31 March to 04 April 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 31 March 2014

  • SPRINKLE SPRINKLE LITTLE BOT: When water’s low automated sprinkler systems tend to be forbidden. Droplet’s robot watering system though is smarter than the average sprinkler. Using a smartphone, tablet or website you can set up exactly what you want watered and when. The robot directs a targeted stream of water to exactly the points where it’s needed so you don’t waste water on paths or already wet parts of the garden. Droplet also keeps track of the local weather and uses comprehensive plant biological information to make decisions on when, where and how much water to deliver. It just needs one more setting for keeping the neighbour’s dog or kids off the lawn. Droplet.
  • PUDDLE SKIMMERS: The water may be only 10 cm deep but ReconCraft’s Riverine Shallow Draft Vessels can still hit 45 knots at top speed. A special weed and debris grate stops the water-jet intakes from getting clogged while a Hardkor hull coating increases hull strength and reduces friction on contact points. If the boat does meet an obstruction or barrier an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene lets it slide across. These boats are most likely to be used by the military and emergency services, and would be especially useful in disasters like floods. ReconCraft.
  • HIGH ON LOWER COSTS: If you’re heading for Fairbanks in Alaska look up. You may see the Altaeros helium-filled Buoyant Airborne Turbine that looks like a blimp. To demonstrate what it can do it’ll be spending 18 months at 300 metres harvesting the wind and turning it into electricity. While the power it generates is a bit more expensive than some other options it may find its niche in remote communities where power costs are often quite high. Watch the power going up. GigaOm.
  • LIGHTS TO A MOTH: Infestations of insects can destroy a lot of crops but detecting the insects accurately and early enough is quite a problem. Sticky traps are helpful but it may be days before anyone identifies what insects they’ve caught and by then it may be too late to save the crop. Scientists at the University of California have turned to lasers. Their device shines a laser-thin line of light against a board that converts light fluctuations into sounds. The sounds are recorded and then analysed by computer. Features like the frequency of wing-beats can reveal not only the species, but sometimes whether the insect is female or male. Just using frequency the algorithm can classify an insect with about 80% accuracy. By adding in factors such as time of day, temperature and humidity the system can be made more precise. Such detection could be very helpful in agriculture, but also in fighting diseases such as malaria. It’s amazing what a little light can do. Discovery News.
  • SLEEP ON THE JOB: A new Volvo car might be keeping an eye on you. The system bathes the driver in infrared light to detect position and eye movements. If you start to slump or become inattentive the system will notice and alert you while other safety systems prevent you straying from your lane or getting too close to the car in front. Volvo are currently testing these systems, that in future could be used in cars that drive themselves, relinquishing control only to a human driver who is alert. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to have a snooze while the car drives on a long journey and be woken with a cup of tea as we near our destination. Motor Authority.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 01 April 2014

  • GAME ON FIRE: You may be on fire when playing golf — literally, if you use titanium clubs. Researchers at the University of California set up a test tee with embedded rocks then used a high-speed video camera to record people swinging titanium or stainless steel golf clubs. The titanium clubs created sparks. So who cares? Well, fire authorities do. The sparks are hot enough, and last long enough, to start a brush fire, as in fact they have, more than once, burning surrounding areas and injuring a firefighter. So keep those titanium clubs for areas of the course that don’t have any rocks in them. NY Times.
  • IT’S HOT INSIDE: It’s a problem that the silicon-based transistors so essential to most modern electronics can’t stand the heat of a nuclear reactor — somewhere around 287 C. Of course, ionising radiation is also a problem. Plasma-based transistors that use charged gases or plasma to conduct electricity at extremely high temperatures could do the job in that environment but require special high-voltage sources. Researchers at the University of Utah have created plasma transistors that are 500 times smaller than current microplasma devices, and operate at one sixth the voltage. What’s more they work at temperatures up to 787 C. The devices use helium as a plasma source. Because they’re so tiny these plasma-based transistors could perhaps eventually find their way into smartphones, generating X-rays for emergency medical use. University of Utah.
  • LISTEN CLOSELY: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could be lying 7 Km deep in the South Indian Sea, but searchers still aim to find the flight data recorder. To look for it they tow a hydrodynamic microphone slowly behind a ship and listen for a telltale ping of an underwater locator beacon. The microphone itself is tethered to the ship by 6 Km of cable, staying about 300 metres above the sea floor. It can detect a transponder signal within a 3 Km radius, and covers nearly 400 square Km of ocean per day. Even if they find where the recorders are it’ll still be a massive job to recover them. Wired.
  • SHOOTING HIGH: Panasonic’s HX-A500 is a wearable camera that can shoot 4K video at 25 frames per second. The body of the camera has controls and a 3.8 cm display for previewing video, but the lens is separate and connected by a cable. The whole camera is dustproof and waterproof, and images can be streamed via WiFi or NFC to a smartphone app that can record, edit, and broadcast live to UStream. Separating the lens from the camera body is an interesting approach. CNet.
  • THINK BIG, THINK HIGH: There aren’t any clouds in orbit, so the US Navy has an idea to use large arrays of space solar modules to capture solar power and beam energy down to the surface. A module orbiting Earth could capture sunlight with a solar panel. Below the panel are the electronics to convert the energy to a radio frequency that an antenna then transmits to a receiving station. Another design is more open and allows heat to radiate more efficiently, so the module can receive greater concentrations of sunlight without overheating. The system could use modules sent separately to space and then assembled by robots into an array 9 times as long as the International Space Station. Space robots, ahhh. Daily Mail.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 02 April 2014

