Interesting tech for 01 to 05 November 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.

While I find all the items interesting, some are just cooler than others. I’ve marked out those items.

Tech universe: Monday 01 November 2010

  • WEARABLE CRANE: A ruggedised version of Lockheed Martin’s HULC Robotic Exoskeleton is more weather-proof, better fitting and easier to adjust and control. Designed for soldiers, it lets its wearer lift and carry loads of 90Kg, do sustained runs at 11Kph, crawl, and swap out modules for different purposes. Rechargeable batteries keep it working. And it folds away into a backpack. Explorers take note. Video:
  • SANDWICH COMPUTING: Gadgets could soon be faster and cheaper if manufacturers move away from silicon and transistors to MIM diodes. Metal-insulator-metal diodes sandwich an insulator between layers of inexpensive metal. Electrons tunnel through the insulator at high speed. Costs go down because the materials are cheaper, while speed goes up. Faster and cheaper: the modern catch cry.
  • SKINJET PRINTER: Researchers are testing a printer that lays down skin cells to cover wounds. Two print heads express skin cells, fibrinogen, collagen and thrombin. Those components mix to create a crucial blood-clotting protein, then skin cells are printed on top. It’s the feed tray that worries me.
  • SOLE CHARGE: The Lekker Mobil is an electric Audi A2. It recently drove the 600Km from Munich to Berlin on a single charge and in 7 hours. That’s around 10 times as far on one charge as other electric cars manage. 600Km is around the distance from Wellington to Auckland. That distance really starts to make electric vehicles interesting.
  • COLD HEAT: The solar fridge uses heat from the sun to cool food. A sealed inner cylinder containing food sits inside another cylinder that has holes in the side. The sun heats wet packing material between the two cylinders. Evaporation draws heat from the inner cylinder, cooling the food. Using no external power, this fridge is being used in hot countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Heat it up to cool it down. Nice.

Tech universe: Tuesday 02 November 2010

  • SUMMIT CALL: Heading off to climb Everest? Don’t forget your smartphone. Nepalese telecoms firm Ncell has installed 8 3G base stations along the route to Everest base camp. Phone coverage is believed to extend to the summit. Hillary: first person to climb to the summit. Which will be the first phone at the top?
  • A BANKABLE FACE: The Mobile Biometrics project from the University of Manchester tracks 22 facial features in real time with the camera on a mobile phone. Eventually you may be able to log in to Internet sites such as your bank via facial recognition. The software was demonstrated on a Nokia N900. I hope there’s a backup login method for ‘bad face’ days.
  • GRAVITY SUIT: The Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit is intended to simulate the effects of gravity on the human body. While those of us who are earthbound may not see that as a good thing, for astronauts it’s crucial. Each suit is purposely too short for the astronaut who wears it, and so it compresses their body as gravity would, with a special focus on the legs. A simple but effective idea.
  • THREATCAM: A UK firm has created software to detect threats from sounds captured alongside security cameras. The software analyses the pitch, tone and intonation of noises then matches sounds to hundreds of audio fingerprints. A call for help, or aggressive sounds trigger an alert for security guards. Don’t anyone watch TV near a security camera.
  • MORE BLOOD, MORE GUTS: The trouble with training for military medics is that it’s just not gory enough. In real life situations new medics may be too shocked to be effective. A new training course uses hyper-realistic special effects and movie-style make up to provide a believably real experience. The blood, the guts, the medics.

