Tech Universe: Monday 14 January 2013
- ROADRUNNER: Some spots are full of pedestrians with little road traffic. Examples could be shopping malls, universities, or large parking lots. Yet some people would still prefer to ride rather than walk. That’s where Induct’s driverless Navia vehicle comes in. It’s a robot shuttle designed to carry up to 8 passengers. Laser range finders, cameras and a special software package let it move autonomously through the crowds. It recharges its Lithium-Polymer batteries at each stop through an instant induction recharging system. Beep beep. Induct.
- OUT OF HOT WATER: Panasonic’s new thermoelectric material pulls electricity out of hot water as it runs through a pipe. The thermoelectric tube carries hot water while cold water cools the outside. Metal components with high thermal conductivity are stacked at an angle so heat flows from inside the tube to outside, while electric current flows along the tube. A 40 cm section of pipe is enough to run a light bulb. The new material produces 3 or 4 times as much power as conventional systems. Put a stretch of this on the pipes coming out of your hot water cylinder. DigInfo.tv
- BATTERY PACK: The Prieto 3D battery uses a real 3D structure to generate more power. Conventional batteries may stack 2D components, but they’re slow to charge, lose energy quickly and need to be replaced often. Liquid electrolytes can also make them toxic and highly flammable. The 3D battery weaves the components together instead of stacking them, increasing the surface area and producing a very high density battery. It charges quickly, has a long life and produces more energy. A solid state electrolyte also reduces the risk of toxicity and fire hazard. Quicker to charge, more power, longer life: the gadget makers should be in on this. Prieto Battery.
- YO GO GADGET: Researchers at North Carolina State University may have the answer to the problem of gadget cables that just aren’t long enough — they’ve made them stretchy. They filled elastic polymer tubes with a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium which conducts electricity efficiently. Now the cables can stretch up to 8 times their original length while still charging gadgets. Inspector Gadget would be happy. Mashable.
- STILL THERE IN BLACK AND WHITE: In the UK householders have to pay to licence the TV in their house. Licences for colour TVs cost 3 times as much as for black and white TVs. But that’s not the oddest factoid. What’s astonishing is that there are still more than 13,000 households licensing the old black and white TVs, down from 212,000 in 2000. New Zealand did away with TV licensing fees back in 1999. BBC.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 15 January 2013
- NO YOLK: If you’ve ever tried to separate egg yolks and whites you’ve probably muttered a few choice words in the process. The Pluck makes it simple — it’s a tiny silicone and plastic suction pump that cleanly picks up the yolk so you can drop it into another bowl. Simple. Quirky.
- AIRLIFT: It may look fragile, thanks to its filmy body covering, but the Aeroscraft prototype vehicle is almost ready to fly. A ground-handling test has demonstrated the rigid variable-buoyancy air vehicle can be controlled from the cockpit and can move without assistance from ground personnel. The Vertical Takeoff and Landing craft is designed to transport oversized freight from its source to where it’s needed, such as remote or ecologically-sensitive areas. Better access for freight to fragile ecosystems may not be such a great thing. PRWeb
- SLOW DOWN YOU EAT TOO FAST: Do you eat too fast? The HAPIfork can help you. It’s a regular dinner fork with a difference: it monitors and tracks your eating habits and flashes indicator lights when you eat too fast. Connect it via USB to a website or via Bluetooth to an app to help you monitor and change your eating habits. Or maybe use a regular fork and put it down between mouthfuls. HAPILabs.
- AS YOU LIGHT IT: Just when you really need a torch, like in a disaster, is when you’re likely to find you have only the wrong batteries to fit. No problem with Any Battery Light from Panasonic — it takes whatever batteries you have to hand, whether they’re AAA or D, even a single AAA battery. The torch uses one battery at a time chosen by turning the lamp end of the light, to drive its energy efficient LEDs. All rechargeables, we hope. Japan Today.
