Click looks at a new process that could revolutionise the solar energy industry, before getting up close and personal with the Megabots.
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Coming up next it's time for Click.
This week, big sun, big rain - and massive robots!
It's a huge ball of energy just waiting to be tapped.
Banks of solar cells are springing up all over the place,
absorbing the sunlight and turning it into electricity.
I've come to Oxford University to meet Professor Henry Snaith,
who's trying to squeeze more and more energy out of the sun.
Current technology based on silicon is fundamentally limited in terms
of the efficiency it can deliver.
Silicon can only absorb a fixed band of light,
a fixed spectrum of light - it absorbs all the visible
and the infrared light and then converts that into electricity.
They've been developed for about the last 60 years,
and the maximum efficiency is about 25%.
The trick is to use different materials, alongside silicon,
to absorb more of the sun's energy.
Henry's team are investing ways of coating the silicon cells
with a crystalline structure called perovskite, which can convert more
energy from different wavelengths of light and can generate
electricity at a surprisingly high voltage.
At the moment, we're right on the cusp in most places,
or lots of places in the world, where we can produce electricity
from solar cells as cheaply as we can from coal.
So if we now increase the efficiency, it will become
cheaper and cheaper and cheaper to produce electricity
from solar cells.
Solar energy could deliver the sort of transformative change in society
as we saw at the turn of the 20th century with the discovery
of liquid fuels.
Henry and his team are still near the beginning of that journey.
His perovskite-coated solar cells are still climbing
towards an efficiency of 25%, which will match the current
best silicon-only cells.
It doesn't sound like much, but efficiency in the high 20%s is
a big deal for the solar industry.
And it doesn't end there.
There is a group of young researchers in Switzerland
who are pushing solar technology even further.
And Dan Simmons has been to meet them.
The modern-day magnificent seven.
These guys want to change the world by shaping light.
You see, their plan is to make a solar panel that doesn't just
offer a tiny bit more energy than the last one -
that's been happening for decades - but one that can deliver a seismic
leap and push out almost twice the energy of
standard rooftop panels.
The trick is not about coming up with better photovoltaic materials -
they exist already.
They're focusing on the light itself.
So we are using a lens which is basically a magnifying
glass, but with a very particular shape, so that we can track the sun
throughout the day with minuscule displacements, so the stroke of it.
We are just moving laterally by a couple of millimetres per day,
so it's a very slow movement, and it doesn't consume any energy,
or very little energy.
Now, the guys have set this up moving a little bit quicker
than it normally would.
In fact, the whole panel would move about one centimetre in a day,
tracking the sun across the sky.
And to do that, it would use less than 1% of the actual
energy it produces.
The other advantage of this system is, because the movement
is so small, it can be housed in a normal solar-panel frame,
so you can put it up on rooftops with minimal maintenance.
Which is kind of unusual for a tracking solar-panel system.
The first independent lab test earlier this month measured
an efficiency rating that would be off the charts for residential solar
panels - over 36%.
We realised that this might be the most efficient flat panel
in the world, and we realised the importance of keeping,
managing to reproduce these mini modules at wide scale.
That is what we need to do now.
If it works the way it works in prototype, it's a great product,
so it's really scaling up, that is not so easy to do,
but that is what we'll focus on for the next few months.
As well as the optics, the other trick these guys
are using is to make use of the most expensive and efficient
photovoltaics in the world.
Satellites get their power from the sun, and these panels cost
around $30,000 per square metre.
That is far too expensive to use down here.
It would take decades to get your money back.
But because the system concentrates the incoming light,
just look at how big an area now needs to be covered.
It's just those seven tiny black dots on this panel.
With world-class materials and low-cost maintenance,
the guys are aiming for the system to pay for itself
inside of five years.
So what's not to like?
I asked a solar expert who's been in the industry for over 20 years.
Many pundits are saying that even with the kind of incremental
increases in efficiency that we've in recent years, solar
is heading for a place in the mainstream of global energy,
even as a backbone of global energy, possibly, you know, in as short
a period as a couple of decades from now.
