GIVEAWAY GLASSES: Drinking in a club or bar? If you’ve taken your eyes off your glass for a moment you wouldn’t know if someone’s slipped in a date-rape drug such as GHB, Ketamine or Rohypnol. Such drugs are tasteless, but a sensor material in the glass may still detect them. DrinkSavvy aims to create glasses, stirrers, straws and plastic cups that change colour to show when a drink has been tampered with. That’s good until the bad guys slip a new ordinary glass as well as the drug. DrinkSavvy.
HUMDINGERS: Those recordings they use on crime shows as proof could, of course, have been faked. But there’s a way for forensic scientists to establish whether recordings are genuine, by using the hum from mains electricity. Any digital recording made anywhere near an electrical power source picks up that hum so it’s embedded throughout the audio. The electricity supply experiences minute fluctuations in the order of a few thousandths of a hertz. The pattern of those fluctuations is unique over time, and some places have been recording them in a database. That means an audio recording could be compared to the database and disparities such as breaks would easily be revealed. Such Electric Network Frequency analysis has already been used in court in the UK to send criminals to jail. When will the recording industry use the unique hum pattern to authenticate video recordings? BBC.
BUSES HAVE EARS: Chat with a fellow traveller on a bus in the US and your conversation might be recorded. Sophisticated audio surveillance systems are being installed on public buses across the country to eavesdrop on passengers. The audio recordings may supplement the video recordings already being made, and may be matched with GPS tracking and ticketing data. Speech and facial recognition software could also be used with the recordings for very sophisticated monitoring. All recordings may be stored for 30 days. How quickly will people find the best gadget to interfere with the signals I wonder? the Daily.
DRIVE BY WIRELESS: The average length of a taxi ride in London is 15 minutes. What should passengers do with all that time? Get onto wifi of course, and check their email or Twitter. The Eyetease CabWifi service in taxis is to provide free internet via 3G or 4G after a 15-second advert every 15 minutes. They aim to offer the cabbies free access with a special login as an incentive to install the service. That’s handy for tourists to keep an eye on their smartphone’s map app. The Telegraph.
BOMBS IN SIGHT: The Bomb Sight project from the University of Portsmouth lets you explore the London Blitz that took place between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941. The project presents an interactive map of London with pins showing where every bomb fell during the Blitz. Click on a bomb to read more about it and view photos from nearby, if any are available. Zoom out to see London was really just one huge bomb site. Bomb Sight.
A LIGHT CLEAN: Chemical engineers in China found a way to make fabric clean itself when exposed to sunlight. They spiked titanium dioxide with nitrogen ions which gives it photocatalytic capabilities in UV light and visible light. Then they added silver iodide nanoparticles and coated the fabric with nanoparticles of the new compound. The photocatalytic part means that when TiO2 is exposed to light, it breaks down dirt and kills the microbes that cause odour. The silver iodide speeds up the process. And you can still wash the fabric the old-fashioned way with water, if you like. That sounds good: a spot of sunbathing could replace doing the washing. io9.
GO GO GECKO: A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts has created Geckskin, a device that can hold almost 320 Kg on a smooth wall. Based on how a gecko sticks to walls, the device can be easily removed and then stuck to another surface as many times as needed. Geckskin uses a soft pad woven into a stiff fabric in a way that maximises contact with a surface such as a wall, and includes a synthetic tendon that maintains stiffness and rotational freedom. Goodbye ladders. This just has to lead to new types of sports too. University of Massachusetts Amherst.
CAMO CAMERA: The trouble with trying to film lions is getting close enough. The BeetleCam Project solved it nicely with a small remote controlled buggy with a DSLR camera mounted on top and an armoured shell. Camouflaged to resemble perhaps a rock, the buggy could get right up to the lions and take still photos and video. The BeetleCam even managed to survive being carried off by a playful lion. Stunning photos! BeetleCam. Video:
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.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAK: Beauty is an Alaskan Bald Eagle found starving in the middle of plenty of food. A poacher had shot her beak off and she couldn’t eat. After she was rescued a mechanical engineer decided to give her a bionic beak. He used a laser to scan her stump, 3D modelling software to design a new upper beak and a 3D printer to create it from a nylon based polymer. It was attached to a titanium post that locked on to her stump. Those 3D printers have more uses than you think. GrrlScientist. Video:
SENSITIVE DRAWINGS: Carbon nanotubes are all the rage these days, being used for all kinds of purposes, such as detecting harmful gases in the environment. But building carbon nanotube sensors requires dissolving nanotubes in a solvent such as dichlorobenzene. That’s hazardous and not well suited for large-scale work. Now a chemist at MIT has found a way to compress a powder of carbon nanotubes and use it in place of graphite in a lead pencil. Her device means that adding carbon nanotube sensors to a piece of paper is as simple as picking up a pencil and drawing. So simple, now they know how. MIT.
