Tech Universe: Monday 26 September 2011
- WATCH YOUR BRAINS: Thanks to the smartphone brain scanner from the Technical University of Denmark you may be able to keep an EEG scanner in your pocket. An EEG headset records 14 channels of data and sends it wirelessly to a Nokia N900 phone. The phone processes the data and creates a visualisation of brain activity. Oh boy, a new quirk on reality TV is in the offing I bet. Technical University of Denmark.
- WIRELESS BREATH: It’s useful to measure the breathing of certain people, such as those undergoing surgery or babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome. But all the tubes and wires are invasive and disruptive. At the University of Utah researchers are replacing the gadgets with a network of off-the-shelf wireless transceivers around a bed to keep track of breathing. Researchers suggest their BreathTaking technique could help emergency responders identify people alive inside collapsed buildings. They also point out it could be misused by burglars or stalkers. University of Utah.
- TOUCHING TRAVEL TIPS: New York’s On the Go! Travel Station is an interactive, 120 cm high-definition touchscreen that provides travel directions, service changes, maps, shopping and dining options and other handy info. The lower half of the screen is dedicated to advertising. The 6 month pilot programme puts the screens in just a few subway stations. Where have the previous users hands been? NYDailyNews.
- SPEEDY RESULTS: Scientists at CERN are puzzled: they’ve been sending muon neutrinos through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away. The problem is that in the 15,000 times they’ve sent these streams the particles are arriving too quickly. If their speed has been accurately measured then they’re travelling faster than light. Now the team are putting their research online and asking other scientists to check it out. Star Trek fans are already wondering what all the fuss is about. BBC.
- ON THE 3RD HAND: The i-Limb Ultra Prosthetic Hand from Touch Bionics has 5 individually powered articulating fingers and manually rotatable thumb and wrist. It also includes variable grip strength for digits, unlike older models. Standard skin coverings resemble actual skin tones in 10 different skin shades for both genders. Custom skins are also available that match a wearer’s own skin exactly. Hooray for tech: prosthetic hands these days are a long way from Cap’n Hook. MedGadget.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 27 September 2011
- FAST NOT FAR: Toyota’s single-seater Ku:Rin test car can reach almost 130 Kph using only compressed air. The 3-wheeler’s tank was filled using a conventional air-conditioner compressor manufactured by Toyota. The speed’s good, the compressed air is good, but the vehicle’s range at the moment is a mere 3 Km. So you could rocket down to the shop for some milk, but forget the round town driving. PhysOrg.
- RIDGED ROBOTS: Robots don’t have fingerprints, but perhaps they should. Fingerprints not only allow us to grip better but do some signal processing too, letting us understand what it is we’re touching. Researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed a robotic touch sensor covered with a ridged plastic sheet in the style of fingerprints. This allows the robot to identify the shape of an object being touched. We just can’t get away from the models Nature provides, eh. Technology Review.
- CHANNEL SURFING: Researchers at the Münster University of Applied Sciences in Germany can figure out what channel you’re watching on TV just by looking at your electricity meter, if it’s a smart meter. Light and dark passages and volumes of data make an analysis possible. Unfortunately, for details you’ll need to brush up your German to read their paper. Hah, 2 TV sets on different channels should deal to that research! The H Security.
- WATCH YOUR STEP: An international team of bioengineers say that the way we walk can be used as an accurate way to identify us. In tests with 104 people they reached an accuracy of 99.6%. Barefoot test subjects walked on a system of pressure-sensitive sensors that recorded timing and pressure from parts of the foot. They recorded around 100,000 pressure values for each single step, so had a lot of data to work with. Classification algorithms were able to extract the key data. Ah, but shoes will confound everything. Wired.
- WATER CLEANER: More than 10% of people in the world don’t have ready access to clean water. An organisation called Sarvajal has a new approach to dealing with that problem in India: solar-powered ATMs that dispense water. Local franchisees collect water for the ATM. The ATM treats the water with reverse osmosis and ultraviolet rays and feeds back quality and system information to base. Members of the local community can then buy the water from the ATM with a prepaid card they recharge via cellphone. The idea seems to be working, as the franchise network is growing fast. That’s a way better idea than feeding money into a machine to get out water bottled in single-use plastic and shipped around the world. Fast Company.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 28 September 2011
- TRACTOR FARM: We’ve seen planes and cars that fly themselves, but Kinze is working on a project to take the humans out of grain harvest and other farm operations. Their driverless tractor and grain cart operate autonomously to receive grain from a combine harvester and deliver it to a silo. No driver or preprogrammed route required. 4 legs good, 2 legs better, wheels best. Farm Equipment.
- THE CAR OR THE FUEL?: If you drive a hydrogen powered car you have a big problem: where to fill up. The UK’s first public hydrogen filling station has opened in Swindon. Where a battery powered car might cover 100 Km and take hours to recharge a hydrogen car can drive for 500 Km and take only 5 minutes to refuel. Of course, there aren’t many hydrogen cars around just yet, but without filling stations who’ll buy the cars? BBC.
- MAGNETIC BLOCK: Putting someone with a pacemaker into an MRI machine could have bad consequences for both the machine and the human because of magnetic interference. But what say the pacemaker could be shielded with an anti-magnet? Scientists at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona are working on just such a device. A superconducting material blocks the internal magnetic field of an object, while dampening layers block the effect of the superconductor on the external magnetic field. Such a shield could also protect ships from magnetic mines. Wouldn’t the superconductors leave a signature trace though? Gizmodo.
- PROTONICS: Scientists at the University of Washington have built a transistor that uses protons instead of electrons, aiming to bridge the gap between human bodies and electronics. It’s not easy to create gadgets that interact directly with the human body since it works on protons and ions, rather than the electrons of electronics. The new prototype transistor still uses silicon as a base but it includes a modified form of the compound chitosan that can be recycled from crab shells. Chitosan works well to move protons around. And when the protonics and electronics work smoothly together can we just save time and call them all ‘onics’? University of Washington.