When you have moving parts, you have a large number of other
things that could go wrong.
I very much hope that they solve it and come up with the first
concentrator, moving concentrator, and do deliver this step function,
because that would be very much the icing on the cake.
It seems the solar revolution is coming.
Battery and panel prices have been tumbling, while consumers
are warming to electric vehicles that could be used
to store the energy.
Fossil fuels could finally be facing extinction, and this focus -
from the Magnificent Seven - could serve to speed that up.
Hello and welcome to the week in tech.
It was the week that BlackBerry announced they would no longer
make their own phones.
The one-time market leader has struggled to keep pace
with the serious sales of Apple and Samsung handsets.
A spoof video got people doing something seriously daft.
Drilling into your iPhone 7 will not bring back the old headphones jack.
And Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft announced
they will collaborate to create some serious artificial intelligence.
The Partnership on AI hopes to create the best ways of dealing
with issues like privacy, transparency, and how man
and machine work together.
In other news, US Girl Scouts can earn a new badge
for developing video games.
Is that how you do it?
Women in Games International have teamed up with the Girl Scouts
of Los Angeles to hold sessions at PlayStation's
Santa Monica Studio.
It'll teach them how to develop their video-gaming
talents in the hope more girls will seek opportunities
in the industry.
And, finally, you can't teach an old robot new tricks.
Hang on, that doesn't sound right.
Pepper the robot has been learning to catch a ball in a cup.
It may have taken a while, but after 100 tries it achieved
a 100% success rate.
It is hoped that the principles applied here could be
used to teach other agility-type motions.
Cocktail waiters and netball players beware!
The distant future!
A devastating war leaves machines ruling the world.
One man stands against the technological tyranny
of the planet's robot overlords.
He's ready to bash those bots and destroy the droids.
This might be a bit easier than I expected.
Marc Cieslak, on the other hand, might have a bigger bit of bother
with a burly bot in America.
Televised robotic combat usually requires small,
remotely controlled robots which are fitted with tools
and things that you might find in your garden shed being used
as offensive weapons.
Well, I've come to a workshop just outside San Francisco to meet a team
of engineers who are planning a robotic rumble on a much,
much grander scale.
Say hello to the MegaBot Mark II.
It stands 15 feet tall and weighs nearly six tonnes.
It moves around on five tracks on the front of it.
It's not particularly nimble, but it doesn't need to be,
because when this robot engages in combat, it makes use
of a giant paintball cannon.
MegaBots was founded in 2014 by engineers
Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein.
So how long was the design process for this fella?
Realistically, it got put together over the course of maybe a year.
Lots of the components on this robot are taken from the construction
industry, parts that you would normally see
on an excavator or skid-steer.
So in terms of what it can do, the fact that it's got
these weapons on it, all that type of stuff -
did you figure that out before you started building it?
The pneumatic weapons were always part of the original plan.
This is a six-inch diameter paint cannonball cannon.
It shoots 3lb paint cannonballs at speeds of over 130 mph.
This is a 20 pack, we call it a missile launcher,
but essentially it's 20 smaller pneumatic cannons stacked
next to each other.
So, originally, these shot foam missiles.
Time for a robotic test-drive.
Now, as I don't have my giant fighting robot licence,
I'm sitting in the gunner's position while Matt is doing all the heavy
lifting actually driving the robot around.
But don't worry, I'll have something to do in just a minute.
You see, I'd quite like to use a vehicle like this
on the commute in London.
I've got a feeling that black cabs would react very differently
when they look in the rear view mirror and saw this behind them.
Normally, the cannon fires specially made giant paintballs.
However, it should be just as adept at firing fruit -
in this case, a watermelon.
Here we go.
Oh, my God!
Unfortunately, our chosen fruit isn't tough enough to hit our
target, vaporising in midair.
We've reloaded, and it's time for shot number two.
That is how you absolutely decimate a cantaloupe.
