Tech Universe: Tuesday 04 June 2013
- BLINK TO CLICK: The transparent electrodes used in touchscreens and LEDs are commonly made from indium tin oxide. Unfortunately they are brittle, crack easily, degrade over time and are expensive. A hybrid material of silver nanowires combined with graphene created by South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology though is flexible and stretchable, as well as thin and transparent. Electrodes made from such a material could perhaps make possible a contact lens that can scan and take photos. And folks are worried about Google Glass? Asia Research News.
- CAMERAS IN EVERYTHING: Quite often we want to take photos when the light isn’t very good, and that’s a challenge for any camera. Researchers at Nanyang Technological University created a sensor from pure graphene. The sensor is highly sensitive to broad spectrum light, from the visible to mid-infrared. It’s 1,000 times more sensitive than current low-cost imaging sensors, operates at lower voltages and uses only 10% of the energy. When mass produced the sensors should also be only one fifth the price. All of that could mean much cheaper cameras with long battery life. The sensors could be useful in infrared cameras, traffic speed cameras and satellite imaging. And perhaps for astronomy too? Nanyang Technological University.
- TRACK IN PLACE: The Marauder’s Map system developed by researchers Carnegie Mellon University can track people by analysing security camera footage. Its algorithm combines facial recognition, colour matching of clothing, and a person’s expected position based on their last known location. They tested the system on 13 people who moved through a nursing home over several minutes. The system accurately tracked them to within 1 metre of their actual position. Every day crime shows become just a little more reality-based. New Scientist.
- BACKDROP EARTH: The ARKYD space telescope is one you can control, and it will even take a picture of you (or at least your photo) hovering above Planet Earth. Planetary Resources is launching the 15 Kg telescope to be publicly-accessible by students, scientists and others. The 200 mm main optic is designed to take high-resolution photos of objects in space, while an external screen and camera arm make it possible to take pictures of the ARKYD as it orbits Earth. It can detect objects to visual magnitude 19, has a 5 megapixel image sensor and uses active image stabilisation to produce high quality photos. The more generous folks can also donate their time to students and scientists. Gifts in space. ARKYD.
- ON THE FLY: One particular insect, the Ormia ochracea, has very sensitive ears and hears in the same way we do by sensing sound pressure on its eardrums. It’s particularly good at directional hearing. Researchers at Binghamton University have based a new microphone design on the insect’s ears. The sensitive new microphone uses electronic damping on a tiny diaphragm that rotates about a central pivot in response to sound pressure gradients. The new design could make a difference to hearing aids, cellphones and acoustic noise control systems, and could even be as tiny at the fly’s ear. Maybe walls do have ears, or at least, the flies on the walls. Acoustical Society of America.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 05 June 2013
- BUS ZAPS: Battery powered vehicles are quiet and don’t in themselves discharge polluting gases into the air, but recharging them is always a problem. For public transport, such as buses, another approach is to string up trolley bus wires overhead, creating visual pollution. In Geneva, Switzerland, a pilot project will instead put fast-charge stations at certain bus stops. When the 135-seater bus stops to let off or pick up passengers it receives a 15-second energy boost via an automatic flash-charging mechanism. The system uses a laser-controlled moving arm, which connects to an overhead receptacle for charging at bus shelters, instead of the usual trolley poles to overhead lines. At the end of the bus line a 3 to 4 minute boost allows for a full recharge of the batteries. And they could always incorporate the charger into a bus stop as part of the shelter too. ABB.
- A DARK CHARGE: So you know to be careful what apps you put on your phone, and to watch out for shady websites, but who would expect that malware could arrive simply by charging the device? Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology successfully injected arbitrary software into current-generation Apple devices running the latest operating system software. The software can be installed within a minute of the phone being plugged in to the charger. The researchers created a proof-of-concept charger using some special hardware to achieve this malicious feat. Luckily, these are good guys and we don’t have to worry about such threats right away, but it definitely makes you think. BlackHat.
- BAND MAGIC: Heading off to DisneyWorld? The rubberised plastic bracelets they issue when you buy your tickets will let you check in at certain points by tapping the band against a reader. The MagicBands use Bluetooth and other radio frequencies to keep track of your park passes and can even be used as hotel room keys. The band also associates your photo with your ticket and can be used to pay for items within the park. Disney can use the bands to track and monitor traffic flows, and to personalise the visitor experience, perhaps with a character actor calling a child by name. Magic for the kids, to be sure. The Next Web.
- HANDS ALIVE: With an interactive system from the University of Tokyo you may be able to see, and feel, a keyboard on your hand. A projection beams the outline of computer keyboards or cellphone keys onto any object, such as your hand. Meanwhile ultrasonic wave emitters cause precise spots on your hand to tingle, making it seem as though you can feel those keyboard keys being pressed. The remarkable achievement in all of this though is that the system can precisely track a moving object such as a hand so that the projected image can be locked on. These projections could be useful for medical applications or in gaming. Imagine this kind of projection being part of two-factor authentication, no separate gadget required. New Scientist.
