A new method for harvesting energy from light

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have demonstrated a new mechanism for extracting energy from light, a finding that could improve technologies for generating electricity from solar energy and lead to more efficient optoelectronic devices used in communications.

The research centers on plasmonic nanostructures, specifically, materials fabricated from gold particles and light-sensitive molecules of porphyin, of precise sizes and arranged in specific patterns.

Plasmons, or a collective oscillation of electrons, can be excited in these systems by optical radiation and induce an electrical current that can move in a pattern determined by the size and layout of the gold particles, as well as the electrical properties of the surrounding environment.

Because these materials can enhance the scattering of light, they have the potential to be used to advantage in a range of technological applications, such as increasing absorption in solar cells.

Devices incorporating this process of harvesting plasmon-induced hot electrons could be customized for different applications by changing the size and spacing of nanoparticles, which would alter the wavelength of light to which the plasmon responds.

“You could imagine having a paint on your laptop that acted like a solar cell to power it using only sunlight,” Bonnell said. “These materials could also improve communications devices, becoming part of efficient molecular circuits.”

“These results demonstrate fundamental principles that underlie new behavior that could enable various applications such as high efficiency energy harvesting (as in solar cells), optical circuits, and communications devices,” Bonnell explained to KurzweilAI. “Successful application will require further development and engineering.”

Technical details

In 2010, Bonnell and colleagues published a paper in ACS Nano reporting the fabrication of a plasmonic nanostructure, which induced and projected an electrical current across molecules. In some cases they designed the material, an array of gold nanoparticles, using a technique Bonnell’s group invented, known as ferroelectric nanolithography.

The discovery was potentially powerful, but the scientists couldn’t prove that the improved transduction of optical radiation to an electrical current was due to the “hot electrons” produced by the excited plasmons. Other possibilities included that the porphyin molecule itself was excited or that the electric field could focus the incoming light.

“We hypothesized that, when plasmons are excited to a high energy state, we should be able to harvest the electrons out of the material,” Bonnell said. “If we could do that, we could use them for molecular electronics device applications, such as circuit components or solar energy extraction.”

To examine the mechanism of the plasmon-induced current, the researchers systematically varied the different components of the plasmonic nanostructure, changing the size of the gold nanoparticles, the size of the porphyin molecules and the spacing of those components. They designed specific structures that ruled out the other possibilities so that the only contribution to enhanced photocurrent could be from the hot electrons harvested from the plasmons.

“In our measurements, compared to conventional photoexcitation, we saw increases of three to 10 times in the efficiency of our process,” Bonnell said. “And we didn’t even optimize the system. In principle you can envision huge increases in efficiency.”

Duke University.scientists were also involved. The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Second screen should stay simple, says Shazam

Shazam is trying to create a second screen experience that is simple, relevant and flexible, according to Daniel Danker, chief product officer. Speaking at the IBC conference, Danker also said that examples of Shazam being used to create additional content experiences around shows, rather than adverts, would begin to ramp up over the coming months.

People want simple answers to simple questions such as ‘who is that actor?’, ‘where do I buy that?’ and ‘how do I get one of those?’ with as little effort as possible before they can get back to watching TV, said Danker.

People emphatically do not want to install new apps while they are watching shows and do not want to access specific websites related to specific shows, said Danker. “I’m also not sure they want to scroll through lists and pages of content related to a show,” he said. “In the past, lists and likes and apps have played a role…but they’re not what I want to engage with when I’m watching a show.”

Danker said it was more difficult to build calls to action with broadcasters than with advertisers, whose requirements are relatively simple, said Danker. However, he said that broadcasters and content creators were increasingly using Shazam to build second screen functionality rather than creating their own dedicated apps of different platforms. Danker said that many more examples of Shazam being used to create second screen experiences around shows would emerge in the near future.

Returning to Shazam’s core business of building second screen engagement for advertisers, Danker said simplicity is key. He said that broadcasters face the difficulty of engaging viewers with ads. There is only one button on the Shazam app, he said, which enables the technology to identify which ad a viewer is watching and which part of the ad he or she is watching when they press the button.

Danker said Shazam had teamed up with broadcasters and advertisers that want to create their own content around shows and ads, meaning that the content accessed via Shazam is relevant, he said. “This is very rich content – it’s not just text with pictures,” he said.

Danker said that putting home pages up on screen during adverts was of little relevance and use, while the Shazam app can direct viewers to content that is directly related to the ad.