OK, Matt, let's inspect our handiwork.
Wow, we've got damage two layers back even.
Wow. That was extremely powerful.
It's pretty impressive for a piece of fruit.
Cantaloupe carnage, ladies and gentlemen!
The long-term vision of MegaBots is to have eight, ten robots
drive into a stadium and, you know, attack each other.
It's kind of like a monster-truck rally.
The problem for this league idea, though, is that giant fighting
robots aren't exactly commonplace.
So there was one other piloted robot in the world that we knew of,
the Kuratas robot in Japan, but they said, "If we do this fight,
we want it to be more than just air cannons - we want melee combat."
"So we'll fight you, but it's got to be hand to hand
in the battle."
And so now we are creating a new robot that has melee-weapon
capability to be able to have this fight.
You're going to be going toe-to-toe and slugging it out.
Isn't that quite a bit more dangerous than just shooting things
with a giant air cannon?
In the ideal situation, the pilot remains protected,
but all of the rest of the robot can be attacked and torn off and get
crumpled up and destroyed.
The pilots remain relatively safe.
MegaBots' next robot is being kept under wraps for now,
while it's being built.
However, they still need to find a venue to host their robotic
rumble with the Japanese.
They're hoping this giant-bot boxing bout will take place next year.
Smart clothes and accessories are coming in from the cold,
moving from geeky to good-looking, so I've been testing
a few of the latest to check it's not just style over substance.
It's getting a bit chilly, so I was quite pleased to receive
this prototype, and it's quite smart.
In fact, its makers call it a smart coat, which could be
slightly over-egging it, but it does warm up,
and the finished product will also be able to charge your mobile phone.
Coats that heat up are far from new, but this brings them
to the high-end fashion market.
It uses a type of infrared that claims, instead of simply heating
the skin, to be absorbed by the body to help relax muscles and increase
blood flow, as well as keep you snug.
So am I walking around in more than just a luxury electric blanket?
The biggest concentration of the polymer is on the kidneys,
because that's where all your circulation runs through,
and once your kidneys are warmed up, all your blood warms up,
your circulation warms up, and it makes you feel warm all over.
But then we have two other parts at the front, smaller parts,
which give you the feeling of, you know, getting this warm hug
and having the warmth all around.
This technology wasn't created to make you feel,
you know, boiling hot.
With this, the idea is that you can regulate it depending
what the weather is, so if you are in the Tube and it
gets warm, you can just switch it off.
Whilst it felt luxurious and cosy to wear, seeing as I wasn't
overheating with it on full on a mild September day,
I'm just not convinced the actual coat is as thick as I
would like it to be.
Oh, four buzzes!
That will be a phone call.
This smart ring is part of a range of jewellery offering
customised smartphone alerts.
You select what alerts you would like by going into
the app, choosing notifications, and then selecting the categories
that you want to know about.
So it could be to tell you that your taxi's arrived,
get a phone call, a calendar alert, and then once you've chosen,
you select the number of buzzes that represent each thing.
This colour may not have been to my taste, but there are others.
The bracelets track activity too, and I actually rather
enjoyed its functionality, particularly as you could subtly
wait for a phone call.
And if you'd like to be subtly smart, then here is the latest way
of turning a regular watch into a smartwatch.
It's not the first we've seen on Click, but this strap aims
to provide notifications, activity tracking, heart-rate
monitoring and be waterproof, which is obviously only any use
if your watch is too.
Sadly, this prototype isn't fully functional,
so I couldn't test its show-stopping feature of directional push
navigation, where vibrations in the corresponding corner
of the device aim to point you in the right direction.
Its claimed seven-day battery life and traditional style might sway
some put off the current crop of smart watches.
And after Apple scrapped the standard headphone socket
on its iPhone, Bluetooth headphones may be the future.
If you've decided that's so, then you won't want them
to cramp your style.
There's more to this rather chunky bracelet than meets the eye.
Inside are a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.
Taking them in and out of the bracelet was pretty slick,
and the sound quality was good, but they didn't stay in my ears
as easily as the sportier buds I usually wear.
And when it comes to style, well, when you're wearing them,
the bracelet is left with a bit of a funny gap.
So, while some of the prototypes may still need perfecting,
the appetite for functional fashion is growing, so the stakes -
and not just the price tags - may be high.
Now, after all that sunshine earlier on, we now bring you a bit of rain -
and not measly British rain either, we're talking hardcore Indian rain.
Here comes David Reid.
It's the end of India's monsoon season.
In the four months between June and late September, the country
receives 80% of its annual rainfall.
But if you think the monsoon is a relentless deluge
everywhere, think again.
For farmers in Andhra Pradesh on India's south-east coast,
the rains can be unreliable and cause a lot of problems.
Farmers need to know when and how much rain is coming to decide
when to sow and how to treat their crops.
Scientists want to help them out but can only garner very
little from staring at Andhra Pradesh's fleecy skies.
For researchers hunting for clues as to how to better
predict the monsoons, they're finding answers
in the middle of the sea, in the Bay of Bengal.
This summer, an Indian-led team of 24 international researchers
took to the high seas.
The scientists believe that the key to unlocking the mystery
of the monsoon lay offshore.
All the clouds that brings rain to the land over India actually
originate in the ocean.
It's the ocean that is the engine which provides the water
for all these clouds.
The power of that engine depends on the temperature
at the sea's surface.
Where it's warm, the monsoon is strong - where cold, much weaker.
Large cumbersome instruments permit researchers only to study the waters
in the vicinity of the ship, but this seaglider, brought
to the operation by British researchers on the team,
can take measurements all over the bay of Bengal, sending
results back to base instantaneously via satellite.
When we deploy gliders, we can get simultaneous measurements
over a set of locations within the same span of one month.
Likewise, how energy from the land drives the monsoon is measured
by towers like this one of the Indian Institute
of Science in Bangalore.
Others are dotted in arid, semiarid and wet locations around India.
The objective of this experiment is to understand the basic
physics of the monsoon.
Right now, we are making certain assumptions, saying that this
is the way that atmosphere and the land, they interact,
but if that assumption is not right, then obviously water
will not be held properly.
Real-time data and climate models demand processing power.
India's Meteorological Department has found statistics better
for long-term and local predictions, but next year will start running
models on a supercomputer.
This is partly because climate change has added another layer
of complexity to their calculations.
Any forecast can never be perfect.
When the climate is changing, the relationship which
the meteorologists have understood so far are also on the change,
and therefore we need to invest a lot of money
on research and development.
Back in Andhra Pradesh, farmers are getting some guidance,
partly thanks to the new data, but also because of a new
crop-sowing app developed by Microsoft and the India-based
crop-research organisation Incrisat.
The app gives farmers a heads-up on what's predicted
for their locality and then drops in advice on how to react.
If the crop is sown at the proper time, almost half the battle is won.
Using the sowing app, what we are trying to do is to send
advisers to the farmers, then they can start the land
preparation, sowing, and run various management practices
based on the weather.
Sowing on the right day can increase crop yields considerably.
That means more money for small-scale farmers and more
crops to feed India.
Accurate forecasting helps farmers anticipate monsoon's capricious mood
and make the most of their hard work.
That was David Reid, and that's it for this week.
Next week, we have something very special for you,
because we are off to Japan.
Come with us on a technological voyage of wonder and beauty.
We'll find out whether Japan's alternative approach
to autonomous cars might get them into the fast lane faster.
And we'll meet the people who will stop at nothing
in their quest for sonic perfection.
It's going to be brilliant, I promise you.
You can follow our exploits, as usual, on Twitter @BBCClick.
You can follow our exploits, as usual, on Twitter @BBCClick.
Thanks for watching, and we'll see you there.
Friday's mixed bag of weather offered our Weather Watchers
a number of opportunities to get out and capture all the faces
of late autumn.
Some glorious scenes, there's no doubt about it.