04 to 08 February 2013 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 04 February 2013

  • DRONE ON THE RANGE: There are only 7 northern white rhinos left in the world and 4 of them live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Protecting them and the other rhinos, elephants, leopards and other animals in the reserve is a particularly hard job for the 190 rangers. Game poaching rates are soaring and the conservancy covers more than 36,000 hectares. Now the conservationists have raised enough money to buy a drone to help with their efforts. The electric drone will be fitted with a high-definition camera with zoom for daytime and infrared thermal imaging for nights. Each 90 minute mission should cover about 130 square kilometres while the drone sends a live stream of images back to base, providing a deterrent to potential poachers. The rangers also hope to fit animals with unique radio frequency ID tags the drones will be able to track. It’s sad that such measures are necessary to protect these vulnerable animals. CNN.
  • TINY BUT FAST: Need some hydrogen right now for your fuel cell? For hydrogen in a flash you just need some spherical silicon particles about 10 nanometers in diameter and a little water. The combination forms non-toxic silicic acid and hydrogen anywhere between 150 and 1,000 times faster than do silicon in bulk or in particles 100 nanometers wide. In tests the 10 nanometer particles yielded more hydrogen in less than 60 seconds than the 100 nanometer particles yielded in 45 minutes. The smaller particles are more expensive to produce but could be useful where speed and portability are more important than cost. Be nice to refuel your car at the nearest river too. University at Buffalo.
  • WATER HOLE: Current low-flow shower heads may reduce both water flow and pressure. But if you like a powerful shower perhaps the shower head that produces hollow drops may be for you. Felton’s Oxijet nozzle creates the feeling of a full pressure shower, using only half the water. The nozzle pulls air into the water stream making the droplets hollow and expanding the volume of the shower stream. The aerator insert allows the device to work with existing showers already installed and can be fitted to most existing shower heads. So really you’re showering in air with a bit of water on the side. CSIRO.
  • BALANCED SCOPE: NASA and the European Space Agency aim to map and measure some 2 billion galaxies with a new telescope. The data will also help scientists map dark matter and understand the role of dark energy in the Universe’s evolution. The Euclid mission will begin in 2020 with putting a telescope into orbit at the Earth and Sun’s Lagrange point L2, where the gravitational pull is balanced. For 6 years Euclid will map galaxies across about a third of the sky. It all sounds very geometric. Ars Technica.
  • SKI SHOCK: Giro’s Combyn Helmet is designed to take multiple hits but still protect your head while you ski or snowboard. The soft-shell helmet flexes and bends under pressure then pops back to its original shape. Two layers of foam lining absorb the shock from high and low energy impacts. Look after the head, folks. Gear Junkie.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 05 February 2013

  • GLIDING ON: The Solowheel is a gyro-stabilised electric unicycle. Apart from a couple of footpegs, it has a battery, the wheel, a stabiliser and a carry handle, but no seat. The wheel can carry to up to 16 Km at up to 16 Kph and weighs 11 Kg. The Lithium-Ion battery takes an hour to recharge. Two wheels good; one wheel better. Solowheel.
  • HULK SMASH: The T-Rex on its way to Christchurch isn’t a dinosaur, but rather a huge truck that simulates an earthquake to reveal the properties of rocks and sediments below. The truck weighs 29,000 Kg and will pound and shake the ground to reveal which soils are more likely to liquefy, and which soils are more stable. It’s a good old-fashioned technique: stomping hard to see if the base is solid. Wunderground.
  • LIGHT COOLER: Some cooling systems are bulky and use dangerous coolants and refrigerants such as liquid helium. Now scientists at Nanyang Technological University have used lasers to cool a Cadmium Sulfide semiconductor from 20 degrees Celsius down to minus 20 C. This optical cooling system could have uses in computers, satellites, smartphones and even MRI machines, saving space, energy and harmful gases. Getting rid of the gases is good news for the environment, but how about the Cadmium Sulfide? Nanyang Technological University.
  • A BIT HARD: Is diamond really the hardest material in the world? A team of researchers created a material that may be harder: ultrahard nanotwinned cubic boron nitride. The secret’s in the nanostructure, in that neighbouring atoms share a boundary and often mirror one another which makes the material harder to deform. The boundaries act like walls, so with each segment 3.8 nanometers wide on average there are more ‘walls’ than in other materials. Unfortunately hardness can really only be definitively established by using an even harder material to test it, so this may not be the last word in hard materials after all. If it is though, it’s sure to find use in drilling for resources. Scientific American.
  • EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE: The US Army’s ARGUS-IS is a 1.8 gigapixel video surveillance camera that can resolve details down to 15 cm from an altitude of 6 Km. The idea is to attach it to a drone and observe an area of 25 square kilometres at a time. The camera captures video at 12 frames per second so supplies 600 gigabits of data per second, or 6 petabytes per day, needing a supercomputer to process it all. It’ll also need some pretty super software to actually make use of all that video data. ExtremeTech.

