Tech Universe: Monday 30 May 2011
- NASA GO DEEP: NASA will develop a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, while the private sector will handle transport to and from the International Space Station. The MPCV will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. The craft will take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit. Outward ho!
- THE LAST MILE: There are plenty of ingenious machines for accessing remote and difficult locations, but Fred is the one that makes it possible to lay cable in ‘the last mile’ of Vermont, USA. Fred weighs around 770 Kg. He’s a draft horse that can walk across terrain that trucks can’t reach, dragging heavy cable behind him. Fred’s owner has other draft horses that also lay cable elsewhere. On a good day they can string 2.5 Km of cable — about the same as crews with trucks along the roads. Bring back the draft horses.
- WARM UP SOLDIER: Soldiers who suffer hypothermia are wrapped in a warm blanket and given an IV drip. After 16 hours or so their core body temperature may be stable. A team of students at Stevens Institute of Technology, USA, has found a quicker way to handle things. They’ve created a proof of concept of a portable device that heats and humidifies air then delivers it through an oxygen mask. That brings heat directly to the lungs so recovery may take as little as 4 hours. No rest for the cold and weary.
- LASER FAST: Scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology successfully sent 700 DVDs’ worth of content a distance of 50Km in just one second using a single laser beam. They used a technique called orthogonal frequency division multiplexing for encoding data and processed it at 26 terabits per second. Just think of the filesharing implications. And the data cap problems.
- SILVER GLASSES: Professor Joshua Silver in the UK has created glasses that the wearer can easily adjust to their own prescription. He aims to supply 200 million pairs to kids in Africa and Asia. The spectacles have “adaptive lenses” — 2 thin membranes separated by silicone gel. The wearer looks at an eye chart and pumps in more or less fluid until they can see the letters on the chart clearly. The fluid changes the curvature of the lens, changing the prescription. Currently at £15 a pair, Silver hopes to get the costs down to £1 a pair. A clear vision for the future.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 31 May 2011
- BIG SHOTS: The Hasselblad H4D-200MS DSLR isn’t your everyday digital camera, unless you need 200 megapixels, that is. The camera actually uses a 50 megapixel sensor, mounted on a frame which moves the sensor 1.5 pixels at a time while 6 shots are captured. The 6 shots are then combined into a single image. The sensor holds more and larger pixels than a standard 35mm DSLR. The camera also includes other high-end features you’d expect for this kind of device. All the detail you could ever want.
- A PERFECT SPHERE: Scientists at Imperial College London spent the last decade studying the shape of Ytterbium Fluoride electrons. It turns out they’re spherical — perfectly spherical. The researchers say: “if the electron was magnified to the size of the solar system, it would still appear spherical to within the width of a human hair.” They figured this out by using very precise lasers to measure the motion of the electrons. Results will help them work out the differences between matter and antimatter. Yes, antimatter matters.
- ROCK GRAB: In 2016 NASA’s OSIRIS-REx programme — the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer — will launch. In 2020 it will approach the primitive, near Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36 and begin my mapping its surface. A robotic arm will grab samples of asteroid RQ36, then return the samples to Earth. The samples should arrive back by 2023. Scientists want to see if organic molecules are present on the asteroid. The expedition will also measure how much sunlight ‘pushes’ the asteroid and changes its orbit. That’s a long mission to get some dust.
- CODE BREAKER: The Tunny machine was used in World War II at Bletchley Park to break German codes by turning encrypted messages into cleartext. 3 people spent 3 years building it but after the war it was broken up and the original circuit diagrams were destroyed or hidden. Now it’s been rebuilt from remaining scraps of the plans and from recollections of the people originally involved. The rebuilt machine is housed at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Now that’s dedication.
- SOLAR SAILOR: The Turanor Planetsolar is sailing around the world and has now arrived in Brisbane. The boat is driven by a silent, pollution-free electrical engine powered exclusively by solar energy. 537 square metres of solar panels cover the boat, providing 93.5 kW of power, of which the engines use 20 kW on average. 6 crew work the 31 metre long vessel, though 40 can go aboard. It’s a shame it’s not stopping here on its world tour.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 01 June 2011
- HIGH FLIER: Kiwi invented Martin Jetpack flew to 1,500 metres in a test flight with a crash test dummy recently, though its creator thought it should be able to reach 2,400 metres. This was its highest flight yet. The Carbon fibre composite jetpack weighs about 113 Kg empty and has a range of 50 Km. It’s off to a flying start now.
- AT A PHONE NEAR YOU: Google Wallet turns an Android phone into a wallet, if you have the right phone and are shopping at the right place in the US. The merchant installs a reader device that you tap your phone against — like swiping or tapping a credit card now. It uses Near Field Communication, or short range wireless, to complete the transaction. Don’t lose that phone!
- FLYING TRUCK: It’s quite something to see a specially modified “Pro 2” truck plunge down an almost vertical ramp and then fly 101 metres through the air. At the 100th Indy 500 that’s what Top Gear star Tanner Faust achieved though. Hear him explain how it felt and how he had to use brakes and throttle as flight controls to achieve the world record.
Almost as scary as that mountain bike triple backflip.