- HEDGEHOGS IN SPACE: Rovers have been landed on Mars to explore the planet, and now NASA is starting to look at Phobos, one of the moons around Mars. The Phobos Surveyor spacecraft will carry half a dozen robot rovers that are quite different from the current rovers. The idea is that while the Phobos Surveyor orbits the moon it will deploy spiked, spherical rovers called Hedgehogs, each about 50 cm wide. The rovers will hop, tumble and bound across the moon, gathering and relaying research data. Scientists see studying Phobos as a step along the path to potential human exploration on Mars. A Phobos Surveyor mission could take place within the next decade or two. Inexorably the exploration continues. Stanford Report
Tech Universe: Wednesday 16 January 2013
- IN THE BAND: Visiting Disney World? Before long you can forget buying paper tickets and instead wear an RFID bracelet that will grant entry to your hotel room and the rides, and let you make purchases. The bracelets will be coded with your credit card details, but will also allow Disney to track guest behaviour in minute detail. The MyMagic+ vacation management system and an app called My Disney Experience will make it easier and quicker for visitors to get around, while giving the company enormous amounts of data on how visitors behave. Which of course, is both a good and bad thing. NY Times.
- EXTREME POSITIONING: GPS has become very important in our lives, but it only works outdoors, and even then, sometimes not. Locata’s ground-based positioning system projects a radio signal over a localised area, and it’s a million times stronger on arrival than GPS. The receivers are small enough to fit in a smartphone too. In recent tests the system worked to within 18 cm along any axis. Unfortunately complex urban environments can still block Locata signals, but on the other hand it works indoors as well as out. That would give the Find Friends apps a rather unsettling precision: not just at home, but in the kitchen, in the bathroom, watching TV. New Scientist.
- SQUARE ROOT OF X: Current X-ray machines are huge and run on lots of electricity. A University of Missouri engineering team has invented a compact source of X-rays and other forms of radiation. The radiation source is around the size of a stick of chewing gum and could be used in battery powered handheld scanners the size of a cellphone. That could mean your dentist could take X-rays from inside your mouth, rather than exposing your whole head to radiation. Do we now need to worry about evil doers having handheld X-ray devices too? University of Missouri. Video:
- PETS AT LARGE: Do you wonder where your cats get to while you’re not around? The Tractive is a GPS pet tracking device with an app that gives you live updates on its location once it leaves a predetermined safe zone. The service will be available in Europe and the US initially, and sends data via the standard GSM network to the service’s servers. A monthly fee will cover costs of the service. Now you can find out if your cat’s been cheating on you with the neighbours. Tractive
- FULL BONDED JACKET: HzO’s WaterBlock waterproofing is intended to keep your gadgets safe from water, fizzy drinks, beer, juice and other liquids. It coats all the circuitry with a transparent shield of bonded molecules. The idea is that the devices are coated as part of the production process and are then safe from mud, sweat and liquids of all kinds. No more worrying about using your smartphone in the rain. HzO.
Tech Universe: Thursday 17 January 2013
- CHARGING FOR THE FJORDS: Norway is the land of fjords, so car ferries are a pretty handy thing. To cross the Sognefjord between the villages of Lavik and Oppedal you’ll soon be able to take an electrically powered car ferry that will carry 120 cars and 360 passengers. And it will take only 10 minutes at each end to charge up the batteries. One problem though is that the local grid can’t handle the sudden power draw, so batteries have been installed at each port to recharge the ferry. They in turn are slowly recharged from the local grid during the crossing. Way to go, Norway! Phys.org.
- DAZZLING WHITE: Bicycle safety: bright lights, reflective strips — the same themes come up over and over again. But a powder coating from Halo really lights up the safety prospects. Josh’s pale grey bike has LED lights and various other safety features, but at night it really shines — literally — because of its retro-reflective coating. The whole frame lights up bright white when light hits it. It works because a retroreflector sends light back in the direction of its source so it can be seen at a much greater distance in low light conditions. The coating can be applied to plastic, metal and rubber at low cost. So long as it doesn’t dazzle the driver behind the bike. Bike Safe Boston.
