28 April to 02 May 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 28 April 2014

Turbine blade.

A single blade from Danish SSP Technology destined for the turbines off the coast of Scotland is 83.5 metres long and weighs 30 tonnes.

  • A CLOSER LOOK: Your smartphone or tablet almost certainly includes a camera or two. The Micro Phone Lens is a tiny pliable lens that sticks to the device without adhesive and turns it into a microscope. The first model magnifies by 15 times, but a new lens in the works will magnify up to 150x. Focus by moving the camera. Once you’ve finished magnifying things just peel off the lens and store it in its case that can also be used as a stand. Simple. University of Washington.
  • LOOK, NO WIRES: Wireless charging usually needs to the device to be within a couple of centimetres of the emitter, and the power output can be low. Now researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have developed an inductive wireless charging system than can beam power up to five metres away. A new mechanism called the Dipole Coil Resonant System makes the extra distance possible. One magnetic dipole induces the magnetic field while a secondary coil receives the electric power. At the moment the prototypes are too large to power a phone, but the system could be built into a home or office to power larger equipment such as TVs or fans. Better check the health risks first. ExtremeTech.
  • LIGHT AND BRIGHT: On the island of Jersey new street lights should help halve the power bills and have an impact on safety. They’re switching to LED lights which use one third of the energy of conventional bulbs, and which should last for 100,000 hours without significant maintenance. Some lights will also be dimmed between midnight and 6 am. Officials also say brighter lights could improve safety of pedestrians wearing dark clothes. Though bright lights can also temporarily blind people and make it harder to see into the shadows. BBC.
  • SKEWED DATA: The Street View in Google Maps often includes images of house numbers that the map needs to interpret and use to help pinpoint locations. One problem though is that house numbers come in all kinds of shapes and forms, including being distorted and made blurry by capture angles. On the other hand, some websites use images of deliberately distorted text known as CAPTCHAs as a barrier to spammers, on the assumption a human being will successfully decode the text while a script won’t. And we all know the frustrations of how that works out in practice. It turns out that Google’s software can decode those distorted house numbers with 90% accuracy, unlike us mere humans. So who’s got things back to front now? Google Online Security Blog.
  • THAT’S A SHOCK: In Japan your doctor might have you wear a LifeVest if you have heart problems. The LifeVest cardioverter defibrillator has 2 sets of electrodes. One set measures electrocardiogram, while the other delivers treatment shocks as required. If the vest detects a a life-threatening heart rhythm it automatically delivers a treatment shock in order to restore the normal rhythm. The vest is essentially a strap around the chest, held up with a halter, and an attached hardware device that can clip on to the belt. It may be of particular use for people with newly diagnosed heart failure. That could give a lot of people both peace of mind and new opportunities for daily life. Japan Technology Information.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 29 April 2014

  • SNEAK PEEK: If you’ve ever been caught up in a holiday weekend traffic queue you might have wished you could look ahead to see when the road would clear. In a few US cities that may soon be possible, thanks to Gofor’s Drones On Demand. Use a phone app to call up a drone that can take photos or supply a video feed. The app also integrates with other services such as Google Places to provide relevant local information. Depending on the task, drones either operate autonomously or are flown by skilled operators. That kind of service is going to provide many challenges to privacy and other laws. Gofor.
  • LEADING STORY: The Fotokite is a quadcopter on a dog leash, and with a steadicam attached. It has no remote control, GPS or other features that could run afoul of Airspace regulations, but can be used to take aerial photos of the area around the operator. Because it’s ready to go as soon as it’s switched on it could be particularly useful for news reporters, or drivers in a traffic jam. Fotokite.
  • DUST TO DUST: NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft spent about 6 months learning about the Moon’s thin atmosphere and testing out a laser broadband link fast enough to stream videos from the Earth to the Moon. Then, since it had run out of fuel, researchers intentionally crashed it into the Lunar surface at some 1600 metres per second. That helped preserve existing lunar landing sites, but obliterated the craft as it crashed. There’s an art to knowing when to stop. Swinburne University of Technology.
  • CLEAN OFF THE DUST: The ISEE-3 probe was launched in 1978. First it studied the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind then it went on to intercept a couple of comets before investigating coronal mass ejections. In 1997 it was decommissioned by NASA, but it was left in an orbit that could allow it to come home. Now a group of enthusiasts aim to have it fire its thrusters to put it into Earth orbit where it can be used for citizen science projects, measuring plasma, high-energy particles and magnetic fields. The way orbits work though there is only a short window to make this happen: in late May or early June 2014. If the enthusiasts can find the funding, that is. Make.
  • WATER WORKS: Our homes are great places to find running water: toilet flushes, showers, washing clothes or dishes, even drainpipes from the gutters. Researchers in Korea adapted a transducer to convert the mechanical energy from the motion of water into electrical energy. In their system the motion from a 30μl water droplet generated enough electricity to power a single green LED. The researchers say the flexible and transparent electrodes could be used to coat surfaces such as windows, roofs and even toilet bowls to generate electricity from raindrops and water flow. It would be interesting to combine that with a super-hydrophobic surface. Chemistry World.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 30 April 2014