THOUGHTS TAKE FLIGHT: A pyramid, a flying sphere and an EEG monitor sound like essential elements of a scifi story. They’re not, though. Instead together they make up the Puzzlebox Orbit: a toy that’s operated by your thoughts. The open sphere protects a helicopter that launches from the pyramid as you concentrate on it. When your concentration fades, the helicopter lands again. The pyramid is a remote control and also displays your concentration and relaxation levels with lights. A smartphone app can also be used to control the sphere and to display brainwaves. The thinking person’s toy. Puzzlebox Orbit. Video:
QUAKING ELECTRONS: A scientist at Hokkaido University in Japan noticed something very interesting around earthquakes. It seems that as much as 40 minutes before an earthquake the number of electrons high in the ionosphere increases. The observation was made while using the Total Electron Content of the upper atmosphere to analyse GPS signals and find out why they fluctuate. No-one knows yet why or how this increase happens, but it promises a useful area of study for earthquake prediction. Fascinating. BBC.
LIQUID LESSONS: Sometimes improving education is about buildings and facilities, rather than the teaching. The Waterbank school in Kenya is one example. The new school is located in an area where water’s scarce. Girls are sent to collect water for the family and can’t attend school. The water they collect is also not always clean, leading to illness in the community. The new school collects water on its roof, filters it and stores it in an underground tank. There should be enough for each student to receive 5 litres of water per day. Now the girls can go to school, and everyone benefits. WAN.
SOLAR PAINTING: How about just painting solar cells onto your house? At the University of Notre Dame researchers used semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy. The solar paint is easy to produce and could be easily applied to a surface. The paint contains nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide and suspended in a water-alcohol mixture to create a paste. Brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light it generates power. At the moment it’s only 1% efficient, but it’s a good start. I’m waiting for the day when everything generates power we can use. University of Notre Dame.
DIM IDEAS: See those motorway lights glaring out in the middle of the night, with no traffic using them? What a waste, of electricity and of the precious darkness. The Highways Agency in the UK are busy turning off the lights for around 4,000 Km of roads to minimise obtrusive light. Technology these days can control lights individually and remotely. Turn the lights on or up during the morning and evening rush hour and dim them the rest of the time. Maintain safety with half the energy — that makes a lot of sense. The Telegraph.
TAKE A HIKE: Keeping mobile devices charged is a problem in a busy day as you dash from meeting to meeting. The nPower PEG aims to solve that problem by harvesting the energy of your movements. The Personal Energy Generator belongs in your briefcase or handbag, harvests kinetic energy created by your movements and stores it in a 2000 mA lithium polymer battery. You can also charge the PEG’s battery from a wall point or laptop. 25 minutes of walking generates 1 minute of talk time on an iPhone. That’s a good case for walking the talk. nPower PEG.
PUSH BACK: As trains rush along the tracks they cause the tracks to vibrate. A team at Stony Brook University in the US worked out how to convert that irregular, oscillatory motion into a source of usable energy. Alongside railroad tracks are switches, signals, gates and monitors that need power to operate. The scientists say the Mechanical Motion Rectifier based Railroad Energy Harvester can harness 200 watts of electric energy from train-induced track deflections to power such trackside electrical devices. That will save electricity, reduce CO2 emissions and save money for the railroads. I wonder if taking energy out of the track vibrations could also reduce wear on the track? Stony Brook University.
