Tech Universe: Monday 22 August 2011
- PAK AND ROLL: Russia has a new stealth fighter jet: the Sukhoi T-50, also known as the PAK FA — the Advanced Frontline Aircraft System. Specs are top secret, but the plane was flying at the international air show near Moscow. It can cruise at supersonic speed, and a special coating makes it less visible to radar. Pilots report that it’s safe and comfortable to fly. It flies, it banks, it rolls. Russia Today tell what they know.
- MORE BANG: The US Office of Naval Research have a new explosive made from a mix of metals and polymers. It’s dense but strong and can explode with up to 5 times the energy of existing armaments. But the High-Density Reactive Material casings are the important part. Rather than just packing explosives inside steel the new explosives combine with the casing. The whole lot explodes only when the projectile hits the target, dissipating both chemical and kinetic energy into the target itself. Initially the explosives will be used in larger weapons such as missiles. Look out Russian fighter jets. BBC.
- AI ONLINE: Would you like to learn about Artificial Intelligence — really learn? There’s a free online course open to anyone in the world, featuring leaders in the field as instructors. Introduction to Artificial Intelligence is being run by Stanford University and begins later this year. Sign up now.
- SURF’S UP IN THE POOL: Wavegarden in Spain have created a wave pool that works for surfers. A specially shaped submerged sled creates a wave as it’s dragged through the water. A prototype created small, hollow waves with tubes. Grab your board and head for Spain. Wired has the story and video.
- SWEEP HAND: The Tacit is a Hand-Mounted Haptic Feedback Sonar Obstacle Avoidance Asstance Device for visually impaired people. Worn like a glove, it uses sonar to measure the distance to things and expresses it as pressure on the wrist. It responds quickly enough that the wearer can just sweep their hand around to detect nearby objects. No university research project, this is an Arduino project with circuit and software released under a Creative Commons license. Get making. Grathio Labs invented it.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 23 August 2011
- TRANSPARENT SMILE: Holograms may be directing you to the right gate if you’re in Orly airport in Paris. The life-size avatars are used to help with boarding and are actually rear-projected onto a human shaped silhouette made of plexiglass. So long as holograms aren’t flying the plane… Yahoo News.
- DRONING ON: With drone aircraft increasing in number every day Wales has opted to provide them with their own special airport and airspace. Drones can be used for fighting fires or environmental monitoring as well as military tasks. One problem is the often highly restrictive rules around UAV flight. A dedicated airspace will make it easier to run tests, such as for the British Army’s new Watchkeeper WK450. Cloned airports for drones seems a bit redundant. Discovery News.
- BOOZE WAGON: Schluckspecht is a German word for ‘boozer’ and also the name of an experimental battery-powered car that travelled more than 1,600 Km on a single charge. 4 drivers took turns over the 36 hours it took to drain the battery as they drove the single-seater round the Bosch corporate test track in Germany. The team credit their success to aerodynamic design and weight efficiencies. Wheel-mounted hub-motors replaced the standard engine. Average speed was 45 Kph. Getting there. Slowly getting there. PhysOrg has the details.
- AIRY TALES: When’s the last time you checked the air in your car’s tires? Yes, I don’t know when I last checked mine either. The problem is that under-inflated tires increase fuel use and can reduce the life of the tire. Goodyear is creating an Air Maintenance Technology device that resides inside the tire. They give no actual details beyond saying that a tire with the embedded device maintains the correct pressure. There are no external pumps or electronics. All just hot air? Goodyear issued the press release.
- PHONE PARKING: It seems New York City may soon catch up with Wellington when they implement a plan to allow motorists to pay for parking with their cellphone. The phone’s associated with a credit or debit card. The motorist dials a number to pay, and the phone alerts them when they run out of time. Ho hum. PC World.
- BIRD SPOTTING: Binoculars or video? If you’re bird-watching you have to choose. But now Sony have released their DEV-3 and DEV-5 digital binoculars that record HD video with stereo sound. Both models have variable zoom up to 10x optical and electronic autofocus, while the DEV-5 also offers 3D recording. Image stabilisation helps keep images clear and stable. When you get home connect the binoculars to your TV with an HDMI cable. According to Sony you can watch wildlife, sports ‘and more’. It’s the ‘more’ that’s a worry. Sony News.
