Welcome to our annual Ideas For Design celebration, spotlighting Electronic Design’s most popular department. In addition to a larger selection of IFDs—as well as IFDs that go into more technical depth than usual—we’ve included a few twists to our typical lineup.
These features include the history of the venerable Heathkit, a look at IFDs over the decades, and reprints of the most popular IFDs of the past few years based on Web traffic. Looking ahead, Electronic Design’s next big anniversary will be our 75th in 2027. So what kinds of innovations will we be covering then?
Cars Go Electric And Electronic
Do you have an electric vehicle? If you do, count yourself among the few true pioneers of this fledgling industry. But in 15 years, they may be the only kinds of vehicles on the road. Earlier this year, I listened to JB Straubel, CTO of Tesla Motors, talk about his company and the future of electric vehicles. He made some interesting points.
First is that driving 50 miles to work doesn’t need the kind of energy density that fossil fuel provides. It’s also using up our most precious type of fuel. Second, unlike the Tesla Roadster, the company’s Model S sedan was built from the ground up to be an electric vehicle (Fig. 1). This means Tesla was able to package the powertrain much more efficiently in the Model S. The very thin, flat battery pack goes underneath the entire center of the car, disappearing into the structure.
Also, Strauble said, battery density improves by about 7% to 8% each year. So in 10 years, battery density will have doubled compared to today, giving electric vehicles better performance, farther range, and lower costs than gasoline cars.
Do I have an electric vehicle? No. Will I have one in 15 years? Quite possibly. But what about infrastructure? There isn’t much in the way of electric charging stations in my neck of the woods on Long Island, but I did see a bunch on a recent trip to Silicon Valley. A couple of the companies I visited had charging stations in their parking lots for both electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids (Fig. 2).
Whether cars go electric in the next 15 years or keep the engine running with gasoline, there’s no doubt that electronics will continue their relentless takeover of control, safety, and entertainment. Most interesting to me are a step beyond what’s happening in the vehicle itself—namely networked vehicles and eventually driverless cars. Will driverless vehicles happen in the next 15 years? No way. How about in the next 60 years? As my daughter always likes to say, yes way.
Energy Harvesting And Alternative Energy
Energy harvesting has taken giant strides in the past few years in all areas: industrial (see “Energy Harvesting Powers Industrial Wireless Sensor Networks”), consumer, commercial, military, and so on.
The first applications included solar-powered phones on highways and regenerative braking on hybrid vehicles. But now that the idea is out there, engineers are thinking up new ways to harvest energy. In the men’s room at one of the Silicon Valley companies I visited recently, the urinals had photovoltaic cells built into the automatic flush valve, harvesting the overhead light to power the electronics in the valve. Very clever.
Am I harvesting any energy myself? The only electronics I can think of are my solar-powered calculators, which have been hanging around for a long time. Would I like to harvest more energy? Absolutely.
For example, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to purchase an energy-hogging appliance, such as an air conditioner or refrigerator, that comes complete with its own energy source such as a photovoltaic panel or a small wind turbine. This is in contrast, of course, to outfitting one’s entire home with solar panels or a large wind turbine tied to the grid. Will self-powered appliances of this type be available and cost-effective in the next 15 years? I’m thinking yes.
On the alternative energy front, I don’t see many homes with solar-panels in my neighborhood, nor any wind turbines powering homes or offices. Despite this, we know solar and wind-powered electrical facilities are taking off all over the world.
Right here on Long Island, the 32-MW Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) was built through a collaboration including BP Solar, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), and the Department of Energy (Fig. 3). The LISF, located on the Brookhaven National Laboratory site, began delivering power to the LIPA grid in November 2011. It’s the largest photovoltaic power plant in the Eastern United States.
Even more interesting to me is how solar panels are popping up in unlikely places. During the summer, I attended a minor league baseball game at Citibank Park, home of the Long Island Ducks. I parked my car under what I thought was simply overhead protection against the elements. But this particular part of the lot had solar panels integrated into the overhead structure. I couldn’t tell if the panels were meant to supply power to a nearby office building or would eventually be the source for electric vehicle charging stations. In any case, I expect a proliferation of alternative energy sources in the next 15 years.
Much More To Come
I could go on for another column or two about the sea changes occurring in many other areas of electronics over the next 15 years, including solid-state lighting, the Smart Grid, broadband connectivity, medical electronics, security and surveillance, robotics, and consumer electronics. So as we make our way to our next milestone of 75 years, there is much work to be done and much to report on and write about.