SOLAR STEAM ENGINE: A standard internal combustion engine pressurises a liquid such as petrol or diesel, adds a spark and uses the explosion to push a piston. The HydroICE Solar Project takes a similar but different approach. Mirrored parabolic solar collectors heat oil to around 430C. The oil’s injected into a cylinder and a few microdroplets of water are added. When the water contacts the hot oil, the oil’s thermal energy is transferred to the water and it instantly flashes to steam. The expansion from liquid water to gas drives the piston. The mix is then sent to a separator to be reused. The closed loop system could be much more efficient than photovoltaic panels and useful for generators. That’s nice thinking outside the box. The HydroICE Solar Project.
SATELLITE SAFETY: With enough resources you can get access to live satellite imagery of a specific area on the planet. It’s what you can do with that access that’s interesting. In the case of the Satellite Sentinel Project, whose offices are in the USA, it’s tracking the movements of rival armed forces in the Sudan and warning civilians when the troops are coming. That gives the locals time to flee. Analysts receive reports from people on the ground and then gain satellite access to grab pictures. By analysing the photos they can estimate where tanks and troops are heading. The images are also detailed enough to document things like mass graves or body bags near freshly dug pits. That’s seriously smart spying. The Guardian.
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.
SIGHT IN TOUCH: If you can’t see or hear then communication is pretty tricky. The Lorm alphabet though allows communication by patterns of touch on the hand. The Mobile Lorm Glove has been created in Germany to help wearers send and receive text messages, emails and chat using the Lorm alphabet. Sensors on the palm read touches and send them via Bluetooth to a phone. Small vibration motors on the back of the glove take signals from a phone and let the wearer feel the words. The makers hope to also develop the system to allow wearers to read ebooks and audio books. By translating between touch signals and email and other forms of messaging, it means deaf blind people can really open up their communication channels. Soon it may be true that on the Internet no-one knows you’re deaf blind. Design Research Lab.
STAY IN TOUCH: Villagers in the Kalahari desert pass down their cultural knowledge and traditions orally from elders to the young people. But now that many young people are going to the cities to live for a few years that traditional knowledge is at risk. That’s why researchers from Aalborg University in Denmark have been helping to design 3D visualisations to use with tablet computers. The villagers find the touchscreens easy to deal with, even though many have never used computers before. Just don’t introduce them to Angry Birds or their way of life may be under a greater threat. New Scientist.
LET’S ALL SPEAK MANDARIN: It’s something of a dream to think of speaking in one language and having your words, in your own voice, be heard correctly phrased in another. So it’s startling to see a real-life demo. Microsoft used a technique called Deep Neural Networks to train more discriminative and better speech recognisers than previous methods. The system converts spoken English into text, much like dictation apps, but with greater accuracy. Then those words are translated in real-time into Mandarin and spoken aloud using sounds captured from the speaker’s own voice. It’s still not perfect, of course, but it feels like a step into the future. The Next Web.
WHALES ONLINE: There aren’t many North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world, and one of the main causes of death for the animals is collisions with ships. The problem, of course, is knowing where the whales are. That’s where a new iOS app has a part to play. Acoustic buoys listen for whale calls and send the data to an iOS device in a nearby ship’s bridge. Between the whale calls, GPS and a vessel’s Automatic Identification System it manages to mark the locations of the whales in near real-time. The Whale Alerts app is free to use, and designed for vessels that travel along the East Coast of North America where the whales live. Two words: Maui’s Dolphins. Wired.
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.
FLY AND DRIVE: The 3-wheeled PAL-V flying car is in a class of its own — Personal Air and Land Vehicles. The small, sleek 2-seater handles like a motorcycle on the roads. Stop and unfold the single rotor and propeller though and you can fly it as a gyrocopter. It flies below 1200 metres, runs on petrol and can reach speeds of up to 180 Kph both on land and in the air. Now that would be a great holiday vehicle. PAL-V.
6 BY 6: Honda’s little U3-X uncicyle has grown up into the UNI-CUB. The UNI-CUB is a seat on a single self-balancing omnidirectional wheel, powered by a Lithium-ion battery. You move, control speed and direction by shifting or weight, or with an optional app for a smartphone or tablet. The UNI-CUB can climb gradients, has a range of 6 Km, and can reach a top speed of 6 Kph. Now even that annoying walk from the lounge sofa to the fridge needn’t be so much trouble. Gizmag.
