21 to 25 May 2012 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 21 May 2012

  • LOG THE DOG: Want to know what your dog’s doing — every minute of the day? An activity monitoring device from Fujitsu is designed to attach to the dog’s collar and continuously record all of its activities. Sensor data is stored on the device and can be uploaded to the web via a smartphone app and a FeliCa smart card. A web app lets you analyse the data with graphs so you can see what your dog’s been doing. Or you could maybe spend more time with your dog. Fujitsu.
  • BY LAND AND SEA: The Sea Lion amphibious car was built to break speed records. It can reach up to 290 Kph on land and 72 Kph on water thanks to a 174-horsepower 13B rotary engine from a 1974 Mazda RX3. Novel. Wired.
  • HOP, SKIP AND JUMP: The Mars Rovers have spent years now painstakingly dragging themselves short distances across the surface of the planet, sometimes even with broken wheels. Researchers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory have some other ideas for how to explore small, low-gravity bodies such as comets and asteroids — by bouncing. A spacecraft would drop several small robots that could then hop, bounce and use controlled tumbles to move around carrying out experiments and taking samples. I hope at the end of the mission they also jump back into the spacecraft. NASA.
  • COMPACT QUAD: The Ample Eo is an electric quadricycle. It comes with 1, 2 or 3 seats and has a range of 200 km at up to 65 Kph. Instead of side mirrors the vehicle uses backward-facing cameras that send a live feed into a screen on the left side of the wraparound dashboard. The vehicle has a driver’s seat in the front and side seats that can fold up. Not much wasted space there. Autoblog.
  • DEAD AT HEART: There’s a new city being built in southeastern New Mexico. It’ll cost $1 Billion, but no-one’s going to live there. The city will be a research centre to test intelligent traffic systems, next-generation wireless networks, automated washing machines, self-flushing toilets and all kinds of other systems. The Center for Innovation, Technology and Testing will be modeled after a real city in South Carolina. Meanwhile billions of people would be glad just to have clean water nearby or lights at night. Fox News.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 22 May 2012

  • SUN RUN: In some parts of the world airport runways bake in summer and have to be cleared of snow in winter. There should be some way to take the excess summer heat and apply it in winter. The inter-seasonal heat transfer system uses a network of fluid-filled pipes under a runway. They collect heat and store it in thermal banks underground. In winter heat pumps can use the stored energy to warm the runway. The system is to be tested soon at at the Greater Binghamton Airport in New York. That sounds much better than dumping chemicals all over the ground to clear snow and ice. Fast Company.
  • TURBINE TIDES: A huge underwater turbine off the coast of Scotland is already powering the Orkney Island of Eday. It’s located where the North Sea meets the Atlantic, creating huge tidal forces in fast moving waters. The project is a test for using wider-scale tidal turbines to generate power, and so far seems to be working well. Scotland on TV.
  • ROAM ALONE: Austrian scientists are studying the Baltic Sea porpoise, with the aid of the fully autonomous solar-powered ASV Roboat. The boat will cover 150 nautical miles and work for 100 hours without human intervention. The boat itself takes final destination co-ordinates then decides routes, performs sailing maneuvers and responds to changing winds on its own after launch. But can it flee pirates? InnovationNewsDaily.
  • MAIN SQUEEZE: If you squeeze M13 viruses they emit a small amount of power. Scientists at the Berkeley Lab added negatively-charged amino acids to one end of the tough outer shell. That gave the virus both negatively and positively charged ends, making it a better generator. The technique produced enough electricity to power a small LED screen. Ah, now for viruses on the soles of your shoes. Berkeley Lab.
  • WHEN NANO LOOKS HUGE: When an atom loses an electron things happen very quickly. It’s all so fast we haven’t been able to measure exactly when the split takes place. But that’s OK because scientists at the Vienna University of Technology have figured out how to capture the moment. They can now study the process with a time resolution of less than ten attoseconds (ten billionths of a billionth of a second). The technique involves special laser beams, high precision measurements and elaborate theoretical calculations. Atto boys! Vienna University of Technology.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 May 2012

