quite simple. In a few years from now, any surfaces that are in the urban environment will have something more than paint," explains Ran Poliakine, founder and vice-chairman of Magink, sitting in the company's Israel headquarters in the Neve Ilan Communications Center, just outside Jerusalem.

"They will have a pattern or design that will change, something more intelligent than paint. Many people talked about it, but what we do is for the first time achieving something that is actually working: the world's first full-color digital ink displays."

The uniqueness of Magink's technology is that it is reflective, just like paper. "If you have a laptop outside, it is difficult to see," Poliakine told ISRAEL21c. "The light from the laptop has to fight with the sunlight. But with a real book, the better the light is, the better you see. We are similar to printed paper but it is not static. You can enjoy the best of both worlds."

The molecules of this material are in the shape of a helix - a spring or spiral (like our DNA, which is two spirals twisted together). If the spiral-shaped molecules are lying down, light goes straight through them. But if they are standing up - and they can be standing upright or at various angles - and different amounts of pressure are put on these spirals, squashing them more or less, light is reflected, at different wavelengths depending on the pressure applied and the angle. Different wavelengths mean different colors, and this creates digital ink: sections of a billboard are squashed at different pressures and reflect different colors. Take this to the pixel level - each pixel's-worth of molecules is squashed a different amount - and you have a high-quality, full-color image.

"It is a breakthrough in terms of chemistry," says Poliakine.

The billboard is created by putting a layer of paste a few microns (a millionth of a meter) thick of this organic material between two sheets of something that conducts electricity, at least one of them clear, such as glass. An electric field is then applied which puts pressure on each molecule and determines its color. One revolutionary aspect of this is that once the electric field has been applied to get the molecules into the specific set of colors for a particular image, the electricity can be switched off.

"Energy is only needed again to change the image," explains Ben Shalom. "This means no power consumption at all."

A typical LED sign needs around 4000 watts per hour per square meter - Magink's digital ink, for full video display with the same frame rates as television, only requires 60 watts for the same time and area.
And this is only the beginning, says Poliakine. The palm and laptop computer market is something for further down the line, and, Magink's digital ink "could be used for smart homes, you could create the painting on the PC or another interface and the digital ink will recreate it on the kitchen wall," he enthuses. "It's not a big TV, it's 'paper'."
In the light of the major recall of batteries by laptop manufacturers, this looks very promising:
Scientists at Tel Aviv University have developed new technology to greatly improve battery performance and decrease the risks associated with the lithium-based batteries currently used.

Batteries are the bottle-neck for electronic devices' ability to operate effectively, the project's head, Professor Menachem Nathan told Israel21c.org. Mobile devices need more and more battery power, and consumers are seeking products that take the shortest amount of time to charge.

The demand has resulted in lithium-heavy batteries that heat to high temperatures, posing a fire hazard. "The problem we're dealing with here is the flammability of lithium batteries. There have been a few dozen cases - especially in laptops - of them bursting into flames," Nathan said. "It's not really a new problem. It has existed since lithium batteries came into being, but it's only come to the forefront when Dell made the recall - it became a bit more public."

"The development of our technology wasn't actually geared to solve the flammability issue - it was just a side effect. Our battery is simply safer due to its structure. We meet another demand of fast charge/discharge. With more and more powerful laptops, batteries are quickly discharged. And people are not going to wait a long time to recharge them, they want it done fast. So at the same time, it is recharging faster, and the way the battery is built works against flammability danger, making it safer."

The new "nano-battery technology" was developed by teams at Tel Aviv university over three years. It is made up of a number of tiny batteries positioned in such a way as to provide a large amount of electrical power without the risk of overheating. "We have thousands of miniature batteries which are interconnected," Nathan said. "The basic unit is a 50 micron diameter battery - about the thickness of a strand of hair. In comparison, the diameter of a triple A battery is about three millimeters - ours is .003 mm - about a factor of a thousand."

The nano-batteries have also proven to operate without a loss of capacity or stability after hundreds of charge/discharge cycles.

Nathan estimates that the batteries will enter the market within four years. The project is currently seeking interested companies to fund the continued research and production of the technology.

And what article about Israeli scientific achievements would be complete without something that will save lives?
Israeli team solves problem of reclogged coronary arteries
Sep. 05 - Restenosis (the reclogging of coronary arteries) affects as many as 40 percent of patients who have undergone angioplasty. Now biomedical engineering researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have suggested a revolutionary technique to prevent restenosis after supportive metal-mesh stents have been inserted by angioplasty. The technique, whose award of a US patent was announced on Monday, can also be applied to "any drug" that works best in a specific site of the body, including anti-cancer medications, the researchers say.

Angioplasty - a minimally invasive cardiological intervention in which a tiny deflated balloon is inserted into clogged arteries in the heart and inflated to open blockages and position a stent inside the weak arterial wall to keep it open - results in blockages in more than a third of patients. The cause is not new fatty plaques in the same spot of the arteries, as had been thought, but the growth of tissue in the endothelium of the vessel. Doctors regards this as a "tumor" that has to be treated with medication to prevent uncontrolled growth of the tissue. But anti-tumor drugs cannot be taken systemically to affect the whole body, because the growth is local.

In the new technique - the patient swallows a completely neutral "pre-drug" amino acid that causes no side effects and can be taken as long as needed. This amino acid activates a specific enzyme in a special stent, serving as a "factory" for the anti-clogging drug as long as the amino acid is consumed. The amino acid is a natural component of every protein and is contained in soya and milk products, among others, thus it can be safely consumed. The patient stops taking the amino acid six months after angioplasty, when there is no longer a risk of uncontrolled tissue growth inside the artery.