21 to 25 November 2011 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 21 November 2011

  • EV-ING: Croatia’s Dok-ing electric vehicle now has the status of prototype. The EV can travel at up to 140 Kph, and has a range of up to 220 Km. It comes with 2 or 4 gullwing doors. The vehicle seats 3 adults. It’s great to see an EV trend. Dok-ing Automotiv.
  • LEARNER CARER: A personal care robot from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan is intended to help dress people who are elderly or have physical disabilities. Unlike previous robots, this one quickly learns to adapt to the individual size, shape and movements of the person being dressed. Robots like this may allow people to live independently who would otherwise need to go into care. The ability to learn and adapt would seem fairly crucial for a personal care robot. Marketwire.
  • SNOW WINGS: If you’re a really serious skier or hiker you may be in avalanche territory. If you’re hit by an avalanche the biggest danger is being buried by the snow. But if you wear the Avalanche Airbag Safety System from North Face just pull a ripcord to inflate ‘snow wings’. They’ll help float you to the surface, increasing your chances of survival. The backpack holds a nitrogen canister to inflate two bags that resemble wings. Or maybe they’re snow angels. Discovery News.
  • STRIVE TO BE FIT: Fanatical about tracking your fitness or just want more motivation? The Striiv is a small touchscreen gadget for your pocket or belt that records your steps. It displays stats such as calories burned, weekly averages, personal bests. Striiv includes games you play by moving around, and has rewards for moving, such as donations to charity by sponsors. More vigorous movements, such as climbing steps, earn more points. Sounds fun. MedGadget. Striiv.
  • 3D JET SET: If you’re learning to fly a fighter jet in a military simulator then space and depth perception can be tricky, thanks to the 2D projection. The Russian makers of the MIG jet have created a 3D simulator. Their system produces stereo imagery making it much easier to assess distances. The simulator includes the MiG-29’s cockpit and actual control systems. Those jet fighters are a danger if the pilot can’t asses distance correctly. Gizmag.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 22 November 2011

  • LINES IN THE SAND: Recently released Google Maps imagery revealed puzzling patterns in the Gobi Desert in China. A researcher at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University says they’re used for calibrating spy satellites, helping to orient them in space. So maybe that’s what the Nazca lines were too! Life’s Little Mysteries.
  • CLOUDY PHOTOS: CloudFTP is a nifty idea for a gadget: it gives your camera, external hard drive or other device its own wireless connection. Connect it via USB to your digital camera, for example, and it can create its own wireless network to share photos with your smartphone. Or it can hook in to an existing WiFi network and upload your photos to an Internet service such as Dropbox, if a connection is available. It uses a 2600mAh li-ion rechargeable battery. It sounds like a good way to retrofit WiFi to DSLR cameras. KickStarter. Video:
  • ELASTIC METAL: US scientists produced an ultralight metallic microlattice by shining ultraviolet light through a pattern onto a liquid photopolymer to create a lattice-work scaffold. Then they coated the lattice with nickel-phosphorous. The result is a 3D hollow lattice of metal that is incredibly lightweight because it’s mainly air. The metal can also be compressed to almost nothing and then expands again with very little damage. Since the metal is mainly air it weighs only 1 mg per cubic centimeter. The metal could be used for thermal insulation, dampening vibrations, absorbing energy, or electronic parts. Perhaps we need a new phrase: ‘lighter than metal’. io9.
  • CHECK: How many cores does your computer have? Not as many as Intel’s new 50-core 1 teraflop Knights Corner processor, I bet. It may not be showing up in your laptop for a while, but expect it in a supercomputer near you soon. The Seattle Times.
  • EYES RIGHT: Eyedrops are a nuisance, and their effect wears off within a few minutes. So if you have an eye condition that needs regular medication it’s quite a bother. Researchers at Auburn University in the USA have created contact lenses — corrective or not — that a person can wear continuously for up to 30 days. The lenses release a controlled amount of a drug through a memory effect in the lens structure. I hope this can extend beyond just eye medication. Auburn University.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 November 2011

  • NOT MASS TRANSPORT: The Danish handmade Zenvo ST1 car is not only exclusive, but very powerful and very expensive. The 1104 horsepower 7 litre V8 engine can push the car to a top speed of 375 Kph, after accelerating 0 to 100 Kph in 3 seconds. Don’t hold your breath though — even if you have the almost $2 million to pay for one there will only be 15 made available worldwide. It’d definitely be fun to drive, but you wouldn’t want to park it anywhere.
  • COOLER EXPLOSIONS: Beware the office water cooler — it’s a weapon of destruction. Welsh firm BCB International has created a pneumatic device that fires barrels of water at 300 metres per second — enough force to break down walls. The weapon’s designed for counter-terrorism teams. The plastic bottle shatters on impact and the water sprays out harmlessly, unlike explosive devices. Don’t underestimate the power of water. BBC.
  • SHARP TONGUE: Chainsaws are notoriously dangerous. The JawSaw though contains the cutting bar and chain like a tongue within a pair of jaws that grip the branch you’re pruning. You can cut branches above your head or on the ground. Designed for heavy pruning jobs, the cutting blade retracts into the housing when no longer needed. The Jaws of Safety. JawSaw.
  • SOLID LIQUID: The resin used in electronic circuits is light, strong and resistant, but once cured it can’t be reshaped. Researchers at the Laboratoire “Matière Molle et Chimie” have developed a novel organic material. It can move between liquid and solid states as glass can, yet like resin it remains light, insoluble and difficult to break. Used as a basis for composites this material could compete with metals. So long as it doesn’t spontaneously reshape itself in amongst hot electronics. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
  • OLD NEWS: The energy consumption in the homes of some seniors in Australia will be monitored for irregularities. The idea is to map the daily routine of each household and send out an alert if things look wrong. This may allow some older people to continue to live independently. Researchers hope to also develop wearable technology for further monitoring. Better warn the monitors if family come to stay. University of Wollongong.

