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 22 November 2010
- JUNGLE ATV: Steve Saint’s flying car is road legal. It looks like a regular car, but with a propeller on the back. Add the removable 7 metre mast and unfold the 51 square metre cloth wing to fly through the air. With pontoons it could land on water. It’s designed to access jungle villages and other remote areas beyond roads. Ah, an all-terrain vehicle. Video:
- SET THE TIMER FOR 10: Scientists at Kyushu University in Japan are measuring heart rate and other vital signs in test subjects, but no tricky electrodes are involved. Instead they’re exposing the patients to microwaves. The waves that reflect back indicate motion such as breathing. That’s one I study won’t volunteer for.
- OCTOSNAKE: Israeli researchers are developing a second generation robot snake with military applications and increased Degrees Of Freedom. The snake combines 8 individual units, some of which can be left behind with sensors or explosives. The robot includes a thermal imager, miniature cameras or low-light TV sensors, and possibly laser scanners. 8 bits; beware the snake byte. Video of the 1st gen snake:
- LESS SMOKING: In developing countries many people cook their food on fire-powered stoves that also produce dangerous fumes. A US student is experimenting with converting the waste heat into sound waves, and then transforming that acoustic energy into electricity. The electricity can power a fan to make the stove more efficient, reducing smoke and dangerous fumes, and also charge a battery. No fire without smoke.
- KNITTING BUILDINGS: It’d be great if cracked buildings could be knitted together, rather than just bulldozed. BacillaFilla bacteria are genetically modified microbes. They enter cracks in concrete and start germinating on contact. Once they form clumps they differentiate into 3 types of cells that produce calcium carbonate crystals, create filaments and produce a kind of glue. Crystals, filaments and glue ‘knit’ the cracks back together. I’m sure they could use that in Christchurch.
Tech universe: Tuesday 23 November 2010
- SUPERSIZED DISH: The US Skyterra-1 satellite, launched last week, carries the biggest ever commercial antenna reflector. The 22 metre diameter mesh structure will relay signals for a 4G Long Term Evolution mobile phone and data system for North America. The satellite weighs 5.4 tonnes and is expected to operate for 15 years. That’s another one for the tally.
- NOISE CANCELLING SONAR: Sonar sends out pulses of sound and analyses how the sound is echoed back. It can identify underwater features such as reefs, wrecks, and fish shoals. Clouds of bubbles created by breaking waves and other disturbances clutter and confuse the image though. Twin Inverted Pulse Sonar sends an initial pulse, followed a fraction of a second later by an inverted replica. The paired pulses enhance target images while suppressing clutter, effectively seeing through the cloud of bubbles. Sometimes opposite views make things clearer.
- GO TO THE LIGHT: You’d expect to find solar cells on a roof, not in the human body. New microscopic solar cells, coated with a drug, absorb certain colours of light, such as red, and convert it into electrical energy, then a positive or negative charge. When a flesh-penetrating light shines on the charged cells, they release their drug to work where it’s most needed. Such light-activated therapy could target harmful cancer cells exclusively, rather than a whole body as current treatments do. Remember not to chew the capsules.
- FABRIC SHOCK: Deflexion is a great name for a fabric that’s soft and flexible under normal conditions but absorbs and disperses the shock of an impact. It’s made from polymerised silicon sheets with a special molecular structure. The molecules normally move freely, but an impact makes them bunch up and turn solid. That absorbs and disperses the impact, then the material reverts to its flexible state. Just don’t use it for boxing gloves.
- TOUCHDOWN: Normally you have to touch a touchscreen with skin to make it work — a stylus is no good. Hitachi’s new capacitive touchscreen responds to both touch and a stylus. You can even use it while wearing gloves. The screen converts input from insulating objects, such as a stylus, to capacitance — as with a finger. Good news for those with artificial limbs.
Tech universe: Wednesday 24 November 2010
- SCORE: The New Jersey Institute of Technology has been getting people who’ve had a stroke to play video or music games with the aid of a robotic glove. The glove helps users control their hand and finger movements, so they can focus on specific actions. Immediate feedback comes through the video game. Tests showed players could move better with the training. Scans also showed their brains to be more active in areas affected by the stroke. That’s encouraging news for all who’ve had a stroke.
- SPINAL BOOK: Those who are paralysed can’t easily exercise their limbs. British researchers though are working with a tiny new microchip muscle stimulator implant. The device is implanted into the spinal canal where tiny electrodes of platinum foil weld to the nerve roots. A silicon chip in the device controls its activity. It’s known as the Active Book, because of the shape of the electrodes, which resemble pages of a book. A tiny device with huge benefits.
