What’s new?Winging The Deep; Blink To Click; Not Quite A Cup Of Tea; Stealth Drone Fighter; Efficiency Wave. Back To The 80s; Happy 20th, Linux; Silver Lining; Go North; Arm Helper. First In Space; Intergalactic Airport?; High Aspirations; Zebra Spotting; All Weather T-Shirt. Bendy Boat; Welcome To Africa; Tubular Wheels; Blue Food; Shoe Power.
Tech Universe: Monday 11 April 2011
- WINGING THE DEEP: Richard Branson’s company Virgin took to the air and space. Now the deep deep seas are their goal, with Virgin Oceanic. They’ve created a submarine that can withstand pressures of over 1,000 atmospheres and the extreme cold that feature at depths of up to around 9Km. They’ll survey the deepest trenches in each of the five oceans. The one-person carbon fibre sub uses a winged design, can operate for 24hrs unaided and can cruise at a max of 3 knots. Spectacular.
- BLINK TO CLICK: The PCEye is a stand-alone eye control device for Windows PCs from Swedish firm Tobii. The device attaches to the monitor and can be calibrated for multiple users. A camera tracks eye movement then algorithms in the built-in processor translate that to control onscreen actions such as moving a cursor. Every advance like this is a good one.
- NOT QUITE A CUP OF TEA: Researchers at the UK’s University of Southampton are trying to help people rehabilitate after a stroke. They’ve developed 3 tactile devices that generate a realistic sense of touch and sensation. A vibration device gave a good sense of touch, a motor-driven squeezer device made people feel like they were holding something, and a shape memory alloy device with thermal properties made people feel like they were holding a cup of tea. They aim to use these to help people move beyond simple repetitive arm and hand exercises. That beats spilling hot tea all over yourself.
- STEALTH DRONE FIGHTER: The latest robot to join the US Marine Corps is the X-47B — a cross between a drone and a stealth fighter. It takes off and lands by itself, even on the moving deck of an aircraft carrier. It can also find targets by itself, but fortunately requires an OK from a human before destroying a target. Or so they say.
- EFFICIENCY WAVE: Michigan State University have created a prototype of a new gasoline engine — the Wave Disk Generator. It doesn’t need a transmission, crankshaft, pistons, valves, fuel compression, cooling systems or fluids. Instead a rotor with wave-like channels traps and mixes oxygen and fuel. As the rotor spins pressure builds creating a shock wave that ignites the fuel. 60% of the fuel contributes to propulsion — that’s 3 or 4 times as much as a standard car engine. I’d be happy to go 3 times as far on a tank of petrol. Video:
There was no column on Tuesday 12 April 2011.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 13 April 2011
- BACK TO THE 80S: Were you a fan of the Commodore 64? Well, it’s back after a couple of decades. The new model looks like the old one, but inside are a 1.8 gigahertz dual-core processor, ethernet and HDMI ports and an optional Blu-ray player. It runs Linux, but a Windows option is available. There’s one for the nostalgics.
- HAPPY 20TH, LINUX: 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the Linux operating system. What started as a hobby for one person, Linus Torvalds, now powers much of the Internet, and devices and gadgets of all kinds. Buy your penguin suit now. Video:
- SILVER LINING: Silver has anti-bacterial qualities, but in high enough concentrations can kill you. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that they can rubber stamp skin with a layer of silver nanoparticles that’s only a few molecules thick. Tested on cadavers and mice against common skin bacteria the coating was successful in killing 99.999% of the bacteria after 12 hours. Sounds ideal for sticking plasters.
- GO NORTH: Before your mouth and lips actually speak any words, certain parts of your brain are active. Scientists from Washington University have been able to temporarily implant interfaces into those parts of the brain so people could control a cursor on a computer screen by speaking (silently or aloud). Control was up to 90% accurate. This offers hope for those who’ve lost their speech through brain injury. Say Yes!
