17 to 21 March 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday, 17 March 2014

  • IT’S A WASH: Water, water everywhere. It’s familiar from any public toilet where you wash your hands at the sink, shake the water off all over yourself and the floor, then hope there’s a decent way to dry your hands at the end that doesn’t involve wiping them on your own clothes. The Robo-washer does it all in one, and even cleans itself afterwards. First you have to be brave enough to put your hands into an enclosure where a microprocessor dispenses just the right amount of water for cleaning. Rub your hands together to clean them, then the machine rinses and dries them. Presumably soap’s included in the wash too. This could catch on with some strategically placed glass so you can see what you’re putting your hands into. Home Crux.
  • BIG CONNECTIONS: The 77 Km long Panama Canal is 100 years old and connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But some modern ships are just too huge to be able to use the canal so a third lane is being built which will double capacity. The project should be completed in 2015, but at the moment 16 massive gates are being installed. Each gate is nearly 10 stories high, weighs 3,100 tons, and costs $34.2 million to fabricate, transport, and install. And at that size, robotic transporters are needed to put each gate in place. Wired.
  • IN A SLUMP: Our posture and movements tell others a great deal about us, including how we feel. At the University of Genoa in Italy researchers created a system that uses the depth-sensing, motion-capture camera in Microsoft’s Kinect to determine the emotion conveyed by a person’s body movements. Software takes the camera’s input to create a stick figure representation of the person and compares that to body positions and movements thought to represent certain emotional states such as sadness or fear. Tests of the system showed it was almost as accurate as human volunteers, correctly determining how someone was feeling around 61% of the time. The researchers are going on to build games based on the system to help children with autism to recognise and express emotions through full-body movements. Are humans really that bad at assessing how others feel? New Scientist.
  • UP, DOWN, TURN AROUND: The Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded Systems, known as ARES, is a military autonomous flyer that holds its tilting ducted fans horizontal for liftoff, then tilts them to the vertical for flight. Outboard wing panels tilt with the fans and fold against the ducts when stowed. The vertical-takeoff-and-landing craft carries a detachable payload module under the centre section, between tall landing skids. The prototype has a span of almost 13 metres with the wings unfolded. Initial ground tests should take place early in 2015. Aviation Week.
  • OUT OF THE BOX: Rummaging through boxes of stuff looking for that one needed item is time consuming. With King Jim Neutral BOX though it just became easier. Each box carries a digital tag on the side. Take photos of the box’s contents with your smartphone to create a catalogue. Then the associated app lets you see those photos when you check the tag. Maybe unpacking the box would be just as easy… Akihabara News.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 18 March 2014

  • BELTING AROUND: The nights can be dark, and dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists or others on or near the roads. The Halo Belt 2.0 though lights you up with LEDs and a custom designed fibre optic system. The belt’s Lithium Ion battery takes 2 hours to fully recharge via USB, and provides up to 36 hours illumination in flash mode. 3M reflective elastic provides for passive reflection of lights that shine on the belt, while the bright LEDs can either shine or flash, with a much larger surface area than most bike lights. Will drivers be distracted by the unusual lights? Halo.
  • SMALL YET POWERFUL: The LEDs researchers at the University of Washington are working on are only 3 atoms thick. They are thin and foldable yet mechanically strong and could find a place in portable electronics or to run nano-scale computer chips. The LEDs, made from tungsten diselenide, are 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, yet the light they emit can be seen by standard measurement equipment. Move over graphene. University of Washington.
  • BLINKING WIFI: Radio waves don’t travel well underwater so submarines and other undersea technology can have trouble communicating. One alternative could be LiFi, or visible light-based communication that transmits data using fast-blinking LEDs. The blinks are so fast that the human eye can’t see them, but a computer can register and decode them. One thing that slows LiFi down is how fast the LEDs can blink, but researchers are working on a material that uses layers of silica and silver on a sheet of glass. Adding rhodamine dye molecules that fluoresce when they absorb light created a hyperbolic metamaterial that may speed up blinking in the LEDs. Better hope no schools of fish get in the line of sight. The Connectivist.
  • WIRED WINDOWS: Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology made a diode from tungsten diselenide: one layer of tungsten atoms, sandwiched by selenium atoms. 95% of light passes through the material, while 5% is absorbed. Because one tenth of that 5% can be converted into electrical power the material could prove useful as a solar energy collector on windows. Make all the windows solar collectors. Vienna University of Technology.
  • COLOURS ON THE RUN: Does your desktop 3D printer print in only one colour at a time? Spectrom changes that. The low-cost device upgrades desktop 3D printers to print in a full rainbow of colours by adding dye to the plastic as it melts. The computer sends code to the device so it switches between colours, but otherwise the printer works as usual. That’s an easy and efficient way to achieve the colours. GigaOm.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 19 March 2014

