What’s new? All Work; No Play; Space Calling; Band Aid Engineering; Safety Hog; Press 1 To Smile. High Society; Phone Relay; Back To Back Pixels; Eyes On The Brain; Where There’s Smoke There’s A Dummy. Iron Fist; Internet Service Unplugger; Movies On The Move; Those Lazy Dumb Cars; Use Less Message. Don’t Worry, Be Happy; Protective Plants; Sniffer Laser; Your House Knows What You Do; Privyet, Marhaba, Hi.
Note: the column wasn’t published on 31 January as it was Auckland Anniversary Day.
Tech Universe: Tuesday, 1 February 2011
- ALL WORK; NO PLAY: Lockheed Martin’s Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory has engineers building virtual spacecraft. Motion tracking and virtual reality let teams explore and solve problems or design and refine plans before they build physical versions of craft. Using the lab saves time and money. And really, it’s not like play at all, really.
- SPACE CALLING: You have your satellites, and then you have your Android smartphones. You’d think they’d be a bit different, but British researchers aim to put an Android-powered satellite into lower-earth orbit. Strand-1 will take photos of Earth. The satellite is only 30 cm long and weighs less than 5 Kg. The standard smartphone components it uses are smaller, weigh less and cost less than those used in aerospace. It used to be aerospace that drove miniaturisation, now it’s smartphones.
- BAND AID ENGINEERING: Clearly there are advantages to being an engineer. Tal Golesworthy, an engineer in the UK had a heart problem &mdash; it was likely his aorta would rupture. Risky surgery seemed the only answer, until he designed his own solution. He used MRI scans, computer-aided design and rapid prototyping to develop a compression bandage. 2 years later the polymer mesh was inserted, probably saving his life.
- SAFETY HOG: In the UK the Saferider project is working out how to add safety systems to motorbikes. In proof of concept tests laser scanners, haptic feedback, smart helmet-cameras and radar were added to a bike. A cheek pad in the helmet warned of vehicles in the blind spot, for example. The tests showed the systems could be helpful. Sounds like all that gear would be heavy enough to slow down smaller bikes and probably make them less safe.
- PRESS 1 TO SMILE: Hmmm, should that be a colon or a semicolon in the smiley? With or without a dash? There’s plenty to think about in choosing emoticons without also figuring out how to type them. Now you can annoy all your friends by plugging an emoticon keypad into the USB port on your regular keyboard. Smileys with a single keypress, how enchanting.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 02 February 2011
- HIGH SOCIETY: At over 828 metres, the world’s tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. And more than half way up, almost half a kilometre high, is a restaurant called Atmosphere whose prices match the altitude. Remember your binoculars!
- PHONE RELAY: Flinders University’s Serval Project software allows one mobile phone to relay calls on behalf of another. Phones could bridge gaps between cell towers, for example if a tower is taken out by flood or earthquake. The system may also improve cell coverage in areas with a weak signal. Which is all well and good until it starts to drain your battery.
- BACK TO BACK PIXELS: The 80 megapixel Phase One IQ180 is a digital back for a medium-format camera. The removable module features a CCD sensor that captures 16 bits of color data per pixel, and a dynamic range of 12.5 f-stops. A high-resolution touchscreen LCD lets users zoom and pan in images. USB 3 and Firewire 800 connections handle the huge files it produces and are used in tethering. It’s a lot of pixels, but still not equivalent to a human eye.
- EYES ON THE BRAIN: Stanford University scientists can watch nerve cells and blood vessels inside the brains of living animals. They use a new endoscope — a needle only 500 to 1,000 microns in diameter at the tip and containing a carefully shaped lens. The needle can be inserted and removed as needed through a glass tube that stays embedded in the brain. Wait till Big Brother gets hold of this one.
- WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S A DUMMY: Surgeons in training practice on dummies that can sense and respond to pressure realistically. But unlike the sims, real people bleed, and when flesh is cauterised there’s smoke too. To make the simulations more realistic a team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, overlay video footage from real keyhole surgeries. Next up: work on the smells.
Tech Universe: Thursday 03 February 2011
- IRON FIST: A German built robot hand was created for robustness. Collisions with hard objects don’t do it any harm. The size and shape of a human hand, it uses 38 Dyneema tendons for motion. It has 19 degrees of freedom and can move the fingers independently, even snapping them. Actuation and spring mechanisms mean the hand can absorb kinetic energy. Ok, we already have robot football, soon it’ll be robot boxing.
- INTERNET SERVICE UNPLUGGER: There’s trouble in Egypt, so the Egyptian Government issued an order for ISPs to shut down service. All it took was for each ISP to change a configuration setting or pull a cable out and 80 million people were offline. 3,500 routes were shut down in minutes, although one ISP remained online. Now the people are using ham radio, dial-up to an overseas ISP and phonecalls to communicate with the outside world. Communication is like water: it will always find a way.
- MOVIES ON THE MOVE: Over in South Korea they’re testing out LTE-Advanced — a superfast mobile network that can download a 700MB movie in 9.3 seconds. That about 40 times faster than 3G. How many commutes will it take to watch that one movie though?
- THOSE LAZY DUMB CARS: Why do drivers have to do all the work? Surely cars and other vehicles should be smart these days, and able to warn the driver or even take action themselves when hazards appear. Ford want to make use of WiFi and GPS — features already available in smartphones — to have cars ‘talk’ to each other. Sudden braking or moving into a blind spot could be triggers for a driver alert. “Watch out: I think my driver’s a bit tipsy!” “Tell me about it. Mine had an argument before leaving home.”
- USE LESS MESSAGE: Scientists at the University of Cambridge did a few sums. They calculated that 73% of global energy use could be saved by changes in how we insulate buildings, reducing water temperatures for things like washing machines, and other efficiency measures. It’s simple economics: make the most of what you’ve got.
Tech Universe: Friday 04 February 2011
- DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY: If you’re going to blow yourself up deliberately then I guess you want to choose the time and place. A Russian suicide bomber blew herself up in a safe house on New Year’s Eve instead of near Red Square. Why? Her wireless carrier sent her a ‘Happy New Year’ text message. I’m sure The New Year was a lot happier for revellers in Red Square than it would otherwise have been.
- PROTECTIVE PLANTS: You may blanch in the face of danger, but some genetically modified plants could turn white almost instantly when exposed to explosives or pollutants. A biology professor from Colorado State University says the plants she and her team have developed could be used within the next few years at places where people gather. Say goodbye to any white flowers you currently use for decoration — they’ll be too worrying.
- SNIFFER LASER: Princeton University engineers can create a laser beam out of thin air. An ultraviolet laser pulse focuses on a tiny patch of air exciting oxygen atoms. When the pulse ends electrons fall and create a coherent laser beam aimed right back at the original laser. Analysis of the return beam could indicate even trace amounts of pollutants in the air, such as explosives or hazardous gases. I can imagine detectors for bad breath, booze breath and garlic breath.
- YOUR HOUSE KNOWS WHAT YOU DO: InterHome is a house developed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire. Unlike other houses, this one learns from and adapts to its inhabitants. Embedded devices and home automation controllers turn lights on or off for example, according to your usual behaviour patterns, or send a text message reminder that you didn’t lock the door. Log in over the web to change settings. All data that would very much interest advertisers too, I’m sure.
- PRIVYET, MARHABA, HI: According to the UN’s telecommunications agency there are 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and 2 billion Internet users. The world’s total population exceeds 6.8 billion. The most rapid online growth in recent years has come from former Soviet states and Arab nations. I have a feeling we’re not speaking English any more.
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.