- ROUNDED BIKE: The Tortola Roundtail bike frame claims to reduce stress on the spine and tiredness from vibration. Instead of a triangle to hold the rear wheel it uses a circle. This dissipates the force from impacts rather than sending it straight up to the rider. The extra-strength frame is made from a special steel comprised of manganese, chrome, nickel, molybdenum and niobium. Nothing quite like a third wheel. Gizmodo.
- THE STORMS ARE COMING: For the last 90 years the sun has been at a grand solar maximum. But scientists are concerned about coming solar storms as solar activity moves to a minimum. At this time there are fewer solar storms, but they’re more powerful, and more radiation from other parts of the galaxy enters the Solar System. Records show that the most radiation hits Earth during periods of middling activity. Increased radiation could disrupt planes and spacecraft. Just planes and spacecraft? Surely all kinds of equipment may be affected. The BBC reports.
- HEALTH NET: In Liberia only 181 doctors care for 4 million people. Switchboard is a non-profit group that connects medical staff in Liberia and Ghana through free phonecalls. Soon they hope to expand to Tanzania. The closed network, MDNet, makes it possible for doctors to consult with one another through texts and calls. They’ve already connected more than 3 million free calls. That’s almost 1 call per head of population. Gizmodo.
- TUNNY STORY: The Tunny decryption machine at Bletchley Park in the UK was a precursor to modern computers, helping decrypt German messages during World War 2. For security reasons the machine was dismantled after the war. But working from a single photo and some memories a team of volunteers has been able to restore it for the Museum of National Computing. The project took them 5 years and a lot of expertise, but they’ve now completed the replica. PC Pro tells the story.
Tech Universe: Friday 26 August 2011
- THROWBOT: If soldiers want to look around in a building before they enter there’s a lightweight but rugged robot they can throw inside. The iRobot 110 FirstLook weighs less than 3 kilos. The soldier tosses it into the building where it rights itself and sets off across any environment. It can survive a 4 metre drop and is waterproof to a metre. The robot sends data back to an arm unit the soldier wears. Emergency services would love this too, I’m sure. iRobot.
- SEEDING THE STARS: The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency got the Internet off to a good start decades ago. Now they’re dabbling in space travel. They will award $500,000 in seed funding to help an organisation begin studying what it would take to send humans to another star. They want to look not just at the technology, but at factors such as legal, social and economic considerations. From dreams to reality — every journey starts somewhere. New York Times has the story.
- LEG IT: Vanderbilt University in the USA has created a new bionic leg with powered knee and ankle joints that operate in unison. This gives the wearer a more natural gait than the usual prosthetics do. Sensors monitor the wearer’s motion and microprocessors predict what the user will do. A wearer can walk, sit, stand, and go up and down stairs and ramps for up to 3 days on a single charge. I hope there’s a low battery indicator. Vanderbilt University.
- STEAL THIS: Kidnappings in Mexico have more than tripled in the last 5 years, so some people are inserting tracking devices into their bodies. An RFID device goes under the skin of the upper arm. It’s around 13 mm long and a few mm in diameter. The antenna in the chip sends a signal to a GPS device the wearer carries. But remote operators can also send tracking radio signals to the chip if the GPS unit is lost. Some researchers are skeptical that the device actually works though, mentioning problems with signal reach and battery power. The biggest problem may be the signal to potential kidnappers that the wearer is worth taking. So that bulge under the arm isn’t a gun. Washington Post explains the intricacies.
- DO YOU GLOW?: Monitoring glucose levels is a tedious business that many people have to undertake every day. Researchers at the University of Tokyo are testing a fluorescent fibre sensor that’s inserted under the skin and stays there. The fibre is 1mm in diameter and easy to insert and remove. It glows as blood glucose concentrations change. In mice it’s been accurate, stable and sensitive for up to 140 days at a time. It’d be like a tattoo: you may want it where you can see it, but the world can’t. Medgadget has more details.
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.