  • CAT CONTROL: That annoying catflap that squeaks as it swings in the breeze also lets cold air into the house. The Petwalk automated pet door can be programmed to respond to a chip under the skin of your cats and dogs. The door opens when a pet gets near but can be programmed for each pet to keep them in or out at different times, or to stay closed if it’s raining. Larger sizes of doors include an alarm and secure locking systems, while a light helps pets who are visually impaired. Custom cover plates can also be added to make the door blend in with the wall of the house. What, no smartphone connection? Oh, and the price will add a chunk on to your mortgage. Gizmag.
  • NEED FOR SPEED: Intel’s MXC Optical Connector is intended for data centres where speed is crucial. A connector and cable combination can handle up to 1.6 terabits per second of data for distances of up to 300 metres. The connector uses lenses to carry light rather than physical contact of the end faces which enables a much greater immunity to dust, the single largest cause of cable failures in data centres. Dust, eh, I would have thought heat. Intel.
  • WIND AND ICE: The Askaryan Radio Array is an extremely large neutrino detector currently being built near the South Pole. Building involves burying detector elements 200 metres below the ice. When it’s finished this detector will be thousands of times larger than the current Icecube Neutrino Observatory. Each detector needs electricity though which is where a mix of solar and wind power comes into play. A solar panel is placed vertically high on a wind turbine tower so it catches summer light while the sun’s near the horizon. The solar panel and the wind turbine feeds a battery that’s buried in the snow to protect it from extremes of temperature. In summer engineers have to dig up the battery for routine maintenance. Everything is so much harder at the South Pole. Medium.
  • COOL SAVINGS: Your regular household magnet doesn’t do anything special if the room warms or cools by a few degrees. A new nanomaterial that has a 10 nanometer layer of nickel on a 100 nanometer wafer of vanadium oxide makes a magnet that easily flips its magnetic orientation when heated or cooled only slightly. It could perhaps eventually be used in computer hard drives. Mind you, the researchers were using temperatures in the region of negative 100C, so a practical application for room-temperature computers could be a way off yet. Science.
  • ON THE CARDS: Press a special smartcard against someone’s skin so it picks up some sweat. Then feed the card into a portable reader and find out in moments if that person has been using cocaine. That’s one of the things the European LABONFOIL can do. The diagnostic system uses a portable device that reads smart cards and skin patches then sends results via WiFi to a remote computer, a tablet or smartphone. The system can already detect cocaine consumption, monitor colon cancer, identify bacteria in food and analyse environmental contamination, though other tests are planned. To identify colon cancer the card needs a few drops of blood to identify a specific protein. Each card includes a sophisticated electronic circuit and different chemical components that react to defined substances. Cordis.

