What’s new? Red House District; Big Bird; Tweetie Pie; Sniper On Your Six; A Spot Of Glue Saves You. Hook Up; Find Friends Online; Hold The Line; Less Light; More Night; Robot To Mouth. Bring Your Own Tent; Far Flung Printing; Hands-On Driving; RC Clouds; Bite Like A Mosquito. Joined At The Shoulder; Speed Charging; Cutting Game; Musical Thoughts; 45 Hour Leaf. Bird Brain; Maybe Spam Doesn’t Pay; Blood Isn’t So Thick; Double Duty Windows; Flame Killer.
Tech Universe: Monday 28 March 2011
- RED HOUSE DISTRICT: Staff from the Field Intelligence Lab at MIT in the USA drove around with sensors mounted on a car to make a thermal map of the entire city of Cambridge, USA. They wanted to see which buildings were wasting energy by allowing heat to escape. The team used a process called Kinetic Super Resolution to combine multiple images from cheaper low-res cameras into a higher resolution picture. Images show heat loss as red and yellow areas. Now they’re creating software to translate the thermal images into data about energy efficiency. Arrest that heat!
- BIG BIRD: Boeing’s 747-8 Intercontinental took to the air for the first time the other day. The enormous passenger plane can seat 467 passengers in a three-class configuration. It flies up to 14,815 Km at a cruise speed of Mach 0.85, and the wingspan is 68.5 metres. It’s quieter, lighter and more fuel efficient than its competitors. More for less, that’s good.
- TWEETIE PIE: If you want to develop a 4 gram ornithopter, as roboticists at Cornell University did, the hardest part is the wings. Manufacturing the tiny wings could take days to complete as it was a finicky process. Now, thanks to 3D printing, they can do it in minutes. The printer stretches a thin polyester film over a carbon fibre frame and produces the other complex components easily. The resulting flapping-wing hovering insect managed 85 seconds of flight. But why?
- SNIPER ON YOUR SIX: Some US soldiers are to be equipped with Individual Gunshot Detectors. Four small acoustic sensors, each the size of a deck of cards, attach to the soldier’s body armour. They detect the supersonic sound waves generated by gunfire. A small display screen shows which direction the shot came from. The Army is also looking into networking the devices so nearby soldiers have the same data. There’s another gadget that needs power — they’d better hurry with the solar uniforms.
- A SPOT OF GLUE SAVES YOU: A Harvard University team found that adding a thin layer of glue to plastic discs being pulled through a hole prevented them from crumpling. This led to a suggestion that a layer of glue added to sheets of metal that might pass one another in an impact could also make cars more resistant in collisions. Or to being sucked into passing vortices.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 29 March 2011
- HOOK UP: Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created tubes of layered silicon and germanium of various shapes and sizes. Then they seeded areas outside the tubes with mouse nerve cells. The nerve cells grew into and through the tubes, linking up again outside. Without such tubes the nerve cells just randomly connect. The tubes could open the way for testing the effects of drugs or creating interfaces between the brain and artificial limbs. And ships who sing.
- FIND FRIENDS ONLINE: Age UK, a non-profit group, did a survey that found half of the UK’s 10 million older people consider the TV their main form of company. 60% of the 10 million have never been online. The charity are urging people to help their older friends and family get online as a way to ease social isolation. They could watch TV online.
- HOLD THE LINE: A Dutch team wanted to find a way to prioritise calls to emergency services — there can be a problem when emergency dispatch centres are overloaded. They developed a computer algorithm to assign priority using the speed of speech, rises and falls in the pitch and tone, and the caller’s rate of breathing. Tested against a database of calls whose outcomes were known the algorithm had a failure rate of less than 5%. No, really, it is urgent.
- LESS LIGHT; MORE NIGHT: The 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night study is measuring local levels of night sky brightness around the world. Light pollution means that millions of people can no longer see the stars, and wildlife is suffering too. How much dark can you see?
- ROBOT TO MOUTH: An undergrad at Chukyo University, Japan wrote image processing software to recognise food items. Then he combined that with a Robix Rascal robot. On a voice command the robot picks the correct food item from a tray and puts it on your plate. Eventually this may be used to help people who have problems feeding themselves, perhaps after an accident or stroke. I think the problem lies between the plate and the mouth though.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 30 March 2011
- BRING YOUR OWN TENT: When he travels, Barack Obama takes along his own secure and soundproof tent that can withstand eavesdropping, phone tapping and computer hacking. It can be erected in a hotel room, for example, and the only signals that can get through go via a secure and encrypted phone line. Entry requires a combination of pin numbers, access badges and biometric data. It’s also known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. AKA Cone of Silence.
- FAR FLUNG PRINTING: The Clarksburg FBI complex in West Virginia, USA, analyses and identifies an average of 168,000 fingerprints per day to help solve investigations, prevent crime and identify terrorists. Now they’re upgrading to a Next Generation Identification System, built by Lockheed Martin, with more capacity and greater accuracy. It will also allow officers out in the field to scan and send fingerprints electronically for quick analysis. Hah, they can already do that on the TV crime shows. It’s time to catch up, FBI.