  • BLINDED WITH SCIENCE: Surveillance cameras have proliferated in recent times. If you worry about low light cameras identifying you as you go out and about in the night you could try a Justice Cap. The baseball cap includes LED lamps that blind low light cameras when seen straight on. They don’t help for your daytime anonymity needs though. Or maybe you could just by an LED bulb and sew it into your favourite cap yourself. Red Ferret.
  • ATTRACTIVE SOLUTION: Phosphorus is a valuable element that we need for good health, but one way and another excess phosphorus finds its way into water, including waste water systems where it becomes a pollutant. German scientists believe they can recover this valuable raw material whose reserves are being depleted. Their technique adds superparamagnetic particles to the water. If these particles detect a magnetic field they themselves become magnetic, otherwise they just float freely. The researchers added bonding sites to the particles so phosphorus attaches to them. At some point the particles can be magnetised and removed from the water, then the phosphorus can be recovered. That beats just sending it into the sea. Frauenhofer.
  • PICK UP NANOSTICKS: It seems about 6% of global traded goods are counterfeit, and much time is spent trying to defeat the perpetrators. Now randomly scattered silver nanowires may provide a solution. Each wire has a diameter of around 70 nanometers and an average length of 10 to 50 microns. The technique is to dump some 20 or 30 wires onto a thin plastic film, creating a tag. The outcome is a pattern that’s almost impossible to replicate. Indeed, replicating the pattern could cost more than the value of the item being protected. An algorithm recognises the positions and colors of the silver nanowires and creates a database entry with a unique ID. Then an item can be quickly authenticated. The weak spot is clearly the database, and passing the IDs to and fro. KurzweilAI.
  • DUST DISCOVERIES: You and I might carelessly brush away a speck of dust, but the 7 particles the Stardust spacecraft collected between 2000 and 2002 must be some of the most precious on the planet. Stardust used blocks of aerogel to collect interstellar particles, but then the problem was how to find the particles inside the gel. The team had members of the public examine microscopic images to pick out the telltale tracks left by speeding particles, ultimately locating 7 that weighed trillionths of a gram each. Now the team need to actually analyse those specks of dust, without losing or destroying them. All in all a very delicate operation. ScienceNOW.
  • HIDE THE LIGHT: The problem with actually seeing the planets that orbit other stars is that the light of the star far outshines any light from the planet itself. That’s where NASA’s flower-shaped PlanetQuest starshade comes in. It’s designed to work in conjunction with a space-based telescope, positioning itself precisely between the telescope and the star that’s being observed, blocking the starlight before it reaches the telescope’s mirrors. That way any light from an exoplanet could be observed, making photos possible. The starshade is shaped like the petals of a flower to soften the edges and reduce the bending of light waves. But aren’t there a lot of other stars whose light would interfere too? PlanetQuest.

