Interesting tech for 17 to 21 January 2011

What’s new? Phreaking Lights; Sugar Alert; Yes, I’m Really Me; 1.2 Terabyte Photo; Modulated Frequencies. Jet Surfing; Bendy Glass; You Hear The Drill; ¿Habla Android?; Come Maps Or High Water. Electric Eyes; Bookmark This Phone; Bo Peeps; Lightnet; It’s A Long Way To Huangdao. Sauce For The Gander; Groovy Mouse; Camo Tanks; Smokeseen; Chips For Blood. Send Up The Drone; Home Home In The Dome; Charge Your Glasses; Rear Window; Smelly Movies.

Tech Universe: Monday 17 January 2011

  • PHREAKING LIGHTS: Johannesburg, South Africa, has 600 intersections whose traffic lights use mobile phone sim cards cards. Or, they used to, before thieves stole the cards from 400 of the traffic lights. The sim card, modem and GPS systems were intended to alert authorities to faulty lights. Before the cards were blocked the thieves used them to rack up huge phone bills. That’s a different kind of trafficking.
  • SUGAR ALERT: Tears can be a good indicator of glucose levels. Researchers are developing a contact lens with tiny electrodes to measure blood sugar levels for diabetics. The data is sent wirelessly to a nearby receiver. Another contact lens can already monitor eye pressure, warning of glaucoma. Hah! Even Star Trek didn’t have that technology.
  • YES, I’M REALLY ME: The US National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace is an idea for enhancing online security and privacy. Individuals could opt in to create a trusted digital identity, perhaps with a smart card or digital certificate. The digital ID would allow people to prove their identity online, and save them from having to memorise dozens of unique passwords. But will they have to memorise the Certificate number instead?
  • 1.2 TERABYTE PHOTO: Space is big, eh. After an 11 year survey astronomers have compiled the biggest ever picture of night sky. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey mosaic is a high-resolution, zoomable database. The massive 1.2 trillion pixel photo is made from millions of telescope images. It would take 500,000 high-def TVs to see the whole image at full resolution. Some artist somewhere is going to turn that into a challenge!
  • MODULATED FREQUENCIES: How do you hide a submarine? Perhaps with a metamaterial cloak. If the surface of a disk made of a metamaterial has 16 concentric rings, each ring with a different index of refraction, objects behind the disk become ‘invisible’ to sonar. The speed of sound waves changes between the rings, so ultrasound or sonar can’t detect the object. There’ll be vessels decloaking off the port bow before we know it.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 18 January 2011

  • JET SURFING: Where a jet boat pumps water to fly across the surface of a lake the Canadian JetLev jetpack pumps water to fly through the air. The jetpack, strapped on a person’s back, sports a long ‘tail’ — a hose that sucks up water from a river or lake. The water’s pumped out through downward jets to provide lift. A float behind the flier provides the propulsion engine, fuel and related systems. There’d be an unpleasant shock if seaweed or driftwood gets sucked in.
  • BENDY GLASS: Glass: transparent and fragile, we know it well. A new glass is lighter than steel and tough enough for construction. Unfortunately it’s hard and expensive to make so don’t expect to see used for anything much just yet. The new glass is a microalloy made of palladium. Under stress shear bands form, allowing the glass to bend rather than break. I wonder what this means for the Klein bottle?
  • YOU HEAR THE DRILL: Who’s immune to the sound of a dentist’s drill? A new device adds drill noise-cancelling to your MP3 player. The gadget analyses the sound wave from the drill and inverts it. Even if the amplitude and frequency change while the drill’s being used the device can still track the changes and adapt the inverted wave to cancel the sound. Can’t they just find a way to silence the drill?
  • ¿HABLA ANDROID?: Conversation Mode on Android phones may let you talk to the natives without shouting and waving your arms. It listens to you speaking in your language and then speaks a translation in a selected language. At the moment it handles English and Spanish. Do. You. Speak. English?
  • COME MAPS OR HIGH WATER: No more worries when Google Maps direct you to drive through a river to your destination. The Terra Wind amphibious motor home & yacht is both a road vehicle and a boat. It maxes out at 130 Kph on land and 7 knots in water. Find a nice river to look at and drive right into it.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 19 January 2011

  • ELECTRIC EYES: Electromagnet pulses make a drop of ferrofluid vibrate. So what? Carefully tuned pulses can make the droplet act like a lens with a changing focal length. Record the light passing through the lens and you have a camera. How about a tiny and very light zoom lens for your smartphone? Researchers also think these droplets could eventually serve as replacement eye lenses. That’d be freaky: zoom in for a closer view by pressing a button on the side of your head.
  • BOOKMARK THIS PHONE: The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is the the thinnest smartphone in the world. It’s 8.7 mm at its thinnest part, has a 10.6 cm Mobile Bravia multi-touch screen and weighs 117 grams. This is an Android phone that includes an 8.1 megapixel camera and records HD videos. Misplaced your Xperia Arc? Maybe you used it as a bookmark.
  • BO PEEPS: Lost the kids while skiing? Flaik Ski School GPS trackers keep tabs on kids during ski lessons. A monitor can alert an instructor that they’ve ‘lost’ a member of the group and pinpoint the child’s location. Apres ski the kids can view their tracks and stats such as run times on a website. Other Flaik options are designed for groups, events and individuals. That’ll soon show who’s sneaked off for a smoke behind the ski racks.
  • LIGHTNET: Look out: the lights in the ceiling could be handling your Internet connection. LVX System in Minnesota, USA, set up a system of LED lights that flicker to send binary data to modem receivers in nearby computers. The modems pulse their lights in response, then ceiling receivers send the data on its way. Current speeds are about 3 megabits per second. The flickering is too fast for the human eye to see. Better leave a note for the cleaners not to turn the lightswitch off.
  • IT’S A LONG WAY TO HUANGDAO: The new Qingdao Haiwan Bridge stretches across Jiaozhou Bay. The 6-lane road bridge took 4 years to build and should carry more than 30,000 vehicles each day. At 42.4 Km long the bridge will shave 20 to 30 minutes off the usual driving time between Qingdao and Huangdao. It’s now the world’s longest road bridge.

Tech Universe: Thursday 20 January 2011

  • SAUCE FOR THE GANDER: Usually it’s the record labels crying foul over copyright breach, but now it’s their turn to be roasted. Several major Canadian record labels will pay out songwriters and publishers to settle alleged copyright infringement. Artists claim the companies used their material commercially with only a promise to eventually pay royalties. Hmmm, I’m sure fans wouldn’t mind a listen now pay later scheme.
  • GROOVY MOUSE: While most computer mice are roughly the same size and shape the EKtouch Ergoslider Plus+ is a whole different concept. It’s a long, flat ‘wrist rest’ that sits in front of the keyboard. Roll a roller in a groove to move the cursor vertically, or slide the roller right and left for horizontal cursor movement. Press the roller down for a click. Buttons in the centre of the ‘wrist rest’ allow for special functions. This isn’t one to slip in your carry-on bag as an alternative to the laptop trackpad.
  • CAMO TANKS: The military are always keen on hiding — they like to see but not be seen. The latest idea is to hide tanks with cleverly placed e-ink. It’s camouflage, but better. Electronic sensors analyse the tank’s surroundings then display images of the surrounds on the tank itself. As the environment changes, so does the display. A nice variation on smoke and mirrors.
  • SMOKESEEN: The smoke from a wildfire makes it very hard to see where there’s actual burning — even infrared cameras may be blinded. A new German radiometric sensor can see through even thick smoke and foliage as it works in the microwave range between 8 and 40 GHz. At those frequencies smoke and dust don’t scatter the signal so much. A fresh pair of eyes can often see so much more.
  • CHIPS FOR BLOOD: Usually blood tests involve vials of blood, drawn at a clinic, being sent away to a lab for professional analysis that takes a couple of days. A University of Rhode Island invention puts a single drop of blood on a credit-card sized cartridge. The cartridge is loaded into a miniature spectrometer the size of a shoebox where it reacts with specific reagents. Results take 30 minutes, and the test costs $1.50. Different tests use different sets of reagents. Do your own blood tests at home.

Tech Universe: Friday 21 January 2011

  • SEND UP THE DRONE: The Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida, USA, has a new drone they want to use during SWAT and search and rescue operations so they can see what’s going on from above. The Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk can fly as high as 3,000 metres for up to 40 minutes at a time. Fair enough. It’s much smaller and less intrusive than a helicopter. The Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk:
  • HOME HOME IN THE DOME: Upgrading older wastewater treatment plants to meet newer standards can be very costly. One shortcut may be to install Poo-Gloo biodomes. Each 2 metre by 1 metre device nests 7 domes inside it. Each dome is lined with biofilm to host bacteria that process carbon-based, ammonia and nitrogen compounds. The devices save energy and boost sewage treatment. Poo-Gloo sounds so much better than effluent disposal unit.
  • CHARGE YOUR GLASSES: emPower! bifocals include an LCD overlay whose focal length is changed by an electric current. When you touch the frame the LCD layer turns on, the lower part of the lens alters its index of refraction, and close objects are magnified. Charge up the battery every 30 hours or so with an inductive charger. And hope you don’t need to actually see anything while the specs are charging.
  • REAR WINDOW: The Hindsight 30 Digital is a different kind of bike mirror. Attach a small micro-camera lens with integrated LED tail-light to the seat post of a bike. Mount the 3.5″ Transflective LCD screen on the handlebars and start watching what’s behind you. A Lithium-ion battery provides hours of power. It looks as though it’s a live stream and doesn’t mention recording. Imagine having a video record of all the drivers who came way too close on a ride. All it would need then is a name and shame website.
  • SMELLY MOVIES: Ahhh, that remembered smell from childhood or a holiday in Venice! It’s often smells that really bring back memories. Now you can add smell to your home movies with ScentScape. The device plugs into your Windows PC and includes cartridges of scents such as birthday cake, flowers, fresh mowed grass, or ocean. An Editor allows you to match scents to moments in a video. Do you need good taste to use this well?

Notes: 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. Above 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.