12 to 16 May 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 12 May 2014

The Morpher Helmet folds flat to fit in a briefcase or small bag.

The Morpher Helmet folds flat to fit in a briefcase or small bag.

  • FLAT HEAD: Bicycle helmets are a nuisance to deal with when they’re not being worn. The Morpher Helmet folds flat to fit in a briefcase or small bag. The helmet is made from nylon, EPS and polycarbonate and can be recycled at its end of life. The Morpher should be particularly interesting for urban commuters and for bike sharing schemes which commonly don’t offer helmets because of the difficulty of storing them. Flat helmets should be cheaper and easier to ship too. Morpher Helmet. Video:
  • GROWING WITH PLASTIC: Plastic is a huge asset in our daily lives, but once discarded it tends to collect in landfills and the ocean where it causes massive problems. A biodegradable plastic made from shrimp cells and a fibroin protein from silk could make a difference. The component materials are readily available, while the shrilk bioplastic can be used in mass production of items, both small and large. Once discarded, shrilk breaks down in just a few weeks, releasing rich nutrients that support plant growth. And if we harvest shrimp in bulk for plastic, what effect does that have on the food chain? Harvard Gazette.
  • THE SMELLS, THE SMELLS!: Just as glaring lights can leave you blinded and make you turn away, giving a mosquito too much to smell can stop it from biting you. Scientists at Vanderbilt University have created a new class of insect repellant that works by overloading the insect’s sense of smell. It activates every mosquito odorant receptor at once, rather than the usual one at a time. That overload not only limits a mosquito’s ability to smell a target human but also acts as a repellant, causing the mosquito to leave the area. The VUAA1 compound may not be suitable for commercial products but could lead researchers to other similar compounds they could work with. Vanderbilt University.
  • BRAIN BUZZ: The electrical fields in our brains do important work in our body, including communicating with blood vessels, which in turn communicate with the blood tissue. Researchers in Europe are targeting malfunctioning blood cells in the brain with a device that delivers a dose of Transcranial Pulsating Electro Magnetic Fields. In tests, treatments over the course of a week helped people with depression to improve their mood, also causing symptoms to disappear. The cap-like device places 7 coils over certain parts of the head then delivers minute pulses of electricity that activate capillaries in the brain, which then form new blood vessels and secrete growth hormones. Don’t try this one at home folks. BBC.
  • SENSIBLE TRIGGERS: Sentinl’s Identilock can be attached to any gun to cover the trigger and prevent firing. Press a finger on the fingerprint reader though and if it’s a registered print, the guard detaches so the gun can be fired. Multiple fingerprints can be stored, and if necessary the lock can be overridden with a key. The idea of the device is to help avoid accidental shootings, for example if a child picks up the gun, while allowing an owner quick access in an emergency. And no wearing gloves while firing the gun either. Sentinl.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 13 May 2014

  • NEW FACE: Can you fool facial recognition? Chicago has more than 25,000 surveillance cameras, all feeding into a single hub that uses high-powered facial recognition software. That led one artist to the idea of producing masks of his own face to help people keep their identity private. The masks are available as high quality prosthetics, but also in a much cheaper paper version more suitable for use by groups such as protestors. The idea is that when out in public an individual can’t be tracked because the fake face will seem to be that of Leo Selvaggio, the artist. He may suddenly prove to be in many places at once. URME Surveillance.
  • NEW FRIEND: Tired of texting your friends? LG’s HomeChat service lets you see what food is in your fridge and control other home appliances such as the washing machine and oven via text messages. The smart fridge has a built-in internal camera positioned at the top of the main compartment so you can see what food you have. The wide angle camera can show content not only in the upper shelves, but also food items on the bottom-most shelf. A Freshness Tracker makes it possible to keep track of expiration dates, while Smart Manager can recommend meal options based on the ingredients in the fridge. For tonight’s meal I suggest cheese on toast. LG.
  • A CUT ABOVE: That little tray you get on a plane if you’re lucky enough to have meal service? It turns out redesigning it can save space, weight, fuel and carbon emissions. The MAP Project worked with Virgin Airlines to redesign their meal system, making the trays smaller and giving them a non-slip surface so the tray doesn’t need a paper liner. Other aspects of the redesign changed the cutlery and how the meals were served. Making trays smaller means more fit on trolleys, reducing the number of trolleys and saving extra weight. Making the trays even smaller? How can that even be possible? Inhabitat.
  • A LITTLE READ: On a US Navy submarine there’s very limited space, but sailors who want to read in their spare time aren’t allowed tablets or Kindles for security reasons. Now the Navy General Library Program has come up with an eReader of their own. The Navy eReader Device is an an eInk tablet that resembles a Kindle, but with no internet capability, no removable storage, and no way to add or delete content. 300 popular books are loaded onto each device, which is designed to be shared around the crew. At least the crew will all be reading the same books, so will have plenty to chat about. The Verge.
  • QUICK CHANGE: Circuit boards are very important to our everyday lives, but recycling them can be hazardous and difficult once they are of no more use. Three British companies have developed a circuit board that can be recycled and reused after a good wash in hot water. Rather than using reinforced epoxy glass and solder, the recyclable circuit uses a new adhesive and ink system, which puts components onto a thermoplastic substrate with a conductive adhesive. In the presence of hot water the ink and adhesive soften so significantly that all the components are easily scraped off with a business card and can be reused for new circuits. The added bonus: they’ll be nice and clean. Guardian.