Tech Universe: Thursday 03 April 2014

  • DRY RED NOSE: The runny nose and sneezing of a bout of hayfever may leave you reaching for the anti-histamines, but they all have side effects, sometimes unpleasant. Allergia Medical’s prototype solution squirts bright broadband Red Light up your nose instead, and a pilot study suggests it works. The company also claim there are no side effects. Apart from the bright red nose, of course. Allergia Medical.
  • KEEP IT CLEAN: Hand sanitiser is especially popular in hospitals and medical centres to help disrupt the spread of infection, but if staff have to go out of their way to get to a dispenser they may not bother. PullClean puts the dispenser right in a door’s pull handle. The handle has software that monitors sanitiser use and can also report back when the dispenser cartridge is nearly empty. That’s a simple idea that could be very effective. PullClean. Video:
  • BOUNCE BOUNCE: If you crash while riding a Ducati Multistrada D-Air motorcycle and are wearing a Dainese jacket with integrated airbags, it’ll take only 45 milliseconds for the airbags to deploy. The bike itself uses sensors built into its stock electronics to constantly monitor for acceleration, braking or falling over. If the system on the bike detects a crash, it sends a wireless signal to the Dainese D-Air jacket to deploy the airbag, protecting you as you fall. The system works for both rider and pillion passenger wearing the right jackets. Wired.
  • A WEATHER EYE: There’s a new satellite keeping an eye on precipitation around the world. The NASA-JAXA precipitation satellite has a Core Observatory that includes a GPM Microwave Imager that can detect and differentiate everything from light rain to heavy snowfall because liquid raindrops and ice particles affect microwaves differently. The Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar uses radar to establish the distance between a storm and the satellite. Between them they can make very accurate measurements of even complicated storm systems. io9.
  • A WARM GLOW: Solar cells collect light and convert it to electricity, then their work is done. But wouldn’t it be handy if they could emit light too? Scientists at Nanyang Technological University used a material called Perovskite to create inexpensive solar cells by combining two or more chemicals at room temperature. After making the solar cells the researchers shone a laser on them and found the cells not only glowed when electricity passed through them, but were also able to glow in different colours. The researchers believe the material could be used for light decorations, or in displays because they are semi-transparent. When do we get the solar powered phones then? Nanyang Technological University.

Tech Universe: Friday 04 April 2014

Juggernaut .

Juggernaut .

  • WHEELS OF FUN: Using a wheelchair shouldn’t stop you from enjoying off-road adventures, so the three wheeled Horizon all-terrain electric bike could come in very useful. The bike has two wheels on the front, and an electric motor driven by a lithium battery on the rear wheel. The bike can take foot or hand pedals or a footrest and be controlled by various means, such as tri-pin controls for those with limited use of their hands. Handlebars fold down and the seat can be raised for easy entry and exit, while the low centre of gravity makes balance easy. The Horizon can run on the road, grass, gravel and mud, but isn’t designed for use indoors. That looks like a whole lot of fun. Horizon.
  • PEARLY BRICKS: Ceramics are strong but fragile. To make up for that sometimes metals or polymers are combined with the ceramic, but that can cause other problems, such as susceptibility to high temperatures. Mother-of-pearl is also fragile but tough because of its structure which resembles a stack of bricks welded together so cracks must follow a tortuous path to propagate. Researchers have now figured out how to create an artificial mother-of-pearl that is almost 10 times stronger than a conventional ceramic and yet costs around the same to manufacture. They froze a layered structure of alumina, causing the alumina to self-assemble in the form of stacks of platelets. It was then made denser by heating. This material could have a lot of industrial applications, for example in motors and energy generation devices. We keep finding that following Nature’s lead is a good idea. PhysOrg.
  • GET THE POWER: Some medical devices are designed to go deep within tissue or under bone. They all need a source of power though, and that’s a problem that could be solved with a battery that melts away. US researchers have developed a battery whose metals slowly dissolve in the body and whose ions are biocompatible in low concentrations. The electrolyte is a saline solution, and the container is a biodegradable polymer known as a polyanhydride. At the moment the batteries maintain a steady output for only around a day but the developers hope to increase the power per unit weight so the power would last long enough for a wireless implantable sensor. The notion of a battery melting away in the body is a rather uncomfortable one. Scientific American.
  • IN THE BAG: It’s OK when you set off on your travels and all your clothes are clean and fresh. Before long though you face the problem of carrying dirty clothes alongside the clean ones. The Genius Pack handles that with Laundry Compression Technology. The large bag has a separate compartment whose interior can be unzipped and taken out to send clothes to be cleaned. Put dirty clothes in that compartment then compress it against the side of the bag so the air is expelled through a valve. The dirty clothes then take less space and their smell doesn’t mingle with your clean clothes. A nice touch is the packing list sewn into the bag itself. Wouldn’t a sturdy plastic bag do the same thing? Genius Pack. Video:
  • BIKE PLUS: If you have some serious sand or snow cycling to do then Rungu’s Juggernaut is here to help. It’s a bicycle with 3 wheels — two at the front, shoulder-width apart, and one at the back. All wheels take fat tires, and an extended wheelbase gives better weight distribution. The bike is geared low to handle difficult terrain. Go on, lash out on a fourth wheel. Rungu.