Smaller, cooler, quicker: GE demos nifty technology
Gizmos put to new uses as company refines, modifies
NISKAYUNA General Electric Company’s dual piezoelectric cooling jet seems to do it all.
The device originally designed to improve the aerodynamics of commercial jet engines and power generation in wind turbines was later plugged into a light-emitting diode bulbs to improve their output. Now, the company is using the technology — also known as dual cool jets — as a compact method to cool components of high-end tablet computers and other small electronic devices.
“That technology is ideally suited for next-generation tablets,” said Peter de Bock, the lead electronics cooling researcher at GE Global Research headquarters in Niskayuna.
And as if that were not enough, the dual cool jets can also hum Christmas tunes. That’s right, Christmas tunes.
The square, 1 mm thick device operates much like a human lung, by drawing in air and pumping it out at high velocities. But when connected to sound output from an MP3 player, the dual cool jet can also act like a speaker, as de Bock demonstrated by playing “Winter Wonderland” for reporters gathered at the company’s headquarters Tuesday for demonstrations.
Still, the cooling properties of the patented technology are what should make it a real draw with companies that produce consumer electronics. The system takes up less space than a credit card, uses less energy than a standard fan and has few moving parts, meaning it operates soundlessly unless a slick researcher happens to be using it as a mini speaker.
“Thermal management is becoming a big problem for many companies trying to miniaturize their electronics, and as a result we are getting strong demand to evaluate the technology in many markets — from consumer electronics to automotive to telecom and industrial sectors,” said Chris Giovanniello, the company’s vice president for microelectronics and thermal business development.
But the dual cool jet isn’t the only industrial technology being repurposed by General Electric. The company also demonstrated a bus powered by a lithium and sodium halide batteries.
The dual batteries coupled with an energy management system pioneered by the company helps halve the size of the fuel cell needed to power a bus — and also the cost. The idea is to utilize the strengths of both batteries, thus creating a power scheme that provides for an affordable zero-emission mass transit vehicle that could be employed across the country, where there are more than 846,000 buses in service.
The sodium halide battery — also known as Durathon — is produced at General Electric’s $100 million manufacturing facility recently brought online in Schenectady. The batteries now being used to power telecom installations across the globe are designed to remain cool and require less time to charge.
The company is now refining the energy management system and devising a way to charge the buses from a single source, said Tim Richter, a senior assistant engineer who drove members of the media around on the prototype. Once a market is identified, General Electric would sell the prototype to another company that would then produce it.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said following the tour.
Other technologies showcased by the company include a new micro-electromechanical system — microscopic switches and sensors that can be used to control a broad range of devices. These types of relays are already being used in vehicle air bags and tire pressure sensors; Nintendo’s Wii video gaming system also uses them in its hand-held controller, which is triggered by movement.
General Electric’s new MEMS technology is made from a metal alloy and is a fraction of the size of classic electronic relay, which could have a broad implications for consumer electronics. The company has managed to jam about 400 relays into a 10-square-millimeter space.
“This is a purely metal-based technology,” said Chris Keimel, a process engineer with the company. “And it allows us to make devices no one else can make.”
They are more efficient, consume less power and emit less heat than their predecessors. They can regulate power at blinding speeds, as researchers at the headquarters demonstrated by regulating the electricity going to LED lights on a Christmas tree.
To the naked eye, the lights seemed fully illuminated. Only when video footage of the tree is slowed considerably can the lights be seen blinking.
“We wanted to clearly show them going on and off,” said Glenn Claydon, a GE electrical engineer.
There’s also an Orwellian twist to some of the technology being devised. Recognition software pioneered for video surveillance is now being considered for the world of marketing — advertisements that watch and gather data about viewers.
Interactive advertising can use video and recognition software to track whether someone is watching. The program can then identify basic elements about a given subject in the video in real-time, including everything from facial recognition to gender detection.
The software has the ability to identify if someone is smiling and how broadly. It can also judge certain motions, such as waving or cigarette smoking.
The interactive advertising can monitor the degree to which viewers are engaged, identifying consumer patterns and being able to tailor content based on emotional response. Such devices could come in handy at trade shows, custom displays, market studies or interactive kiosks.
“We have all sorts of ability to look at people,” said Peter Tu, a principal scientist with the company.