Tech Universe: Thursday 15 May 2014

  • LOOKING GOOD: Some gadgets allow wheelchair users to steer by eye movements alone. The problem though is that the users have to stare at the device and lose the opportunity to look around, and it can also be very slow to operate. A team at Imperial College London have developed smart software that analyses eye movements and can distinguish between looking around and an intention to move in a particular direction. It also responds within 10 milliseconds to a person’s intention to move — a speed that feels instantaneous. The system uses two cameras trained on the eyes and a laptop to analyse the images from the cameras. The developers say the hardware required can be low cost as it’s the software that does the hard work. That’s exactly what software should be: doing more work so we can do less. New Scientist.
  • BEND ALL THE THINGS: Flexible electronics are one thing, but their power supplies are generally not flexible enough themselves, or they’re underpowered. US researchers have developed a flexible thin film from nickel and fluoride that is full of tiny holes, or nanopores, that allow ions to flow easily. The film can be bent and folded and recharged thousands of times. It is also easy to mass produce. Ah, yes, flexible power supplies: of course! American Chemical Society.
  • SHIRT ALERT: Rather than using a separate wristband or heartrate monitor OMsignal embed sensors in their workout shirts to measure stats such as heart rate, breathing rate, and calories burned. The shirts feature a band of conductive silver-based thread around the chest. The band sends electrical signals to a small device that snaps onto the shirt and that connects via Bluetooth to a handset. The device includes an accelerometer, gyrometer, and magnetometer for tracking your movements in space. A smartphone app interprets all the data and gives you stats and graphs you can use. Just think of all the electromagnetic radiation washing around you. Wired.
  • SHIRT AVERT: Keep forgetting to mute your phone so you can work or party undisturbed? Or maybe you just don’t like to be awash in electromagnetic radiation all day. Trident’s Focus: Life Gear clothing is made from a fabric that keeps out all electromagnetic waves. Who knows how all that electromagnetic radiation is affecting us? Ecouterre.
  • GIVE A BIRD A SHIRT: German researchers found that weak electromagnetic fields produced by equipment plugged into mains electricity and AM radio signals interfere with the internal magnetic compass of some migrating birds. Research over 7 years with European robins found that birds exposed to electromagnetic noise between 50 kHz and 5 MHz lost all sense of direction. But when the field was blocked out, they found their bearings again. Fortunately birds don’t rely on a magnetic compass alone to navigate, but this interference could be strongest over urban areas. Sounds like birds need the protective clothing. BBC.

Tech Universe: Friday 16 May 2014

  • SMOKE AND MIRRORS: Looking for privacy in your top floor hotel room in London’s highrise Shard building? Better keep the lights off then, as the building’s design includes protruding glass panels at the corners. At night, with a dark background, a room’s lights can turn those windows into mirrors, giving anyone in neighbouring rooms a good view of activities. The hotel has supplied blinds for privacy, but then guests have to remember to actually use them. There’s just no privacy left any more. The Guardian.
  • THE FLYING EYE: The Bebop Drone from Parrot carries an HD camera fully stabilised on 3 axes and able to take wide angle 1080p video without distortion. The drone includes WiFi and GPS and holds 8GB of images on a flash card. The 400 gram drone can safely fly indoors or out and has a WiFi range of up to 300 metres. Control it via an app on a smartphone or tablet. The Lithium Polymer Battery flies the drone for around 12 minutes after a 2.5 hour charge. That’s a lot of charging for a brief flight, unfortunately. Parrot.
  • ON THE CLOCK: Nurses in hospitals often need to attend to certain tasks at very specific times, for example administering medication or changing a catheter. Keeping track of all those timings can be complex though, which is why one biomedical engineer in the US has created a low cost single use timer than can be worn like a bracelet. Her invention is still in the manufacturing stage but has been welcomed by practising nurses. I guess it’s yet one more item in medicine that can be used only once. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • STICKY SOLUTION: If you earn less than $2 per day you’re hardly likely to own a computer, and that’s a reality of life for millions of people around the world. Keepod though aim to bring computers to some of the poorest, including the half million people in the slums of Nairobi. Keepod is a USB flash drive that includes a unique desktop version of Google’s Android 4.4 operating system. The idea is that the drive can be plugged into old PCs without hard drives to boot the computer and as a place for saving files. It also keeps settings, passwords and browser history. That means that schools could use old PCs without the problems associated with multiple users. Keepod aim to extend the plan to India, Israel, southern Italy, and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. That’s a slick solution to a big problem. BBC.
  • PIPES AWAY: If you have to lay a pipeline below the sea and over a long distance then just how do you do it? One answer is to use a vessel like the Audacia and its 270 crew. The ship can carry 14,000 tons of pipe whose outside diameter ranges from 5 to 150 cm. Sections of pipe travel through an assembly line on the ship to be welded, tested and coated and then sent through a prominent bow spur to sink to the seafloor. A powerful pipe tensioner controls how quickly the pipe is let out. The vessel, around 225 metres long and 32 metres wide, can lay around 30 metres of steel tube every minute. That’s quite a production line. Gizmodo.