Tech universe: Wednesday 03 November 2010

  • TERAPIXEL PREVIEWS: Software from the University of Utah can create a preview image in seconds from huge gigapixel images. Without the specialised ViSUS software such previews could take hours to generate. ViSUS samples the image — like taking an opinion poll. One test created a usable preview in 2 seconds while traditional methods took 4 hours. Now they developers are aiming for terapixel images. Giga, tera, peta: we need a whole new maths vocabulary.
  • MORE FLOPS: China’s Tianhe-1A supercomputer can handle 2,507 trillion calculations per second — that’s 2.507 petaflops to you. That makes it the fastest supercomputer in the world. So fast you could use this with the ViSUS software to view images before they’ve even been captured.
  • I’M FINE, HOW ARE YOU?: India’s Nishant aircraft is an uncrewed aerial vehicle that monitors its own structural health while flying. If problems are detected then corrections can be made without grounding the vehicle. Heh, repairs ‘on the fly’.
  • ELASTIC BATTERIES: Sunlight adds energy to a molecule called fulvalene diruthenium — like stretching a rubber band. Add a catalyst and the molecule releases its energy on demand. This could make possible rechargeable batteries that heat buildings. The technique is reversible and stable, making it ideal, except for the extreme cost. Scientists hope to find other cheaper molecules that behave in the same way. Ruthless cost-cutting.
  • TEST CUP: We’re encouraged to do regular checks for suspicious lumps in our breasts, and have regular mammograms too. A new bowl-shaped portable scanner from the University of Manchester could make lump detection simpler and quicker. A sensor detects the difference in tissue contrasts at radio frequencies. It uses oil, milk or water in the bowl rather than a special gel as a matching substance. Presumably different form factors could let the scanner be used for other parts of the body too.

Tech universe: Thursday 04 November 2010

  • PRINT YOUR CAR: The Urbee is a 2-seater ecocar whose body parts were made entirely by a 3D printer. Material was printed layer on layer using Dimension 3D Printers and Fortus 3D Production Systems until the entire car was finished. How do you do repairs to the body work? The Urbee:
  • TXTSPK FOR MOVIES: BriefCam is an Israeli company whose Video Synopsis software ‘summarises’ security camera footage. It takes the long boring parts where nothing happens out of video that spans a long period of time. 5 hours of video could be condensed into 5 minutes, making it easier for staff to monitor activity. We’ve all seen movies that could use this! When’s the commercial release?
  • LIGHT BOARD: The Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 takes its power from ambient light. It uses integrated photovoltaic cells and can apparently operate for up to 3 months in total darkness. An included app provides a lux meter to measure ambient light, info about battery levels, and alerts you when you need more power. If only all gadgets included photovoltaic cells. Video:
  • TOUCHING GLOVES: Using your smartphone on frosty winter mornings is a pain in the fingers — you can’t work the screen with gloves on. Or can you? Agloves contain silver-coated nylon fibres, making them conductive, so they work on a touchscreen. Better hope the phone doesn’t freeze though.
  • BODYNET: Finding wireless access points is always a nuisance. But what say each of us were an access point? Queen’s University in Belfast says that if we were to wear sensors that create ultra high bandwidth mobile internet infrastructures we could reduce the need for mobile phone base stations. We would be the network. One for all and all for one.

Tech universe: Friday 05 November 2010

  • TRIBRID CARS: EcoMotors aim to increase combustion engine efficiency by up to 50%. They use modules with opposing pistons and opposing cylinders (OPOC) that create power on every stroke rather than on alternate strokes. Engine modules can be stacked, could run on petrol, diesel or hydrogen and could be paired with electric motors too. The best of all worlds.
  • TWO-HANDED TABLET: The Pocket eDGE dual touchscreen tablet from Entourage has 2 screens hinged together. One screen is a monochrome E-ink panel, while the other is a colour resistive touchscreen. It’s an e-reader, tablet, notepad, audio and video recorder and player. Jack of all trades… Videos:
  • SNIFF TYPIST: Israeli scientists used a sniff-enabled device to allow quadriplegics to control wheelchairs and completely paralysed people to type letters on a keyboard. The device is a thin plastic tube with two short prongs that are inserted into the nostrils. The wearer quickly learns to control their nasal pressure enough to trigger a command to a computer. Hayfever could be a huge hindrance.
  • SLIDING SOUND: UK researchers have a new sound sensor system to predict landslides. As ground becomes unstable the soil moves beneath the surface and creates sound. A network of buried sensors record acoustic activity and send the data to a computer that can alert authorities by SMS of imminent collapse. Sounds useful.
  • PHONE CHECK: A pilot project at a Stockholm hotel lets guests book, check in and out, and open the door to their room using their smart phone. The phones use Near Field Communication technology, short-range wireless communication for exchanging data between devices up to 10 centimetres apart. Guard that phone like your wallet.