Tech Universe: Monday 15 August 2011
- NO DRIVER REQUIRED: Google aren’t the only ones experimenting with driverless cars. In Chine the Hongqi HQ3, developed by the National University of Defense Technology, took a 3.5 hour trip on an expressway under full computer and sensor control. The car has no GPS but uses video cameras and radar sensors to detect other cars. A computer in the boot handled the driving. Fog, thunderstorms, unclear lane markings and a complex route were all challenges the car handled without problem. The car travelled at an average of 87 Kph and overtook other cars 67 times. Imagine being able to use a driverless car while travelling in a foreign country. China Daily.
- LUNCH MACHINES: The common perception of school lunches as being junk food may change in Miami-Dade County in the US. Schools across the county have installed wireless and cashless vending machines that dispense healthy food to students. Students enter an ID and birthdate then select a healthy meal that’s ready within 20 seconds. Some students are eligible for meal assistance but the system means they aren’t singled out in any way. Local chefs have had a part in designing the meals. Now they should arrange for ordering via SMS or smartphone app ahead of time. TechNewsDaily has the story.
- IN TOUCH WITH THE BOARD: Perceptive Pixel’s 208 cm capacitive multitouch display is only 15 cm deep and has a 1920×1080 resolution. It has a fast response time too: less than 1 millisecond. They see it being used in classrooms and board rooms and by government agencies such as Defence. I wonder what schools could afford that kind of screen. Gizmodo explains.
- HOT INK: Taiwanese scientists have created a rewritable electronic paper that doesn’t need electricity. i2R e-paper uses heat to store and transmit images to the display. To write on the paper or erase what’s already on there insert it into a thermal writing device like those used in fax machines. This could be used for ebooks or electronic bulletin boards. Don’t read this out in the sun folks. More at PhysOrg.
- NO-DRUG DRINK: If you’re out drinking it pays to keep an eye on your glass so no-one can slip you any psychoactive substances. At Tel Aviv University researchers are working on a discreet device that could alert you instantly to the presence of GHB and ketamine, the drugs you most need to worry about. Although those drugs in a drink have no taste or colour they do change its optical properties. The sensor detects that change and signals an alert. Replaceable cartridges can monitor 2 or 3 drinks before needing to be changed out. Which leaves only 2 problems: is the sensor working, and is it still working? American Friends of Tel Aviv University has the details.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 16 August 2011
- SOLAR SOLDIERS: The Australian National University have developed lightweight wearable solar panels to help soldiers power the devices they carry. The SLIVER cells are as thick as a sheet of paper. They are also bifacial — they can absorb light from both sides. What’s the other side to this story?
- NO BRAKES BIKE: One graduate of The Cooper Union in New York is looking for ways to save energy. As a way to learn more he took the brakes off his bicycle and added a flywheel to the frame instead. When he needs to slow the bike he uses a shifter on the handlebars to transfer energy from the bike to the flywheel. When he needs a boost of extra energy it can be reclaimed from the flywheel. Ingenious. Watch the video at Science Friday.
- COPPER BOTTOMS: Monarch is a Chilean company that produces underwear and socks. But rather than using standard cotton, their underwear is infused with copper. They claim copper is up to 99% effective at killing nasty skin microbes. Copper is merged with polyamide to create an oil that’s formed into wires. The wires are woven into the fabric of the underwear so it remains in contact with the skin. When I was a kid I recall a copper ring that made my finger green. That underwear won’t be for me. Guanabee.
- STONE WIZARDS: Mathematicians at The University at Buffalo in the USA have been thinking about gravel. Their calculations predict that if particles are correctly tuned they could capture and transmit energy in a controlled way. They think they could capture the noise from aircraft on a runway or road vibrations, for example, and convert it into electricity. Just think how much power heavy trucks could produce.
- WRITTEN IN STONE: M-Disc platters are made up of multiple layers of stone-like material. Rather than using dye, or a reflective layer, up to 4.7 Gb of data is permanently etched onto a substrate. Any DVD player can read the disc, although special equipment is needed to write to it. The discs have been created by Millenniata and Hitachi-LG Data Storage, who see them as being suitable for long-term archival storage. Just be careful who gets hold of them.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 17 August 2011
- FORMULA ONE HAND: Touch Bionics create and fit hi-tech artificial limbs. Together with Mercedes they created a custom hand for one British boy who’s a fan of Formula One racing, sponsored by Mercedes. The limb detects signals from the muscles of the lower arm. A computer in the palm then creates appropriate movements. A Bluetooth connection allows data to be sent to a computer for analysis. Creativity lives in unusual connections. The Telegraph has more.
- SENSITIVE SKIN: Scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have created a sensor patch filled with circuits. It can be applied like a temporary tattoo but doesn’t need adhesives. Applied to the throat it can detect spoken words and control a computer game. On other parts of the body it can record heartbeats, brain activity or muscle contractions. The flexible and stretchy patch is powered by embedded solar cells or inductive coils, and is no thicker than a human hair. The patch falls off after a few days as the body naturally sheds skin cells. I foresee a new market for designers to make these things look good. Nature News has more.
- ONE WHEELING: The Audi Ao is a monocycle concept that puts a seat, handlebars and footpegs on a self-stabilizing, tilt-controlled hollow wheel. It has a max speed of 15 Kph and can be folded up to fit in your car. Just as well, because the battery runs out after an hour. The concept looks rather utilitarian. Add some glam and it could sell. Engadget.