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:
SWAP SHOP: In Israel drivers of the electric Renault Fluence ZE don’t need to worry about flat batteries and an 8-hour recharge. The 250 Kg battery can be removed, so switch stations use robots to swap the flat battery for a full one — a 5 minute process. A full battery lasts for around 185 Km, and a navigation computer called Oscar not only knows where all the switch points are, but warns the driver when the battery’s running low. Instead of buying the battery with the car, owners lease the battery and access to the switch stations. The Better Place system is a private initiative. Having robots swap out batteries is a smart idea. BBC.
BICYCLE SKYCYCLE: In some places they elevate the local light trains that run through and across cities. London’s considering a system of elevated bike lanes called SkyCycle. The idea is to separate cyclists from both cars and pedestrians and give them their own routes across town and between train stations. The bike lanes would be limited to certain routes, like a motorway, with fixed entry and exit points, and cyclists would pay a small fee to use them. Cyclists, pedestrians and drivers are all sure to like that solution. Co.EXIST.
CLIMBING CHAIR: People who use wheelchairs aren’t too keen on steps. A new prototype robotic electric wheelchair from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan uses 4 wheel drive and 5 axes to climb over obstacles. It uses its wheels as legs to climb a step when the user drives it with a joystick. If it’s on uneven ground the wheelchair also makes sure the seat remains level. Sensors allow the wheelchair to assess steps and other obstacles. The user can also extend stabilisers and line up the wheels to turn in a circle. The designers now need to test the wheelchair with a variety of users. Not requiring curb cuts would be a good thing in itself. DigInfo TV.
CARDBOARD ROLLS: The cardboard wheelchair from Israel costs less than $10 in materials — durable recycled cardboard, plastic bottles and recycled tires. The wheelchair weighs around 9 Kg and can carry up to 180 Kg. It withstands water and humidity and can be made on largely automated production lines. The wheelchair comes from the inventor of the cardboard bike. At that price you could buy half a dozen to keep as spares. Israel 21c.
HOLD YOUR TONGUE: If you rely on an electric wheelchair you need some way to control it. The Tongue Drive System from Georgia Institute of Technology puts the control into the user’s mouth. An inconspicuous dental retainer includes sensors, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and an induction coil to charge the battery. The retainer is moulded to fit tightly around the wearer’s teeth. Meanwhile the person has a tiny magnet attached to their tongue. As the wearer moves their tongue data from the sensors is sent to a smartphone and interpreted to move a cursor on a computer screen or to move the wheelchair. So it is all in the way you hold your mouth. Georgia Institute of Technology.
POLLY WANT A SCOOTER: Pepper the African grey parrot was a noisy bird, until he got his very own Bird Buggy and could follow his owner around. The 4-wheeler is driven by a joystick that the bird moves with his beak from his perch just behind it. Sensors in the front of the buggy help prevent it from bumping into things when pepper’s driving skills fail. The buggy also has an autonomous docking feature so it finds home base and docks once Pepper’s left the vehicle. Scooters beat crackers any day. Alligator.
TOOTH BRUSH: If even the thought of the dentist’s drill sets your teeth on edge you may like the sound of the painless plasma drill. US researchers have been working on a cool plasma brush that cleans out cavities without pain by creating chemical reactions on the surface of the tooth. The plasma kills bacteria and allows the tooth to bond better to the filling. That means fillings should last longer too. And if it’s painless you shouldn’t need injections either, so no more numb mouth. So long as it doesn’t have the same high-pitched whine. MU News Bureau.
BURN SWEETENER: Bad burns may lead to bad scarring. Now researchers at Johns Hopkins University have created a drug-free hydrogel that appears to help the skin regenerate without scars. The hydrogel promotes the formation of new blood vessels and skin, including hair follicles. It’s a water-based three dimensional framework of polymers that includes a dissolved polysaccharide. It’s absorbed harmlessly over 21 days while tissue regenerates. So, that’s a version of sugar water, right? Johns Hopkins University.
