Tech Universe Digest for 18 to 22 April 2011

What’s new? Drive Safe; Traffic Predictor; Gas Cages; Tablet Eyes; Flipped Out. Brew Your Own; Cop Show; Mind Games; Mind Call; Power Tower. Print Your Face; Near Space Craft; It Came From Space; Foam Filters; Spin Doctors. Finnish Fly; The Back 40; Magnetic Sunbeams; Stay At Home Workers; Qubit Mover.

Tech Universe: Monday 18 April 2011

  • DRIVE SAFE: Don’t buy Toshiba’s new 2.5-inch MKxx61GSYG hard drive if you want to carry files between work and home. The drive self-encrypts then auto-erases its contents if you plug it into another computer. The AES-256 hardware encryption should keep your data safe though. And what about if the computer’s motherboard dies?
  • TRAFFIC PREDICTOR: The Traffic Prediction Tool developed by IBM Research is a pilot program to help drivers avoid traffic jams. Location data is collected from participating smartphones and from roadway sensors, then fed via the Internet to computers that make personalised predictions of traffic problems. The program continuously analyzes congestion data, commuter locations and expected travel start times throughout a metropolitan region. IBM also hope to include real-time data from public transport so travellers can more usefully plan their trips. Crowd power at its most useful.
  • GAS CAGES: Scientists at Cornell University in the USA have created a new cloth that can trap noxious gases in its fibres. Metal organic framework molecules, which are clustered crystalline compounds, and cellulose fibres make up the new fabric. It can be manipulated at the nanolevel to create cages of the exact size of the gas they want to capture. This means lightweight gas masks or larger garments can be made from the fabric.
  • TABLET EYES: Students at Brigham Young University in the USA worked with EyeTech Digital Systems to create a low cost tablet that is completely controlled by looking at it. The finished tablet is 5 cm x 25 cm x 35 cm. It has a touch screen, built-in eye tracking, and runs Windows 7. By using cheaper and more readily available parts they created a tablet that is less than 15% the cost of similar systems. That’s blinking good work. Video of an EyeTech system:
  • FLIPPED OUT: Flip video cameras were small and surprisingly good. But their run was short as their new owner Cisco Systems has killed them off at a cost of 550 jobs. Collectors items?

Tech Universe: Tuesday 19 April 2011

  • BREW YOUR OWN: Remember summer, when you enjoyed a beer to cool down with? Perhaps a Kiwi-invented WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery would fit in your kitchen? It takes only 7 days to produce 23 litres of chilled ready-to-drink brew. The all-in-one stainless steel unit handles the whole process and is about the size of a dishwasher. Farewell Espresso machine.
  • COP SHOW: Police officers in Brazil have smart new sunglasses. At up to 50 metres a tiny camera in the glasses can scan 400 faces per second and compare the faces to a database of criminals and terrorists. The glasses compare 46,000 biometric points on a face. A red light inside the frame indicates a match. 46,000 points must check every pore and eyelash!
  • MIND GAMES: Myndplay is a mind controlled media player. A NeuroSky headset records EEG output from your brain and uses that to interact with and change the outcome of a movie, video or sports app. In the films the viewer is the protagonist. A high level of mental focus will achieve a positive outcome for the character. Twistaplot goes high tech. Video:
  • MIND CALL: Researchers from the University of California have created a system that uses an EEG headband to record brain signals and send them via Bluetooth to a Nokia N73 cell phone. The phone processes the signals and dials a number. A brief training period gives almost 100% dialling accuracy. It’s all in the mind these days.
  • POWER TOWER: The world’s largest solar power tower is being built in California. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has a 137 metre tower at the centre of 173,000 heliostats that all focus the sun’s rays onto a collector. By 2013 the system should be generating 392 MW of solar energy. Google are a major investor in the plant. It’s all about the focus.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 20 April 2011

  • PRINT YOUR FACE: Georgia Tech, USA, has created the Trimensional app for the iPhone. Go in a dark room and start the app. It shines light on your face from various directions and creates a 3D image that you can then email. Print the scan on a 3D printer, or share it as a movie or animated gif. Coming soon to Android phones too. Given the body parts people photocopy, I hate to think where this will go.
  • NEAR SPACE CRAFT: The $60 Viking I spacecraft, with its payload of just 800 grams, was launched recently and rose almost 30 Km above the Earth’s surface. An amateur project in Arizona, the 50 cubic foot helium balloon carried a digital camera that took around 3,000 photos and a Spot GPS tracker. How’s that for budget-beating! Video:
  • IT CAME FROM SPACE: DARPA’s Space Surveillance Telescope features a curved charge coupled device, a very wide field-of-view and large-aperture f/1.0 optics. It has a very sensitive 3.5 metre primary mirror, an agile mount and a high-speed shutter so it can scan quickly and with high sensitivity. Based on the ground, it’ll be watching for asteroids and other material that could damage satellites. Just asteroids, or space invaders and balloons too?
  • FOAM FILTERS: Hemicellulose is a by-product of forest materials, while chitosan is crushed up crustacean shells. Correctly combined the two substances form a solid foam that can remove heavy metals, radioactive iodide and other unwanted substances from drinking water. Researchers from North Carolina State University are exploring ways to use it on a large scale. Just look for a good head of foam on your next glass of water.
  • SPIN DOCTORS: Electrons have a property known as spin. Researchers at Ohio State University were able to use an organic spintronic magnet to polarise the spins in an electrical current powering an LED. They used the spin to read, write, and manipulate data on a plastic spintronic device. This ability could lead to computers and devices that are lighter and more flexible. It used to be a hard drive that would spin; now it may be the electrons powering it.

Tech Universe: Thursday 21 April 2011

  • FINNISH FLY: The Finnish 70 Kg carbon fibre composite FlyNano lands and takes off on water or land. It’s a single-seater electric or petrol aircraft that costs around US$39,000. It can fly at around 140 Kph at 75% power and has a theoretical operational distance of 70 Km. Just imagine having one in the garage.
  • THE BACK 40: The good old File Transfer Protocol turned 40 the other day. Give it a hand. In the last 40 years FTP has evolved from a simple protocol for moving files to a sophisticated transport mechanism that supports much of the Internet behind the scenes. Hip hip hooray!
  • MAGNETIC SUNBEAMS: University of Michigan researchers have found that a light field can generate magnetic effects 100 million times stronger than previously expected. The light must be at the right intensity and travel through a non-conductive material such as glass. This could lead to a new kind of solar cell with a low heat load as the light is not absorbed. Instead the energy is stored in the magnetic moment, providing a capacitive power source. Light through glass: that doesn’t sound too hard.
  • STAY AT HOME WORKERS: Japan’s devastating earthquake has shaken up the country’s businesses, with many needing infrastructure that just isn’t available any more. With the Fukushima power stations out of action summer electricity demands in and around Tokyo may exceed supply. This is leading to more people working from home, rather than travelling in to a central office. Fortunately Internet services weren’t severely disrupted. Change comes about for so many different reasons.
  • QUBIT MOVER: The University of New South Wales is working on quantum teleportation — moving a complex set of quantum information from one point to another quickly and reliably. They’ve now succeeded and maintained the integrity of transmission. This brings us another step closer to quantum computing. And in keeping with things being in two places at once: the actual experiment was carried out in Tokyo.

There was no column on Friday 22 April.

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.