- PLACE TAB A BESIDE TAB B: And you thought a Tab was part of your web browser… The PaperTab is a paper tablet computer that holds a single app or function. It looks and feels like a sheet of paper but it’s fully interactive with a flexible, high-resolution 10.7″ plastic display. For example, one PaperTab may show a photo while another shows a reply to an email. Tap the corner of the photo onto the email to attach the photo to the email. Put the PaperTab in an Out tray or bend the top corner of the display to send the email. Or place two PaperTabs together to create a larger display. This is a very different way of thinking and working. PaperTab.
- BRING THE MOUNTAIN: The Americans are considering having a team of astronauts study an asteroid. But rather than sending the team deep into space to study the rock, they’re thinking of bringing the rock to the astronauts. Or, more precisely, putting the asteroid known as 1999 AO10 in orbit round the Moon and having the team visit it there. A slow moving robot spacecraft would head over to the rock, study it, then capture it in a net and tow it back to the moon. Well, if you can’t go to the mountain then bringing the mountain to you is a good second choice. New Scientist.
- NEW CHIP, SHERLOCK: DNA from a crime scene can help track down offenders, if there’s a match in DNA databases. But if there’s no match detectives are no better off. The Identitas v1 Forensic Chip can produce much more refined results, suggesting gender, eye and hair colour, and even ancestry from a small sample of DNA, such as that found on a cigarette butt. The chip provides data on all the traits simultaneously, unlike current methods that can suggest two at most. The chip contains hundreds of thousands of short sequences of DNA, each of which can indicate a single trait when matched through binding. Tests found the chip up to 99% accurate in predicting gender, but only 63% accurate at predicting blond hair. What, no height and weight? New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Friday 18 January 2013
- SHELVING THE BOOKS: Quick, what are libraries full of? If you answered ‘books’ you might need to think again. The BiblioTech countywide library system in Bexar County in the US is designed for the digital age, so paper books won’t fill the shelves. Instead residents will be able to check out ereaders and download ebooks and other digitised information. The library will also have staff available to help library users with homework or other research. The times are definitely changing. San Antonio Express News.
- LIGHT UP THE WORLD: The Luci collapsible solar lantern sheds a diffused light so it benefits several people at once. It charges in sunlight, on cloudy days or even from an incandescent light. The waterproof light has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, 10 white LEDs and weighs only around 100 grams. 6 hours of charging yields 6 to 12 hours of light. The lantern’s intended for the developing world where many people have no access to power or can’t afford it, but would be a handy item in any emergency kit. MpowerD.
- BOLIVIAN BATTERIES: Those lithium-ion batteries we’re so fond of? Where does all the lithium come from? It turns out Bolivia has around half the world’s supply — enough to make 4.8 billion car batteries. That’s why Bolivia has just opened its first lithium processing plant. They plan to process the metal into batteries within Bolivia too, to maximise the economic benefit. And the world’s best quality lithium deposits? They’re in neighbouring Chile, while Argentina also produces significant amounts. So: one car battery per person on the planet would just about clean out the world’s lithium reserves … That’s worth thinking on. FT.
- GUIDED PICTURES: Celestron are known for their telescopes and other astronomy products. Their new Sky-Watcher Virtuoso Versatile Mount is a mount that can handle either a 90mm optical tube for observation or a DSLR, camcorder, or cellphone for panoramic photos or smooth panning video. The dual axis tracking mount offers controls for smooth panning, precision alignment and automatic shutter release for some cameras. No more shakycam smartphone videos? Celestron.
- STROKE HELMET: For around 90 days after someone has a stroke they’re at more risk of another stroke. If these secondary strokes are detected quickly medical intervention can make a big difference. But the EEG monitoring required is awkward and often impossible. The Neurokeeper device broadly resembles a bike helmet and can be worn even while asleep to monitor brain waves. If it identifies discrepancies that could suggest a secondary stroke it alerts carers. The low cost and highly portable device is currently being tested. It sounds like a simple way to make an important difference. Neurogadget.