SHARP AS SILK: Had to get an injection recently? Hurt much? Would it be better if the needle was tiny and made of silk? Engineers at Tufts University have created micro-needles from fibroin, the major protein in silk. The needles are 500 microns tall and 10 microns wide — 1/10th the width of a human hair. The needles penetrate the skin, but not far enough to reach the nerves. A patch of needles can release medication over time and without pain. There’s great potential here for spy thrillers. Scientific American.
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.
DAILY SHOT: Some people have diseases or conditions that mean they must have injections at intervals, maybe daily, perhaps for years. The MicroCHIPS company has now successfully tested an implantable drug delivery microchip, to the proof of concept stage. The device can be monitored and controlled remotely while it delivers the metred doses for several weeks. Now the company are developing new designs to deliver up to 400 doses over more than a year. Imagine if it came loaded with chocolate or caffeine. MicroCHIPS.
PUMPED: People with diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar levels and perhaps administer insulin. The JewelPUMP from Debiotech in Switzerland carries 500 Units of insulin and is applied to the skin. A special Android powered phone, the JewelCOM, features an integrated blood glucose meter and uses dedicated SIM card security to communicate with the JewelPUMP. The pump itself includes a couple of buttons for administering doses if the phone is out of action. The patch is waterproof and includes an alarm in case it gets too hot. How long till someone hacks this to deliver other substances? MedGadget.
BLOOD SUBMARINE: Engineers at Stanford have demoed a tiny wirelessly powered device only 2 mm square that can be guided through a fluid such as blood. The device can be implanted or injected into the body and powered wirelessly using electromagnetic radio waves. Some devices, such as cochlear implants, could be stationary, but others could be guided through the bloodstream to deliver drugs or carry out tasks such as zapping blood clots. The device has an antenna of coiled wire magnetically coupled to a transmitter outside the body. Any change in current flow in the transmitter induces a voltage in the coiled wire and propels the device. Someone will need to come up with the realistic video games so medics can practice their technique. Stanford University.
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.
RETINA SCREEN: Bionic Vision Australia is working on a bionic eye that they hope to test next year. An implanted chip with 98 separate electrodes will stimulate the retina so people with genetic eye conditions can see large objects such as buildings and cars. A camera in a pair of glasses sends data to a processor which then sends it on to an implant in the retina. They are also working on a more accurate high-acuity device that could help people recognise faces and even read large print. How about a way for a computer to use the implant as a display? The Verge.
1.5 KILOPIXEL EYES: Pioneering eye implants have given 2 British men who were completely blind the ability to see light and some shapes. Now they’re wearing behind their retinas a thin 3mm square microelectronic chip with 1,500 light-sensitive pixels which replace the function of photoreceptor rods and cones in the eye. A fine cable runs from the sensor to a control unit under the skin behind the ear. Now the men have to learn to correctly interpret the signals from the chips. This is part of a clinical trial of the chips, but may eventually lead to some people having at least partial vision restored. Now that’s definitely an augmented reality. BBC.
FRESH EYES: The Bio-Retina is designed to restore sight to those suffering from retinal degenerative diseases. The tiny 5,000 pixel artificial retina can be implanted in the eye with only a local anesthetic in a 30 minute procedure. It’s good enough to recognise faces or watch TV. The implant receives its power wirelessly from a rechargeable, battery-powered mini laser on a pair of glasses. Clinical trials are expected in 2013. This goes way beyond glasses and contact lenses for helping eyesight. Nano Retina.
SMART CARD: Rapid Diagnostic Tests are becoming popular: a sample is added to a small slide and after a short time the slide changes colour, offering a quick diagnosis. But reading the tests correctly and using the information is prone to human error. Scientists at the University of California developed a small attachment and app so a smartphone can photograph, enlarge, read and validate the test results. A health worker can then add information and send the whole record to a server. Collating such data on a map quickly shows trends and patterns for disease. It’s great to see these technologies being put together for such useful purposes. University of California.
HEARTS AND PHONES: A 17 year old student in the US wanted to tackle one of the problems of health-care access in developing countries. She created a prototype EKG that needs only a cellphone and a small circuit board. The circuit board reads and amplifies the slight fluctuations in voltage as the heart beats, then sends the signal via Bluetooth to a cellphone. A Java app on the phone then displays the EKG signal for a doctor to read. Her approach could bring better health care to countries where sophisticated medical equipment is beyond reach, especially since many have ready access to cellphones. Probably a lot of previously costly health care could be handled by a small device and a cellphone. The Mary Sue.
