31 October to 04 November 2011 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 31 October 2011

  • 57 VIEWS: If you’re going to get a 3D TV then get a good one. Like the new 500 cm auto-stereoscopic Full HD 3D display from JVC Kenwood and NICT. It shows video from 57 different angles because it uses 57 projectors in an array. That means that multiple viewers can be in front of the screen at once, each seeing the picture from a slightly different angle. If the image on screen showed a car with the doors open, for example, the viewer could move around to see inside the car. If movies start doing that then every viewer will see a slightly different story — weird. DigInfo News.
  • WATCH YOUR HEART: Thanks to researchers in Switzerland you may soon be able to wear a discreet heart monitor all day every day while you go about your usual activities. 4 non-invasive electrodes attached to the skin are linked to a radio module and computer chip that clip onto your belt. Data feeds to your smartphone where you can view it in real time. If any abnormalities show up it immediately signals your doctor via email or SMS. Hypochondriacs could be beeping all over the place. CNN.
  • BUMPER BAGS: Japanese company Humanix claim their iSAVE-SC1 is the safest electric vehicle in the world. The 3 wheeler 3 seater car has inflated airbags on the front and rear — outside not inside. Top speed is 50 Kph. I think the sales chart on this will show a single well-padded round number. TechCrunch.
  • KNUCKLEPADS: Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have demonstrated new possibilities for interacting with touchscreens. In their demo the software can distinguish between knuckle, fingertip, fingernail and finger pad and respond differently. For example, a fingernail tap may delete characters, while a knuckle may call up a contextual menu. The software can also distinguish between different input devices such as styluses. That could quickly become very confusing. Chris Harrison.
  • RESCUE ROBOT: Italian hydraulic quadruped robot HyQ can walk, jump, trot and rear, but not carry loads. The 70 Kg robot can change the stiffness of each limb by adjusting hydraulic flow. The hydraulics absorb shocks and vibrations as the robot moves over rough terrain. Once it’s untethered and has a head it could be used for search and rescue in dangerous environments. That’s one more robot dog in the pack. IEEE Spectrum.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 01 November 2011

  • CRIME DRONE: One law enforcement agency in Houston, USA, has bought itself a Shadowhawk MK-III UAV. The helicopter carries a powerful camera and infrared heat-seeking device and is controlled from the ground. They plan to use it for investigating drug shipments and assessing scenes with active shooters. An onboard GPS system is designed to keep the UAV on target. A well-placed beam from a handheld laser could surely blind the camera, but I guess criminals won’t think of that. Click2Houston.
  • SNOW POWERED LIKES: Facebook’s hot at the moment — literally. Its server farms produce vast amounts of heat and keeping them cool is a problem. That’s why Facbook is building an enormous server farm facility in snowy Luleå, northern Sweden, where the environment will do the cooling. The average temperature there is around 2C. The farms will be powered by hydroelectricity from the nearby river. The area already has thriving iron, steel and paper industries so robust infrastructure is in place and their Internet connections are also high quality. Couldn’t they export the heat to warm city buildings? The Telegraph.
  • SEE THROUGH GLASS: Glare: it’s a constant problem where glass is involved as spectacle wearers can attest. Nippon Electric Glass has created a substrate that reduces reflections to almost nothing. With normal glass around 8% of light is reflected. With the 30 layer anti-reflection film on each of the front and back sides of the glass substrate only about 0.5% of the light is reflected. Next it needs to be self-cleaning. Tech on!
  • LASER ENCRYPTION: Communicating with military submarines is slow as low-frequency radio waves pass through water. Submarines have to surface to use faster comms. There’s also a problem in keeping signals secure, so single-use keys are required. But there’s a danger in having too many keys on board in case a sub is captured. Quantum key distribution could help solve these problems. Submarines could transmit photons of laser light to satellites from 100 metres down to exchange a key using the quantum properties of photons to generate a key. Subsequent laser pulses would then be secure. It’s all just theory for now though. Who knew subs had so much trouble communicating? New Scientist.
  • AVOID THE CROWDS: The Yamanote train line in Tokyo may be crowded and hot, but a new WiFi service for smartphone users should help. Servers on the train record data such as temperature and crowding rates and make it available via WiFi. Smartphone users can also access information on train services and delays. The crowding rates are determined by using existing weight sensors that control the brakes when a train stops. The service is being tested on one train this year. A closed WiFi network for train information sounds like something all trains should have. DigInfo News.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 02 November 2011

