Of hype and true potential

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19 August 2016 | 0

Paul HearnsThe Gartner Hype Cycle, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a tracker of technologies that uses a wave-like curve to graph the emergence, acceptance and adoption, or not, of new technologies.

It goes on a near vertical upward slope of “Innovation Trigger”, hitting a “Peak of Inflated Expectations”, before tipping over with a vertiginous drop toward a “Trough of Disillusionment”, before hopefully climbing out on a slow rising “Slope of Enlightenment”. If any technology makes it that far, it then enjoys a “Plateau of Productivity” before falling off into obsolescence.

Various technologies are thus evaluated and placed on the cycle, with an indicator of how long they might linger at any given point before progressing.

As we reported this week, machine learning is currently occupying that dizzy height at the peak of inflated expectation.

“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery,” Qichao Hu, SolidEnergy

Peak peril
According to Gartner, machine learning is at the peak of the curve, and is only predicted to become a mainstream item within two to five years. Despite the fact that the technology is supposed to have ‘arrived’ some time ago, and is a key part of the likes of cloud services, software toolkits and custom hardware, five years is a long way off.

The analyst says that the issue is not that machine learning faces technical barriers, but rather that the technology is no panacea, and thus will take time to produce beneficial applications in the real world.

Despite predictions that smart machines, machine learning and big data would combine to be the basis of tomorrow’s enterprises (a topic which we are looking at in the next issue of TechPro), it would appear as if that critical element, machine learning to make the smart machines, may not be available as early in the mix as first anticipated.

However, it is often the simplest things that can have the most significant impact on the future.

Battery tech
An MIT spin out has developed a new type of lithium battery that has the potential to offer twice the energy density of current batteries. This new battery would be used in all applications in which current generation lithium batteries work, including everything from smart phones and tablets, to drones and electric cars.

SolidEnergy Systems’ new battery is an “anode-free” lithium metal battery, that ditches the common battery anode material, graphite, in favour of very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil. The metal foil can hold more ions, which means more potential for stored energy. The new design uses chemical modifications to the electrolyte too, which make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable, but, critically, safer to use. A further boon is that the batteries are manufactured using existing lithium ion manufacturing equipment.

Double density
“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery. Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long,” said Qichao Hu, co-inventor of the battery, and CEO, SolidEnergy.

The potential for the likes of drones, electric cars and public service vehicles to have their range doubled while reducing charging times, is huge.

Electric cars would become truly practical, making them affordable and the default choice for obvious reasons.

But more so perhaps for enterprise, the availability of mobile devices with the power of a desktop but potentially two full working days battery life would be phenomenal.

Whenever any great breakthrough is made and put in the hands of ordinary users, huge new possibilities open up.

New models
Remember all of those businesses that sprung up around mobile phone capabilities, text messaging, email, drones and more? Well, the same thing is likely to occur when this kind of battery life is put into the devices that we are all so accustomed to, and yet have been hamstrung with due to either short or fading battery life.

Sit in any transit lounge, for any form of public transport, and you are more likely to see people charging mobile devices than reading books and magazines. The constant worry of running out of power has driven people to usage models that dictate orbiting a power source. Imagine that tether removed. It is hard to predict what the outcome will be, but what is sure is that there will a sea change in usage and applications.



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