- OFFSCREEN TOUCH: The Portico system is a collaboration between Intel, Microsoft and the University of Washington. It adds dual webcams to a tablet. The cameras monitor the tablet screen and also the surface around the tablet, allowing a user to move objects on a desk to interact with the computer. For example, you might roll a miniature football on the desk into a goal displayed on screen. The system can also detect hand gestures. The team say Portico increases the usable area of the computer by 6 times. That could make a tablet an interesting centre piece at a dinner table. Technology Review. Video:
Tech Universe: Thursday 29 September 2011
- FLOCK OF BOTS: At the Swiss Laboratory of Intelligence Systems researchers have found a way to make up to 10 flying autonomous vehicles behave as a swarm or flock. The small fixed-wing machines fly together, migrate and avoid crashing. Individual robots respond to their close neighbours without considering the movements of the group, yet the whole group move as one. The robots communicate via wifi which the researchers tune for shorter or longer range to help determine movement patterns. So is it swarm like killer bees or flock like doves? Perhaps it depends on the overall intent of the robots. Wired.
- COLD DATA: Data centres need heaps of power to run the servers and to keep them cool. British company Colt has figured out how to create a carbon-neutral data centre. 37 glass and steel climate-controlled boxes will be prefabricated in the UK, then shipped to Iceland where they’ll be assembled inside a shell building powered by geothermal and hydroelectric power and cooled by the naturally frigid Icelandic air. The boxes contain power points, cables, heating, ventilation, security systems, monitoring systems, lighting and flooring — all ready for the actual servers to be installed. High-speed network cables will transmit data to Europe and the US. Those high-speed cables are crucial. The Guardian.
- CHARGED STOPS: The AutoTram is a concept public transport vehicle from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. Part bus, part tram and part train it doesn’t need overhead wires or rails, but it’s fully electric. The idea is that it carries only enough charge to reach the next stop. At each stop it spends around 30 seconds recharging with a burst of up to 700 volts while passengers get on and off. Research suggests the AutoTram would be a good deal cheaper than light rail, but more expensive than diesel. It’s a clever idea to run on short duration charges. Fast Company.
- EYES FORWARD: The Owl 360 puts a CMOS video camera on the back of your bicycle. On the handlebars you get a 3.5 inch LCD screen. Now you don’t need to turn your head to see traffic coming up behind you. The LCD screen is attached via a quick release hot shoe. The camera and screen are rechargeable via a 3.7-volt lithium-polymer battery in the monitor. 10 red LEDs around the camera flash when light levels are low. That screen better have great visibility in bright daylight. Gizmag.
- CLEAN AIR SPONGE: We’re all worried about excessive CO2 in the atmosphere, but it’s not that easy to take it out. US researchers have found a new sponge-like material that may help capture and store gaseous carbon dioxide. Porous crystals, known as metal-organic frameworks, are made mainly from gamma-cyclodextrin, a sugar molecule derived from cornstarch. Metals hold the sugar molecules in place. The sugars fix carbon dioxide which can be recovered later. An indicator molecule causes the normally yellow crystals to turn red when they reach full capacity. The crystals are low cost, renewable and don’t rely on toxic heavy metals. It’s how we’d apply the sponges’ that’s the puzzle. Couldn’t we just plant more plants and reduce our output? ScienceDebate.com.
Tech Universe: Friday 30 September 2011
- PERSONAL STEAM ENGINE: The de Dion Bouton et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos Steam Runabout was a revolutionary state of the art vehicle when it was built in 1884. Now up for auction, the car participated in the world’s first automobile race. It has impressive specs: it seats 4, is 3 metres long, and features twin compound steam engines. Top speed was about 60 Kph. The boiler requires 150 litres of water and a good supply of coal or coke for a 30 Km journey. It takes around 30 minutes to prepare for driving. Auctioneers expect the car to sell for around US$2 million. And it’s still running, how about that! Gizmag.
- GRIDLOCK: The University of Delaware and NRG Energy have an idea called eV2g. Businesses that own fleets of electric vehicles can sign up to supply energy from the vehicle batteries to the grid during peak usage periods while the vehicle is plugged in. Owners specify the minimum level of charge a vehicle should retain and set aside vehicles that need a greater than usual charge. The scheme could help smooth out fluctuations in renewable energy production. Presumably increased cycles shorten the useful life of the battery though. University of Delaware.
- QUICK HOME: Canadian company 9D International say their homes are suitable for building in disaster zones, such as Chile where an earthquake caused severe devastation. The affordable and energy efficient 55 square metre homes withstand earthquake, tsunami and fire and are designed to be built quickly. The shell is made of structural insulated panels. Each home uses a system to capture drinkable water from the air and includes solar power. They say the homes can be locally produced 20 times faster than traditional homes. Energy efficient, warm, easy to build — it would suit more than just disaster areas. Canada.com. Video:
- THE DATA FRONTIER: NASA’s International Space Apps Competition is asking anyone and everyone to create apps for smartphones, desktops, and websites that use publicly released scientific data. They want people to create practical applications that benefit humanity — perhaps relating to weather-related hazards or growth patterns around cities. The data’s out there, exploring it for all our benefit is a great idea. Good on NASA for pushing the initiative. Wired.
- SPACE PALACE: China’s Heavenly Palace space station lifts off this week — or at least the Tiangong 1 module. Assembly of the actual space base is planned for 2020. Is co-operation or competition more useful in space? io9.
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 as supplied. The items that were published in The Herald may differ slightly.
While I find all the items interesting, some are just cooler than others. I’ve marked out those items.