- ARM HELPER: The Myomo mPower 1000 neuro-robotic arm brace fits like a sleeve around the arm. A sensor detects even very faint muscle signals when the wearer intends to move their arm, then uses a motor to assist them to move. It’s intended to help retrain people who’ve had a stroke or who’ve been affected by multiple sclerosis or similar conditions. This should be able to apply to legs too, surely. Video:
Tech Universe: Thursday 14 April 2011
- FIRST IN SPACE: 50 years ago, on 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin made the first human flight into space, launching aboard the Vostok 3KA-3. From launch to landing, he flew for 108 minutes. He orbited 327 Km above the earth at a speed of 27,400 Kph. He said:
Orbiting the Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!Words to live by.
- INTERGALACTIC AIRPORT?: There’s a new San Francisco International Airport terminal. And one of the first planes to arrive there was Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. They say commercial flights on the spacecraft will begin within a year or two. And to think this is the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit.
- HIGH ASPIRATIONS: Jeddah is a city on the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom Holding Company plans to build a new city some 20 Km north of Jeddah which will accommodate 80,000 people. At its centre will be a tower twice as high as the world’s current tallest man-made structure, the Burj Khalifa. The Kingdom Tower will be 1.6 Km tall, and include offices, housing and power generation, as well as retail, conference and hotel facilities. Well, it’s ambitious. Video:
- ZEBRA SPOTTING: You know, zebras look a bit like walking barcodes, even if it is a bit hard to tell them apart. Using that similarity, a team of US researchers has come up with StripeSpotter. The software analyses a still photo of the side of a zebra. The image is ‘sliced’ horizontally and each pixel is encoded as either black or white. Each string of pixels then forms a StripeCode, rather like a barcode. This can be used to distinguish individuals. Although very cool, it’s a shame it relies on photos: they need to find a way to use the system in real time while observing.
- ALL WEATHER T-SHIRT: A team of researchers from Northeast Normal University in China coated cotton textiles with zinc oxide nanorods and crystallites. The material repelled water and also had a huge UV rating of 101.51. They hope to create multifunctional fabrics. The new fabrics should be a boon to sportspeople.
Tech Universe: Friday 15 April 2011
- BENDY BOAT: Protei is a sailing robot. The idea behind it is that it autonomously sails upwind dragging an absorbent oil-collecting material behind it. It’s open-source, cheap and easy to manufacture using existing technologies. The designers envision it being used to help clean up heavy metals and toxic substances in waterways, the Pacific plastic garbage patch and oil spills anywhere on water. To sail upwind it uses an articulated design based on how fish swim. Sailing into the wind is a very clever trick. Video:
- WELCOME TO AFRICA: Africa should be getting more Internet bandwidth any day now. The 14,000 Km 5,120 gigabit West Africa Cable System is a fibre optic line that will connect directly to servers in Europe. Landfall should be within a few days. The cable connects 15 points along Africa’s west coast with London and adds 23% extra capacity. More cables is something Kiwis understand.
- TUBULAR WHEELS: The Michelin Square Bike Tube is out to save cyclists from flat tires. The tube is square before inflation and has an uneven design that tends to compress and close up punctures rather than forcing them open as traditional tubes do. Not quite squaring the wheel.
- BLUE FOOD: If researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies have their way the packaging on your food will turn blue if the food’s gone off. They’ve developed a new sensor film that reacts to biogenic amines — the molecules produced when food decays. The film releases a blue dye as it detects amines, gradually changing colour from yellow. No need to check dates any more: the package will shows what’s off and what’s not.
- SHOE POWER: Imagine creating electricity while walking, thanks to a generator in your shoe. At the University of Auckland bioengineers have created a prototype low-cost rubber power generator that could produce up to a Watt of power if embedded in a shoe. It uses flexible dielectric elastomer switches to reduce weight. They provide stretchable circuit elements. The generator itself consists of low-cost acrylic membranes and carbon grease mounted in a frame. I guess they’re a kind of pump.
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.