- GAME BLOCKS: Lost your secret stash of Lego? Sifteo cubes might make you feel better. Each cube has a 128-pixel color LCD screen, WiFi, accelerometer and an ARM processor. Arrange them how you like — as part of a solitary game or playing against others. Download apps for the cubes and sync them to your Mac or PC. A software development kit will let you program them too. In my day a cardboard box made for hours of fun. Details at Wired.
- TERMINAL LIE DOWN: It’s funny how after you’ve travelled a long way in a confined seat all you want to do is lie down. But instead you end up sitting in a marginally comfortable seat at some terminal for hours. The Sleepbox is a carefully designed enclosed cubicle where a traveller can rest for a few hours. Currently being tested in Moscow airport, it contains a bed, WIFi, power points, TV, small desk, alarm clock and temperature controls. It cleans itself with UV light between uses. A simple but brilliant idea. One Bag, One World found it.
Tech Universe: Thursday 18 August 2011
- PAVED PARADISE: US company Solar Roadways aspire to build roads from solar panels. For the moment though they have a grant to go ahead and build a solar panel car park outside their offices in North Idaho. Each panel will produce about 7.6 kilowatt hours of electricity per day. They’ll monitor the panels to see how feasible bigger projects may be. The panels will contain solar cells, LED lights and electronics, hermetically sealed between layers of textured glass. Even if the panels only work for carparks that could be a valuable source of energy. The Spokesman Review.
- A FACE IN THE CROWD: After the recent riots in the UK the police are turning to facial recognition software to identify suspects. Scotland Yard has a newly updated face-matching program they’re using, alongside public appeals and posting headshots to Flickr. Next story: rioters and those intent on criminal behaviour to start using face altering makeup ala bank robbers in TV crime shows. CBS News tell the story.
- SWAYING THE CROWD: Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems in Germany knew that people trapped in a highly congested area sway slowly from side to side as they try to keep their balance. They developed a system to analyse video of crowds and highlight potential problem areas for security personnel to check out. The system could be useful at any venue where crowds gather to help prevent deaths and injuries from stampedes. Watched wherever we go. New Scientist.
- MOVING DOTS: Traditional motion capture puts dots on an actor, then cameras record where the dots go. A new scheme puts the cameras on the actor and uses software to reconstruct their motion. The system can be used in any setting, not just a specially constructed studio. That could be a fun app for the consumer market too. Technical details are in the video at Disney Research.
- DISTINCTIVE JIGGLES: A security researcher at the University of California, Davis has found a way to use a keylogger on Android phones — their app uses the motion sensors in the phone to detect what you’re typing. The app has correctly guessed more than 70% of keystrokes on the virtual numerical keypad. The researchers believe accuracy will be lower on the full alphanumeric keypad though. This one is sure to show up in spy movies soon. New Scientist has the details.
Tech Universe: Friday 19 August 2011
- NIGERIAN SPACE: I guess Nigeria found a way to use the millions floating round in locked-in bank accounts: they’ve just launched 2 satellites into orbit as part of their space programme. NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X were built in the UK and launched from Russia. Control stations in the UK and Nigeria are monitoring the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency craft. Some Nigerian territories experience extreme weather conditions, often displacing large numbers of people. The satellites will help with planning and resource management. BBC has the story.
- DRAGON RISING: NASA’s not flying shuttles any more to the ISS, but SpaceX will deliver its first load of cargo in December. The private company are refining their craft so it can quickly be ready to fly. They want the Falcon 9 rocket to be able to go from hangar to lift-off in less than an hour. It will carry a reusable Dragon CRS-1 capsule. It’s good to see the commercial companies moving things forward. SpaceX report.
- JOIN THE CROWDS: It could be getting a bit crowded up there in orbit. Russia has announced plans for a new elite hotel that will house 7 guests in 4 cabins — in orbit. The Commercial Space Station will open in 2016. Guests will have options, such as whether to sleep horizontally or vertically, and which microwaved meal to eat. Large portholes, cameras and binoculars will be provided. A 5 day stay will set you back around UK£100,000. The cost to get there is another UK£500,000. I bet they’ll have plenty of takers. The Daily Mail has the story and artist impressions.
- BOOSTER BIKE: Back here on solid ground the M55 Terminus is a hybrid off-road bicycle. A sturdy frame supports the extra weight of the motor and battery pack. All up the bike weighs around 30 Kg, so you’re sure to need a boost while climbing. A sensor handles that, and the motor kicks in if the bike sensors determine you need the assist. The aluminium frame is definitely unusual and is sure to catch the eye. Build up the leg muscles though in case that battery fails. M55 Bike.
- LIGHT BIKE: It’s hard for drivers to see cyclists, especially at night, and for cyclists it’s hard to see the road in the dark. Revolights takes care of both problems brilliantly. The lights — white for front and red for rear — are actually incorporated into the wheel with easy to use clips. The lights flash around the wheel while the bike’s stopped but shine solid to front or rear when the bike’s moving. They light up the road and make the bike itself impossible to not notice. Absolutely ingenious, these lights are sure to save lives. Kickstarter page for Revolights.
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.