Tech Universe: Monday 23 May 2011
- WIRELESS HANDS-ON: An Austrian man who lost the ability to move his right hand had it amputated. The hand will be replaced by a bionic hand controlled by signals from his brain. Sensors on his arm detect the signals and send them on to the hand. A similar operation last year helped a man who lost the use of one hand after being struck by lightning. Bionics are improving day by day.
- CONNECTED LIGHTS: GreenChip smart lighting puts computer chips into lightbulbs and gives every lightbulb its own IP address. Controllers are available so you can control the lights from your smartphone, tablet or computer. Sensors also mean lights could adjust themselves, for example by turning off if the room’s empty. There’s an app for anything.
- PRINT A PART: The Vienna University of Technology, Austria, has produced a small, light and low-cost 3D-printer that can be used for creating small objects. The prototype is about the size of a carton of milk and weights just 1.5Kg. Individual layers in the additive process are just a twentieth of a millimetre thick, so the printer offers good resolution. LEDs provide a high intensity light for hardening the synthetic resin used to create objects. Doing for manufacturing what desktop printers did to the printing industry.
- WHEELCHAIR SIGHTS: Researchers at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden, created a “sighted” wheelchair that detects obstacles in its path. A laser scanner creates a simplified 3D map of the surroundings. The map is represented by a haptic robot so the wheelchair user can feel or see any obstacles. At the moment the laser beam only operates at one fixed height, but the team are working on increasing its scope. They need to get that laser beam at the right height.
- SENSITIVE LOAF: If you want to find Earthlike planets beyond our solar system it stands to reason you’d need some giant satellite. But the ExoPlanetSat is merely the size of a loaf of bread, even though it includes powerful high-performance optics and new control and stabilization technology. The optics record the dip in brightness as a planet transits its star. And for accurate measurements it’s crucial to keep the satellite stable. The nanosatellite is expected to orbit for 1 or 2 years. That’s a big job for a tiny satellite.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 24 May 2011
- TALKING HEAD: At the Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo researchers are exploring ways to make telepresence avatars. One idea projects a person’s image onto a metre wide helium filled balloon equipped with loudspeakers and propellers. Because it floats, it avoids problems moving around obstacles or up stairs. The big giant head indeed! Video:
- BIG ELECTRIC: SIM-Drive from Japan have shown a prototype 4-seater electric car that can travel 333 Km on a single charge. The SIM-LEI has motors inside each wheel and a super-light frame. They expect to bring the car to market by 2013. That’s about the same distance as a tank of petrol. It’s time to get recharging stations up and easy to access.
- SMART STORES: In some stores in the US you may use a handheld Scan It to scan items as you add them to your shopping trolley. For some scanned goods you immediately receive a discount on a related item, for example, scan coffee and you may get a discount on sugar. Shoppers can bag their groceries as they go, then stop at a self-checkout to pay. Shoppers find things move more quickly and the shop owners find they sell more. And no more pointless lifting groceries in and out of a trolley.
- BOOKS DON’T NEED PAPER: Amazon report that customers are now buying more Kindle books than paperback and hardcover books combined. Since 1 April 2011, Amazon.com has sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books. The number doesn’t include free Kindle books. The US Kindle Store now has more than 950,000 books. And doubtless the sales figures would be higher if all books were available to all countries.
- INSTANT TRANSLATION: While Google Translate has its flaws, it’s still pretty handy for a quick check. The Google eBooks Web Reader now offers the ability to look up a word’s meaning (just like Kindle) or even to translate words within the text. Which would be even more useful if all books were available to all countries.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 25 May 2011
- WIND FOR 6: Who needs turbines when wind towers can collect wind from any direction? The hexagonal Wind Tower collects wind from any of its 6 faces, at any height, at any speed. Then the wind is compressed and accelerated to generate power. Japanese company ZENA claim their wind tower is more efficient and cheaper to maintain than traditional turbines. But doesn’t it take energy to compress and accelerate the air?
- STAND UP ELECTRICS: An American man who was paralysed 5 years ago is now able to take a few steps on a treadmill, thanks to an electrical stimulator on his spinal cord. The stimulator sends signals to walk or stand. Although this isn’t yet able to allow a wearer to walk unaided it shows promise for future treatments. Combined with exoskeletons and thought control this could be a winner.
- THESE TRUCKS MAY SEE YOU: Some haulage companies in the UK are adding motion sensors and cameras to their trucks to help save lives and prevent accidents. Every truck has blind spots that are especially dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists alongside the vehicle. Motion sensors trigger audible warnings, while the cameras feed video into the cab so the driver can see spots they normally wouldn’t. Just don’t scare the cyclists off their bikes with the audible warnings.
