Tech Universe: Monday 11 June 2012
- SPEED ON TAP: Because touchscreens don’t provide physical feedback you have to look at the screen while typing so you tap the right spot. US researchers used software to recognise where individual test users tapped the keys. They found people may have quirks such as hitting the bottom of a key rather than the centre. Then they tried adapting the position of the keys to match the user. They found users were able to type faster, though their accuracy didn’t improve. Oh well, making mistakes more quickly is still progress, right? New Scientist.
- SCREEN BUMPS: Touchscreens don’t really have keyboards, just pixels showing where to tap. Tactus Technology aim to change that with buttons that rise up from a flat screen as needed. Channels beneath a touchscreen can be arranged in any configuration a manufacturer specifies. A tiny amount of fluid is pumped through the channels to raise a deformable membrane that covers the surface of the touchscreen. That creates buttons that disappear when they’re no longer needed. That could bring some interesting possibilities for a more 3D display too. GigaOM.
- TRICK OF THE EYE: Super duper high-res screens need all kinds of fancy tech to pack in all the resolution. Or do they? Maybe vibrating a lower-res screen is enough. Graphics researchers Floraine Berthouzoz and Raanan Fattal found they could trick viewers into seeing higher resolution than the screen was actually capable of. They rendered high-res images in lower resolution and then flashed them on a low-res screen too quickly for the eye to detect the changes. By vibrating the display between refreshes the viewer perceived the image as high-resolution. Well, if you can turn a series of static images into a movie then why not fool viewers into seeing higher-res too? Floraine Berthouzoz.
- MY FIRST GEIGER COUNTER: The Softbank Pantone 5 107SH Android smartphone includes a built-in geiger counter, able to measure radiation levels within 20% accuracy. A button on the front gives you access to a radiation sensor. The button launches an app that reads the number of microsieverts in the surrounding air. It should be accurate enough for casual daily use. Let’s hope the app includes some info screens to help people interpret the readings. Wired.
- CARBON WIRE: Researchers at Rice University have created a coaxial cable that’s about 100 billionths of a metre in diameter but with much higher capacitance than other microcapacitors. There’s copper at the heart of the cable, and copper oxide in a couple of layers of insulation, but the outer insulation is a thin layer of carbon. This cable could be useful for capacitors and energy storage devices or in lab-on-a-chip devices. Small changes can make big differences. Rice University.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 12 June 2012
- JUNGLE DRUMS: How do you find an ancient city that’s been reclaimed by jungle? Well, LIDAR can help. Light Detection and Ranging bounces a radar signal off the ground from an aircraft and records exactly how long the signal takes to return. Computer analysis of the results can determine an area’s topography down to several centimetres resolution, showing up structures built by humans even under a thick coating of jungle. Then people can go into the area on the ground and see what’s really there. That sounds like an ideal job for a drone aircraft. Technology Review.
- LARGE BUT SENSITIVE: The Large Hadron Collider is very sensitive. So sensitive in fact that it has to be specially calibrated to take account of the full moon. With a 27 Km diameter circuit for the proton beam the moon exerts a slightly different gravitational force on each side of the tunnel, skewing the beam slightly. The beam’s also affected by a nearby electric train line and the level of water in Lake Geneva. Now that’s a sensitive instrument. Ars Technica.
- SKIN TEST: If melanoma is found early it can be easily treated. The MelaFind device objectively and accurately analyses suspicious moles for early signs of melanoma. A handheld scanner emits 10 unique wavelengths of light, records and analyses the images and compares them to a database of 10,000 known images. Within moments it returns a diagnosis with 98% accuracy. It sounds like the kind of device that saves lives. Gizmodo.
- HEAR THIS SIGN: Students from the University of Houston developed the proof-of-concept MyVoice, a device that reads sign language and translates its motions into audible words. The device includes a microphone, speaker, soundboard, video camera and monitor. The signer’s movements are captured by camera, processed and translated into voice. The prototype can handle only one phrase so far, but the students hope it can be developed into a functioning device. There might be a bit of a gap between translating a single phrase and being truly useful. University of Houston.
- WAKEY WAKEY: Depressed? Perhaps a 30 minute blast of magnetism to the brain will help. The Brainsway transcranial magnetic stimulation device passes high currents through an electromagnetic coil placed on the patient’s scalp. The pulses induce an electric field in the underlying brain tissue, which can activate neurons and relieve depression. The company’s trials show this can be an effective way to treat depression. Kind of like a deep massage really. Brainsway.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 13 June 2012
- SLIDING VISION: Being unable to see clearly is hugely detrimental, but can often be easily fixed with a pair of glasses. But the cost of and access to eye tests and spectacles is a big barrier for many. Eyejusters spectacles include a pair of carefully shaped plastic lenses for each eye and a small adjustment knob that moves the SlideLens relative to the fixed lens. The wearer simply turns the knob until the two lenses line up in such a way that they can see clearly. Simple, once you know how. Eyejusters.
- WIDE SIDE VIEW: When you look in the side mirror on your car you see only a very narrow field of view — around 17 degrees — and must beware the blind spot. But that kind of mirror’s old hat now. A maths professor from Drexel University in the USA figured out an algorithm to precisely control the angle of light bouncing off of the curving mirror. That means the new mirror has a field of view of about 45 degrees without distortion. The only problem is that wide view could introduce distractions, I guess. Drexel University.
- BACKPACK RATS: Left-over landmines are a huge problem in some parts of the world. Once something or someone heavy enough steps on one it’ll explode. But rats aren’t heavy enough to set them off and may be able to help locate them. A team at Bucknell University in the USA devised a system to train rats to recognise and respond to the explosives. When a rat smells an explosive it’s trained to circle. The rats wear miniature backpacks and wireless transmitters that track their positions and movements. The backpacks are also used in training that associates food rewards and a buzzer with desired behaviour. I guess rats are at least plentiful all over the world. Bucknell University.
