Tech Universe: Monday 27 June 2011
- FIELDS OF LIGHT: With current cameras you must choose where to focus before you press the shutter. If you’re not careful you may end up with a photo where the wrong part is blurry. Light field cameras though use a light field sensor to capture the colour, intensity and vector direction of all the rays of light in a scene. Then powerful software allows the viewer to focus the image on any point they like. The Lytro light field pocket-sized camera is expected to be available later this year. Better hope this is small enough to fit in a cellphone. Lytro website.
- GRAND DESIGN: In the mountains of Texas a very long-term project is being started: a huge clock that will run for the next 10,000 years. Why? To keep us focused on the distant future and our effects on it. Metal gears, a huge stone weight and a titanium mechanism inside a quartz box will keep the time. And it’s taking a lot of ingenuity, and robots, to build it. It’s good to know someone’s thinking about the future.
- A PAIR OF ARKS: In the Netherlands one builder has created a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark, 300 cubits long, even filled with stuffed animals, and a few live ones. He’s had the dream of creating an ark for 20 years, and built a smaller version several years ago. The ark now functions as a tourist attraction, and he hopes to sail it down the Thames before the 2012 Olympics. We’d better pray there’s no full-size version of the flood that went with the original Ark.
- OLD NEWS: Google has teamed up with the British Library to scan 250,000 books from its collection. The out-of-copyright books cover the period from 1700-1870. The material includes printed books, pamphlets and periodicals and will form a searchable digital archive. Historians sharpen up your search skills.
- ALL FOR ONE: Aimi Eguchi is a pop star in Japan, in the band AKB48. But she’s not quite the same as the other band members, because she’s actually a digital composite of all of them. The band members were recorded using digital motion capture, then designers pulled the best features of each and blended them into Eguchi. Brilliant!
Tech Universe: Tuesday 28 June 2011
- HOT WIRED: The prototype WISPER system is designed to track firefighters and other emergency responders, especially when radios fail. Firefighters wear a small canister of tiny wired discs encased in heat resistant silicon. The canister senses communications signal strength and drops a disc when the signal’s weak. Each disc acts as a repeater and if one’s damaged, the others reroute the signal. A Site Commander can monitor each firefighter from a safe distance. Discs can withstand heat up to 260 C. SIgnal repeaters: obvious in hindsight.
- WEAR ARE YOU?: In Ohio some children or senior citizens may start wearing tracking bracelets so they can be easily found. If a wearer goes missing, family alert the Police Department who contact EMFinders, the suppliers. They signal the bracelet which returns a signal through the Emergency Communications System giving the wearer’s location. Good for trampers and others too, surely.
- PAWSIBILITIES: Naki’o’s bionic legs allow him to run, jump and swim. He was a rescue dog whose original family had abandoned him as a puppy. Icy conditions meant his paws had to be amputated, leaving him unable to walk. The prosthetic legs mimic the muscle and bone of dog limbs, meaning Naki’o can now do everything a normal dog would do. That’s a lot of good luck after a bad start for Naki’o.
- TRAINED TRAVELLERS : Australian design firm Hassell have an idea to make travel between Melbourne and Sydney easier while producing less CO2: high speed electric trains. At 400 Kph the trip would take less than 3 hours. Double-decker trains could offer spacious interiors, with dining, meeting and shopping facilities on-board. That’s one way to have a fast meeting.
- FLYING HIGH: The Austrian carbon fibre D-Dalus is a new type of aircraft. For propulsion it uses 4 mechanically-linked contra-rotating cylindrical turbines, each running at the same 2200 rpm. Servos can alter the angle of the blades, providing thrust in any direction. It can launch vertically, hover still and move in any direction. A joystick is the control. The craft could be used as a drone, or for lifting and carrying heavy loads. Because of huge forces on its blades, its inventor had to also invent his own near-frictionless swivel-bearing to handle the stresses. The aircraft just needs to be wrapped up in a saucer shaped exterior now.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 29 June 2011
- BROADBAND FOR ALL: In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the locals are building their own high-speed Internet network as part of a project called FabFi. Commercial wireless routers are mounted on cheap local products such as plastic tubs and cans. If necessary the routers can run off a car battery. The total cost of a node is approximately US$60. The open source project is helping local businesses as well as hospitals and clinics to stay connected. Perhaps we can learn from Afghanistan…
- SOUTHERN CONNECTIONS: Meanwhile, down in the Antarctic Internet access is quite a problem. Satellites are normally near the horizon and weather causes quite a few problems too. There’s not a lot of incentive for satellite companies to provide coverage in the far south of the planet. The Antarctic Broadband consortium aim to launch their own satellites in orbits specially designed to provide the right coverage. The satellites will be in highly elliptical orbits with the apogee over the South Pole. Quirks of these kinds of orbits mean the satellites will move fairly slowly above the area where they’re needed. Phase 1 of the project is to prove that the technology works. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself.
- LOOK MA, NO DRIVER!: Google’s automated cars drive themselves. They use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder in conjunction with detailed maps of the route to make their journeys. While they’ve travelled extensively in California, Nevada state has now changed the law to make it possible for them to drive there. The only accident they’ve suffered so far was once when a human driver rear-ended one of the automated cars. Google aim eventually to make driving safer. Well, software drives planes already, why not cars?
