28 to 31 May 2012 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday, 28 May 2012

  • NO MORE NEEDLES: If you don’t feel a mosquito bite you then you won’t feel the injection from MIT’s new needle-free jet injector. The handheld device uses a coil and magnet to drive a piston and send the drug through a needle of about the same diameter as a mosquito proboscis. The drug penetrates the skin to a depth that can be selected and varied by controlling the velocity. In other words: the Star Trek hypospray is now a reality. Do they have to pay royalties to the movie studios? MIT.
  • BECAUSE IT’S OUT THERE: The 100 Year Starship has won seed funding from DARPA and others. It aims “to assure that human travel beyond our solar system and to another star can be a reality within the next century”. The founders say that the project will generate transformative knowledge and technologies that will benefit all of us. The project is led by a former NASA astronaut and will bring in experts from many disciplines to achieve their goal. This and the SpaceX Dragon — it’s a great time to be a space enthusiast. 100 Year Starship.
  • TOXIC FISH: European scientists are working on how to monitor water pollution. That’s why they dumped a load of fish into the sea off Spain — robot fish. The 1.5 metre long fish are designed to swim like the real thing. They’re also fitted with sensors to pick up pollutants leaking from ships or undersea pipelines. Although they swim independently, they co-ordinate their actions and analyse and send data back to shore as they go. That means pollution levels can be monitored in real-time, rather than only after samples get back to the lab. It’s not clear why they need to swim like real fish rather than just using a more ordinary method of propulsion. Reuters.
  • UPRIGHT BIKE: Is it a scooter? A motorbike? A car? The Lit C-1 prototype is a gyroscopically stabilized electric urban two wheeler vehicle that looks like a car. Electronically controlled gyroscopes keep the vehicle upright when stopped or even in a collision. It can reach 190 Kph and a charge will take you 240 to 350 Km. But would a good gust of Wellington wind blow it over? DesignBoom.
  • INSIDE GUIDE: Engineers from the University of Nevada have created an indoor navigation system for blind people. Navatar runs on a standard smartphone and combines low-cost sensors with the digital 2D architectural maps that are already available for many buildings. The system locates and tracks a user inside the building, finding the most suitable path, and provides spoken step-by-step instructions. That means the user can leave the phone in their pocket, freeing up their hands for a cane or to touch known landmarks. This could have wider user for many people, such as visitors to a huge and complex building. University of Nevada. Navatar:

Tech Universe: Tuesday 29 May 2012

  • SLIPPERY SAUCE: What teflon did for frypans LiquiGlide does for sauce and ketchup bottles. The super-slippery coating makes the inside of the bottle so frictionless that the ketchup just slides right out. The components are super-secret, but the creators at MIT have patented the whole thing and say the coating could reduce food wastage. Slapping the bottom of one of those bottles could be a bit tragic. MIT.
  • CELLPHONE TRIGGER: We’ve seen plenty of TV shows where a call to a cellphone triggers an explosion. In India farmers are doing something much more useful. If they irrigate their fields, an electric pump may feed water into the pipes. But power cuts are frequent and a farmer may have to walk many miles to flick the switch. By giving the pump a cellphone connection the farmer can make a call to the pump to check if the power’s on. If it is then a second call starts the pump, which sends a confirmation SMS. Next perhaps a small webcam so the farmer can see if everything’s working right? BBC.
  • SUGAR COLOURED LENSES: Scientists at The University of Akron in the USA have developed a contact lens with sensor molecules that detects blood sugar levels in the wearer’s eye. The lens changes colour if levels are a problem, but the wearer won’t notice the colour change. However, if they take a photo of their eye with a smartphone an app will report the blood sugar level. Keep that smartphone charged! University of Akron.
  • A HARD ROAD: While properly inflated tires can save fuel, how about the road itself? Researchers at MIT calculated that improvements to road construction and surfaces could reduce how hard tires have to push and so reduce fuel usage. Like walking on sand, a tire has to push against a road surface. Stiffer pavements reduce the deflection of tires, therefore reducing the amount of fuel used. On busy roads that could lead to considerable savings. It sounds like a good plan. MIT News.
  • MADE UP COFFEE: Zipwhip’s proof-of-concept Textspresso machine adds Arduino to the whole coffee experience. A standard coffee machine is hooked up with an Arduino board and an Android mobile app to make coffee in response to SMS messages. One part of its programming is to write messages in the froth using edible ink. The creators have made the plans open-source, so go for it makers! BBC.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 30 May 2012

