23 to 27 January 2012 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 23 January 2012

  • SUPERBUS: Big cities need to move a lot of people around, so forget your piffling city bus that carries maybe 50 people to work in the morning. Go big: China’s Youngman JNP6250G superbus is 25 metres long and can carry 300 people. It has 2 bending sections to allow it to go around corners, and 5 doors. The buses will be used on Bus Rapid Transit in Beijing and Hangzhou. Maybe they’d be useful in Auckland too. China Tech Gadget.
  • NO SPACE FOR TRASH: At the moment if you can get off planet you’re pretty much free of laws and regulation. You can litter as much as you like, and just generally do anything you can afford. Now at last the US is joining existing European efforts to create an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The Code aims to establish guidelines for the responsible use of space, including cleaning up our space environment. Section One: no storing or sharing files in space. Network World.
  • SUGAR PHONE: The Smart GlucoMeter from iHealth is a detachable dongle for an iOS device that helps track blood sugar levels. Add a small sample of blood to a test strip and insert the strip into the dongle. The iHealth app records the level and produces various charts and alerts. Our health in our own hands. Wired.
  • PUT THIS IN YOUR PIPE: Researchers in California have found a way to use cheap plastic to remove CO2 from the air. One of their goals was to filter out CO2 from the air being used by iron-based batteries. They added inexpensive polyethylenimine to the surface of fumed silica and created a material that was good at absorbing CO2 from humid air at comparatively low temperatures. Sounds like we should attach these to the exhaust pipe of every vehicle on the road. Science Now.
  • FOUR BY ONE: Silicon wires just 4 atoms wide and 1 atom tall can carry as much electrical current as copper wires, according to researchers from Australia and the US. The wires are made from chains of phosphorus atoms within a silicon crystal. This could be very useful for creating actual quantum computers. They must surely have much wider application than just quantum computers. PhysOrg.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 24 January 2012

  • GIANT EYE: The Giant Magellan Telescope will be situated high in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile in 2020 when it’s finished. The telescope will have 7 mirrors, each 8.4 metres in diameter, arranged as segments of a single mirror 24.5 metres in diameter. The spun glass has to be polished to an optical surface accuracy within about 25 nanometers. The GMT will be able to acquire images 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. It should be a whole lot easier and cheaper to maintain and repair too. Giant Magellan Telescope.
  • PAINLESS EYE: After some eye surgeries patients must use anaesthetic eye drops at regular intervals over several days. Researchers at the University of Florida have found a way to use Vitamin E to load topical anaesthetics into silicone contact lenses so that they release slowly over 1 to 7 days. What other substances could be added to contact lenses for slow release? MedGadget.
  • ROBOTS INSIDE: Researchers from Israel and the USA collaborated to create a robot that will be able to swim through the intestines and send back images. The microswimmer is the size of a large pill. This is different from current similar devices because its movements can be controlled so it can be directed to where it’s most useful. Its copper and flexible polymer tail vibrates in response to the magnetic field created by an MRI scan and propels the device. Next on the list is presumably a handheld device to create the required magnetic field. Singularity Hub.
  • HEART OF STEEL: Our societies run on solid copper wire, so it’s not actually terribly funny when people steal it then communications go down. With the price of copper still rising, in some places telecom cable theft is epidemic. The GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel cable hopes to deter theft, simply by being equally effective but less valuable. It uses a thin layer of copper casing around a steel core. Take that, copper thieves. PC World.
  • SPIRALLING POWER: A concentrated solar power plant has a central tower that receives sunshine reflected from mirrors all around it. The tower then generates power. Now researchers at MIT and Aachen University in Germany have found that arranging the mirrors in the same kind of spiral pattern as seen in sunflowers can reduce the footprint by 20% and increase the power. The Fermat spiral pattern is more compact, and reduces shading and blocking by neighbouring mirrors. The mantra should always be: follow what nature does. ScienceDaily.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 25 January 2012

  • FOLD TO PARK: The Hiriko Citycar is a prototype small foldable electric car from Spain, in collaboration with the MIT. Yes, foldable. The wheels contain all the stuff that’s usually under the bonnet, allowing passengers to enter and exit through the front. The front part swivels from horizontal to vertical and the rear slides forward so the car folds up easily for parking. You could store a six pack in your one-car garage. Hiriko.
  • CASH FOR PHONES: What to do with that old phone? Try to sell it? Put it in the rubbish and feel guilty? Keep it until the next eWaste Day? The ecoATM has the answer. To help prevent fraud you provide identification. Then the ecoATM physically scans your device and provides information on its value. If you accept the deal you walk away with cash from the machine in exchange for your phone or MP3 player. It’s currently available in several US states. The easier recycling is the more likely we’ll do it.
  • WRIST CONTROL: WristQue is a project in its early stages at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s a wristband packed with sensors to detect changes in temperature, humidity and light. It also has a couple of buttons. The wristband is designed to interact with a smart building to help control the temperature in various rooms. The system can build up predictive patterns of activity and behaviour and also react to direct input from users. In a 3-week trial energy usage was reduced by 24% because less air-conditioning was needed to keep all occupants comfortable. An even smarter system would allow for microclimates so each person could get the right temperature, not just endure the average for the room. New Scientist.
  • 2-WAY LIGHT: BASF and Philips have created a transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode — when it’s switched off, anyway. When it’s switched on it provides light. Used in a car sunroof for example, it would allow occupants to enjoy natural daylight, but at night it would light only the interior of the car. This would handily replace a skylight in a building too. PhysOrg.
  • CLOUD WORKING: Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have created a luminous ceiling that gives the impression of working outdoors under an ever-changing cloudy sky. The lighting conditions resemble those produced by passing clouds. 50cm by 50cm tiles each contain 288 red, blue, green and white light emitting diodes that together generate more than 16 million hues. A diffuser film in matt white below each tile ensures individual points of light aren’t visible. A preliminary study suggests that users find the dynamic lighting to be extremely pleasant. Computers in the cloud, workers in the cloud; what’s not in the cloud? Fraunhofer Institute.

