12 to 15 December 2011 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 12 December 2011

  • FLY BOY: Take a jetski and attach a massive hose to it. At the other end of the hose add a Flyboard with boots and nozzles. Now start the engine, step into the boots and start flying through the air, courtesy of your jet-powered boots. The video shows the rider flying in the air, diving into and out of the water and even doing somersaults. Start practising your deep breathing. Zapata Racing.
  • SWELL IDEA: The Australians will soon be testing a wave energy generator off the coast of Victoria. The bioWAVE generator sways back and forth beneath the waves like kelp. As it does so it pressurises hydraulic fluid to create electricity that’s sent ashore via undersea cable. If the swells are too large the unit lies flat against the sea floor for protection. It’s a pity we can’t just tap directly into kelp. BioPower Systems.
  • SLEEK SWIMMERS: Swimming can be a real drag — the water clings to a swimmer’s body and drag forces slow them down. With the 20012 Olympics coming up Speedo have released their Fastskin3 line of swimwear that claims to reduce full body passive drag by about 16%. Suits feature compression zones designed to flatten the body to create a straight line. One drawback: it takes a swimmer between 15 and 60 minutes to actually put the suit on. The Olympic swimmers will just need to suit up in the morning and stay in the suit all day. Wired.
  • HEAD TO THE HILLS: Wave pools aren’t specially new, but their running costs are a problem. Wavegarden, high in the Basque Pyrenees mountains, uses a special underwater hydrodynamic mould that resembles a plane wing, to push a wave ahead of it, creating an inland spot for surfers. To counter the problem of energy reflecting off the sides of the pool and interfering with the main wave they’ve made sure the sides of the pool are angled away. Pro surfers rank the shape of the waves at Wavegarden as a 10, even though they’d like the waves to be bigger and more powerful. The designers say more power is simply a matter of money. It’s always a matter of money. Popular Science.
  • DEEPLY SHAKEN: When the massive earthquake off Japan struck this year it did more than just cause a catastrophic tsunami. It actually changed Earth’s gravitational field enough to affect the orbits of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites 500 Km above Earth. Researchers can use changes in the orbits of those satellites to estimate the magnitude and location of huge earthquakes. Their calculations suggest that the Japan earthquake was a little stronger and deeper than ground-based scientists had determined. That was a quake with truly far-reaching effects. New Scientist.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 13 December 2011

  • BULLET POINTS: The Jo-Mojo from Estonian company Dartz is a roadster — an electric two-seater roadster, lightly armoured for your protection. It’s an open-top car, with a sliding roof that holds solar panels to help boost the batteries and helps protect the car while parked. Designed for the Cote d’Azur, there should be no lack of sunshine where it’s driven. Taking 9.5 seconds to reach 60 mph it’s not going to be anyone’s getaway car though. Gizmag.
  • BRAMM BRAMM: It seems electric motorcycles are catching on. The Brammo Empulse uses a liquid-cooled motor to take it up to 160 Km, at speeds exceeding 160 Kph. It’ll charge from a US standard 110v outlet, but take 6 to 8 hours for a full charge. That’s a good travel speed, now they need to work on the speed of charging. Popular Science.
  • THE FOLDING: A foldable electric motor scooter? Honda’s Motor Compo is less than 1 metre long and 1 metre tall. A removable battery could be used as an emergency power source. It’s intriguing, at least. Beautiful Life.
  • THIRD WHEEL: The Rinspeed Dock+Go is a concept car. The idea is that it uses dockable parts — or, more precisely, dockable rear parts. The dock is a pair of wheels on an axle, with the rear half of a car body. As a demonstration Rinspeed used a 2-seater Smart Car and suggested the dockable addition could contain extra fuel cells, or a toolbox pack for tradespeople, or perhaps a party pack. The car itself is due to be shown off early next year. It’s an odd idea. Rinspeed.
  • ROAD CHARGES: Daimler are testing a system of inductive charging for parked electric vehicles. The system is 90% efficient, and also depends on the driver placing the car correctly in the parking spot so the car is centered over the charging coils. Problems to solve include metal left on the road that could heat up, and how to make payment. Surely the payment problem could be easily solved with smartphones and a switching system. Technology Review.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 14 December 2011