DARK DNA: Analysing DNA to find clues to sickness is slow and costly. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found a way to couple genetic material to a luminous molecule that goes dark only in the presence of a specific target. It’s quicker than traditional methods of checking DNA — an analysis takes only 6 hours rather than 48. Apart from anything else that should help reduce anxiety amongst those being tested, and even that is a good outcome. KurzweilAI.
WALK THIS WAY: A team at Glasgow Caledonian University are using 3D printers to quickly make orthotic devices that are more supportive than traditionally made devices. In the past a foot mould was created in plaster then plastic was added around it by hand. The whole process took several weeks. In the new process motion sensor cameras measure the exact proportions of the leg or foot then a 3D printer builds up layers of plastic to create the insole or splint. And it would be easy to produce spares, or orthotics in various colours. BBC.
DIE BUG DIE: A coating devised at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore attracts bacteria and kills them without antibiotics. The coating is already being used by one contact lens manufacturer. The coating is a sponge-like polymer holds a positive charge. It works like a magnet to draw in bacteria which have a negative charge on their cell walls. On contact the coating ruptures the bacteria and kills them. Gruesome but effective. Nanyang Technological University.
FRUIT FRESHER: 25% of all food produced goes uneaten and that waste is a big global problem. FreshPaper keeps fruits and vegetables fresh for 2 to 4 times longer. Put a sheet in the fridge or bag and its edible botanical extracts, including fenugreek, inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, as well as enzymes that cause over-ripening. In use, each sheet lasts around 2 or 3 weeks. Could there be an end to fruit going off before you can eat it? Fenugreen.
UNCUFFED: When the doctor tests your blood pressure it involves a cuff on your arm and a stethoscope. Nihon University has a blood pressure meter that you simply touch with a fingertip to get a reading. LEDs send out light that’s reflected from the finger. Photo transistors register that reflected light and provide a reading. The monitor could make it much easier to measure blood pressure in babies and elderly people. It could also be a handy household device for anyone worried about their blood pressure. Tech-On.
RED LIGHT BABIES: If the baby’s asleep in another room or while you sleep you may not know it’s stopped breathing. Sadly this happens all too often with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Students at Brigham Young University have invented a wireless monitor that spots the problem and sends a message to your smartphone. The Owlet Baby Monitor is integrated into a sock and uses pulse oximetry to do its work. The monitor measures the pulse and oxygen content of the blood with red and infrared light which show up oxygen saturation. These could be essential footwear for babies. Brigham Young University.
SPIT ON A STICK: People with diabetes may have to prick their fingers several times a day to read off blood sugar levels. Now researchers in Iran have created a monitor to do the same reading from saliva. The glucose in saliva is 100 to 2000 times lower than in blood, which has been a problem until now. The new monitor uses an extremely sensitive technique with a more sensitive device. The researchers expect to patent the device and release it commercially by the end of April 2013. Stick a needle in your finger or spit on a stick? It’d be an easy choice. Tehran University of Medical Sciences.
The Best of Tech Universe in 2012: Monday 24 December 2012
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.
TALKING HANDS: The Ukrainian EnableTalk claims to be the voice of sign language. The system includes a pair of virtual reality gloves that send signals via Bluetooth for computer processing. The gloves include a microcontroller, 15 flex sensors, accelerometer, gyroscope, and a compass in order to define the position of the glove in space. They also have a lithium ion battery and a USB port for charging and for synching with the computer. A person wears the glove and uses sign language to communicate. The glove captures the hand movements then sends signals to the processor that turns the signs into spoken words. So can they make the reverse work too? Speak and the gloves create the signs? EnableTalk.
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.
OIL SUCKERS: Engineers at Rice University have created sponges made of carbon nanotubes with boron mixed in that could be used to soak up oil spills from water. The sponge is extremely hydrophobic: it doesn’t absorb any water, but just floats on the top. It’s magnetic though so can be moved and directed with magnets. The main attribute though is that it soaks up 100 times its weight in oil which can then be squeezed or even burned out without harming the sponge. The sponge can then be used again. Now let’s see them devise oil tanks filled with the sponges in the first place so oil never spills. io9.
