02 to 06 December 2013 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 02 December 2013

  • AN EVEN TAN: NASA’s Kepler space telescope was doing useful work when it lost its ability to point steadily in a desired direction. The problem is that sunlight pushes the craft around just enough so it loses track of its target, and with two of its four stabilising wheels offline it can’t get images of a high enough quality. Now engineers have worked out that if they keep the craft in a careful orbit where the sun shines with equal pressure on the whole of one side they can get away with only two stabilisers. Testing’s underway, ready for a mission review. Presumably that could then lead to heating and cooling problems. NASA.
  • AN IDEA WITH WHEELS: Aircraft need massive engines to fly through the air, but make a lot of noise and waste a lot of fuel using them to taxi on the ground. That’s where the WheelTug comes in. It’s a system of small electric motors powerful enough to move a huge aircraft around on the tarmac, using only the plane’s auxiliary power unit. The system could save each plane around $700 per flight. The WheelTug also means pilots don’t have to wait for the plane to be pushed back from the gate. Very efficient. Gizmodo.
  • BUY A LITTLE LIGHT: Families in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to rely on dangerous and expensive diesel or kerosene for fuel, but while solar power would be a good alternative the upfront costs are often just impossible to meet. Indigo is a way to get around that problem, with a pay-as-you-go system. Local kiosks that sell prepay phone cards also sell scratch cards that allow users to buy a week’s worth of electricity for about half the cost of the kerosene they’d usually buy. The user enters a code into the Indigo controller and the system works until the credit expires. After about 18 months users can pay a bit extra to unlock the controller or to upgrade to a bigger system. The solar controllers can charge cellphones and provide lighting for two lamps for 8 hours each night. Timely help: a brilliant system. Azuri Technologies.
  • TIME A LITTLE LIGHT: Time of Flight cameras send light towards an object and measure how long it takes to bounce back. That reveals how far away the object is. In real life though things like fog, motion, transparency and other factors create multiple reflections, making it difficult to determine which is the correct measurement. A team at MIT though has come up with some sophisticated calculations to work out which is the true object. Their nano-camera probes a scene with a continuous-wave signal that oscillates at nanosecond periods, all using low cost off-the-shelf LEDs. Then an algorithm untangles the signals. Their nanophotography model could be used in medical imaging, collision-avoidance detectors for cars, and interactive gaming. It’s all in the algorithm. MIT.
  • FLIPPING ROBOTS: Underwater shipwrecks can be very dangerous places, but the U-CAT underwater robot, designed to work inside shipwrecks, has flippers that allow it to swim through them. The robot can swim forward and backward, up and down and turn on the spot in all directions, making it totally manoeuvrable. An onboard camera allows its controllers to observe the whole journey. The robot will help archaeologists and others to explore shipwrecks without putting divers in dangerous positions. Tallinn University of Technology. —
Indigo solar power.

Indigo solar power.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 03 December 2013