Tech Universe: Thursday 24 November 2011

  • AIR SHOW: With 50,000 dots per second the new laser projection system from Keio University shows 3D images in mid-air. The system uses a green laser to excite oxygen and nitrogen, creating luminous points of light in air or underwater. The frame rate is a rather slow 10-15 fps, but they’re working to increase it. By using red, green, and blue lasers they could create a colour image. Using the air itself as a medium: very clever. DigInfo News.
  • WIRELESS HEART: A new Pacemaker from EBR Systems does away with wires. Instead it sends focused acoustic waves to a receiver the size of a grain of rice implanted inside the heart. The receiver converts the sound waves into electrical energy. The wireless cardiac stimulation system gets all its power and signals wirelessly via ultrasound from a small device implanted in the chest. No WiFi interference, then. Technology Review.
  • IN THE WARMTH OF THE OAK TREE: To save power plant a tree — a Solar Botanic artificial tree, with green leaves, and designed to resemble real trees. The artificial trees harvest wind, sunlight and heat using Nanoleaves. The leaves each generate only a tiny amount of electricity when they move in wind or in rain. With plenty of leaves, though, that energy mounts up. A tree resembling an oak could generate 7000kWh per year. The energy is stored in the tree trunk until needed by the nearby house. A fake oak tree in the garden sounds like a better deal than solar panels or a wind turbine. I want mine to be a Puka tree though. Discovery News.
  • CARPORT: The Solar Tree from Envision is a very different kind of tree — in fact, it’s more of a roof. The structure is designed to shade vehicles from the sun while producing renewable energy to recharge up to 6 electric vehicles. Or get the smaller one that powers and protects a single vehicle. Or maybe just get solar panels installed on the roof of the car. Envision Solar.
  • SAILING ON: Four small robots are making their own way across the Pacific from San Francisco to Japan and Australia, collecting data as they go. Each Wave Glider’s about the size of a dolphin and is powered by the waves, while solar energy keeps the sensors going. The public will have access to all the data, including information about weather, water salinity and temperature. They should all have trees! Liquid Robotics.

Tech Universe: Friday 25 November 2011

  • LEGO RESCUE: After a disaster people need food, water and shelter. The UNICEF Brick manages to combine all 3 into one neat package. Brick-shaped boxes hold food and water in compartments. But once they’ve been consumed, the compartments can be filled with soil or sand and stacked to build a shelter. The boxes are shaped like Lego bricks, so when they’re stacked they also lock together. If and when the bricks are no longer needed they can be re-used elsewhere. That’s clever packaging. Inhabitat.
  • SERVER BATH: Servers generate massive amounts of heat and need careful cooling to operate effectively. Green Revolution Cooling reckon they can reduce power costs by submerging servers in a dielectric coolant. Air is better at insulating than cooling. The liquid based on mineral oil has 1,200 times the heat capacity of air by volume. In one case study by the company build costs were halved, as were annual power costs. Maintenance could be quite tricky though. HP Input Output.
  • ION TRAILS: Scientists at Northwestern University have created lithium-ion battery terminals that charge in 15 minutes yet hold that charge for a week. Even after 150 charges the batteries are still 5 times more effective than current lithium-ion batteries. Charge density is affected by how many lithium ions can be packed into the anode or cathode, while charge time depends on how quickly lithium ions can move between electrolyte and anode. The new technique adds density by putting clusters of silicon between graphene sheets and creates intentional defects that provide shortcuts for ions, speeding up charging time. See, shortcuts can be a good thing. Northwestern University.
  • LED LENSES: Researchers at the University of Washington have succeeded in placing a single LED, powered wirelessly with RF, in a contact lens. The lens incorporates integrated control circuits, communication circuits, and miniature antennas. Of course, the idea is to increase the usefulness so the lens can eventually display data for the wearer. Such a lens could also include or monitor sensors, for example, watching blood-sugar levels. One of the challenges is to use materials that aren’t toxic in the eye. Wait for the typography aficionados to complain about contact lens fonts. IEEE Spectrum.
  • GLOWING METASTASES: Glow in the dark materials are pretty common, but they tend not to emit light in the near-infrared range. Now University of Georgia scientists have created such a material. It emits a near-infrared glow for up to 360 hours after only one minute’s exposure to sunlight. This could be hugely important for medical diagnostics, solar energy collection and the military. One application could bond the material to cancer cells, allowing doctors to detect small metastases. For military use it could provide light visible only to those wearing night-vision goggles. The material uses trivalent chromium ions as a basis, while a matrix of zinc and gallogermanate allow the light emissions to be long-lasting. Ahh, trivalent and matrix — it must be good. EurekAlert!

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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.

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