- SUPER DUPER: There’s an ongoing battle for first place in the world of supercomputers. According to the latest edition of the TOP500 list the newest number one is the K Computer in Japan. It can perform more than eight quadrillion calculations per second, or 8 petaflops. This ousts the former number one from China with its mere 2.6 petaflops. Hmmm, that’s around 3 times as fast — quite a jump.
- CORROSION NEVER SLEEPS: The US Navy has a lot of costly warships. The USS Independence is one of them. And at only just 12 months old it has quite a big problem: it’s disintegrating. It’s not just rust either. Instead the problem is electrolysis. Where the ship’s steel engines meet the aluminium hull serious galvanic corrosion is taking place. The electrolysis was probably sparked by electrical charges originating in the ship’s combat systems. Future vessels will include a Cathodic Protection System designed to prevent electrolysis. Oops!
Tech Universe: Thursday 30 June 2011
- LOOPY JOURNEYS: 1,100 cars circulating on 18 lanes of freeways in endless loops sounds like a true urban nightmare. Luckily though the cars in the multimillion dollar sculpture called Metropolis II are only toys. The sculpture’s around 8 metres wide and 3 metres tall, and includes numerous skyscrapers. This piece of art cost millions to make and sold for millions too. At least the cars are electric.
- FAST LOOPS: It’s dizzying. It’s stomach-lurching. It’s the world’s steepest roller coaster, opening soon in Yamanash, Japan. The ride includes includes 7 major twists over 1 Km of track, and a drop of 43 metres. At times the cars reach 100 Kph, but the whole rides lasts only 112 seconds. Bring a strong paper bag!
- CARS, BOATS AND BLADES: Pixar’s Cars 2 movie needed a lot of CGI rendering to create extremely realistic effects. A lot. Stormy seas, with boats and oil rigs at night, with shadows and waves were just some of the challenges. Each frame of the movie took on average 11.5 hours to render, though some needed up to 90 hours. The render farm they use features 12,500 cores on Dell render blades. Actors used to be central to movies, now it’s computers.
- CRUISING TO SLEEP: Volkswagen’s Temporary Auto Pilot takes control of the car and drives it for you at up to 130 Kph on the motorway. The driver still has to be in control and monitor what the car’s doing, but adaptive cruise control and tech to help you stay in the right lane take the work away. The system can also maintain speed, safe distances, and handle traffic jams. Radar, camera, and ultrasonic-based sensors work in with a laser scanner and an electronic horizon to do the job. On long trips who’ll be able to stay awake to watch a car drive itself?
- FUEL TO BURN: The DA36 E-Star aircraft uses a conventional fuel engine along with a battery. The purpose of the engine though is only to recharge the battery, not to drive the plane. The 94-horsepower Siemens electric motor drives the plane for takeoff, then once the plane’s cruising a 40-horsepower Wankel rotary engine drives a generator to feed electricity to the motor. Since the plane’s already moving, couldn’t a small wind turbine help recharge the battery?
Tech Universe: Friday 01 July 2011
- GET THE BUZZ: If soldiers want to know where they’re going they may use a GPS. But the lighted screen could give away their position, and they have to look down at the device, taking their eyes off their surroundings. So the US Army are testing haptic belts, that give directions by vibrating. 8 vibrating mini electric motors, called tactors, indicate direction. A GPS, accelerometer and digital compass feed data to the belt. Certain combinations of motors can also buzz to give commands like “move out”. It wouldn’t pay to be ticklish.
- BUZZ DRIVE: Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, have developed tiny generators that harvest energy from the environment. The nanogenerator they’ve developed produces electricity from vibrations, has a capacitor that stores energy, and includes a sensor and radio transmitter. It was able to transmit wireless signals for more than 10 metres. Sounds like this belongs in the haptic belts.
- SHARE THE BUZZ: Australian researchers believe they’ve found a key to recharging phones when you type on them. They’ve found a way to measure the energy created when pressure is applied to piezoelectric thin films. For the first time they can calculate how much pressure is required to generate a certain amount of power. While the power generated is very small at the moment, they hope to be able to amplify it to useful levels. The more you type, the longer the phone battery lasts.
- COOK YOUR PHONE: You don’t usually think of a cooking pot having a USB port. However, cooking pots generally are hotter on the bottom where they touch a fire than inside where the water is. TES NewEnergy have figured out how to use that temperature difference to generate 2 Watts of power. The USB port feeds the energy out, perhaps to charge a phone. That may sound pretty pointless, but a natural disaster may leave you with only an open fire for cooking and no electricity supply. Then you may be glad of any opportunity to recharge a phone. The Hatsuden-Nabe thermo-electric cookpot may be what you need.
- WATER MINES: Lower Saxony in Germany has many old abandoned coal mines. The Government are considering plans for wind turbines that could use the coal mines to store their energy. During the night the turbines could pump water up hills to reservoirs. When power’s needed the water is released downhill to drive turbines. The water would be kept in the system in a closed loop so it wouldn’t contaminate nearby rivers. They estimate that a pilot plant could power as many as 40,000 households. That’s a nice blend of old and new tech.
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.