- SPAM CHOKE: Computer scientists at the University of California analysed nearly a billion spam messages hoping to find a choke point. After buying products advertised in the messages they found that 95% of the credit card transactions are handled by just 3 financial companies. The weak point in the spam chain seems to be the banks and credit card processors. An earlier study showed that a spam provider needed to send 12.5 million messages to sell $100 worth of one pharmaceutical. So spam pays, but not really very much.
- LUG AND HAUL CAMERA: Forget point and shoot pocket cameras. What about a camera whose lens is 2 metres long and where the negatives are 35 by 91 cm? Darren Samuelson built his own camera so he could take big images without a digital camera. He records his shots onto X-ray film. I doubt this one will catch on. Video:
Tech Universe: Thursday 26 May 2011
- BIG GAS: Shell plan to build a 488m long, 74m wide liquefied natural gas facility 475 Km off the coast of Western Australia. What’s special though is that it will be a floating facility right at the site of the gas field, producing at least 5.3 million tonnes of liquids per year. Ocean going carriers will load products directly from the facility. The FLNG will displace around 600,000 tonnes of water and be the largest floating offshore facility in the world. It has been designed to withstand the most powerful tropical cyclones. On-site processing makes a great deal of sense.
- TINY KILLER: The uncrewed Acturus drone aircraft weighs only 45 Kg and can fly at 4,500 metres. Its wingspan is just over 5 metres, but wings and the tail snap off to make it easy to carry. It’s launched from a pneumatic catapult, but the most important feature is that it can carry a specially made 4Kg laser-guided missile. Do you feel lucky today — it could be circling overhead right now.
- SKELETON SIGNS: New York City has a 30 mph speed limit. Before long drivers who exceed the limit will see signs by the road displaying a skeleton, and advising them to slow down. The idea is to remind drivers of the deadly consequences of driving too fast. Will drivers try to raise the dead by barely exceeding the limit?
- SPELLING LASER: The Safe-Laser System from InvoTek lets people with limited movement write, communicate, and control their environment. The Safe Laser in a headset projects a low-power light-beam onto a light-sensing keyboard. The keyboard then speaks or send keystrokes to a computer, or a person nearby can just read what’s being pointed out. Simple but very clever.
- HIGH TECH DOGS: The US Military has a few very special dogs that wear body armour worth $30,000 dollar a piece. The tactical body armour allows for attachable gadgets, such as high-def cameras, microphones and special speakers. The armour is bullet proof and stab proof, yet is light-weight. It’s good to see the dogs being well-protected too.
Tech Universe: Friday 27 May 2011
- KILLER SUB: Proteus is an experimental submarine from the Columbia Group. Although the sub is less than 8 metres long it can carry up to 725 Kg of cargo, such as bombs or mines. Inside it can carry gear such as sensors and cameras or personnel. It’s an autonomous vehicle, but controls can be taken by a human too. At the moment it’s rather slow and can’t travel far without being refuelled. Air, land or sea the autonomous killers are about.
- HANDS-OFF TOUCHSCREEN: ZeroTouch from students at Texas A&M University is a frame lined with 256 IR sensors. The sensors detect anything that intersects with the IR beams. It resembles a picture frame. Lay it over a computer screen to turn that screen into a multitouch surface. That’s a clever hands-off way to create a touch screen. I guess you could even operate a computer with greasy or wet hands.
- WALK THIS WAY: Japanese researchers are exploring ways to guide us to walk on the correct side of a path or corridor using optical illusion. By using lenticular plastic sheets that give a 3D effect, like the ones you see in postcards, the pattern on the floor guides people to one side or another. The striped pattern below the sheets changes as your viewing angle changes, providing subtle guidance. Or possibly inducing nausea.
- SLEEP DETECTOR: The fabric electronics embedded in a Somnus nightshirt from Nyx Devices monitor your breathing patterns. A small chip in the pocket analyses those patterns to determine what stage of sleep you’re in. The idea is that you’ll be able to record your own behaviour, such as drinking coffee or doing exercise, and then correlate that data with your sleep patterns as an aid to sleeping better. It beats being wired up in a lab.
- THIS LITTLE LIGHT: It isn’t easy to determine how well a wound is healing without lifting dressings and taking samples that could themselves cause problems. A Swiss biomedical engineer is developing an optical-fibre biosensor that can show acidity, a key health indicator in wounds. Flexible light-carrying fibres are included in a regular dressing. A carer shines light into one end, and the colour of the light coming out the other end indicates acidity. Set Condition Red.
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.