Shazam could also be used flexibly to access different versions of content on screen, said Danker, citing the example of Red Bull Media House using the app to bring multi-point of view footage of a snowboarding competition to different screens. “We need to give content owners the flexibility to own the experience,” he said.

Danker said Shazam currently has 350 million users and generates US$300 million (EUR225 million) a year in digital goods sales. It is used by 70 million active users on a monthly basis and has currently generated nine billion tags.

Facebook gets into social TV with ‘Public Feed’ and ‘Keyword Insights’


Earlier this week Facebook announced two new tools designed to help media companies integrate Facebook activity and conversations into live broadcasts. The idea is that broadcasters could display real-time stats about how often keywords or topics are being mentioned on Facebook or even quickly select messages to be displayed or read on-air, essentially enabling broadcast programming to engage in interactive “conversations” with potentially millions of members of their audience who are also logged into Facebook.

In some ways, the new tools are Facebook’s way of trying to catch up to Twitter, which to date has dominated the intersection of social media and traditional broadcasting. But, in other ways, Facebook is looking to redefine and expand how we consume and interact with traditional broadcast programming – and that could be crucial to mass media given how many people are now watching television with a tablet or smartphone in their hand.

Can Facebook bring something valuable to broadcast media, or has Twitter already locked down the “second screen”?

What’s Facebook offering?

Facebook’s latest play to real-time media companies has two parts: Public Feed and Keyword Insights.

The Public Feed is the ability to search everything everyone on Facebook shares in public for a specific word (like “Syria” or “Obama”) and get back a continuous, near-real-time stream of every public post with that term, along with who said it and when. Because the posts are linked to particular Facebook users, it’s simple for Public Feed customers to pull up any information Facebook considers “public” about any user – things like name, gender, profile images, and friend count, and (most likely) key demographic information like age and location.

Keyword Insights scans all Facebook content – even the private stuff! – to compile aggregate information about a specific term over a specific period of time in the last twelve days. However, Keyword Insights does not associate results with individual Facebook users or provide access to the posted content. So, a media company could determine how many people have entered the hashtag #samcro (often used by Sons of Anarchy fans) in the last 24 hours, but they won’t get a the actual posts to know whether they’re good, bad, indifferent, or just typos. But if Facebook doesn’t give names with Keyword Insights, it does provide summaries based on age, gender, and location (down to cities), so media companies can know how many of those people mentioning Sons of Anarchy are (say) males between 18 and 24 and living in California – even if that hashtag only appeared in a private post to themselves.

Who can use Public Feed and Keyword Insights? Right now, it’s just a few selected partners, including (but not limited to) CNN, the UK/Irish BSkyB satellite television service, Buzzfeed, Slate, and NBC’s Today show, along with a handful of behind-the-scenes companies that offer social platforms and analysis. Facebook is working to add other partners; soon, you can expect any major media outlet or advertiser to have access to these capabilities, either directly from Facebook or through a third party.

How does this get Facebook on TV?

Folks familiar with some of Facebook’s inner workings may have noticed that Public Feed and Keyword Insights are similar to parts of Facebook’s Graph API, which (among other things) lets Facebook developers pull data like status updates and likes, search by keyword, and look at the social connections between results.

“The Graph API has been around for a while, but reliability has been a problem,” noted Damon Cortesi, co-founder and CTO of social metrics firm SimplyMeasured. “Facebook iterates so quickly.”

“I’d personally like to see social add value beyond ork! ork! ork! trained-seal contests to pump up mentions”

Conversely, Twitter has been much more accessible to analytics firms and media companies that want to integrate social data into their content.

“Twitter is one of the first networks we started pulling data from because it was so easy,” noted Cortesi. “You tell it what keywords you want to track, and you receive data in real time.”

To be fair, Twitter doesn’t deliver real-time data directly to mainstream media: instead, it works with two companies (Datasift and GNIP), who in turn provide access to the “firehose” of real-time Twitter data. However, some of the reasons Twitter has been so successful at integrating with television and traditional media is both the narrow, short-message focus of the service (there’s not much to do with Twitter other than tweet!) and the dependability of those real-time services. Programming like X Factor, Breaking Bad, and Discovery’s Shark Week can rely on getting real-time data from Twitter to augment their programming. With Facebook, that proposition has been chancier: nobody wants to go on the air and say “Welp, we were going to take some questions from Facebook, but our systems don’t seem to be working. Sorry.”

How does this make better TV?