Tech Universe: Thursday 26 January 2012

  • POLE POSITION: Getting tired of your electric skateboard? Looking for something a little different? The Personal Rover is an 800W 4-wheeled electric powered board that you steer with handles like ski poles rather than a T bar. You stand facing forward on this one. It also has casters and a small platform at the back so you can store it in a vertical position. Stand, Rover, stand. Personal Rover.
  • GUN SHOW: The New York Police Department have a new gadget to help officers determine if someone’s carrying a gun. The infrared scanner works from a distance of around a metre and will be mounted on a van. Since infrared rays can’t pass through metal it’s easy to see a gun’s location on the human body. Police hope to extend the scanner’s range to 25 metres. If it’s mounted on a van I’d think the biggest problem would be getting a clear view of the suspect in the first place. NY Post.
  • NANO SPONGE: On the battlefield uncontrolled bleeding is a leading cause of death. Traditional methods of controlling bleeding have many drawbacks for use in battle. So MIT researchers developed a nanoscale biological coating that consists of layers of thrombin and tannin. This is sprayed onto sponges that can be stored for months then used when they’re needed. The sponges mould to the shape of any wound. Tests showed that applying a sponge for 60 seconds with light pressure would stop bleeding. Pick up a few for your home first aid kit. MIT News.
  • CARTOON TEST: The Dynamic Ocular Evaluation System is an inexpensive eye test for young children that’s also easy to administer. The child watches a 3 minute cartoon or plays a computer game. Infrared light is used to test various aspects of the child’s vision. Results are recorded digitally and can be sent to a specialist if needed. The child needs only watch the screen and doesn’t have to answer any questions. The idea is for pediatricians to be able to administer the tests during routine visits. I wish eye tests for adults were as simple. The University of Tennessee.
  • HIDE AND SEEK: The US military have started using a weapon called the XM25. This 6 Kg gun programmes the 25mm round it fires to explode near its target rather than when it hits something. The point is to be able to kill enemy combatants who are taking cover behind objects such as rocks. A laser rangefinder determines the distance to the covering object, then the shooter estimates the distances from the object to the person and feeds in that data. After firing, a computer in the XM25 calculates the distance the round has travelled and detonates it so as to cover the target with lethal shrapnel. It’s accurate at ranges of up to 500 metres. At the moment each bullet has to be made by hand and costs several hundred dollars. Imagine if it could be programmed to disable, perhaps with sound or light, rather than kill. The Economist.

Tech Universe: Friday 27 January 2012

  • 3D EARTH: The German Earth observation satellites TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X have completely mapped the entire land surface of Earth for the first time. The data is to create a high-precision, 3D digital elevation model of Earth. The radar system views the ground from two different points in space only around 150 metres apart. Analysis creates an exceptionally accurate, global and homogeneous 3D elevation model. Since different land areas reflect or absorb the radar signal differently the satellites need to make several passes to acquire all the data they need. Now they should combine that with Google Maps. DLR German Aerospace Center.
  • STACKED CHIPS: A new CMOS image sensor from Sony is more compact than previous CMOS sensors and captures better quality images, even in low light. The new sensors will be useful for small devices such as cellphones, especially since they are also faster and draw less power. These benefits all derive from a new stacked arrangement of the components. It’s all in the way you hold the sensors. Sony.
  • DOG MEET SNAKE ROBOT: A robot snake with a camera can help rescuers see what’s going on inside piles of rubble or other disaster scenes. But how does it get there? One delivery mechanism is a rescue dog. The camera’s strapped under the dog in a special harness. When the dog finds a human it barks. That releases the robot snake so it can explore the area, sending images back to base. And then how does the snake robot get out again? IEEE Spectrum.
  • CIRCULAR SCAN: Taking a photo of an object is one thing. A 3D representation is another. The OrcaM Orbital Camera System from NEK in Germany combines the two into a system to digitise objects. An object up to 80 cm in diameter and weighing up to 100 Kg is placed inside a spherical scanner that uses special patterns of lights. Multiple cameras capture images then software reconstructs a 3D geometry. The digitised images could be used on the web, in computer games or even in movies. Isn’t the whole 3D thing already covered in movies? NEK.
  • ROAD BLOCK: The Scosche cellCONTROL is a small device that uses Bluetooth to block calls as soon as a vehicle begins moving. Users activate the system online and download an app to their phone. Then they install a small trigger unit into the vehicle. As soon as the vehicle is in motion the unit blocks drivers from being able to text message, email or make phone calls unless a handsfree headset is detected by the mobile device. Tampering or misuse are reported to an administrator. Sounds good, if it still leaves passengers able to make calls. Autoblog.

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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.