  • HIGH SPEED HIGH DEF: The NHK Ultra High Definition imaging system captures 4 billion pixels per second. That means it has to send data at an unusually high rate too — up to 51.2 gigabits per second. The system outputs 33MP video at 120fps. Broadcasts at full resolution are designed for large, wall sized displays. That’d fill up a hard drive pretty quickly. DigInfo News.
  • ELEVATED MEANING: At 634 metres the Tokyo Skytree has become the world’s highest freestanding broadcasting tower. The design is based on Japanese aesthetics, where the name, colour, lighting and even the height draw on and reflect culturally significant elements. The tower uses only LED lights for both beauty and energy saving. Viewing platforms are at 350 and 450 metres. It’s interesting that even the height was chosen for cultural reasons. Tokyo Skytree.
  • WIKIHISTORY: Monmouth in Wales is really making the most of the Internet. If you go to visit leave the guidebook at home, but remember your smartphone. Points of interest will be marked with QR codes. Scan them on your phone then use the free WiFi to be connected to a Wikipedia page in your language about the location. More than 1,000 QR codes are in place, and residents, businesses and volunteers have been creating and translating Wikipedia pages. Now if they could lose the QR codes and base it on GPS location, wouldn’t that be a fine thing! Then perhaps they could add tracking, mapping and photojournals too. CBS News.
  • ROLLING BLOCK: In Zurich, Switzerland, the railway line needed some extra space — right where the Machine Factory Oerlikon building had been standing for more than 120 years. Rather than demolishing the building they decided to move it, all 6,200 tonnes of it, 60 metres to the west. The foundations have been freed and rails installed under the building, so now it’s on the move. It’s surprising how many structures are moved like that. BBC.
  • PILL POPPERS: If you have to take lots of meds you may use special containers to store the pills and help you keep track of which ones you’ve taken every day. But those bottles aren’t generally very friendly for people with impaired vision. Students and the University of Cincinnati created a new design that’s not only child-proof but easy for blind people to use. The low-cost bottles feature specially textured brightly coloured flip lids that don’t use Braille but are easily distinguished from one another. They also allow users to reach in and easily pick out a couple of tablets without needing to pour out a handful. A failsafe audio button on the lid can also say what the contents are. Those bottles sound like a great idea for everyone. University of Cincinnati.

Tech Universe: Thursday 31 May 2012

  • TOW CHAIR: The Independent Wheelchair Assist was designed by a Kiwi for the 2012 James Dyson Award. It’s a set of powered wheels with a handlebar that easily attach to a manual wheelchair. That means the user doesn’t have to transfer from a manual wheelchair to a mobility scooter for longer journeys. The device locks onto the wheelchair and then tows it safely. That’s a clever idea. James Dyson Foundation.
  • CANDID CAMERA: If software can recognise a face in an image then why not also assess what emotion that face is showing? A team from MIT created the MindReader system to analyse photos of hundreds or even thousands of faces and determine the mood of a crowd. They speculate that the system could even replace opinion polls, though initially it’s being used to change adverts. The MindReader program interprets expressions on the basis of a few seconds of video. It tracks 22 points around the mouth, eyes and nose, and notes the texture, colour, shape and movement of facial features. In tests the software was better than humans at telling joyful smiles from frustrated smiles. I sense you’re feeling concerned. New Scientist.
  • SOLID SOLAR: Solar cells cost a lot to produce and are fairly inefficient. Researchers at Northwestern University created a robust novel material that uses millions of light-absorbing nanoparticles to make a solid-state solar cell. The cells use a compound of cesium, tin and iodine and are efficient, stable and long-lasting. Individual cells are 10 microns thick and measure around half a centimetre on each side. Every increase in efficiency and reduction in price is a good one. Northwestern University.
  • POWER WASHER: Solar panels aren’t incredibly efficient anyway, but add a coating of dust and grime and efficiency plummets. Students from CalTech and UCLA created the Greenbotics robot that uses sprayers, brushes and squegees to clean large arrays of solar panels. Once the robot is placed on a row of panels it traverses them autonomously, cleaning as it goes. An operator can control the robot wirelessly. It beats going out there with a brush on a pole. Greenbotics.
  • QUICK KEYS: A minuteKEY kiosk can duplicate most keys in moments. Choose options, such as how many copies you need, insert the key and pay by credit card. Moments later the duplicates pop out. A viewing window lets you watch the copying process as the kiosk works. Sounds simple. minuteKEY.

There was no column on Friday, 1 June 2012.

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.