What’s new? 4 Wheels In 3; Tow A Boat; Seeing Eye Camera; Jacket Guide; Magnet Mouth. Throw In The Bot; Bossy Fridge; Authentication In Your Veins; Fuel Economy At All Costs; On Board In Bordeaux. How Hard Is It To Water A Flower?; Polymer Heal Yourself; Precisely Here; Tricky Chip; One Electron, Two Electron. HiFi Fighter; Bye Bye Typewriter; Yellow Lining For Radioactive Clouds; Night Spy; Salty Power.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 26 April 2011
- 4 WHEELS IN 3: The R3 electric consumer vehicle from T3 Motion is a sort of 4-wheeled 3-wheeler. On the front are two wheels as in any car. At the back though is a single wide-stance wheel with two tires that improve traction, stability, and handling while providing increased energy efficiency. Lithium-polymer batteries give the car a range of around 150 Km. It’s eye catching, for sure. Video:
- TOW A BOAT: Just because a ship has engines doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be wind-powered too. Maybe there’s no room for sails, but a kite could help it along, as with paragliding. SkySails can reduce a ship’s average annual fuel costs by 10 to 35%. If the wind’s fair sometimes fuel consumption can temporarily be cut by up to 50%. The currently available towing kite propulsion system can be used on cargo vessels with an effective load of between 8 and 16 tons. Now, how about someone adds solar energy for shipboard requirements? Video:
- SEEING EYE CAMERA: The Note-Takers is an ingenious camera and tablet PC combination that allows low vision students to see a whiteboard and take notes at the same time. The camera has a max 36x optical zoom and displays the whiteboard on one half of the tablet’s screen. The other half is dedicated to handwritten notes. It’s a simple but extremely powerful invention. Video:
- JACKET GUIDE: The Point Locus is a wearable tactile GPS system mainly intended for people with visual impairments. The jacket has voice recognition so the wearer can say where they want to go, and guides the wearer by vibrations on the arms. Put away that map: this jacket could be handy for a lot of people.
- MAGNET MOUTH: If you don’t have a larynx, perhaps through cancer, you can’t speak. Currently such people often use a special valve in their throat to be able to say a few words. A team at the University of Sheffield is developing a device to detect and interpret facial movements and turn them into speech. It uses magnets in the mouth and an external headset. Ungainly, but a voice is a voice.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 27 April 2011
- THROW IN THE BOT: The Recon Scout is a durable, small robot for use by military and police. It’s a 20 cm long cylinder that weighs half a kilo and moves by means of wheels at each end. A video camera send pictures back to a controller who can guide its movements. An important feature is that it can be thrown into location, as it’s able to survive a drop of 10 metres. If you’re up to no good watch out for small cylinders.
- BOSSY FRIDGE: A new fridge from LG Electronics can be connected to a home Wi-Fi network and controlled by a smart phone. A food management system tells users what’s in the fridge, where and when it expires. LG say the fridge can even suggest healthy recipes depending on what’s inside. Uh oh expect a new flood of tweets about breakfast any time now.
- AUTHENTICATION IN YOUR VEINS: Really, fingerprints are so last century. No, vein recognition is the in thing. Fujitsu’s latest contact-free vein authentication sensor is small and slim enough to fit into a laptop or other device. A high speed camera captures images when you briefly place your hand over the sensor and the software picks the best image for authentication.
- FUEL ECONOMY AT ALL COSTS: It’s a rather specialised race car, but the entrant from Université Laval that won the 2011 Shell Eco-marathon managed a whopping 2,564.8 mpg. That’s almost 1,100 Km per litre. Small, slow and uncomfortable it may be, but in this race it’s the mpg that count.
- ON BOARD IN BORDEAUX: Bordeaux, France is going all out to get the whole community online. It’s using QR codes around town that let smartphones quickly access all kinds of information. They’ve created a database of thousands of wines. Photograph a label with your iPhone and moments later information comes up about the wine, vintage, vintner and more. One scheme is recording oral and written histories from all citizens as a way to include and engage everyone in the community. That’s a role model we could all follow.
