25 to 29 July 2011 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 25 July 2011

  • COOL DUDES: With the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant out of action Japan is saving power. Battery powered air-conditioned clothes from Kuchofuku are the in thing in the hot summer. The clothes include fans that circulate air, drying sweat and cooling the wearer. The lithium-ion batteries last for around 11 hours. The balloon look is so 2011. Discovery News has the details.
  • SHRINK THE LIBRARY: 500 gigabytes on a standard DVD-size disc: GE’s micro-holographic disc can do it, though they’re working towards 1 terabyte discs. Holographic discs store data in 3D patterns. They embed data directly onto virtual layers within the plastic — 20 layers in a stack that blue lasers can read. Recording speed is equal to Blu-ray. The layers don’t have to be in a disc either, so data chips and cubes could be next. Imagine borrowing every single book from a library all on 1 disc. GE News.
  • SCAN LINES: Some 40 law enforcement units around the US plan to use the the Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System. MORIS is an iris scanner and facial recognition device that fits over an iPhone. Designed for law enforcement, it includes a database of US criminal records. It can accurately scan a person’s face from around a metre away. Ah, but is it you or your evil twin? More information here.
  • CHANGE UP THE CHAIR: IntelliWheels Automatic Gear-Shift aren’t in production yet. This automatic gear-shift system is designed to save the shoulders of manual wheelchair users by detecting how they’re pushing their chairs. The 3 gears are designed for hills, speed and general use. So obvious in hindsight. IntelliWheels.
  • COMPUTER MIME: We usually control computers with keyboard and mouse, or switches of some kind. A team of researchers from Germany and the USA want computers to understand hand movements instead, using a system called Data Miming. A Microsoft Kinect motion-capture camera makes a 3D representation of a user’s hand movements, then matches that map to a database. Accuracy in tests has been high. They hope the system could be used in shopping. So, how to mime a bunch of carrots… New Scientist points out the details.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 26 July 2011

  • A FACE IN THE CROWD: Heathrow Airport in the UK is installing facial recognition scanners in areas where international and domestic passengers mingle as a way to prevent illegal immigration. The first scan takes place after passengers have obtained their boarding pass and just before security. Faces will be scanned again after security and before boarding. Scanners work from about 1 metre away and take less than 5 seconds per person. Face it, air travel gets harder every day. IT World has the details.
  • SPEED READ: The world’s data is multiplying boundlessly. Scientists and others need to work with enormous datasets, so storage and speed of manipulation become crucial. IBM researchers created a storage system capable of scanning in 10 billion files in 43 minutes — about 40 times as fast as their previous system. For a demonstration IBM built a cluster of 10 eight-core servers, with a total of 6.8 terabytes of solid-state memory. They use the flash memory to store metadata about where the files themselves are stored. Flash memory; flash speeds. More at Computerworld.
  • CHAIR LIFT: Dmitry Bibikow lives on the 5th floor of his building in Voronezh, Russia. Not having a lift would mean great exercise on the stairs for many people but Dmitry uses a wheelchair. The Council promised to put a lift in the building, but after 6 years he stopped waiting on them and did something about it himself. He installed a personal winch on the outside of the building that lifts him and his chair. In some countries they would have sued. Read more at the Mail Online.
  • LOW VOLTAGE: Dead batteries? What do we do with them that’s eco-friendly? As electric cars become more popular this problem will enter a whole new realm. General Motors have an idea: once Chevrolet Volt batteries have done all they can for the car they actually still have 70% of their life left in them. Why not use them to power homes during an outage? GM are building a prototype system to store energy in used car battery packs, including from sources such as wind and sun. That’s a lot more sense than tossing them in a landfill. General Motors explains.
  • DROOP POWER: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claim that around 55% of all the energy generated in the US in 2009 was lost as waste heat. A team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA, hope to use a pyroelectric polymer to capture some of that heat and use it to generate electricity. A strip of the material is attached to a hot surface. As the material heats it generates electricity and droops towards the cool surface. Then it loses heat and springs back up. At some point won’t the cool surface heat up too? New Scientist has the details.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 27 July 2011

  • LITRES OF LIGHT: Many people around the world have neither indoor lighting nor electricity. But maybe all it takes to add light is a soft drink bottle filled with water and a bit of bleach. The bottle is put through a small hole in the roof, leaving the top part exposed to the sun. Light refracts through the water in the bottle and spreads around 60 watts of light inside. The bleach helps prevent algae build-up, keeping the water clear for several years. MacGyver would be proud. Reuters video shows how it’s working in Indonesia.
  • SWEATY FINGERS: A UK company, Intelligent Fingerprinting, have created a handheld device for police that detects traces of drug use through the sweat excreted through fingertips. Gold nanoparticles are coated with antibodies that react to specific metabolites in the fingerprint. Fluorescent dies show up the presence of specific drugs such as cocaine, methadone or cannabis. Results could be available in minutes, making it suitable for testing drivers. What’s the betting it won’t just be police using it soon? New Scientist.
  • SCIENCE FOR THE BIRDS: Queensland University of Technology researchers placed automated acoustic sensors in the bush to listen for bird song. Recordings are transmitted to an online digital library. But that system creates a huge mass of data that must be sifted, so software determines possible sounds of interest in the recordings and posts them online. Then volunteer birdwatching enthusiasts classify the sounds. In one test traditional methods detected 35 bird species but the new approach found 61 birds. Twitchers, you’re on! Science Alert explains.
  • LIVE IN YOUR CAR: The world’s smallest motorhome fits in the boot of your car — as a set of modular boxes. The swissRoomBox lets you cook, eat, take a shower and sleep by packing in a table, cooker and even the kitchen sink and a toilet. The modules can be cleverly configured and reconfigured into various shapes and furniture, using interlocking pieces. The water boiler, pump, fridge and other items run off your car’s battery. The Swiss excel at saving space. More at Idealog.
  • IN-CAR ECG: Toyota has ideas to keep tabs on your heart while you drive. An optical sensor in the steering wheel will pick up a single-lead ECG signal and add an alert to the dashboard display if any anomalies show up. It could also act as a daily health check. Surely suddenly spotting an anomaly would make your driving less safe, not more so! MedGadget fills in the details.