The real-time nature of social networking means social content is most relevant to live programming like news, sports, and some reality shows rather than (say) scripted dramas where time-shifting and DVRs tend to spread audiences over a longer period of time. Few people want to catch up on Showtime’s Dexter and see a months-old (or years-old!) tweet scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

Speaking on background, representatives of both CNN and BSkyB indicated they’re looking carefully at how to best integrate social content with their programming. BSkyB’s initial focus seems to be on bringing viewer feedback and opinions into sports programming, while CNN is looking at approaches to daily news.

“We have to make good television,” said one CNN representative who did not want to be identified. “A lot of social integration is based on voting. That works great for some formats, but not others. I’d personally like to see social add value beyond ork! ork! ork! trained-seal contests to pump up mentions or likes so the audience can get a treat. Ultimately, I think that’s demeaning.”

breaking bad story sync

That idea of adding value is the crux of the matter; any Facebook or Twitter user knows that the majority of posts they see are of dubious value or usefulness. So, what’s in this for TV?

“Social media is like holding a mirror up to your audience,” said Sam Decker, CEO of Mass Relevance, one of the first companies to be working with Facebook’s new features. “When viewers see themselves recognized and reflected, they’re immediately interested and more likely to participate. It’s like going to a football game and seeing yourself on the Jumbotron: people immediately respond.”

If the Jumbotron at football games is the benchmark for audience engagement, don’t expect Facebook to be improving your TV experience anytime soon. But if the integration can manage to play to social media’s strengths – surfacing news, information, or people who might otherwise have been missed – that made be real added value for broadcasters and the audience.

“It’s a win for viewers because social content can provide depth and information that wouldn’t have been included in programming,” said Decker.

Baby steps

Social media’s impact on mainstream media like television is still limited, but recent surveys find 87 percent of TV watchers have some sort of second screen (whether a PC or mobile device) and 62 percent of mobile Web users use their mobile devices while watching TV.

Mainstream media is increasingly desperate to remain front and center in consumers’ lives. But they’ve got to be smart about it, and that might mean going slow.

“We are training an audience to engage and this will take time,” wrote never.no CCO Kelly Moulton in the company blog. “Think 10years for mass response and appeal (if we get the formats right) … We need to be patient and think in terms of seasons, years, not special events and one-off novelty exercises.”

So, yes: Facebook wants to be a bigger part of TV. But we haven’t even seen the pilot.

[Image via Shutterstock

Pay TV, not Netflix, to drive future OTT market

Pay TV operators, rather than dedicated online services, will dominate the online subscription TV market in the coming years, according to Strategy Analytics.

The research firm predicted that the growth of online subscription TV would herald “the end of the first phase of online viewing which saw the rise of on-demand specialists such as Netflix and ad-supported platforms such as YouTube.”

In its 2013 Global OTT Forecast, Strategy Analytics added that though online subscription TV is “only just beginning to make an impact”, it will be the principal driver for OTT spending growth in the next five years, with global spending set to accelerate to US$4.7 billion (€3.53 billion) in 2018 – the lion’s share of which will be concentrated in Western Europe and North America.

“We are entering a new phase in the evolution of TV distribution over the public internet. Pay TV service providers are recognising the defensive imperative in ensuring they have a major say in the development of online TV. Standalone online subscription TV addresses the holdouts who will not be swayed by traditional premium TV offerings by promising high quality content including, crucially, live sport, shorter commitment periods, a lower cost of entry and much simpler installation and hardware requirements than traditional, ‘full fat’ pay TV services,” said Strategy Analytics’ director of digital media strategies, Ed Barton.

Citing the likes of Sky in the UK’s Now TV service, Strategy Analytics said the most successful online TV subscription services will come from pay TV service providers leveraging existing content rights and broadcaster relationships.

It also predicted that startups like Magine and Aereo will generate strong growth and said they would be “prime targets for service providers who are late to the online TV party.”

“While the next few years will see standalone online subscription TV services proliferate there are numerous issues the TV ecosystem needs to work through in the dash to deploy. Content rights and windowing will be impacted on a territory-by-territory basis while deployments will need to be designed in order to minimise cannibalisation of the core pay TV business,” said Barton.

“We expect to see bundling of online TV subscriptions with network access deals and device sales in the drive to build customer numbers. Once these services are established in the marketplace spending will accelerate and that is when we will see the extent to which online subscription TV can truly impact the huge spending volumes pay TV delivers today.”