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.
100 TO 1: There are hundreds of thousands of old unexploded landmines scattered around the world. Finding them is a huge and time consuming task. The metal detectors alert to 100 objects that eventually turn out to be junk, such as shrapnel, car parts or cans for every 1 landmine. That wastes precious time in a task that could already take another century. Red Lotus Technologies in the US has an idea that could help: Pattern Enhancement Tool for Assisting Landmine Sensing. A monitor displays the shape of the object found by a metal detector, then based on the shape, the operator can decide to investigate further or move on. The inventors describe it as like an X-ray for the soil. It’s crazy that projects like these have to rely on fundraising and charity. GeekWire.
STAND ALONE: An alternative to a wheelchair for a paraplegic is the TEK Robotic Mobilization Device from Turkey. The wheeled device allows the user to stand, sit and bend over while holding them securely with supporting belts. The electric device means the user is mobile, and in fact it fits in smaller spaces than a wheelchair. The user easily enters the device while it’s in front of them, and they can move it from a parking place to where they need it with a remote. All it needs now is a better name. TEK Robotic Mobilization Device.
MARATHON SUIT: Two weeks after starting the London Marathon the final competitor finished the course. The competitor may have been slow, but considering she’s paralysed from the chest down and was walking with the aid of a bionic ReWalk suit it’s an unparalleled achievement. Motion sensors and an onboard computer system read the wearer’s intentions and move the suit in response, allowing them to walk. So you decide: is 2 miles per day a slow walk or a fast one? The Telegraph.
BABY STEPS: In Kenya there’s only one doctor for every 10,000 people. On the other hand, nearly 75% of people there own a mobile phone, and many use it for going online. With limited access to medical services, many women die because of complications in pregnancy. The Baby Monitor trial project is assessing whether automated phone calls can help with this problem. Women receive a long phonecall at regular intervals and provide answers to questions about the progress of their pregnancy. Women trialling the system currently visit health workers who ask the same questions to see if the automated system is getting it right. If it works correctly, the system should advise whether progress is normal or the woman should visit a health clinic. Lifesaving cellphones. BBC.
FROM THIN AIR: The Eole Water wind turbine is ingenious. We’re used to wind turbines creating electricity, but this one draws water out of even dry desert air. The turbine contains a generator, cooling compressor and humidity condenser to extract water from air, then the water runs down into a storage tank from where it can be drawn off by an ordinary tap. The WMS1000 turbine can produce up to 1200 litres of water per day. Who knew dry air actually held so much water? Eole Water.
DRINK THE SEA: In many countries salt water is readily available, but drinking water is in short supply. The open-source Eliodomestico water still is designed to be easy to manufacture locally and to supply 5 litres of drinking water after a day in the sun. In the morning you add a bucket of sea water. The sun boils the water in the black top portion and the steam is condensed in a lower section. Then in the evening the bowl of water is removed and carried to where it’s needed. A simple and elegant solution to a real-world problem. Humans Invent. Video:
DON’T WASTE WASTE: There’s one resource that isn’t in short supply around the world: urine. Three teenage girls in Africa developed a generator that produces 6 hours of power for every litre of urine fed into it. Most people produce a couple of litres of urine per day. The device uses an electrolytic cell to extract hydrogen from the urine. The hydrogen is then purified with a typical water filter and fed into a cylinder of liquid borax to remove excess humidity. From there the purified hydrogen can power a generator to produce 6 hours of electricity. Couldn’t that revolutionise city or even household sewage systems! I wonder what the waste products are. Inhabitat.
HEAT SEEKING BRA: Around 3 years after a breast cancer tumour starts to grow, and long before it can be detected by current means, the body creates additional blood vessels with a distinctive heat signature. The First Warning System looks like a sports bra but contains sensors that measure cell temperature changes and uses Internet-based pattern recognition software to detect possible tumours. Wearers visit a website or view data on their smartphone. Clinical studies have shown the bra returns highly accurate results. When detected early, breast cancer can generally be treated successfully. Do other cancers work in a similar way? Could other clothing items be used in this way too? MedGadget.