  • POINT AND CLICK: Gesture control is the in thing. Leap Motion’s new 3D motion control system can distinguish your individual fingers and track your movements down to a 1/100th of a millimeter. The Leap device plugs into a USB port, while software on your computer does the gesture recognition. Unlike systems that detect larger motions, such as those of an arm, this system can detect a fingertip or pen. That’s a new line in gestures. Leap Motion.
  • CUTTING EDGE XBOX: When surgeons are operating it’s not easy for them to check the medical images they need to consult — unless they’re using an Xbox and Kinect, that is. A surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London has started a trial that uses an Xbox Kinect camera to sense the surgeon’s body position. By waving a hand and using some voice commands the surgeon can directly view, zoom and rotate medical images such as such as CT scans or real-time X-rays, rather than relying on an assistant to manipulate the images. One challenge was to come up with gestures that could be used in a constrained space and with other people around. They need to get that thought control thing going. New Scientist.
  • SPACE FORCE: A young university student at Egypt’s Sohag University says she’s invented a new way to propel spacecraft. She’s patented a device that uses the Casimir-polder force, which occurs between separate surfaces and objects in a vacuum to generate electricity. Does Egypt have its own space programme, or will it just go to the highest bidder? HumanIPO.
  • VOICE CONTROL: The Olympic Games mean crowds of people. And crowds of people means finding ways to control them. To that end authorities have a Long Range Acoustic Device that can be used as a loud hailer to make officials clearly heard at a distance. The 1000Xi LRAD can broadcast messages over distances up to 3,000 metres. The device can also emit a beam of pain-inducing tones for crowd control. One way or the other you will do as they say. Have fun at the Olympics. BBC.
  • NEAR ENOUGH: Rice University researchers and a team of others created a computer chip that’s about 15 times more efficient than current chips. It achieves efficiency by sacrificing a bit of accuracy. The researchers say that as an example, the human eye has a built-in mechanism for error correction. In the same way, their computer chips can process images whose errors could barely be discerned. Certain special purpose chips, such as those used in hearing aids, cameras or low-cost slates could be good candidates for replacement by the efficient but inexact chips. Well, if near enough is good enough… Rice University.

Tech Universe: Thursday 24 May 2012

  • CLOUD DRIVE: Dragon Drive is a virtual personal assistant for your car. The software works over 3G or 4G with cloud-based language servers to understand and interpret commands. For example, you may dictate and send an SMS message to an address book contact, or have the app read you the news. Or you could ask for a particular music track that the app would find online so you could buy, download and play it. So long as it doesn’t turn into a back-seat driver. GigaOM.
  • THUMB TV: The Chinese MK802 a $74 USB thumb-drive sized computer. It has a 1.5 GHz Allwiner A10 processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and ships with Android 4.0. It also has an HDMI port, a microSD card slot, full-sized USB and micro USB ports and WiFi. It’s being marketed as an Internet TV device. But someone’s bound to come up with a much more interesting use for it soon. Liliputing.
  • PROTEIN RANK: Google’s known for its algorithms that choose relevant pages for search results, but the same algorithm could help find cancer. Researchers from the Dresden University of Technology in Germany modified Google’s PageRank algorithm. Then they used it to rank 20,000 proteins by genetic relevance to the progression of pancreatic cancer. Their study found 7 proteins of particular interest. Like web pages, proteins connect via networks. Those connections helped the researchers determine which proteins had important roles. It always comes back to the maths. Medical Daily.
  • CLEAN FOOD: Africa’s first bio-ethanol cooking fuel plant has opened in central Mozambique. It produces clean, safe and cheap cooking fuel, replacing charcoal. Cassava from local farmers is refined into ethanol which is then distributed as cooking fuel. That should boost income for farmers, reduce pollution and save the lives lost to accidents with charcoal cookstoves. Presumably it saves a few trees too. Treehugger.
  • HUG A TURBINE: We think of wind turbines as those huge towers with majestic sweeping arms. Not the Enessere Hercules Wind Generator though. Its blades are curved in a spinning helix design like a hug, and stay close to the central tower. The 7 metre 5 kW wind turbine is intended for urban settings and can capture wind coming from any direction. Self-contained energy generation: beautiful. Gizmodo.

Tech Universe: Friday 25 May 2012

  • WING MAN: A British stuntman jumped out of a helicopter at 731 metres high and landed safely on a bunch of cardboard boxes — all without a parachute. Instead he was wearing a wingsuit. His 50 second flight terminated on 18,600 cardboard boxes laid out to be 4 metres high and designed to cushion the landing. That’s a lot of faith in cardboard boxes. Sky News.
  • KINECTED SMILES: Microsoft are refining the Kinect’s recognition capabilities, adding the ability to read and react to facial expressions. A new SDK for Kinect adds the facial recognition, improved speech recognition and improved skeletal tracking. Smile and your avatar smiles with you. Gizmodo.
  • SIM SIN: Parents may worry about how and when their kids are using a cellphone. In the UK the Bemilo system will give parents the power to prevent their children from going online, texting or calling during certain hours. The pack includes a SIM card on a pay-as-you-go plan. Parents can control the phone remotely from a web app, but can still reach the child if they need to. Parents can also read their child’s text messages. That should lead to a good schoolyard trade in prepay SIMs. BBC.
  • BLOWING BUBBLES: Students from Japan and the US created a colloidal display that has promising applications. The display is similar to a soap bubble, but created from a mixture of two colloidal liquids. The membrane screen can be controlled using ultrasonic vibrations to change its transparency and surface states. Stargate Goa’uld communication balls anyone? A Colloidal Display.
  • 38 DAYS TO LONDON: Stanford University created a Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World to help you experience what it was like to travel in Roman times. It broadly reflects conditions around 200 CE, showing cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes covering close to 10 million square kilometres. Enter various parameters and the map calculates a route and other data for you. Travelling by horseback and sea from Athens to London by the fastest route was a 38 day journey. What a great map mashup! Orbis.

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.