  • HIGH WINDS: The wind’s stronger higher in the atmosphere. Altaeros plan to use that fact to make flying wind turbines that generate power for remote and inaccessible places. Their aerostat device is shaped like a jet engine, but is actually a laminate material filled with helium. It focuses the wind and keep the whole thing flying. Inside is a turbine blade made of lightweight composite aluminium. The aerostat could supply enough power for 40 homes, but they say it would be better suited for remote drilling camps or villages. The whole thing fits into a shipping container. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an aerostat. Discovery News.
  • EAT YOUR OWN CHIPS: China’s new supercomputer, the Sunway BlueLight MPP, uses chips made in China. It can perform about 1,000 trillion calculations per second using 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 microprocessors. Previous Chinese supercomputers have used Intel, Nvidia or Sparc chips. The new computer requires one megawatt of power. I wonder how many jet shaped helium balloons it would take to power that. New York Times.
  • RED LINING: One company in the USA has created a virtual cable that displays on your windscreen to guide you to where you’re going. The MVS Virtual Cable is an augmented reality app for your car. The 3D red line stretches ahead of you on the windscreen, curving and turning to match the route you need to drive. Perspective and foreshortening make the cable appear more realistic and provide accurate depth perception. Unlike a regular GPS guide you keep your eyes on the road and don’t have to look away to a separate unit or listen to instructions. That would be exceptionally handy in places with narrow winding roads, like Wellington. MVS.
  • BUSINESS VIEW: Google’s Street View is famous — you’ve probably used it to check out a route you’re going to drive. Now its Interior View photos of businesses are coming online too. Professional photographers make 360 degree images of the interiors of certain businesses, including some in New Zealand. Step inside and scroll in the image to get a good all-round view. The programme is starting with often searched for businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail shops, gyms, salons, and repair shops. Smile for the cameras over the next while. PC Mag.
  • ROBOT FLYTRAP: Venus Flytrap plants have leaves like jaws that snap shut on insects. The plant then digests its insect food. Scientists at Seoul National University in South Korea have made a similar mechanism to trap insects as food for robots. Two carbon fibre leaves are connected by a shape-memory metal spring. The weight of an insect makes the spring close the leaves. The Ecobot can digest insects, food scraps and sewage to power itself, so it could use a trap like this to catch its own food. Keep your hands away from the robot! New Scientist.

Tech Universe: Thursday 03 November 2011

  • EYE ROBOT: Would you rather have an eye surgeon or a robot poking needles in your eye? Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have created a precision robot for eye surgery. The surgeon can sit comfortably while using joysticks to manipulate the robot which is placed in precisely the right position. The system filters out hand tremors and scales down movements of the surgeon’s fingers. Haptic feedback means surgeons can still feel the effects of their actions. If I have to have a needle in my eye I’d prefer it to be held steady, that’s for sure. MedGadget.
  • EBOOKS ARE HEAVY: I bet you thought adding ebooks to your Kindle or iPad didn’t increase it’s weight. Me too. It seems we’re wrong though, thanks to e=mc2 which shows mass and energy are related. A computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley has calculated that each ebook we add does increase the mass of the reader. Don’t worry though if you didn’t notice it. According to his calculations 4 GB of books add 0.000000000000000001g, or the same weight as one small virus. It’s a weighty world. The Telegraph. Follow-up: I discovered this video after this item was published: How much does the Internet weigh?
  • LIGHT SHOW: Lights — we’ve had incandescent, fluorescent, CFL and LED. Soon we could add laser to our options. Diode lasers can be more efficient, and their white light output is acceptable to the human eye according to tests by Sandia National Laboratories. White light from lasers combines precise and narrow wavelengths of red, blue, green and yellow where sunlight is full-spectrum. Couldn’t filters help break up those wavelengths a bit? Sandia National Laboratories.
  • CAR BY COMMITTEE: In spite of its name the StreetScooter is a car. The low cost electric vehicle is the product of a collaboration among more than 50 parts suppliers, tech companies and software developers. It’s a modular vehicle that can be heavily customised while still being quick to build and inexpensive. Collaboration can win out over competition if it has a chance. Wired.
  • HERE’S WALDO: I’m sure we all know the USA runs the GPS network, so when your phone shows you a map that’s the service it’s using. But the Americans aren’t the only ones doing GPS: the Russians, Europe and China are all setting up GPS networks too. Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellite system recently launched the first 2 satellites. They hope to provide accuracy down to 1 metre, compared with the US’s 10 metres. Many phone makers are including appropriate chips to access all the systems. If one GPS system drains my phone battery quickly, what will 4 do to it? Kurzweil AI.

Tech Universe: Friday 04 November 2011

  • HACK A SAT: It seems NASA’s Terra AM-1 satellite may have been hacked, and not just once. Two suspicious events were noticed in 2008, but no data was lost apparently. The satellite studies climate, weather and ground use. Landsat-7 is also reported to have been hacked twice. That weather report must have been specially interesting! Talking Points Memo.
  • AVATAR WARMTH: A study by Northeastern University in the USA found that some patients responded really well to a warm and engaging virtual nurse. They preferred the virtual nurse because they didn’t feel rushed or talked down to, and some developed a degree of emotional attachment. The avatars are equipped with hand gestures and facial expressions derived from watching real-life nurses as they interacted with patients. They also use some basic small-talk with a choice of answers to help put patients at ease. It’s a bit sad when patients find virtual nurses more amenable than real ones. Technology Review.
  • PAGE TURNER: Researchers at the University of Munich and the Hasso Plattner Institute hope to have us tapping on almost anything to control gadgets — even clothes or pieces of paper. The possibility arises because the touch of a finger could be detected by a simple set of wires in the fabric or paper. The principle is similar to radar: sending out pulses and noticing minute variations in the reflected pulse. Now they need to find ways to shrink and refine the tech. At last: maybe we’ll be able to tap on a paper book to turn the page. Technology Review.
  • OH LED!: The University of Toronto have been making low-cost, flexible and highly efficient organic light-emitting diodes by putting them on plastic. At the moment the items they produce are tiny, but it should be easy to scale up for commercial use. The OLEDs could be used in devices like cellphones or TVs, but because they can be flexible they could be shaped for specific uses too. The wristphone is on its way. University of Toronto.
  • SENSITIVE COTTON: Scientists at Cornell University have been creating transistors out of cotton fibres coated with gold nanoparticles along with semiconductive and conductive polymers. Clothes made with this material could perhaps sense your temperature and heat up or cool down, track your heartrate and do other tasks. You could soon be wearing your electronics, not carrying them. Cornell University.

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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.