- SKIN TEST: As folks in the northern hemisphere head on into summer some are worried about exposure to the sun. The Japanese have a gadget for that. Beauty Sign PLUS is a small handheld device that can measure the condition of your skin and the intensity of solar ultraviolet rays. Point the device towards the sun to check the UV levels, or press the tip to your skin to find out if your skin is drying out. It should be powered by sunshine too, surely. Akihabara News.
Tech Universe: Thursday 06 June 2013
- WHALE OF AN APP: From time to time both ships and whales try to occupy the same bit of the ocean at the same time, and it usually doesn’t end well for the whales. This is a particular problem in the mile-wide shipping lanes that funnel maritime traffic into the San Francisco Bay and to the ports in the Los Angeles area. Now the shipping lanes are being changed at the same time that monitoring is being increased. One key element is a smartphone app that allows anyone to record whale sightings, while flights and observers will also monitor whales in certain areas. Couldn’t ships install sensors to monitor for whales and other vessels too, in the way that some cars can watch for pedestrians? Wired.
- IN THE DRINK: The Dotonbori Canal is in Osaka, Japan. The area was once a disused waterfront, but it has now been renovated and is known for its thriving nightlife. Now there are plans to create the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool in the canal. Although the canal itself is polluted, an area 12 metres wide by 800 metres long will be filled with purified city water. The pool will be open during the summer from 2015. I guess if you were going to fall in the canal, it would be wise to choose your spot. Inhabitat.
- I THINK THEREFORE I PRINT: 3D printing and controlling things with your mind are both very popular topics at the moment, but the two don’t usually go together. Thinker Thing are changing that. They combine an EmotivEPOC headset with a MakerBot Industries Replicator loaded up with ABS plastic. The idea is to capture the headset wearer’s thought patterns and emotions and turn them into a 3D printed object. In particular Thinker Thing hope to make it possible for young children to create objects directly from their imagination. Don’t just dream it; print it. Thinker Thing.
- TWIST AND SHAPE: Shapeways handle 3D printing for the public. A new material they’re working on is a flexible, rubbery plastic called Elasto Plastic. The laser sinted powder elasto-polymer can be slightly compressed and return to its shape, is flexible, but doesn’t extend when pulled unless the geometry of the item is created for extension. That means the material can take more stress and impact than other standard materials. With 3D printing becoming increasingly popular a broad range of materials is a very useful thing. Shapeways.
- SUDSY SPANS: When you think of recycling plastic you probably don’t imagine the material being used in bridges. The Onion Ditch Bridge in Ohio though is one of many bridges made from 80% post consumer plastic such as lotion and detergent bottles and 20% recycled car bumpers and dashboards. The materials in the bridge don’t absorb moisture, they don’t rot and they are impervious to insect infestations. The bridge itself is expected to last for 50 years. How many detergent bottles does it take to make one bridge? Inhabitat.
Tech Universe: Friday 07 June 2013
- TRACKING DOG: Is your dog a laid-back couch potato dog or the hyperactive, always active kind? The Whistle Activity Monitor fits on your dog’s collar to collect data on its activities all day. The data then displays in an app on your phone and you can send it on to the vet if you need to. The 16 gram device contains a 3-axis accelerometer, a rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery, and has Bluetooth 4.0 Dual Mode and Wi-Fi capability. Of course you can also share events and photos with others too. But fair’s fair, you should wear a fitness tracker too. Whistle.
- HANDY ROBOT: Sally the robot has 4 wheels, a torso, 2 arms with hands and a couple of cameras to help her deal with potential explosives. A remote operator wears telepresence gloves to control Sally’s arms and hands. The operator’s hand movements are carried out by Sally’s hands. A motion tracking headset provides stereoscopic vision too, moving Sally’s cameras in response. Sally’s work roster could include IED disposal, vehicle searches, and checking out vehicles and people at checkpoints. Her movements are surprisingly human. Gizmodo.
- BOOMING FLIGHT: The Concorde supersonic jet had its day, but now the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are working on a supersonic plane that can travel quietly faster than the speed of sound. So far they have an 8 metre long model they plan to test later this year in Sweden. Continuing the great global tradition of testing potentially dangerous things outside one’s own country. The Japan News.
- PHONE TREES: It’s really hard to stop illegal logging of huge tracts of remote forest. Usually it’s only satellite images after the fact that reveal the crime. But what could happen if you took some cellphones, gave them solar panels, and left them listening full time? If they detected a sound an app could decide if it was a chainsaw and contact base to alert the rangers. In western Sumatra the organisation Rainforest Connection are testing this idea with 15 phone rigs in the 25,000 hectare Air Tarusan reserve. Each phone should have a listening radius of half a kilometre. Which could work nicely until the loggers either start using jamming devices or checking trees for phones before they start up their chainsaws. New Scientist.
- SMALL STEPS: That robots can walk at all is a huge triumph of science and engineering, but they don’t actually walk very fluidly. So researchers at Waseda University are giving their WABIAN-2R robot a better pair of legs and feet. Rather than being flat, this robot’s feet have a curving arch and flexible toes, land heel-first and lift off at the toes. The lower leg has been made shorter and includes an ankle joint to allow for yaw. Trials with the robot walking in place were a success; next comes forward walking. Then maybe backwards, sideways, and dance competitions. IEEE Spectrum.