05 to 08 June 2012 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Tuesday 05 June 2012

  • SHOPPING CAR: The Renault Twizy is a cute little urban electric 2-seater car, with a pricetag that isn’t excessive. Doors are optional and the rented battery plugs into a normal outlet for charging. Top speed is 80 Kph and range 100 Km. If you go for the optional doors though, you still don’t get windows. It offers more protection than a motorbike though. Red Ferret.
  • CAR TRAIN: The Safe Road Trains for the Environment project had 4 vehicles drive in a road train on a public highway near Barcelona, Spain, for over 200 Km at speeds up to 85 Kph. It was a proof-of-concept trial where 3 Volvos followed a lead truck. The cars used cameras, radar and laser sensors to monitor the lead vehicle, travelling within 6 metres behind one another. That could be a pain for someone wanting to overtake. Wired.
  • TUBES ON THE NET: Travelling on the Tube in London? You don’t need to give up WiFi. 80 platforms, but not the trains themselves, are being wired up for the Olympics. So the Internet is a series of Tubes, after all. BBC.
  • BLOOD IN THE LIGHT: Researchers at the Institute of Technology in Israel developed a device that shines a light on the skin. When pressed against the skin the device shines a spectrum of light across a blood vessel near the surface. Then the scattered light is analysed. What it shows are high-resolution images of red and white blood cells, all without actually cutting into the patient, drawing blood and waiting for test results. The portable device measures blood cells and calculates the volume of different cell types. It seems medicine is finding less and less reason to actually cut into a body for diagnosis. Kurzweil AI.
  • JAB PREDICTOR: It’s no fun when a medic has to jab you half a dozen times to find the right place for the needle. The AxoTrack sterile procedure kit removes the guesswork. It uses sonograms and a virtual needle to pinpoint the exact path of a needle before it enters the body. The medic lines the needle up and a sonogram shows where it will go in the body. If it’s not in the right place the medic can move it to a better location before actually jabbing you. That should save quite a few people from needless jabs. Wired.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 06 June 2012

  • PLASTIC GLASS: We tend to think of glass as being not very flexible. But the new Willow Glass from Corning can be as little as 100 microns thick — about the thickness of a sheet of copy paper — and can bend into a U shape just like plastic. The glass is designed for electronics, such as displays for tablets, phones, and computers. I’m not sure if I want my phone or computer to bend though. Corning.
  • BLOWN UP FOOD: Researchers at the University of Tokyo are experimenting with goggles that show a food item as being larger compared to the hand holding it than it really is. Initial tests suggest this fools the brain and causes the wearer to eat less than they normally would. Volunteers ate 10% less when the food looked 50% bigger. They ate more when the food looked smaller than normal. Oh, this could go badly if the fast food outlets latch on to it. Discovery News.
  • STIR THE POT: Cooks everywhere will love this one: a self-stirring pot. A dentist in Japan has invented a pot that’s shaped in such a way that it boils more quickly and causes the liquid inside to swirl around without any outside input. As liquid in the pot warms up it rises, but the spirally angled sides of the pot direct the flow into a circular movement. Brilliant! We lazy cooks can relax for longer. InventorSpot.
  • CHATTY FOOD: When you’re eating out the noise level in the restaurant can make conversation impossible. That’s why the Comal restaurant in Berkeley, USA, combines sound absorbing materials, 123 speakers, subwoofers and microphones and a digital processor to control sound levels across the restaurant. Even the art works are painted on acoustic fabric and form part of the system. The sounds are sent to a central processor which then plays them back to cancel the noise. Are you really comfortable with your conversations being recorded though? San Francisco Chronicle.
  • FASTER THAN BLUE: Bluetooth is proving pretty handy for sending data over short distances, for example, with medical devices connecting to cellphones. But it’s not the speediest way to transfer data. A new chip from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore can send 8 gigabytes in half a minute. That’s 1,000 times faster than Bluetooth. The VIRTUS chipset uses an antenna, a full radio-frequency transceiver and a baseband processor to transmit large packets of information via millimetre-wave wireless, while consuming little power. Sending data and crunching data are very different though. Will the processors keep up? Nanyang Technological University.