  • SKIN JOB: It’s very hard to make synthetic skin look realistic, as skin’s not a single uniform shade and it looks different in different lights. A team from the University of Liverpool aim to use a 3D printer to create more natural looking skin. They’re first researching ways to take 3D images of the actual skin of a person, and also to build up a library of skin images. Once they have satisfactory images they’ll be able to work on then reproducing realistic skin. How long till people get custom skin patches as they do tattoos now? University of Liverpool .
  • CUTTING THE CUTS: In crime shows the medical examiner slices into the body of the murder victim to get the post mortem underway. Now pathologists in the UK won’t need to wield a scalpel at all. A digital post-mortem examination facility in Sheffield will help those families whose religions and customs require a quick burial and no violation of the body. The body goes through an MRI or CT scan, both of which see beneath layers of clothes and tissue. Then a pathologist uses 3D digital imaging to zoom in to areas they want to study in greater detail. I presume victims of crime will still need to be cut open to observe damage from weapons in detail. BBC.
  • TWIN SHOTS: Vaccines often require two injections, spaced some time apart. If the doctor’s clinic is only a short bus or car ride away then it’s just a matter of remembering to get the booster. In developing countries though distance and lack of transport may make such boosters extremely hard to deliver. Now German researchers think they may be able to find a way around that. Tests in mice have shown that it’s possible to receive the booster shot in the form of a water-based hydrogel implant that stores the booster dose. When the mouse swallows a pill containing an activating compound the booster dose is released. If this technique works for people it could mean a patient would receive two injections at once, and be sent home with a pill to take later. Then the trick will be to get them to take the capsule at the right time. Gizmodo.
  • TIP OF THE TONGUE: Some wheelchair users may have to use a straw to drive their chair. The user sips or puffs air into a straw to be able to deliver basic navigation commands. Researchers at Georgia Tech have been developing a Tongue Drive System that seems to be just as accurate but faster to use. A tiny magnet is attached to the tongue. Sensors in a headset can read changes in the magnetic field as the tongue moves and send data via WiFi to a smartphone that then controls the chair or other objects such as a computer. Although the magnet can be glued to the tongue it falls off relatively quickly and could be inhaled. Piercing the tongue may be a better solution for those going beyond mere testing. Who would have thought of a tongue piercing as being an assistive aid? Georgia Tech.
  • WAVING WITH LIGHTING: Wave your hand at the Goldee light controller and the lights will come on or go off. But the controller can also turn lights on or off by itself if it senses you’re not home or you’re getting up in the middle of the night. Team it with smart bulbs like those from Hue and the controller will create scenes to help you wake up or go to sleep. You can also operate Goldee with your smartphone. The controller is a slim black box that attaches to the wall and plugs in to the power, one per room. The device includes a proximity sensor, an ambient sensor, a gesture control chip and uses an AMOLED display behind Gorilla Glass. Goldee.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 04 December 2013

  • POP GOES THE SPACE JUNK: There’s a lot of junk up in space that’s a danger to spacecraft and space missions. That’s why most of it is being carefully tracked by the sensitive Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope in Australia. The telescope array of 2,048 dual-polarization dipole antennas arranged in 128 formations of four-by-four tiles can detect objects smaller than 1 metre. One technique it’s using is to pick up pop music from FM stations reflected back by objects up to 1,000 Km away. Way to make pop useful. CNet.
  • WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK: Chernobyl is famous for its massive radiation leak nearly 30 years ago. At the time the site was covered in concrete and metal to help contain the radioactivity, but that cap is deteriorating. Now work is underway to cover the whole lot with a massive 29,000 ton metal arch whose ends will be sealed. The site is still so radioactive the arch is being built 300 metres away and will slide into place along rails. But that’s only after the old reactor chimney has been dismantled. Workers on that job can receive a year’s worth of maximum radiation exposure in just a few hours. The project is due to be completed in 2015. With any luck no-one will make any mistakes that release vast amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. BBC.
  • LET THE SUN SHINE ON: Solar panels are a wonderful thing, but like ordinary windows on a house they accumulate dirt over time, reducing their efficiency. Sinfonia’s robot cleaner moves from panel to panel, eradicating dirt and debris with a spinning scrub brush and squeegee combination, along with a reservoir of detergent. It can clean more than 93 square metres every hour and can crawl across a gap from one panel to another to finish the job. The cleaner runs on a battery that must be recharged from time to time. One of the panels at the end of a row should be its home base and able to recharge the device. Gizmodo.
  • LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE: The Freedom Ship is a concept of a place to live, work, retire, vacation, or visit. The idea is to create a mobile community, circling the globe once every 3 years. Commuter aircraft would ferry residents and visitors to and from shore, making use of the top deck as an airport. The concept has the ship at 4,152 metres long, 228 metres wide, and 106 metres high. Imagine the building consent process for making structural changes to your living or working quarters. Freedom Ship.
  • CAST A LITTLE LIGHT: A camera generally works by recording photons reflected from objects. The more light reflected, the brighter the object. A team at MIT are working on recording only a single reflected photon from positions on a grid. It keeps firing until a photon is reflected and then moves on. A light surface should require fewer bursts of photons than a dark surface. Apply a clever algorithm and you can use this to record images in very low light, perhaps producing images from only one nine-hundredth the light. The technique could be useful for studying biological systems where too much light could be damaging, or for stealth imaging. Timing matters. MIT News.

There was no Tech Universe on Thursday or Friday.

%d bloggers like this: