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Top40 News for 07/26/2018

#37 Nanotech powers this super-sensitive microphone

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The trouble with microphones is that they don't just hear — they have to listen. Powering the mic and its signal processor means using energy, and energy means a battery, and a battery means charging. This new microphone-like system hears more like the way our own ears do, requiring little or no power, and could help fill the world with voice-responsive machines. (If that's something we really want.)

The device is called a "triboelectric auditory sensor," and it works via what's called the triboelectric effect — essentially when two surfaces rub together and create a charge. They're still trying to figure out why this happens, but what matters to engineers is that it happens reliably.

Triboelectric nanogenerators have been around for a few years, creating power by having two compatible materials interact with each other at super-small scales. While they're tiny and highly efficient, they don't actually produce a lot of power. Researchers from Chongqing University found that, fortunately, you don't need a lot of power for the purposes of detecting sound.

Our own ears have what's called a cochlea inside them, a sort of long sealed canal filled with liquid and motion-sensitive cells; when sound hits the end of the cochlea, different parts of it vibrate depending on the frequencies that make up the sound. It's basically a Fourier Transform done instantly by organic hardware and is very cool.

The triboelectric auditory sensor does something like this. All along its surface are tiny membranes that vibrate when sound waves strike them, causing the materials to rub together and generate a small charge. By recording the different charges from the different membranes with different frequency responses, the device puts together a complete picture of the sound it hears, using no power but what is created by the nanogenerators. It's also extremely sensitive.

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#38 Apple’s T2 chips may be causing problems on 2018 MacBook Pro and iMac Pro computers

Hot on the heels of the last MacBook Pro controversy about overheating concerns — which followed the previous uproar about keyboard issues, which, in turn, followed the original outrage about USB-C ports when the current design was first introduced — is yet another potential issue with Apple’s latest laptops. This time, it’s centered around the T2 chip that enables things like secure boot, better encrypted storage, and “Hey Siri” support.

According to a report from Digital Trends, that chip may also be causing kernel panic crashes on both the recent 2018 MacBook Pros and last year’s iMac Pro, which also features the chip.

The issue seems to be sourced from several threads on Apple’s community discussion forums, which complain of crashes on both T2-equipped computers. It seems that most of the problems are rooted in Bridge OS, the embedded operating system used by the T2 chip, although it’s not entirely clear whether the chip is directly causing the problems.

Going through the various forum threads, users have reported trying solutions like wiping their hard drives and reinstalling macOS, restoring from Time Machine backups, avoiding peripheral use, exchanging their computers, and more to no avail, which is leading to speculation that the problem is more deeply rooted in the system.

Apple has yet to address the Bridge OS issues, and the company did not response to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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