28 January to 01 February 2013 Tech Universe Digest
03 February 2013
Poles Apart; Twin Bridges; On Watch; Arrows Away; Movies By The Cup. Trap A Charge; Keeping Cool; Feeling The Web; Hip But No Hop; Silent Runnings. Another Pair Of Eyes; Sweet Sleep; Beep; GPS On The Wing; Thermal Imaging Phone. 64 Shades Of Grey; Spray Away; Speedy Street; Pushme Pullyou; The Big Clean.
POLES APART: There’s an actual pole at the South Pole, but it’s replaced every year because it keeps shifting. The ice below the Geographic South Pole moves, taking the marker with it. The previous marker is replaced by a flag. The 2013 pole includes icons to show the positions of the planets as at 01 January 2013, and a memorial to Neil Armstrong for his achievements on the moon. Ah, but which way points North? Gizmodo.
TWIN BRIDGES: When an essential bridge can no longer support the traffic it needs to carry what do you do? In Oregon they moved the 87 year old Sellwood Bridge a few metres sideways to allow a new bridge to be built in its place. The 335 metre, 3400 ton truss span was moved on a curved path along beams, using hydraulic jacks for lifting. 10 horizontally-oriented 75-ton capacity hydraulic jacks moved the truss sideways. The old bridge will be used as a detour bridge for traffic, cyclists and pedestrians while the new bridge is constructed. Moving a bridge is quite a sight and a huge feat of engineering. Sellwood Bridge.
ON WATCH: The Indian government has a plan to help women avoid and defend themselves against sexual assault, and it takes the form of a wristwatch. It’s not just any old watch though, as it will be able to send a text message to the nearest police station and selected family members. It includes a GPS so the message can include an accurate location. But that’s not all. The wearer can also activate a camera to record 30 minutes of video. It’s an interesting idea, but women’s rights activists are sceptical that the device alone will make any difference when police responses to reports of sexual assault are slow or nonexistent. And those committing an assault will probably remove and destroy the watch as their first act anyway. India Real Time.
ARROWS AWAY: The uWand from Philips is a new kind of remote for a smart TV. Rather than pressing buttons to navigate items on screen the uWand remote lets you point at an item you want to select or flick your wrist to scroll. A small camera in the device distinguishes what the remote is pointing at and sends the coordinates directly to the TV. No more arrow keys, hooray. uWand. Video:
MOVIES BY THE CUP: There’s always more data and always more desire to store it, but hard drives and other physical media too quickly run out of space. So researchers at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute have set off on a new data storage path: encoding files into DNA. They say they can store 100 million hours of high-definition video in around a cup of DNA. Some benefits of DNA are that it’s long-lasting, incredibly small, dense and doesn’t need power for storage. They’ve created algorithms for encoding files that avoid errors, and were successful in both encoding and decoding works including an MP3, a PDF, a JPG and a plain text file. So how many scifi stories are coming true now? PhysOrg.
TRAP A CHARGE: The world around us is full of electric charge. And if you’re clever enough, as one German designer was, you can harvest that electricity for your own purposes. Dennis Siegel created an Electromagnetic Harvester device, around the size of a smartphone. Simply place the device within the field, for example by a coffee machine or photocopier, to slowly charge a normal AA battery. I guess it doesn’t really have a practical purpose, but it’s a good lesson in awareness. DesignBoom. Video:
KEEPING COOL: The electricity supply is unreliable in India, especially out in the country, so milk is collected twice a day from farmers, rather than being chilled at the farm. That means farmers sell less milk. Promethean Power in the US has a thermal battery that will help. The thermal battery is a cylinder-shaped tank with a phase-change material inside that stays liquid to -3 degrees Celsius. Farmers pour milk over the cylinder to cool it, and then it can stay cool for hours even when the power’s off. When the power’s on a fluid is pumped around the chamber to cool it even further. Being able to chill milk on site should save on collection costs too. Technology Review.
FEELING THE WEB: Deafblind people may communicate using the Malossi language where each letter of the alphabet is represented by touching a different part of the hand. The TacTic glove from Spain incorporates 26 motors representing the letters of the alphabet, as well as a keyboard, a charger and wireless modules. Wearers of the glove can connect with a smartphone or computer to surf the web, send and receive emails, read books and communicate with others who wear the TacTic glove too. Even video files with subtitles can be sent to the glove. Liberating! Alpha Galileo.
HIP BUT NO HOP: The ReWalk Rehabilitation 2.0 exoskeleton is an expansion from the previous model. It fits a broader range of people and has a special learning mode to help new users adjust. People with spinal cord injuries still need crutches, but the exoskeleton helps them walk, stand, sit and go up and down stairs. The exoskeleton includes sensors and a computer, along with motorised legs that help with hip and knee movement. Let’s hope that one day exoskeletons will be as commonplace as crutches. Argo Medical Technologies.