- THE UNIVERSE IN OUR HEADS: Billions of neurons, trillions of synapses: that’s what our brains are made of. Just try pinning down the spot that reacts to or controls an individual sensation or movement. Each synapse is less than 1,000th of a millimeter in diameter. Array tomography is a new technique for imaging individual synapses, using antibodies and molecules that respond to light by glowing in different colors.The technique worked well on mouse brains, with photos stitched together into a 3D movie. Inner space and outer — they have a lot in common.
- HEAVY METAL: It’s kind of a secret, but recently the US Delta-4 Heavy rocket launched a new NROL-32 satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite will apparently eavesdrop on enemy communications. The Delta-4 is the largest uncrewed American launch vehicle. Each of 3 core boosters burns a tonne of propellant every second and produces 2,900 kiloNewtons of thrust at lift-off. The world is truly now a village with no secrets. Launch
- RING AROUND THE MOONBASE: Contestants in SHIFTboston’s Moon Capital 2010 competition put forward their architecture and engineering ideas for a moonbase in 2069. The winning entry would put a moonbase in a ring around a massive satellite dish that collects energy from the sun and beams it back to Earth. The idea includes creating artificial gravity for the colony. Ah yes, artificial gravity: no problem. The winning entry
Tech universe: Thursday 25 November 2010
- DOWN THE WIRE: It’s a bit chilly down in Antarctica, which makes it hard to measure things like sea ice. NIWA have sent down an ice tethered profiler device to take measurements. A surface capsule on floating ice supports a weighted plastic-jacketed wire rope that hangs in the ocean. A sensor moves up and down the rope measuring water temperature and salinity, then transmits data back through the wire to a satellite connection. Sensible scientists stay snug.
- BEASTLY BIKE: Everything’s a hybrid these days — or so it seems. The Beast hybrid bicycle is a hulking 33Kg. It’s a good thing there’s a 22 cell Tenergy Polimer Li-Ion battery to help with pedalling. The battery charges to 80% in 15 minutes. Rated maximum speed: 77 km/h at 120 pedal cadence! Take that, drivers! The M55.
- ON THE GRID: Houston, USA, is installing a privately funded system for charging electric vehicles. The evGo system aims to put everyone within 8Km of a charging station. A flat fee per month gives a subscriber unlimited access. Charging stations will be located in shopping centres, supermarkets, business districts and some apartment complexes. A charge could take 30 minutes. Go anywhere; just don’t leave town.
- CUTTING EDGE: Making the first real surgical cut of your career must be a scary moment. Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital creates artificial body parts for training. They look real, bleed, and behave just like actual flesh. Layers of silicone coloured like skin and muscle include realistic blood vessels connected to an artificial blood source. Next step: construct whole artificial animals.
- OLD BLOOD: Researchers in the Netherlands have found a way to estimate a person’s age from a drop of their blood — at a crime scene, for example. T-cells, part of our immune system, change as we age. The new test uses that information to reckon age to within a 20-year window. It’s a start.
Tech universe: Friday 26 November 2010
- LESS IS MORE: The VW Mini-Gol car has had a short run: only 2 vehicles have been built so far to be show cars at auto events. About 1/3 the size of other cars, it has a 5.5hp engine, reaches a top speed of 27km/h and is 2.25 meters long. Other parts, such as seats are scaled down. Why such a small car? It’s a concept for people who are five-feet and under. This looks even less visible than a bike.
- DUMBPHONE: Android and iPhone: who needs all those smarts? John’s Phone is an unlocked cell phone with large keys, an address book, a pen and more than 3 weeks standby time. It lets you make and receive calls anywhere in the world. And that’s about it: no frills, no fancy apps. Get back to the simple life.
- 44YEQJ: The Wiseguy Tickets company always got the best seats for concerts and events. They did it by building a botnet that solved captchas and by flooding vendor sites at the exact moment tickets went on sale. That meant they could grab the best tickets more quickly than human buyers. Now 3 of the 4 partners are doing time for fraud. More proof that captchas do more harm than good.
- UAE COAST: Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is a Ferrari themed fun park. The 2 Km Formula Rossa roller coaster accelerates to 240km/h in 4.9 seconds — that’s a maximum force of 1.7 Gs. Cars resemble an F1 cockpit. It’s claimed as the world’s fastest roller coaster. Speed thrills. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaMjuQ4jm30>
- EYES RIGHT: We suspected it, but now there’s proof. Fast paced action based video games like Halo and Call of Duty teach us to improve our focus. They train us to be flexible and precise in controlling our attention to what’s important, while still being aware of our environment. Games like these could be used for military training, education and clinical rehabilitation. Hmmm, Stroke Recovery: Black Ops.