10 to 13 January 2012 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Tuesday 10 January 2012

  • THE SIGN OF THE TEXT: Typing out text messages is such a pain — there’s the tiny keyboard to deal with for one thing. So how about being able to type text messages by hand gestures and sign language? One group of developers has added flex sensors, a tiny gyroscope and a handful of Arduino to a glove and hooked it all up to an Android phone. After a bit of training the phone will type what the gloved hand signs. Sign you later. DVICE.
  • GRIDS IN SPACE: Plenty of groups are trying to restrict the Internet by imposing censorship of various kinds. At the recent Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin a group decided to create a Hackerspace Global Grid. It could create an independent communications network and perhaps even send an astronaut to the Moon. The first step is a grid of low-cost ground stations to track and communicate with satellites. It’s a bold plan, even though they’re going where the professionals have gone before. BBC.
  • TOOTH BRUSH: If even the thought of the dentist’s drill sets your teeth on edge you may like the sound of the painless plasma drill. US researchers have been working on a cool plasma brush that cleans out cavities without pain by creating chemical reactions on the surface of the tooth. The plasma kills bacteria and allows the tooth to bond better to the filling. That means fillings should last longer too. And if it’s painless you shouldn’t need injections either, so no more numb mouth. So long as it doesn’t have the same high-pitched whine. MU News Bureau.
  • A LIGHT SLEEP: Some wavelengths of light can disrupt our sleep if we’re exposed to them for an hour or two before bedtime. A Florida inventor hopes to overcome that problem by creating a bulb whose light still looks white but is missing the blue 465 to 485 nanometers of the spectrum. Clinical trials have begun, and if they go well a new LED bulb could be ready within a couple of years. Don’t get the sleepytime blues. Discovery News.
  • A LIGHT CLEAN: Chemical engineers in China found a way to make fabric clean itself when exposed to sunlight. They spiked titanium dioxide with nitrogen ions which gives it photocatalytic capabilities in UV light and visible light. Then they added silver iodide nanoparticles and coated the fabric with nanoparticles of the new compound. The photocatalytic part means that when TiO2 is exposed to light, it breaks down dirt and kills the microbes that cause odour. The silver iodide speeds up the process. And you can still wash the fabric the old-fashioned way with water, if you like. That sounds good: a spot of sunbathing could replace doing the washing. io9.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 11 January 2012

  • QUICK TO RISE: A 30 story building would take what, the best part of a year to build? Try 15 days. In Hunan Province, China, Broad Group manufactured prefabricated modules to a high precision, then assembled them in 15 days to complete the building. The steel structure has been tested to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 9, and includes features to make it extremely energy efficient. That’s scarily fast. Gizmodo.
  • BURN SWEETENER: Bad burns may lead to bad scarring. Now researchers at Johns Hopkins University have created a drug-free hydrogel that appears to help the skin regenerate without scars. The hydrogel promotes the formation of new blood vessels and skin, including hair follicles. It’s a water-based three dimensional framework of polymers that includes a dissolved polysaccharide. It’s absorbed harmlessly over 21 days while tissue regenerates. So, that’s a version of sugar water, right? Johns Hopkins University.
  • UNDERWATER TELESCOPE: The KM3NeT telescope will be sited in Europe — at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s an array of thousands of optical sensors, designed to help in the search for dark matter. When neutrinos collide with the Earth they emit charged particles. Those particles then create a faint light deep in the sea. The facility will also house instrumentation from Earth and marine sciences. It seems exploring the universe is a wet job. KM3NeT.
  • SOUNDS OF SILENCE: Scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany are working on a way to bend sound waves, to create a cloak of silence. They created a plate from both soft and hard microstructured polymers. Different rings of material within the plate resonated at different frequencies, guided sound waves around a central area and trapped them. In their small-scale proof-of-concept the scientists created an area where the sound waves were neither absorbed nor reflected — as though they just weren’t there. Now you hear it; now you don’t. Gizmag.
  • GAPS IN TIME: What could you do with 50 picoseconds? Researchers from Cornell University have found a way to create tiny gaps in the travel of light, so making it possible to hide a brief event — provided it’s no more than 50 picoseconds long. They pass a beam of light through a split time lens. The lens makes a portion of a light beam more blue so it travels faster. It makes the next portion more red so it slows down. That creates a brief gap. Then the faster light can be slowed down so the slower portion catches up again and the gap is sealed. That just has to be useful to someone. Ars Technica.

