Interesting tech for 02 to 06 August 2010

I write a Tech Universe column for the NZ Herald. This is a fun assignment: Tech Universe brings 5 headlines each day about what’s up in the world of technology. Here are the links from last week.

Tech universe: Monday 02 August 2010

  • TWO FOR TWENTY: Are you signed up with a big ISP? Unless you’re in China, think again. Between them China Telecom and China Unicom serve 95 million subscribers — 20% of all broadband users in the world. The next biggest serves just 17 million. It’s easy to forget just how small New Zealand is.
  • MAGNETIC STRESS: Put a patch of graphene under stress and nanobubbles create surprisingly powerful magnetic fields. This new physical effect takes place at room temperature and could set us up for new electronic devices. Probably not for use in hospitals or on aircraft though.
  • 70 GIGAPIXELS: Zoom in and in and in on the 70 gigapixel 360-degree panorama of Budapest. It took 2 days to shoot with two 25 megapixel cameras, and 2 days to process. Printed, it’s 15 metres long. A whole lot of zooming going on.
  • STAYING ALIVE: Smart Band-Aids have tiny sensors to measure your heart rhythm, respiratory rate and temperature, or other health indicators. They automatically send the data to a monitor, perhaps over the Internet. Don’t go watching horror movies, or your doctor may call.
  • CROWD TALKING: A robot alone can have problems getting a signal back to base, but team it up with a dozen others to form a sparse array antenna and they can collectively extend the radio range. The grouping gets rid of dead spots and reduces interference. We need that for cellphones too.

Tech universe: Tuesday 03 August 2010

  • CHATTY BRIDGE: 90,000 vehicles use the 10 lane I-35W bridge in Minneapolis every day. To monitor movement, corrosion, stress, and possible terrorist activity the bridge contains 323 high-tech sensors. Data goes to a nearby computer so engineers can watch out for potential problems. “I’m feeling a little worn today.”
  • CHEQUE OUT: Fraudulent cheques sound like an old problem, but criminals recently revived the practise. They stole 200,000 images of cheques from online storage then used them as templates for fake cheques worth US$9 million. People still use cheques?
  • DEBLUR DEVICE: Microsoft is working on a hardware attachment for consumer cameras that could automatically deblur images. The technique uses inexpensive gyroscopes and accelerometers to counteract camera motion. I could definitely use this.
  • LOW SPIRITS: Spirit, NASA’s six-year-old Mars Rover, may have gone to sleep for the last time. A particularly cold winter may have drained the battery. 6 years isn’t bad for a 3 month mission!
  • YOU DON’T SAY: The BlindType system for touchscreen typing, as on an iPhone, predicts what the user intended to type. It copes with really sloppy typing and figures out what you intended rather than what you actually typed, way beyond ordinary predictive text. Very impressive.

Tech universe: Wednesday 04 August 2010

  • FACEBOOKED: Traffic in Delhi, population 12 million, is a nightmare. But since the Traffic Police set up a Facebook page looking for information they’ve issued 665 tickets based on uploaded photos. It seems friending is more like grassing.
  • PURPLE RINSE: To create a plastic membrane the University of Rochester peppered a hard plastic chip with tiny holes filled with liquid crystals and dye. The dye molecules straighten out under purple light, creating gaps that allow gas to flow through. Under UV light though the gas is blocked. No word on what happens to the gas under ordinary daylight.
  • RED SKY: China’s building up a network of 35 satellites to create its own mapping and global positioning system. They launch their first high resolution, stereoscopic mapping satellite for civilian use in the second half of 2011. The eyes of the world are on all of us.
  • DOUBLE THE VISION: The Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona has two 8.4 metre mirrors and sees better than the Hubble Telescope. The trick is in a secondary mirror so thin that tiny magnets glued to the back can shape it to compensate for atmospheric distortion. It’s all in how you look at it.
  • IN CHARGE: By next year newer mobile phones in the European Union will have mix and match chargers. Different brands of phone will all be able to use the same charger. What’s astonishing is that it’s taken them so long to do this.

Tech universe: Thursday 05 August 2010

Wind lens.

Wind lens.

  • HACKING YOU: DefCon attendees didn’t need brute force to gain valuable network information from big companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft — they did it with sweet-talk. Our willingness to help people is our strongest feature and our biggest vulnerability.
  • WIND AND SUN: Wind turbines turn wind into power and solar cells turn sunshine into power, but the Hawaii Science and Technology Institute has combined the two. Their turbine has 7 retractable blades as well as solar cells, so it’s it both mobile and adaptable, and handy for disaster-relief missions. That’s using brain power.
  • LIGHT AND HEAT: We all love solar power but it’s actually pretty inefficient. Until now. Photon Enhanced Thermionic Emission wouldn’t just fit well in a Star Trek script, it’s a new method of creating energy. It converts both light and heat, potentially doubling solar cell output. Yes, squeeze that sunshine.
  • WIND AND SEA: The Wind Lens could triple the output from offshore turbines with a shape that concentrates the flow of wind. A large hoop intensifies wind to spin the turbine in the centre. At a wind speed of 5 metres per second the 2.5 metre wide blades can power an average household. Now just add solar cells sucking in both heat and light.
  • COLD RUNNINGS: Some carefully designed materials melt, along with the silicon containing them, when they get cooler, not hotter. This could lead to cheaper silicon nanowires, computer chips and solar cells, as the melting process helps purify the material. This solar stuff’s hot right now.

Tech universe: Thursday 05 August 2010

  • DRIVE THROUGH BUS: Buses may add to the congestion on busy roads as they stop for passengers, and jam up cars behind them. A trial in Beijing will test a new concept: a 2 lane wide, double-decker bus. It’s like a rolling bridge: passengers sit on the top while cars travel through below. Powered by electricity and solar energy, the bus holds more than 1,000 passengers and travels up to 60 kph. How about it, Auckland?
  • WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING: It’s such a pain having to actually look down at your GPS system. It means you can’t watch where you’re going. Now your troubles are over: GPS built in to spectacle frames. The glasses detect which way you’re facing, then LEDs in the frame light up to guide you. What, no celebrity voice on your ear?
  • SEE ME RIDE: If you cycle on city roads it’s all about being seen. Cyglo build high powered LED bulbs into the tread or wall of bike tyres. When the wheel turns you see a perfect ring of light. Bright idea.
  • TOXIC TVs: Old televisions and computers are still being illicitly exported from Europe. Workers, often children, are frequently poisoned at makeshift recycling plants in Africa and Asia because of toxic heavy metals and hazardous chemicals in the e-waste. It’s time for a change.
  • WIND UP WATER: A fully working prototype used UV light to sterilise a specially constructed bottle of water in 2 minutes. A custom filter in the bottle removes impurities, then a wind-up Ultra Violet bulb completes the job. Tests show the bottle sterilises 99.9% of bacteria and viruses — especially important in the developing world. No bacteria, sure, but what about heavy metals?