Tech Universe: Thursday 07 February 2013

  • FINGER PRINTS: When Liam was born in South Africa he had no fingers on his right hand. But two 3D printing enthusiasts have fixed him up with a working prosthesis and released the plans as public domain files. Being able to print parts with the 3D printer means fast iterations, reduced cost and that the design can easily be scaled up as Liam grows. That’s where 3D printing really comes into its own. Ars Technica.
  • A SPIN OF THE WRIST: The i-limb Ultra from Touch Bionics is a myoelectric prosthetic hand that features 5 individually powered articulating digits. The thumb and wrist can rotate all the way around, which allows the wearer to use various complex grips. An electrical sensor detects muscle movements in the residual limb then controls the hand movements. Although expensive, the hand more closely resembles the real thing than previous prosthetic hands. The next steps though include touch sensitivity and substituting for skin. That rotating wrist sounds like a cool thing. CNN.
  • RESISTANCE GAMING: If you’re gaming on your smartphone then you might like the realism of actually feeling the struggle. A team at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam use electrical stimulation to provide direct feedback to gamers. Two small wired electrodes attach to your arm and stimulate the nerves electrically which makes your hand muscles contract. The muscle contraction could make you tilt the phone, for example, then you have to struggle to right it, creating a realistic force for you to fight against. The creators say it will be easy to make the system smaller and it will use far less power than traditional vibrating motors. Your hands in theirs. New Scientist.
  • LIGHT NETWORKING: The University of Strathclyde in Scotland are developing a new wireless network, using micron-sized LEDs. This would create a LiFi network, rather than a WiFi network. The idea is to make the LEDs flicker on and off thousands of times a second, transmitting digital information to specially adapted computer devices. The tiny LEDs can flicker 1,000 more quickly than standard 1 square mm LEDs and so can transmit data very quickly. What’s more each tiny LED could act as a separate communications channel. The micron-sized LEDs could also be used for communicating visual information when set up in an array so could act as a simple light source, or as a communications screen. That’s multitasking at its best. University of Strathclyde.
  • TURN ON THE POWER: Off grid and need some extra power? Extend the arm on The Voltmaker and give it a whirl. The kinetic energy creates a steady source of electricity for your gadgets. The device fits in a backpack or jacket pocket, so why not cart it along? Inhabitat.

Tech Universe: Friday 08 February 2013

  • AS THE WHEEL FOLDS: Even though wheelchairs may fold up for easy transport in a car or plane, their wheels don’t get smaller. That’s where the Morph Folding Wheelchair Wheel comes in. The wheel itself collapses from a circle to an elongated oval shape that can more easily fit into spaces designed for luggage. The wheel uses a solid tire and includes a hand rim that also collapses. In case you’re wondering, the design of the wheel makes it impossible for it to collapse as long as the quick release axle is inserted through the hub. I wonder if the tire deteriorates quickly along the fold points? Maddak.
  • DRINK THE FLOOD: Flooding brings many problems, including how to find clean drinking water. Thailand’s mobile SOS, or Solar Operating System, unit purifies contaminated water after a flood. Solar cells and batteries drive a nanofiltration system to produce up to 200 litres of drinkable water per hour from flood waters. Silver nanoparticles in a ceramic filter capture and kill bacteria. While larger filtration systems have long existed, this one can be carried onto a small boat by a few people and taken to where it can do the most good. There are probably plenty of communities who could put one of those units to use fulltime, with or without a flood. Technology Review.
  • SELF-SAVED MAN: People with kidney disease may need an expensive dialysis machine to clean up their blood, and that also generally involves a trip to the hospital. One Chinese man who could no longer afford the hospital visits solved his problem by making his own dialysis machine, and it’s worked for him for 13 years now. His home treatments cost only 12% as much as hospital treatments. He made the machine from disused medical equipment and household items. That’s some extreme DIY. Daily Mail.
  • LIGHT WEIGHT: NASA’s Sunjammer mission will use a solar sail made of Kapton. That’s a polymide film that’s only 5 microns thick. The sail is around 1200 square metres, but weighs only a little over 30 Kg. Sunlight pushing on the sail will allow it to tow a support vehicle to the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 1. One of the trickiest parts of the mission is successfully unfurling the sail. The Sunjammer should launch in 2014. Even lightweights can go far under gentle pressure. NBC News.
  • BRICKS IN THE WALL: Recycling paper is a good thing, of course, but even the mills that process used paper create waste of their own. Researchers at the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in India, realised they could transform the waste sludge from local mills into much needed bricks for building. The lightweight bricks are made from 90% paper mill waste and 10% cement. With a waterproof coating they’re suitable for internal partition walls and temporary buildings. One person’s waste paper is another person’s building bricks. The Indian Express.
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