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Showing posts tagged 'mit'


06 October 2021

Rare earth metal prices explode

earth metals]

Prices for rare earth metals have exploded over the last 12 months, moving nearly 50% higher on average since March.

This development could push prices of electronics components higher than ever, as a perfect storm of expensive raw materials + limited production capacity + higher demand = rocketing prices.

As we are seeing with the global semiconductor shortage, fluctuations in supply chains ripple through the electronics industry.

Electronic component shortages have, in part, been caused by reduced mining quota for raw materials including rate earth metals. But the problem now isn’t a lack of mining, but the soaring demand for rare earth metals.

The high price reflects strong demand. Rare earth metals are used in most electronic components and devices, from integrated circuits to displays, vibration motors and storage, so it’s easy to see why demand is so strong. 

For example, materials like neodymium and praseodymium used to make magnets have seen a 73% increase in demand in 2021. Holmium oxide used in sensors, terbium oxide used in displays and cobalt used in batteries have also seen increases.

Why have prices exploded?

China is the only country in the world with a complete supply chain for rare earth metals from mining, to refining, to processing. With over 55% of global production and 85% refining output, the world depends on them for rare earth metals.

In January, Beijing hinted at tightening controls for earth metal exports, triggering panic across the world and sending prices soaring.

For those of you who remember, rare earth prices exploded in 2011 when China’s export volumes collapsed. China cut export quotas of the 17 rare earth metals and raised tariffs on exports, sending prices soaring by more than 50%.

Talk about déjà vu!

Another factor for the price explosion is supply and demand. Even with China’s hints, demand for rare earth metals is outstripping supply. The world is using more electronics than at any time in its history, and rare earth metals are needed to make more of them.

It isn’t only relatively unknown materials like neodymium and praseodymium that are surging in price, but also more commonly known materials like tin, aluminium and copper, which have also surged in price in 2021.

So, in a nutshell, demand for rare earth metals is outstripping supply, and China (which has significant control over rare earth metals) has hinted at tightening exports, sending a shockwave through the supply chain.

The issue is bad and will take time to resolve. The United States is the second biggest producer of rare earth metals, and in February, President Joe Biden announced a review into domestic supply chains for rare earths, medical devices, chips and other resources, with a $30 million initiative to secure new supply chains.

Unfortunately for the world, China’s control of 55% of global production and 85% of refining output for rare earth metals means they control the market. Missteps, problems at home, and hints about tightening controls have already sent rare earth metal prices soaring, and it stands to reason they will continue creeping higher in the near-term. 

Tags: rare earth metals limited production capacity higher demand semiconductor shortage supply chains electronic components


01 June 2015

Nail art at MIT?

Love getting your nails done? Love having the latest tech? Your manicure could soon send texts, find recipes and set your alarm to snooze to get your beauty sleep! MIT have created NailO – a miniature wireless trackpad that can connect to your phone, laptop or tablet. It is a wearable device which is worn on the thumbnail (or any other fingernail you may prefer!) and allows the wearer to perform different functions on a phone or PC. It's small and discreet but can be customised with different nail stickers to create your own distinctive look.

The thumbnail itself, as well as being easily accessible from all other fingers is a perfect place for a wearable. It is a hard surface with no nerve endings and the NailO doesn't impair movement, there's no discomfort and it is generally unobtrusive.

NailO uses capacitive sensing (which is the same technology as on the iPhone screen) which allows for a detachable membrane so it can be fully customised to match your outfit, your nail polish or to make a statement.

To make NailO thin and flexible enough to wear, the team worked with flexible PCB factories in Shenzhen for a thinner and bendable prototype, which could conform to the curvature of a fingernail.

The hardware consists of four layers (top to bottom):

1. A decorative nail sticker layer for users to customize sensor appearance

2. The matrix of sensing electrodes

3. A printed circuit board (PCB), consisting of an ATmega328 (Atmel) microcontroller and MTCH6102 (Microchip) capacitive touch controller. The samples are transmitted to a laptop or a phone using Bluetooth Low Energy chip nRF8001 (Nordic Semiconductors).

4. A miniature 10 mAh lithium-polymer battery is used to power the circuit.

Whilst still in prototype stage, NailO is something a little different to the regular wearables we are used to seeing. Smartwatches and exercise trackers are all well and good but more practical, everyday uses need to be thought about too. It also makes a change for a wearable to be thought of with primarily women in mind. Women are just as interested in the latest tech as men and hopefully this project from MIT will lead the way to more female focused and more useable wearable technologies.

For more information see the official NailO website here.

Tags: mit wearable tech nailo


13 January 2015

Can a robot cheetah save the world?

A robot which can run at speeds of more than 10 mph, jump almost 16 inches high, land safely and continue galloping for at least 15 minutes — all while using less power than a microwave oven has been unveiled by engineers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The robot, inspired by a cheetah, is hoped to have real world applications including prosthetic limbs, wearable technologies, all-terrain wheelchairs and vehicles that can travel efficiently in rough terrain. 

The team have had to create most of the components from scratch including motors, sensors and an on board computer. They have even created an algorithm which calculates how much energy should be exerted by each leg whilst running! 

"This is kind of a Ferrari in the robotics world, like, we have to put all the expensive components and make it really that instinctive," said MIT Professor Sangbae Kim, Head of the school's Biomimetic Robotics Lab. "That's the only way to get that speed."

Watching the video of the robot in action, you can really see the cat-like movements of the robot. To say it weighs 70 pounds, the robot moves smoothly compared to other robotic devices and it is really possible to see how this technology could be used to enhance and even save lives. It is hoped this type of robot could be used in search and rescue operations or in hostile environments where it is too dangerous to send humans in.

The team still have some way to go in perfecting the technology but have come a long way in the last 5 years. “In the next 10 years, our goal is we are trying to make this robot to save a life," Kim said.

A worthy aim and we wish them all the best in achieving it.

For the latest industry news and new technologies, follow Cyclops on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+
Sources:
MIT
CNS News

Tags: electronic components mit robotics


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