- MAGNETIC TUMOURS: Combine iron, gold and platinum and you may be able to deliver drugs to exactly the part of the body that needs them. Pharmacists at University of Sydney and collaborators in Scotland developed a new anticancer drug that has an iron oxide core only 5 nanometres wide. The platinum drug is attached to the gold and iron with strings of polymer and can then be moved with a magnet. Lab tests found the drug killed only cells near a magnet, leaving others unharmed. Be careful with the MRI machine though. University of Sydney.
- STRETCH AND TRACK: If you’ve ever injured yourself by trying too hard on a yoga pose you may be interested in Electricfoxy’s concept Move yoga suit. The suit includes 4 stretch and bend sensors in the front, back and sides, with haptic feedback components in the hips and shoulders. The sensors read your body’s position and muscle movement and provide feedback to help you do the postures correctly. A mobile app and cloud service let you save moves and do some tracking. It’s not just for yoga though, as the garment can also be used for golf, pilates, dance, physical therapy and other applications. The early prototypes use Arduino. Yoga’s one thing, but there are some for-profit businesses that could be interested in tracking every move of a body. Electricfoxy.
Tech Universe: Thursday 14 June 2012
- FOREST UNCOVER: People chopping down forests can’t hide the destruction any more. The global forest disturbance alert system, GloF-DAS, takes satellite remote sensing index images at exactly the same time period each year. Then you can view a map, choose a time period and country and see exactly where forests show a significant loss of greenness cover. For example, the December 2011 image shows disturbance in around 34 places in New Zealand. Now we can see both the forest and the trees. Mongabay.
- CONCRETE TREES: In Singapore 18 solar-powered steel and concrete supertrees up to 50 metres high will act as vertical gardens in a 101 hectare Gardens by the Bay project. The trees will generate solar power, act as air venting ducts for nearby conservatories and collect rainwater. Each supertree features tropical flowers and various ferns climbing across its steel framework. Two massive conservatories will use some of the solar generated power. Gardens made of concrete and steel seem rather a contradiction. CNN. Video:
- BIKE GLIDER: The Novara Gotham is a bike with an indeterminate number of gears. The continuously variable planetary drivetrain system draws on work by Leonardo da Vinci. A twist grip is all you need to gear up or down, and the hard work is done inside the hub. The transmission uses a Gates carbon belt rather than a chain. The drive in the rear hub relies on traction created when a thin film of hydraulic fluid becomes temporarily an elastic solid, and uses ball bearings trapped between 2 solid discs — an input and an output disc. The twist grip varies the angle of the ball bearings, altering the relationship between input and output discs, effectively changing gear. So no more putting the chain back on? PopSci. Video:
- GET THE SKINNY: Google’s Street View cars are well-known, but in some places the streets are just far too narrow for a car to get through. But that’s OK, because Google have 360-degree backpack cameras too, for when walking is the only way to get the pictures. The Trekker prototype includes 15 5-megapixel cameras and weighs around 16 Kg. It’s tall and skinny, and places the camera globe above the wearer’s head. So, not very inconspicuous then. Gizmodo.
- PROXIMITY CHARGE: Intel want you to be able to charge your phone without plugging it in. For a prototype they added a charging strip to an Acer Aspire laptop and to a phone. When the phone was laid on the desk touching the charging strip on the laptop it was charged up by drawing power from the laptop. Sounds specially handy if your laptop’s plugged in at the wall. The Verge.
Tech Universe: Friday 15 June 2012
- RIDE THE DRAGON: The Jetovator is like a water-powered backpack except you ride the end of the hose like a motorbike instead of strapping it on your back. The hose is tethered to a nearby craft such as a jetski that jets water through it. The Jetovator can reach heights of 10 metres, dive to 3 or 4 metres below the surface and travel at up to 40 Kph. All the thrills and spills, and water to boot. Jetovator.
- CAST ON: The Multiprotector can be carried flat and easily inflated by puffing into a short tube. It’s a new temporary cast that can be used to stabilise broken bones, sprains and other injuries while waiting for an ambulance. Wrap the plastic sleeve around the injured limb and then blow through the tube to inflate it. Every first aid kit could have one. DigInfo News.
- SHORT LIGHT: Synchrotrons produce light at short wavelengths, but the huge machines are extremely expensive and scientists who need to use them for their research must often wait a long time for access. A new machine that fits on a tabletop can now do much the same job and costs only around $1 million. The new device was invented by a team in the USA. An infrared laser passes through pressurised helium gas and produces light at wavelengths almost as short as those delivered by synchrotrons. Speeding up wait times in research must be a good thing. Nature.
- SWIM TEAM: The Swumanoid from Tokyo Institute of Technology is a swimming humanoid — a robot that can swim underwater. That allows researchers to analyse a swimmer’s whole-body motion while measuring water resistance. The Swumanoid can repeat motions exactly, or with small and known variations, or even wear a swimsuit for testing. The robot is based on a 3D body scan of a real person, though printed at half size using a 3D printer. The robot doesn’t actually move through the water, but is instead held in place by supports. So at the end of the day do they feel they’ve actually made progress? Plastic Pals.
- BRIGHTER AND FASTER: Researchers at MIT developed algorithms to pull hidden data from video by revealing and amplifying variations in colour or motion. For example, as blood flows around our body there are subtle variations in skin colour and in skin movement at pulse points although we don’t notice them with the naked eye. The video recognises and magnifies these variations, making them very obvious. This technique can pull useful information from a relatively poor quality video — for example, detecting a baby’s heartbeat from a video of it sleeping in a cot. This should show up on CSI before too long. MIT.
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.