  • FIRE EXIT: Firefighters can easily get disoriented and lost inside smoke-filled buildings, sometimes with fatal results. The 225 gram wearable TRX Tracking Unit is intended to help them. It includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, altimeter and ranging sensors. The tracker obtains an initial GPS reading while the firefighter is still outside then the sensors feed in data to create a map of the inside space in real time. The tracker sends the data back to base via the firefighter’s radio so it’s easy to locate and guide the firefighter at all times. That kind of tracker could be very handy for regular use in places like hospitals too with their endless and complex corridors. Discovery News.
  • OLD SARNIES: Yesterday’s sandwich may be unappealing, but a sandwich from last year would just turn the stomach. Usually. But the US Army has found a way to make sandwiches that keep up to 3 years and still taste good in ration packs. By locking away moisture inside the ingredients and keeping oxygen out they can keep bacteria from growing and ingredients from oxidising. I’m sure astronauts wouldn’t mind a sandwich sometimes either. BBC.
  • SLOW SARNIES: Rosie’s been making sandwiches — the normal kind. Which might not be anything too special, except that Rosie’s a robot at the Technical University in Munich. The steps aren’t explicitly programmed, rather the robot knows what’s required and carries out the right actions. The only thing is the process is a bit slow — the 2 minute video shows the action at 10x speed. Technische Universität München.
  • PLASTIC WRAP: Current solar cells use expensive silicon semiconductors or less-efficient thin films to trap photons, raise the energy levels of electrons and create electricity. Scientists at Tel Aviv University aim to do things a little differently by creating a variety of microscopic antennas in simple plastic films. Their antennas are designed to capture the sun’s emissions across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, even including radio waves. Then they convert the captured emissions into electricity. If successful, it could be possible to efficiently generate power at low cost by adding a simple plastic film to any surface. And just think of recapturing all the waste emissions we generate with all our electronics too. American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
  • THE SPIN: Why would you want to fill a giant steel sphere with 13,000 Kg of molten sodium heated to around 105 °C? Well, the University of Maryland did it to create a miniature model of Planet Earth, or at least, its molten outer core. Soon they’ll set the Geodynamo spinning and expect it to generate a self-sustaining electromagnetic field they can study. The larger sphere encloses a smaller inner sphere that mimics the Earth’s solid inner core. The spheres will spin separately. That’s music to the ears. Nature.

Tech Universe: Thursday 15 December 2011

  • CLAMPED: People who use manual wheelchairs do an awful lot of pushing. It’d be good to take a break now and again and have the chair drive itself. So how about the WHILL? It’s a prototype device that clamps onto a wheelchair’s wheels, giving it an electric drive. The device resembles a giant pair of headphones. Two hubs clamp onto the wheels. Each hub contains a 24 volt motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. A central control bar runs across between the hubs and in front of the wheelchair user’s body. Top speed is 20 Kph and the range is around 30 Km. The user steers by leaning. Interesting, but it looks as though you’d be trapped in the chair until someone came to help unclamp the hubs. Gizmag.
  • PUTTING THE NEW IN NEWTON: Cambridge University Library in the UK have been scanning the written works of Sir Isaac Newton and putting them online. The new site currently has more than 4,000 pages of Newton’s works, but more are yet to be added. Once they’ve finished with Newton they’ll move on to works by others, such as Darwin. Better brush up your Latin folks. Cambridge University Library. Cambridge Digital Library:
  • GORDON’S FLASH: “Gordon’s my name and computing’s my game.” The San Diego Supercomputer Center has just plugged in the world’s first supercomputer that uses 300 terabytes of flash storage instead of disks. Gordon can run massive databases up to 10 times faster than traditional memory and is the 48th fastest supercomputer in the world. So not exactly Saviour of the Universe. Wired.
  • QUICK SLOW: When we look at the ocean we see the sea, not the individual drops of water that make it up. In the same way, we see light all around us, but not photons. MIT researchers have now created a camera that does see individual photons, as it captures one trillion exposures per second, but only in one dimension. It can see a burst of light travel the length of a soft drink bottle and back again. To create a 2D image the camera must make repeated exposures, then software assembles the image. The camera relies on laser pulses, mirrors and sophisticated timings to capture the images. Each photo takes several hours to produce. So forget this for your baby shots. MIT News.
  • SAY NOTHING: Decades ago a free way to phone your folks and let them know you needed more money for your OE was to make a collect call and ask for a codenamed person. They’d refuse the call but know to send cash. In India they’ve escalated this old trick into almost an art form, to the extent it’s becoming official. Callers in India are making missed calls, where they let the phone ring once then hang up. It’s a way to nudge a friend or tell a company to call you. Now mobile apps and services are incorporating missed calls as an integral part of the system. As with text messaging, you can call a designated number and immediately hang up to receive a reply with a weather forecast, bus timetable or coupon deal. Which just goes to show how few words you really need to convey a message. GigaOM.

Friday’s Tech Universe was a special ‘Favourites for 2011’. I’ll post that separately.

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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.