- HANDS-ON DRIVING: The steering wheel on my car includes a horn. On the other hand the steering wheels on Formula 1 cars are full of knobs and buttons as they’re the only pieces of instrumentation allowed inside the vehicle. Each carbon fibre wheel can cost around $50,000 and must be able to unlatch in less than 5 seconds in an emergency. Drivers can use controls on the wheel to vary torque, fuel mix, see messages from race managers, manage the drinking nozzle in their helmet and dozens of other things. Voice control; they need voice control.
- RC CLOUDS: The 2022 World Cup is scheduled for summer in Qatar, where temperatures can reach up to 50C. Everyone’s going to need some shade. Scientists have come up with a notion of ‘clouds’ made of a lightweight carbon structure and containing helium gas. The artificial clouds will use solar-powered engines to hover above the stadium and provide shade. They’ll be remote controlled and move with the position of the sun. Do they dispense rain too?
- BITE LIKE A MOSQUITO: You barely feel a mosquito’s bite, until it’s too late. That’s because a mosquito’s serrated mouth parts have less contact with the skin than a hypodermic needle, for example. Scientists at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan, have developed a new needle that mimics the mosquito. The needle slowly inserts 3 prongs, only the last of which delivers the drug. Volunteers say it hurts less, but for longer. So why do they need the first 2 needles?
Tech Universe: Thursday 31 March 2011
- JOINED AT THE SHOULDER: The TEROOS is a shoulder-mounted avatar for telecommunication. It’s a robot with a camera, mic, speaker and a couple of ‘eyeballs’ that can change expression. The robot, mounted on one person’s shoulder, is operated via smartphone command. The wearer communicates with the operator via a Skype audiovisual connection. Arrr, it’s a sort of modern-day parrot.
- SPEED CHARGING: 2 minutes to recharge a battery? How quickly batteries charge depends to some extend on how far ions have to travel. Scientists from the University of Illinois, USA, found a new way to construct a cathode that reduces travel distance. The techniques can scale to mass production and various battery materials such as nickel or lithium can be used. Imagine recharging a cellphone in 2 minutes.
- CUTTING GAME: Microsoft’s Kinect is getting about. In Toronto, Canada, surgeons are using it to browse MRI or CT scans without needing to touch any potentially non-sterile surfaces. Instead hand gestures allow them to zoom in and out or freeze the shot they need. This can reduce time taken during surgery while surgeons make more precise cuts. When will it enable hands-free surgery?
- MUSICAL THOUGHTS: Playing music on a computer isn’t so new these days — unless you’re paralysed and can move only your eyes. A composer at the University of Plymouth, UK, has created a system that picks up the electrical impulses of neurons in the brain via EEG. The wearer selects notes and melody merely by thinking about which button to push on a computer screen and how hard to push it. One person with locked-in syndrome was able to play music to a backing track using the system. Reading thoughts rather than simply gaze allows the system to gauge intensity as well as determine which on-screen object is being attended to. Sounds like great brain training.
- 45 HOUR LEAF: A chemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, claims to have created the first practical artificial leaf. It’s a solar cell, about the size and shape of a playing card, that mimics photosynthesis. It uses silicon, electronics, nickel and cobalt catalysts and sunshine to split water into hydrogen and oxygen to power a fuel cell. This ‘leaf’ is made from inexpensive, readily available materials and can operate continuously for 45 hours without a drop in productivity. Solar energy’s a growing business.
Tech Universe: Friday 01 April 2011
- BIRD BRAIN: Seen from a distance the Festo SmartBird looks like any other bird as it flies around. The difference, of course, is that it’s mechanical. It starts, flies by flapping its wings and lands autonomously. Since the wings twist at specific angles it can also turn in flight. Is it a bird? No, it’s a SmartBird.
- MAYBE SPAM DOESN’T PAY: In 2008 US researchers hijacked part of the Storm spam botnet and sent buyers to a dummy site that didn’t sell anything, but counted clicks instead. With some clever calculation they estimated that the botnet they hijacked would be grossing around $7,000 per day. Which doesn’t really seem all that much for such a big and worldwide business. The research (PDF).
- BLOOD ISN’T SO THICK: The old way of adding a drop of blood to a slide and looking at it through a microscope could disappear, thanks to an international team of researchers. The Self-powered Integrated Microfluidic Blood Analysis System is a small biochip. Whole blood flows through trenches below microfluidic channels, while gravity separates the blood components. Biodetectors in the chip then provide a readout within a few minutes. This could be developed to diagnose cancer, cardiac disease, sepsis and other diseases in minutes. Smaller, cheaper, faster are all great advances.
- DOUBLE DUTY WINDOWS: Chicago’s Willis Tower now has photovoltaic glass panels on the south side of the 56th floor. Daylight still shines through but a reflective prism directs angled sunlight onto solar cells. Each one square metre window can generate 120W of power. If the East and West facades also received such cells they could together potentially generate 2 Megawatts of solar power while reducing cooling costs. That makes sense: let light through and capture the solar energy as well.
- FLAME KILLER: Water douses fires, but an electric field can rapidly suppress flames. Scientists at Harvard University connected a powerful 600-watt electrical amplifier to a probe and repeatedly shot beams of electricity at an open flame more than a foot high. Every time the flame was snuffed out. They believe that in future firefighters could carry such a device as a backpack, or that electric fields could be used in sprinkler systems to create paths through the flames. With electricity dripping all over the house.
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.