Tech Universe: Thursday 07 June 2012

  • PIXEL CRAM: Japan Display’s new LCD screens come in at 651 pixels per inch. The display crams 1,280 x 800 pixels into a 2.3 inch polysilicon TFT LCD panel. Just try identifying those individual pixels. Tech-On!
  • SKY HIGH TV COSTS: You know all those TV screens in long-haul planes? How much do you think they weigh collectively? The answer is: a lot. And by ripping out the TV screens and replacing them with iPads Singapore-based Scoot have cut 7% off the weight of their planes. Some passengers must pay to rent the iPads, while others get them free. Or just bring your own, I guess. Bloomberg.
  • CATCH THE SPEEDING BULLET: The US Air Force want to know how their projectiles accelerate and decelerate. Unfortunately though test firings usually destroy the devices, so they needed a way to capture and re-use them. Students at rice University devised a clever way to do that, involving a tank of water, a slingshot and some foam. In their scale model the projectile’s launched by catapult, reaches around 80 Kph, is slowed by a stream of water and captured by a padded container. The students say their system could easily be scaled up to match even the largest projectiles. It’s encouraging to see the military go low tech for once. Rice University.
  • BLOWING IN THE WIND: KiteGen’s wind power idea is to fly high altitude kites. Each kite is attached to a long arm. Two winches on the ground control the kite’s flight path, while the kite’s wings pull on cables that activate the alternators on ground, generating electricity. A farm of kites like that would be quite a sight. KiteGen.
  • TALL ORDER: Cool, dense air sinks, while hot air rises, and that’s a fact The Downdraft Tower exploits to create energy. Now such a tower, more than 900 metres tall, is to be built in southern Arizona, on the border with Mexico. Cool water is sprayed into the warm air at the top of the tower and as the air sinks it powers wind turbines that generate electricity. Although pumping water to the top of the tower takes a lot of power, if the tower’s tall enough there’s a net gain. One tower can produce enough electricity for a city of 1 million people. It’ll be interesting to see if this really works. Treehugger.

Tech Universe: Friday 08 June 2012

  • MARS SURVIVOR: Will reality TV take us to Mars? The Mars One venture thinks so. They have a plan to send habitats and supplies to Mars starting around 2016 to prepare a settlement for 4 humans who will arrive in 2023 and live there until they die. After that more humans will arrive in batches every 2 years to build out the settlement. This is no government project, but a private initiative, and the whole thing will be televised on a grand scale to help raise funds. Are we going to the other planets now for real? Mars One.
  • NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Canada’s big, and monitoring its Arctic territories is a huge job. Northrop Grumman says its Block 30 RQ-4B Global Hawk uncrewed surveillance aircraft, with a few modifications, would be perfect for the task. In the Arctic satellite communications are spotty and the craft also needs wing deicing and engine anti-icing capability. A mere 3 aircraft could cover the whole of Canada’s north though. Or how about a satellite with a super duper telescope instead? FlightGlobal.
  • DON’T LOOK AT GIFT SCOPES: In spite of plenty of problems the Hubble Space Telescope has contributed a huge amount to our knowledge of space. But apparently the US also had 2 spy telescopes that are as big as Hubble but with more power and 100 times the field of view. And they’ve just been in storage all this time. It seems they’re no longer needed for spying though, and have been donated to NASA. Now NASA have a new problem: they may be unable to afford to put the telescopes into orbit. The scopes need instruments and cameras, as well as to have their own mission. What a waste! The Washington Post.
  • GOGGLE EYED: At the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid researchers have created a pair of goggles that can help people with visual handicaps to see obstacles. A virtual reality helmet includes 2 cameras and a computer that processes the images. Then two microscreens display coloured outlines of objects in view. The system can help people who need high contrast to be able to see objects ahead of them. Once the system is proved to work the team will improve its ergonomics. The idea of a helmet is off-putting. Surely they can find a way to put everything except the glasses and cameras in a pocket. AlphaGalileo.
  • KINECT CONNECT: British engineers think the Kinect could work as the basis of an in-orbit proximity sensor and docking system. They’re developing tiny satellites that will be launched together on the same rocket. Incorporating a Google Nexus One Android phone, the satellites will map the Earth with their 5 megapixel camera and conduct scientific and engineering experiments. On command, the satellites will use the Kinect to find one another and dock using a simple magnetic system. The engineers suggest that in future a system like this could be used in modular satellites that can connect for specific purposes. Snap on satellites FTW. BBC.

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.

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