SILENT RUNNINGS: The Zerotracer is an electric two-seater motorbike enclosed in a cabin. It can travel more than 500 Km on a single charge of the Kokam Lithium-Manganese battery and can recharge in 2 hours on a 3-pin plug. Top speed is around 250 to 300 Kph. At low speeds small stabiliser wheels are lowered on each side. In 2010 and 2011 the Zerotracer travelled 36,000 Km in 80 days from Geneva east to China, then from Vancouver to Mexico and then through Europe back to Geneva. That’s a very long way in a very small space. Zerotracer. Video:
ANOTHER PAIR OF EYES: Add two to the number of satellites orbiting Earth. The other day Japan put 2 cutting edge information gathering satellites into polar orbit flying from south to north. Radar satellite #4 identifies objects as small as 1 metre across, even in bad weather and at night. The other is a demonstration satellite with a high-resolution optical system that can identify objects on Earth up to about 40 cm in diameter during clear weather. Those are just two of many satellites watching me and watching you. The Daily Yomiuri.
SWEET SLEEP: The Lullaby sleep tracker from the University of Washington uses an IR camera to take a photo of a sleeping subject every 15 seconds. It also picks up room temperature, ambient light intensity and background noise and matches them up with data from a Fitbit sleep tracker worn on the wrist. A tablet app lets the user study their data, and also delete portions they may not want to remain on record, such as private conversations before falling asleep. Just in case you weren’t feeling sufficiently surveilled. Technology Review.
BEEP: There’s always someone who drives on the wrong side of the road, or the wrong way down a one-way street. In future if they’re driving a Mercedes-Benz in Germany an assistance system may flash lights and sound an alarm to wake them up. A camera on the inside of the windscreen identifies no-entry signs and sends the data to an onboard computer. If the driver seems to be defying a no-entry sign, speed limit sign or restriction on overtaking the system beeps and displays a red light on the dash. The warnings seem very modest and muted for such a dangerous possibility. Daimler.
GPS ON THE WING: Pigeons are big business in the UK and sell for hundreds of dollars. But interest in pigeon racing has declined in recent years. Now pigeons fitted with GPS trackers may get things flying again. Live tracking via the Internet could turn pigeon racing into a spectator sport, and, of course, allow for betting. Pigeons don’t just race between nearby towns either: a longhaul flight may be more than 700 Km and take a bird 36 hours or more. At least if a bird is lost they’ll know where it went down. BBC.
THERMAL IMAGING PHONE: Many cameras these days use CMOS sensors to convert light to electrical signals and so capture images. Now a spray of ultra-thin film made of organic compounds can improve the performance of those CMOS sensors. The low-cost coating is only a few hundred nanometers thick but is up to 3 times more sensitive to light than conventional sensors. By varying the materials used in the coating the sensor can capture different wavelengths of light too, such as the near-infrared. Care for an infrared camera on your next smartphone? Technische Universität München.
64 SHADES OF GREY: Spanish researchers have created a computer system that quickly determines the age and gender of a corpse with 95% reliability. First they image specific sections of the pubis of the corpse. Then the different shades of grey in a histogram are analysed by free software to indicate age and gender. It’s the shades of grey in the histogram that are important: the human eye can recognise only 64, but the software has a much greater capacity to identify differences. It’s never just black and white, is it. University of Granada.
SPRAY AWAY: In Australia McDonald’s fast food outlets may be seen as a soft target by robbers, but they’re getting tough. A security system in stores douses fleeing robbers with an invisible, synthetic DNA spray and a UV tracer. The synthetic DNA contains unique codes that can link a particular person with a particular crime scene. Traces of the DNA solution remain on the skin, hair and clothing for weeks, clinging to fibres and sitting in creases of the skin. The spray has a strong deterrent effect if notices are placed in the stores that use it. In New Zealand, the spray system has been fitted in all 181 branches of the Bank of New Zealand. So it’s like the dye in banknotes, but invisible and personalised. SelectaDNA
SPEEDY STREET: The Hennessey Venom GT is a production car with a special feature: it’s the fastest production car in the world. That’s probably thanks to the 1,244 horsepower Corvette engine. The street-legal car contains a 7.0 litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine and did zero to 300 Kph in an average of 13.63 seconds over two runs in front of a Guinness World Record judge. Hennessey plan to build only 29 of the cars and each will sell for more than $1 million. It’s fab it can go so fast, but where are you going to drive at that speed on the street? Wired.
PUSHME PULLYOU: Researchers at the University of St Andrews can selectively draw in microscopic particles with light alone, so of course they’re calling it a tractor beam. But your starships are safe for now: the procedure is most likely to be used for medical applications, such as separating white blood cells. Generally light exerts a pushing force on objects, but the team have worked out how to reverse that force so it attracts objects instead. If they can turn a push into a pull they should be able to turn a profit too. BBC.
THE BIG CLEAN: Texas is the land of the big, so of course they have the world’s largest battery power storage system. The 36 megawatt energy storage and management facility is linked to the Notrees Windpower wind farm in the western part of the state. The system uses thousands of 12 volt, 1 kWh, dry cell batteries based on alloys including copper, lead and tellurium. Along with storing energy like a regular battery it can quickly stop and start as a capacitor does. The company has a recovery system in place to recycle materials in the batteries. Thinking ahead: obviously another strong point. Clean Technica.