Tech Universe: Thursday 20 March 2014

  • A NEW HEADING: A migraine may leave you lurching towards a darkened room but you may be able to head for a headband instead. The Cefaly electrical nerve stimulation headband positions an adhesive electrode on the forehead. The headband then sends precise micro-impulses to stimulate the trigeminal nerve which in turn produces a relaxing effect. During the 20 minute session you can rest or carry out normal activities. That could help a lot of people. Cefaly.
  • HOT OR NOT?: The bad guys on TV shows may hide, but thermal imaging soon picks them out. A team from Singapore though has developed a device to control thermal camouflage and invisibility using thermotic materials. The device could block thermal signatures, leading to invisibility, and provide illusionary camouflage at the same time. The team say they can control the shapes, material properties, distributions, and locations of the thermal illusions using bulk natural materials without sophisticated fabrication. In the device an inner layer first insulates and hides the thermal image. Then an outer layer converts that thermal image, for example converting an image of one man to produce an image of two women. Nice way to make an army look bigger. National University of Singapore.
  • BOOKS IN A BOX: At North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library clever design, and a Bookbot, saved 18,600 square metres of space by storing its 2 million books in files boxes. Press a button on a console and the Bookbot will pull the correct box from the storage system and deliver the book to you in moments. Scan a barcode and the Bookbot delivers a box and tells you where to place the book so it can be returned to storage. That definitely beats walking up and down rows of shelves with your head tilted at an awkward angle to read the spines. Gizmodo.
  • GO FOR GREEN: Cars stop and start as traffic lights help or impede the flow around town. Audi’s Traffic Light Recognition technology aims to help the flow and reduce the stopping and starting. The system establishes a link between a car and the traffic light network via the central traffic computer in each town or city. A display on the dash shows the driver the speed that will allow them to pass through the lights during a green phase, or if they’re stopped, the remaining time until the next green light. If the vehicle has a stop start engine the system will also ensure the engine’s switched on 5 seconds before the light turns green. The system could reduce CO2 emissions, and save fuel. Steady as she goes. Inhabitat.
  • TRAFFIC SHAPING: How long do you need to cross a pedestrian crossing? The time might vary depending on how many other people are using the crossing at the same time. And where crowds build up traffic that has a green light may have to wait, leading to congestion. In London the authorities plan a trial to take data from low resolution sensors and cameras and use it to monitor how many pedestrians are waiting at a junction. If many pedestrians are waiting the system then adds a few seconds to the allowed crossing time. One sensor monitors crowd density, while another counts numbers of people entering and waiting within the waiting zone. The system is to be tested outside Balham and Tooting Bec Tube stations. What about weather slowing people down too? Ian Visits.

Tech Universe: Friday 21 March 2014

  • FOUR ON THE FLOOR: Enjoy skating? Do you prefer 2 wheels inline or one wheel on each corner? Cardiff S1 Skates have 4 wheels in a formation that combines inline and quad. There’s one wheel in front and a brake wheel behind, then one on each side like trainer wheels on a bike. Clip the skates on over your shoes, adjust the skate to the correct length, and you’re good to go. It’s great to be able to wear street shoes while you skate. Cardiff Skate.
  • BLINK BLINK: Slow down in a car and the brake lights let anyone behind you see what’s happening. The same doesn’t go for bikes though. Revolights Arc can be mounted over the rear wheel of a bicycle like a mudguard. The Arc constantly measures the speed of the bike using a small magnet inserted between the tube and tire on the rear wheel and uses that information to create a functional brake light. The arc of red lights can simply shine brighter, or the lights can blink rapidly. A Lithium Ion battery provides approximately 8 hours of run time, and charges in less than 2 hours via USB. A stopping light is a good idea. Revolights Arc.
  • BEDAZZLED: On dark nights you’ll be able to totally confuse motorists with The Sporty Supaheroe lighted jacket. The jacket includes microcontrollers, a rechargeable battery, 44 LEDs and sensors that react to your body movement as you bike, run or walk. A stretchable circuit board has short-circuit and overheating protection, while an outer layer is both flame resistant and water repellant. The LEDs are visible in translucent display areas in front and in the back around the chest and shoulders. Blinging up yourself and your bike seems to be very popular these days. The Sporty Supaheroe. Video:
  • LOOK AND LISTEN: The Onyx MIDIA InkPhone has a 4.3-inch front-lit E Ink display and really long battery life — the InkPhone should last for more than two weeks on a single charge of its 1,800mAh battery. While you can happily read books on the InkPhone it’s also a fully featured Android phone running Gingerbread. There’s no camera or video, but of course it includes a speaker. That could be a great device for the avid bookreader who needs to make a call or two if they can just stop reading for a moment. Engadget.
  • LIGHT SHOW: Researchers at Caltech have created a 1 millimeter square silicon chip that bends light. It could do away with the need for bulky and expensive lenses and bulbs in projectors and let your phone display a large image on a wall with ease. An integrated optical phased array projects an image electronically with only a single laser diode as light source and no mechanically moving parts. It does this by manipulating the coherence of light, amplifying it and changing its direction. The image is drawn much as a pen draws a line, but at such high speed we see only a single picture. At the moment the chip can project only simple images in infrared but further development is expected to make possible complex images in visible light. Next up: clip on projector screen accessories for phones. California Institute of Technology.