Interesting tech for 21 to 25 February 2011

What’s new? But Will The Idea Fly?; Flying iPads; From Rip Offs To Riches; Health And Cash On A Chip; Robothon. Take Your Bike To The Beach; The Smell Of Success; Electric Grasp; HD 3D Wowee; Hardware Hash. Bird Or Not Bird?; Green For Stop; Raise Your Faces Please; Fatigue Sensor; Offline Oopsie. Smelloscope; Skin View; All In The Brain; Visible Phones; Navy Ray Gun. Drive Underwater; Spot The Lifejacket; Close To The Heart; Copy This Coin; Plastic Reversion.

Christchurch earthquake

I’d like to acknowledge that at lunchtime on Tuesday 22 February 2011 a huge 6.3 magnitude earthquake devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, some 300 Km from where I live, and my hometown. In light of that tragedy, writing brief articles about new tech seemed essentially trivial. The items came hard this week.

Tech Universe: Monday 21 February 2011

  • BUT WILL THE IDEA FLY?: Two guys in a car travelling 4,800 km across Australia isn’t much of a story, until you discover the car was powered only by a kite and a wind turbine. Lithium-ion batteries were charged by a portable wind turbine that could be erected in 30 minutes. When the winds were strong enough a kite was attached to the car for extra oomph. At least a portable wind turbine is a novel idea for powering a car.
  • FLYING IPADS: Jetstar Australia are introducing iPad rentals to replace built-in entertainment units on some flights. Each device will be loaded with movies, music, magazines, books and games. I hope the hire includes a stand to prop the device up on the tray or lap.
  • FROM RIP OFFS TO RICHES: For the last 10 years the Romanian town of Râmnicu Vâlcea has thrived, thanks to its high population of specialists in online commerce. It’s just a shame they specialise in successful international ecommerce scams and malware attacks on businesses. Well, excellence is excellence.
  • HEALTH AND CASH ON A CHIP: The multi-purpose LifeNexus Personal Health Card, from Colorado, securely stores an individual’s personal health record. The card can also be used as a prepaid, debit or credit card. The stored information can include data such as emergency contacts, allergies and medical history. Don’t let the Romanians get their hands on that card number.
  • ROBOTHON: Robots are tackling all the sports it seems. The latest is the marathon. Later this month 4 bipedal robots and 1 wheeled robot will race 422 times around a 100 metre circuit over 4 days in Osaka, Japan. New batteries and repairs are OK, but if a robot falls it must get up by itself. New batteries huh? Humans don’t get a sleep in the middle of a race.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 22 February 2011

  • TAKE YOUR BIKE TO THE BEACH: We don’t need to worry too much about snow in New Zealand, but you might like this bike hack for extra fun at the beach. The Ktrak system provides traction on snow and sand. A ski replaces the front wheel, while the back wheel gains a track moderated by idler wheels. Beach biking could be a whole new sport.
  • THE SMELL OF SUCCESS: The Otoko Kaoru shirt is a Japanese product. For those days when even deodorant or aftershave can’t cover the odour of hard work the shirt’s embedded rose-scented micro-capsules may be what you need. As the fabric rubs against the skin the capsules explode releasing a rose and menthol fragrance. And you come up smelling of roses. And mint.
  • ELECTRIC GRASP: A Toronto study showed improved function in people with paralysed muscles after electrical stimulation. The underlying idea is that the nervous system learns the movements and starts to move muscles on its own. The Functional Electronic Stimulation device can fit in a pocket and emits tiny bursts of electricity. It sounds promising. Video
  • HD 3D WOWEE: The Japanese National Institute of Information and Communications Technology has developed a whopping 5 metre HD 3D display — no special glasses required. More than one person can watch at the same time. They expect it to be used for industrial applications such as digital signs and showroom displays. Yes, it definitely wouldn’t fit in my living room.
  • HARDWARE HASH: Cheap counterfeit hardware adds danger to workplaces if the goods fail to meet standards. The Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology takes advantage of minute variations that arise during manufacturing to create a unique key for each product. They integrate a special PUF module onto a chip to recognise Physical Unclonable Functions and authenticate the hardware. It’s like a digital fingerprint. Or an MD5 hash.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 February 2011

  • BIRD OR NOT BIRD?: Is that a hummingbird on the feeder or is it a spy device? AeroVironment have developed the Nano Hummingbird aerial reconaissance vehicle for DARPA. The 19 gram Hummingbird flaps its wings to fly at up to 17 Kph. It can hover for 8 minutes, sending video images back to base. Imitating nature for spying is just downright creepy.
  • GREEN FOR STOP: Is that building cracked? It’s not always easy to tell. A new stretchable organic laser could quickly show problems with coloured light. A sheet of stretchable material is specially prepared to have a wavy surface, then a liquid mixture of organic molecules is applied. Under UV light the molecules normally emit red light, but if the material is distorted by strain the emitted light changes colour. I predict this’ll be used in clothes for night-clubbing.
  • RAISE YOUR FACES PLEASE: Computer scientists in Arizona are tackling the challenge of creating photos that blind people can see. They’ve started with social networking profile pictures which they abstract with specialised software to keep major facial landmarks. The images are sent to a tactile printer that puts raised lines along the facial features. Next they’re exploring how to generate tactile images from online mapping sites. Hmmm, roads or topography?
  • FATIGUE SENSOR: An iSense device could help athletes train better. The device from the University of Essex can predict and detect the status of muscles during training, based on tiny electrical signals they produce when contracting. Detecting muscle fatigue promptly may help prevent strain and injury. The researchers are hoping to make the device smaller, more portable and able to connect to an iPhone. And how about direct to Twitter: “I’m tired”, “Fatigue in 40 seconds and counting”.
  • OFFLINE OOPSIE: The United States Department of Homeland Security recently shut down 10 websites allegedly selling counterfeit goods or trafficking in child porn. In the process they also accidentally shut down 84,000 websites that weren’t accused of anything, many belonging to businesses. The DHS seized the domain of a large DNS service provider and also seized all its subdomains. It took several days to fully restore all the wrongly seized domains. It’s good to shut down child abuse sites, but with care, please.

Tech Universe: Thursday 24 February 2011

  • SMELLOSCOPE: The Nasal Ranger is like a small telescope that you sniff, rather than look through. It’s a teflon tube with carbon-based filters, holes of various sizes and a mask that goes over your nose. Filtered air mixes with ambient air in various proportions. The user can determine just how smelly the air is, and potentially prosecute industries failing to comply with regulations. Here, smell this: it’s horrible!
  • SKIN VIEW: German researchers are developing a handheld scanner that reports within minutes on whether your lifestyle is healthy or unhealthy. The gadget projects light onto and into the skin. The backscatter reflected off the skin shows characteristics that let the researchers see if the subject has stopped smoking and drinking, for example. Medical tricorder v0.1a.
  • ALL IN THE BRAIN: A proof of concept experiment at the Free University of Berlin had a driver control a car’s travel simply by thinking of which direction to go. The driver first wore a special cap with sensors to detect brain patterns while training software to recognise specific thoughts. On a test-drive he was able to control the car’s direction by thought alone. Keep this away from the ADD folks, please.
  • VISIBLE PHONES: The Emporia Elegant Plus cellphone has extra-large keys and large resizable text, and it speaks to you. Polyphonic ringtones, extra-strong vibration and a flashing ringer mean you’ll never miss a call. Smartphones are wonderful, but if you can’t read the tiny text, or find all the possibilities overwhelming then maybe a simple phone like this is the one for you.
  • NAVY RAY GUN: The US Navy is developing a new free electron laser gun that can burn through 6 metres of steel per second. The supercharged electron beam is powered by a prototype accelerator receiving a sustained 500 kilovolts of energy. The wavelength of the beam can be tuned for different applications. Once it’s been made small enough it may be used on a Navy destroyer. Free the electrons!

Tech Universe: Friday 25 February 2011

  • DRIVE UNDERWATER: The Raonhaje EGO may look like a low profile catamaran or raft as it floats on the surface of the water, but that’s because all the features are under water. It’s a battery powered compact semi submarine that you drive like a car. Top speed is 4 knots and it runs 6-10 hours on a single charge. Radio, depth gauge and monitoring systems are included for your comfort. Imagine hiring these out round the coast.
  • SPOT THE LIFEJACKET: Maritime search and rescue operations involve scanning large areas of ocean looking for boats, debris or people. New software has been developed to process images and detect small, highly visible objects such as lifejackets. It’s just a small speck in a very large sea.
  • CLOSE TO THE HEART: We all know the blood pressure cuff around the upper arm — it’s not necessarily terribly accurate. A new device that you wear around your wrist measures the pulse wave of the largest artery in the body. Readings are combined with a traditional blood pressure reading from a cuff. That allows the pressure close to the heart to be established — a much more accurate reading. So now it’s 2 devices instead of one? I guess more accuracy is always a good thing.
  • COPY THIS COIN: Canada wants to stop people counterfeiting their $1 and $2 coins. New coins may be made of multi-ply plated steel alloy and include high-tech security features, such as a lasermark, a virtual image, an electromagnetic signal and edge lettering. One problem is that existing machines that accept coins may have to be converted for the new versions. You mean it’s actually worth counterfeiting coins?
  • PLASTIC REVERSION: Plastic bags: we love them and hate them too. A Japanese inventor has created a machine that heats up plastic waste then traps and condenses the vapour into crude oil. And it’s small enough to fit in your kitchen. 1 Kilo of plastic produces around 1 litre of crude. The only problem here in New Zealand is what to do with a litre of crude oil.

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.