- LUNAR POWER: Shimizu Corporation in Japan have a different idea for using solar energy: collect it on the Moon and beam it to Earth via microwaves and laser. The concept places a belt of solar cells up to 400Km wide around the lunar equator, with cables to transfer power from the side that never faces Earth. Collectors at strategic places near Earth’s equator would receive the power and distribute it. It’s a bold concept, but I imagine astronomers and military will have quite a lot to say about it.
- SILICONE SURGERY: There’s a new wound dressing devised by researchers at Stanford University, USA, that should prevent scarring. It eliminates the skin tension that causes scarring by providing uniform compression across the wound. The dressing’s made of a thin elastic silicone plastic, stuck to the skin with adhesive. As it contracts it provides compression. Initial clinical trials are promising, but more trials are planned.
Tech Universe: Thursday 02 June 2011
- VORTEX CLIMBER: Researchers at the University of Canterbury can make a robot stick to walls through pressurised air. The non-contact adhesive pad, or air gripper, uses the Bernoulli principle. The feet of the robot don’t actually touch the wall but are held 25 micrometers away — about 0.025 mm. Air is squirted out from the feet sideways at high speed, causing a low pressure vortex that creates a vacuum and sucks the robot feet near to the wall surface. The robot can even crawl across a ceiling and carry a small load. It blows and sucks.
- BINNED BOOKS: At the University of Chicago Library a robot may retrieve the books you need from a vast underground storage area. Librarians load barcoded books into bins that hold around 100 items, then the bins are stored in huge racks. When a reader requests a book, perhaps by email, the robot retrieves the correct bin. A librarian get the book out, scans the barcode and an email lets you know to collect the item. Returned books must also be scanned by librarians and put back in bins. Which all sounds terribly manual. How about RFID tags and automated systems, folks?
- SHARK SPOTTING: You know a Whale Shark, like a Leopard, by its spots. People who take photos of a Whale Shark can upload those images to the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-Identification Library to help with research. Computer algorithms compare the skin patterning and scars evident in photos to distinguish between individual animals, allowing researchers to track them. If you submit data you can opt to receive emails about ‘your’ shark and what it’s been up to. Citizen science is great fun.
- EYE BRANCHES: A real human eye has a resolution of about 127 megapixels. Contrast that with current electronic eye implants that have a resolution of about 64 pixels — not mega: just pixels. What’s more the connections in real eyes are fractal, while in electronic eyes they are simply a square array. New research aims to make the eEye connections branch just like real ones with an algorithm called diffusion limited aggregation. The researchers include Professor Simon Brown at the University of Canterbury. Kiwi science is at the core of things again.
- PLASTIC BUGS: Scientists in the US have figured out exactly how to genetically engineer the common E. Coli bacteria to create a chemical called Butanediol, also known as BDO. Usually oil and gas are the source for BDO, a fundamental ingredient in manufacturing plastic. Bacteria farming has a nice ring to it, and doesn’t need much land.
Tech Universe: Friday 03 June 2011
- SUMMER CHARGES: Cellphone users in the UK can relax about charging up their phone while attending festivals and the like. The Vodafone VIP Recharge Truck charges up to 2,000 phones at once for its customers — drawing a massive 120KVA. The big rig holds secure lockers that can charge Android phones, iPhones, BlackBerry and Nokias, as quickly as they’d charge at home. Customers receive a barcoded wristband that matches a barcode stuck to their phone. The phone’s locked away to charge so no-one else can lift it. If they were really smart they’d also issue cheap loaners for SMS and calls while your own phone’s charging.
- SCARIER MOVIES: Researchers at Disney have created a Tactile Brush. By placing a grid of 12 vibrating coils into a chair they can fool people into feeling various kinds of touch, such as when a vehicle corners hard or the sensation of raindrops running down skin. They’re also working on wearable devices with vibrators in the sleeves or around the torso. The effects rely on how we interpret closely placed physical sensations. There may need to be a whole new movie rating system for this one.
- 1.3 MEGABUCK CAMERA: Do you have any really old cameras lying around? If one of them is the extremely rare Leica 0-Serie Nr.107 (1923) then you could be holding a fortune. Recently one was sold at auction for 1.32 million Euros. Only 25 of those cameras were produced, and this camera was the first exported. Take a look in the old family heirlooms now.
- BLUE AND RED ARMY: The Blue Army is a rather secret and elite group of Chinese cyberwarriors whose job is to improve the security of China’s military forces. In a recent simulated cyberbattle they emerged victorious after defending against barrages of junk mail, bombardments of virus attacks and stealthy intruders. Hey, we do those battles every day.
- STEP UP TO POWER: One of the many problems at Japan’s Fukushima power station is the radiation that has escaped. Workers who carry out cleanup tasks may be faced with eventually developing cancer resulting from radiation exposure. But that’s where the Skilled Veterans Corps come in. Yasuteru Yamada, aged 72, is contacting old friends and colleagues to volunteer. Skilled workers over 60 who expect their life expectancy to be be shorter than the time it takes to develop cancer are offering their services. That’s a special gift: to recognise a niche where one’s unique qualities are a good fit for a task.
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.