Forget power shortage; now buildings, bridges, lamp posts and even kerbstones could be a source of energy, thanks to smart cement. For a long time, the quest has been on for massive but cost-effective energy sources to relieve the overburdened power grids.
Now, researchers at the University of Lancaster are making a go of it - they have developed a new cement mixture that not only stores and discharges electricity but also monitors a construction's structural health. Better still, the new material, made from fly ash and chemical solutions, does not need expensive or hazardous additives required to make smart concrete, which is different from cement and is typically used to track structural stresses.
So, what are the benefits of this all-new wonder cement? To start with, the potassium-geopolymeric (KGP) composites forming the new mixture rely on the diffusion of potassium ions within a structure to store electrical energy, says Project Leader Mohamed Saafi, from Lancaster University's Engineering Department. When fully optimised, the KGP mixtures could store and discharge 200-500W per square metre. Any structure made with KGP on the outside can be connected to a power source like a solar panel to store excess energy, and the same can be used whenever it is required. Existing buildings can also be retrofitted with KGP panels.
Then there is the additional advantage of taking street lights off-grid. According to researchers, a typical street lamp consumes 700W from sunset to sunrise and a six-metre tall lamp post made with KGP can easily store the same amount of renewable energy to power its requirement. Similarly, KGP kerbstones can store adequate energy to power smart street sensors for monitoring traffic, drainage and pollution.
KGP can also monitor and detect structural defects such as cracking as soon as these occur. Such defects hinder the ion diffusion and hence, the material's conductivity, leading to instant alerts. Traditionally, the structural health of buildings is monitored through visual checks unless, of course, you are using smart concrete. And the new 'smart cement' is cheaper than the regular cement available in the market.
"We are trying to turn buildings and bridges into batteries to reduce the cost of energy. At the moment, we have a lot of renewable energy sources, but we do not have a large-scale storage system for all that energy," Saafi told the media. "The cost-effective mixture can be used as integral parts of buildings and other infrastructure as a cheap way to store and deliver renewable energy and power street lighting, traffic lights and electric vehicle charging points." Medtech
AI Says You Are Depressed
People suffering from depression do not always admit to it - neither to doctors nor family and friends and at times, not even to themselves. It is often typical of the medical condition.
Sometimes, depression is difficult to detect, especially in children and teenagers. So, researchers at MIT Media Lab thought a bit of help from artificial intelligence could be useful in such cases.
Accordingly, a research team is trying to teach an algorithm to pick up cues from the speech of a group of people, some of whom are suffering from depression.
Differences in tone and inflexion and what is being said are detected by the algorithm, which (post-training) has managed to provide a depression diagnosis with 77 per cent accuracy. That is not above-average, and the AI system must work on it to reach the point where its contributions will be really useful. Meanwhile, there will be dangers of false positives and misses because depression and human behaviour are incredibly complex, unique and involve a multitude of variables.