Tech Universe: Thursday 12 January 2012

  • SHARP AS SILK: Had to get an injection recently? Hurt much? Would it be better if the needle was tiny and made of silk? Engineers at Tufts University have created micro-needles from fibroin, the major protein in silk. The needles are 500 microns tall and 10 microns wide — 1/10th the width of a human hair. The needles penetrate the skin, but not far enough to reach the nerves. A patch of needles can release medication over time and without pain. There’s great potential here for spy thrillers. Scientific American.
  • SOLAR PAINTING: How about just painting solar cells onto your house? At the University of Notre Dame researchers used semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy. The solar paint is easy to produce and could be easily applied to a surface. The paint contains nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide and suspended in a water-alcohol mixture to create a paste. Brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light it generates power. At the moment it’s only 1% efficient, but it’s a good start. I’m waiting for the day when everything generates power we can use. University of Notre Dame.
  • CHEW MORE QUIETLY: In Australia termites cause up to $3 billion of damage each year, so it would be good to detect their presence early. Researchers at Edith Cowan University created a tiny wireless sensor that listens for chewing sounds. If it detects activity it can send an email or SMS with GPS data to a pest control firm. Could termites evolve to chew more quietly? ScienceNetworkWA.
  • SEAT LOCK: Researchers at the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology in Tokyo want to stop people from stealing your car. Their anti-theft car seat contains 360 sensors that generate a 3D representation of the weight and weight distribution of the person sitting in it. A central laptop can match this pattern to authorised drivers. The system is apparently 98% accurate. So car thieves must first disable the laptop. Mobile Mag.
  • PHONE EATS PAPER: Wait. Don’t throw that envelope in the recycling bin. Instead use it to top up your mobile phone battery. Sony have a prototype device that generates electricity by turning shredded paper into sugar. The sugar is then used as fuel. Drop shredded paper into a combination of water and cellulase enzymes, shake, add oxygen and more enzymes, and you have power. Quick: there’s a market for a new style of paper recycling bin. BBC.

Tech Universe: Friday 13 January 2012

  • TOUGH TOUCH: Corning’s Gorilla Glass features in many touchscreen devices. Now they have a new version that’s thinner and more touch-sensitive. Gorilla Glass 2 is 20% thinner but the same strength as the previous version. The reduced thickness means a user’s fingers are closer to the touch sensitive materials and that means faster and more accurate responses. The new glass also lets more light through so screens can be brighter. There’s another gram off the weight of your smartphone. CNN.
  • FOLLOW THIS: An electric bicycle usually adds a heavy battery to the bike frame. The Ridekick bike trailer takes a different approach. It stows a battery in a small trailer that pushes the bike along when you need a boost. It can be installed on most bikes in a few minutes, and the trailer can also hold groceries or a briefcase. The fully charged trailer can push the bike for up to 19 Km at up to 30 Kph. Clever. Ridekick.
  • BIKING SOUTH: Helen Skelton’s on her way to the South Pole — by bike. She’s also using skis and a kite for added speed. It’s not just your average road or mountain bike though, and it probably doesn’t have a battery in the trailer, even though it’s uphill all the way. The 20 Kg bike was specially designed by Hanebrink for the 805 Km journey. It uses heavy fat tubeless tires on lightweight hand-made wheels. The width of the tire helps it ‘float’ on the snow rather than sinking in. The tires have thin steel belts inside to make them more durable. The bike has a low centre of gravity and uses a lightweight frame. All the parts have to be able to withstand freezing. So when she’s skiing, she has to tow the bike too? BBC.
  • BIG STORAGE: We usually think of as battery as being a small chunk of stuff that powers a car, bicycle or TV remote. In Zhangbei, China though the world’s largest battery uses arrays larger than a football field. BYD’s battery energy storage system combines 140 Megawatts of wind and solar energy, 36 MWh of energy storage and a smart power transmission system. That’d power a fair few bikes. CleanTechnica.
  • SKATE UP: SpnKiX are a skate, with rechargeable lithium batteries in a motor, and a wireless remote control. Strap the skates on over your shoes and press Go on the remote. It has a variable speed control so you don’t just have to go full tilt. Removable training wheels help you get started. Max speed is 16 Kph. I wonder if they’d get me up Wellington’s hills? SpnKiX.

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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.