Tech Universe: Thursday 28 April 2011
- HOW HARD IS IT TO WATER A FLOWER?: Rube Goldberg machines are those ludicrously overcomplicated (but fun) contraptions that use dozens of actions to achieve one small goal. At the 24th annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest held recently the winner, The Time Machine, uses 244 steps to water a flower. It all starts with the Big Bang, works its way through dinosaurs and the dark ages, and even a shuttle launch. Ingenious.
- POLYMER HEAL YOURSELF: US researchers have created a new self-healing polymer that requires only one minute under UV light to repair itself. The team used rubbery oligomers as the basis. When cuts in the film were exposed to UV light they sealed up, essentially disappearing. The film remained as tough as it was previously. Under UV light the cuts heat up quickly to around 220 C, becoming liquid. The cuts heal as the material cools. That’s bound to be useful.
- PRECISELY HERE: The US military’s GPS system is finding wide use in everyday life — perhaps you use a GPS in your car to help you navigate. The 24 satellites that provide the service are now aging and their replacements, the GPS IIF, will bring improved service. Accuracy is expected to increase from around 7 metres to one. One of the new satellites has been in place for 6 months now; the others are on their way. No more driving into rivers, maybe.
- TRICKY CHIP: Usually a computer chip has a fixed configuration — if you need to move things around for new functions you’re out of luck. Tabula, in the USA, are working on a different kind of chip that can rearrange its logic gates on the fly. The one-level chip behaves as though it has 8 stacked layers. In fact the chip can cycle between up to 8 different layouts at up to 1.6 billion times per second. The chip is around 1/3 the size, 1/5 the cost and has 4 times the performance of similar chips. 3 out of 3 isn’t bad.
- ONE ELECTRON, TWO ELECTRON: From the University of Pittsburgh comes a transistor made from a single electron, the SketchSET. Its central component is only 1.5 nanometers in diameter. To operate it you need only add one or two electrons to switch on distinct conductive properties. The device could make new super-supercomputers possible or be the foundation for developing new classes of artificial electronic materials. Micro-computers sound so big and clunky these days.
Tech Universe: Friday 29 April 2011
- HIFI FIGHTER: The US Air Force has just received an F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator system. It has a high-fidelity 360-degree visual display and a reconfigurable cockpit. The simulator uses the same software as in the actual aircraft and accurately replicates all F-35 Joint Strike Fighter sensors and weapons deployment. Get the practice in before the drones and UAVs take over.
- BYE BYE TYPEWRITER: Typewriters went distinctly out of fashion once computers came along. Now finally the last typewriter factory in the world has closed down. Godrej and Boyce shut down its plant in India, where typewriters had held on longer than in the West. While the firm sold 50,000 machines per year in the early 1990s, orders have dropped to fewer than 800 now. You’ll have to satisfy any typewriter cravings from the second-hand market now.
- YELLOW LINING FOR RADIOACTIVE CLOUDS: Sunflowers grow well if fertilised with kalium, which is rather similar to radioactive cesium. Japanese researchers believe that if sunflower seeds are planted in bulk around the Fukushima nuclear plant, they’ll help deal with contaminated soil. After harvest the sunflowers will be decomposed with hyperthermophilic aerobic bacteria. The yellow of the flowers is also a powerful symbol of hope. It’ll look good, whatever happens.
- NIGHT SPY: You might think night vision goggles would make you look like a super cool spy. But not the Hi-Res Night Vision System from SA Photonics. The goggles offer a wider 55 degree field of vision and higher resolution images than other goggles. The field of view actually expands to 82.5 degrees because of binocular overlap. The system is fully digital and uses sophisticated techniques to enhance the image. This one is kind of clunky looking though, but that’s OK as no one will see you at night.
- SALTY POWER: Rather than using wave or motion generators to retrieve energy from the oceans, researchers have turned their attention to how salty the water is. The new battery idea is to use the salt water as a medium for ion exchange. The authors of a paper in Nano Letters suggest the device could generate up to 100MW from a freshwater flow of 40 cubic meters a second. Ions FTW.
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.