Tech Universe: Thursday 28 July 2011

  • SPORTING WIFI: The new 18,000 seat sports stadium in Kansas City has not only 300 HDTVs and shade for every seat, but also a powerful WIFI network so all the fans can use the Internet at the same time via their smartphone or iPad. They expect fans will order food, update Facebook and check scores without a single dropped connection. I know plenty of tech conferences that’d like to book in there. There’s a podcast at IEEE Spectrum.
  • MILK MADE: Butter, yoghurt, cheese are traditional milk products. A new non-edible product though is made from a protein in sour milk. A German fashion designer and scientist has found a way to manufacture a soft and washable organic fabric from sour milk. It’s quick and easy to produce, and eco-friendly. Except maybe for how eco-unfriendly milk is to produce in the first place. Watch the video for details.
  • SEEING THROUGH FOG: The new Moisture Glasses from J!ns are designed to keep your eyes from drying out. They fit snugly like swimming goggles and release a fine mist of water or eye drops to moisten your eyes. Available soon in Japan, where they always have fresh ideas. DVice tells the story.
  • HEALTHY TATS: A tattoo made with special nanoparticles may allow diabetics and others to monitor their blood sugar or sodium with an iPhone. Scientists at Northeastern University, USA, created a solution containing nanoparticles that fluoresce when exposed to a target molecule, such as sodium or glucose. The smartphone can then track changes in the level of fluorescence. A small case with LEDs that provoke fluorescence fits over the iPhone. A light-filtering lens over the iPhone’s camera filters out everything except light emitted by the tattoo. At the moment the smartphone images are sent to a computer for analysis, but the researchers hope to create a specialised app. Shiny. Details at Technology Review.
  • CURIOUS GALE ON MARS: NASA’s Curiosity Rover should land on Mars in August 2012, inside the 154 Km wide Gale Crater, named for an Australian astronomer. The rover will pick up samples from the lower slopes of an almost 5 Km high mountain in the crater. Scientists hope to discover how the water on Mars disappeared. Nuclear-powered Curiosity is 3 metres long and weighs 900 Kg. Rather than landing in an airbag it will slow with a rocket thruster and be lowered to the ground on a tether. Precise placement will be a great start. There’s more at USA Today.

Tech Universe: Friday 29 July 2011

  • MINE MUNCHIES: Everyone knows you stay well clear of landmines — you certainly don’t go digging them up en masse. Unless the digger is a mine-clearing robot called the Digger D-3. It doesn’t use a tentative approach checking carefully for mines. Instead it just chews through a swathe of ground in front of it. A giant spinning metal pulverizer pushes hammers 30 cm into the ground, shredding everything, even landmines at a rate of 1,000 square metres per hour. When the mines blow up they have no effect on the robot’s hardened steel plates. Boom boom. Discovery News tells the rest.
  • NEW SPACE STATION: The Tiangong-1 module is the first of a set of connecting rooms that will create a space station for China’s space programme. It will liftoff on a Long March II-F carrier booster later this year. Apparently the docking mechanisms differ from those on the ISS, but at least one Chinese astronaut has stated they should be made to operate together. Really? They don’t use common standards? Haven’t we learned that lesson yet? Read more at Space.com.
  • OLD SPACE STATION: The ISS has been around since 1998, being built up laboriously piece by piece. But the space agency plan to deorbit it into the ocean around 2020 so it doesn’t float around as space junk at the end of its lifecycle. Its predecessor Mir was also deorbited into the ocean after 15 years. What a waste. Discovery News shares more of the bad news.
  • MOON GRAIL: Coming up soon is NASA’s GRAIL mission to study the Moon. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory will map the Moon’s gravity field to discover what’s hidden below the surface. Its objective is to determine the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core. The twin spacecraft will orbit in tandem for several months to carry out their mission. Each craft will carry up to 5 MoonKams recording still and video images to allow the public to participate in the mission. Videos of gravity, eh?
  • HOT DATA: Here’s the problem: huge data centres have to dispose of waste heat, while households and businesses are trying to keep warm. Microsoft researchers have come up with an interesting suggestion: Data Furnaces. Household and businesses would be equipped with a secure box containing 40 to 400 CPUs handling encrypted data. The surplus heat would warm the buildings and save having to create standalone data centres. Cloud heating: nice. Gizmag tells the rest of the story.

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.