Interesting tech for 23 to 27 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 23 August 2010

  • HIGHWIRE ACT: Balanced on a live wire hundreds of metres above the ground isn’t where I’d spend my working days. But the Canadian LineScout robot eats it up. The robot scans and repairs high power cables, all the while sending video back to base. It can navigate around obstacles too. Trapezes next?
  • 3G LEAKS: In Israel some water meters send out a 3G signal every 11 to 30 seconds. A remote operated drone flies around reading the signals and looking for unusual rates of flow that could indicate leaks. I guess there’s no water in the dead zones.
  • NIGHT RIDER: Night vision goggles convert photons into electrons that hit a phosphorous screen. An organic semiconductor detector instead displays the image on LEDs. The new device is tiny, cheap and made of plastic rather than heavy glass. Look for this soon in cellphones, spectacles or even a heads-up display in the car. A very handy piece of kit.
  • PROBABLY SAVED: Lyric Semiconductor has created ‘probabilistic’ analogue computer processors. Where traditional computers deal with absolute ones and zeros, the probabilistic processor allows for other values: each bit stores a probability that a value is 1. This could be important for spam filtering, shopping cart recommendations and spotting fraud. I’m not sure I’d like my computer to ‘probably save’ my documents.
  • TWEET ME UP: There are the words we use and the words we find in the dictionary. The just released 3rd edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English now includes such words as microblogging, social media, netbook, dictionary attack, paywall and tweet-up. Word up Scrabble players.

Tech universe: Tuesday 24 August 2010

  • THE CAR THAT CAN: The Baldos II is a tiny red car from Sweden that can go 152.2 kilometers on one litre of fuel — that’s 0.657 litres per 100 km. It’s a single-seater whose top speed is 35 Kph. Without the driver, the car weighs 155 Kg. Pranksters will have fun re-parking that one!
  • MCAFEE INSIDE: Intel plan to buy McAfee and their security software for around US$30 per share, or almost $8 billion in total. Intel want to bolster “security for the growing shift to wireless connectivity.” I feel safer already.
  • SUNNY SPINNER: The Heliotrope solar house in Germany cost 1.2 million Euros. Designed to capture the sun’s light and heat through solar cells and other techniques, it gently rotates through the day. The house generates 5 times as much energy as it consumes. Forget Net Zero; energy ‘profit’ is the thing to aim for.
    Video (in German):
  • 3D ECHO: NIWA has been ‘pinging’ the ridges, volcanoes, plateaus, canyons and seamounts around NZ. Echo sounder systems send out hundreds of separate beams to build up a 3-D picture of the seafloor. Travel time of the sound shows water depth, while strength of the signal shows hardness and texture of the floor. 3D really is trendy these days.
  • TIGHT FISTED: Plastic cards haven’t totally done away with cash yet, but a new wallet can make it harder to spend those hard-earned notes. The Proverbial Bumblebee Wallet buzzes whenever your bank processes a transaction, while the Peacock grows and shrinks to reflect your bank balance, and the Mother Bear contains a hinge that resists opening. Just don’t buy yourself an extra treat for managing to open the darn thing.

Tech universe: Wednesday 25 August 2010

  • WEARABLE PHONE: A new slinky black cocktail dress, the M-Dress, is all cellphone. Gesture recognition software handles phone calls. Lift your hand to talk; lower your hand to hang up. The antenna is in the dress hem, and the SIM card is embedded in the dress. Just don’t throw the dress in the wash!
  • TRASH TALK: In Cleveland, Ohio, RFID chips are being added to recycle bins. If a chip show a bin hasn’t been put out for weeks, a supervisor will sort through the trash for recyclables. Residents will be fined for not handling trash appropriately. It won’t pay to be reducing your trash then.
  • DUST BUSTERS: Dust is such a nuisance, especially on solar cells where it reduces efficiency. A layer of indium tin oxide is what you need. Add an electric charge and the dust just falls right off. The electrodes could be powered by the solar cell itself. There’s a little bit of circular thinking there, I suspect.
  • TIBETAN JAM: I hate when I have to wait through 2 traffic light changes. It’s a good thing I’m not in China where some drivers are in the middle of a 100 Km long traffic jam on the Beijing-Tibet expressway. Drivers are coping with the help of roadside food stalls. Where are those flying cars when you need them?
  • DUMMY ROCKET: The Danish Heat 1X Tycho Brahe suborbital rocket heads into space on 31 August 2010, with a dummy aboard. The rocket has been built by Danish volunteers for non-profit scientific purposes. Live astronauts will have to stand up and will have very limited movement. Up, up and away.

Tech universe: Thursday 26 August 2010

  • BIRD’S EYE VIEW: Thump, and another bird hits the window. They don’t need to any more though with Ornilux. Birds can see ultraviolet, but we can’t, so the impact-resistant insulated glass uses a special patterned UV reflective coating. Birds see a web, but we see right through. That’s smart glass.
  • HORSE VEST: When falling from a horse it’s a long way to the ground. How about a bit of cushioning? Riders wear an air vest that is attached to the saddle by a cord. If they jerk the cord, perhaps by falling off, a small canister of CO2 inflates the vest in a trice. Especially handy for the water jumps.
  • WATER, WATER: Drifting in a life raft at sea? Kim Hoffman’s Sea Kettle liferaft has a built-in desalination plant. You pump seawater into a reservoir in the roof where it evaporates to condense into collectors. The raft provides enough drinking water for 5 people per day. Many a drop to drink, after all.
  • IPAD BEEF: Sumo wrestlers are big; cellphone keypads are tiny. The Sumo professional organisation is solving problems of missed messages by giving the wrestlers iPads instead. But, the iPad isn’t just an oversized iPhone, really.
  • PRISON AID: The Assault Intervention Device shoots huge laser beams. At prisoners. In the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles. It throws a laser beam up to 30 metres away where it penetrates half a millimetre into the skin. The pain makes the prisoner move away. Isn’t that rather like a cattle prod?

Tech universe: Friday 27 August 2010

  • PIXEL PARTY: Canon has a new 120 megapixel CMOS image sensor. Images are 13,000 by 9,000 pixels. The sensor can record images at 9.5 frames per second, and output full HD sized video. Both sensitive and sharing: it’s a keeper.
  • SEE THROUGH MIRROR: Sony’s new DSLR cameras use a stationary mirror. It doesn’t flip up when you press the shutter. Instead light passes through the mirror to both the image sensor and the auto focus sensor. The camera focuses and records at high speed, with no waiting for mirror movement. Twice as sensitive.
  • PRINT VIDEO: You don’t expect to see a video in a print magazine, but that’s what the August issue of Successful Farming has. The video, about the size of a cell phone screen, plays several ads. Readers choose which ads by pushing buttons on the page. They could just skip the print version and go all-digital.
  • POD WHEELS: Kiwi made iPortal connects an iPhone or iPod to a powered wheelchair via Bluetooth. The device then displays wheelchair information in real time, including speed and range, compass heading, and state of the chair’s battery. Keep that iPod rolling!
  • MIND MAPS: Violent offenders with mental health problems sometimes get day leave from their institution as part of their rehabilitation. Offenders from one institution in Britain wear live satellite tracking devices locked round the ankle while on leave. A control room monitors their movements and quickly spots unusual patterns. It’s good to know where the danger spots are.