  • A TOT STOP: If you’re teaching your child to ride a bike you may be worried about being able to stop them if they’re heading for danger. The MiniBrake should do the job: it gives you the power to remotely bring their bike to a gentle stop. The MiniBrake is fitted just above the rear wheel on a small bike. A remote operates from up to 50 metres away to deploy the brake, lowering it to apply pressure to the wheel and slow the bike. If the battery’s depleted or the remote is out of range the device automatically deploys as a safety measure. A moving bike will be stopped within about half a metre. Many parents would welcome this, surely. MiniBrake.
  • FINE PRINT: Ynvisible’s Printoo Arduino modules include batteries and solar cells, LEDs, displays and Bluetooth, motor and display drivers yet they are as thin and flexible as paper and have a low power draw. Such printed electronics modules haven’t usually been available to the public before now. Printoo.
  • IN THE PINK: You may not have heard of the mineral called Putnisite, because it’s only just been discovered in Western Australia. Its structure and composition are unique, and the mineral is unrelated to anything else. The new mineral occurs as tiny dark pink crystals, no more than 0.5 mm in diameter and is found on volcanic rock. It combines the elements strontium, calcium, chromium, sulphur, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, but researchers don’t yet know if it will have any practical uses. The University of Adelaide.
  • SHAPES OF REALITY: Prosthetic legs may not be very comfortable because of how they fit. Sometimes they’re sufficiently painful that an amputee refuses to wear them. At the MIT Media Lab researchers are working on solving this problem by using MRI to map residual limb shapes and 3D printing to create multi-material sockets. The precise fit means much greater comfort for the wearer. And that in turn could change their lives. Medgadget.
  • DRINK, DROUGHT AND DIRT: Beijing is a huge city, and it has a water problem, thanks to a drought that’s been going on since 1999. They bring in water from the surrounding area, but that’s still not enough. From 2019 they plan to source a third of their water from a 1 million ton desalination project, piping water from the relatively clean Caofeidian coastal land reclamation project about 200 kilometres away. A chemical plant will take the water, using a proprietary reverse osmosis membrane technique developed last year, while a saltworks will process the salt. The big downside to the project is that desalination can cause pollution, already a problem in that part of the world. Global Times.

Tech Universe: Thursday 01 May 2014

  • JUMP TO IT: Running out of juice on your cellphone, tablet, camera or car battery? Juno Power Jumpr can get them all going, thanks to its lithium polymer battery cells and dedicated ports. The Jumpr is small, portable and weighs less than 200 grams, yet it contains a 6,000 mAh battery pack. Use the USB 5V 2.1A output to charge your phone or the 12 Volt output at a peak of 300 amps and proprietary cables to jump start your 4 or 6 cylinder car engine. Nice. Juno Power Jumpr.
  • BLADE RUNNER: Modern wind turbines use huge blades. A single blade from Danish SSP Technology destined for the turbines off the coast of Scotland is 83.5 metres long and weighs 30 tonnes. That’s all very well, but moving blades from the factory to their destination isn’t easy. For one thing, you need a truck at each end and negotiating corners is interesting. Luckily, once the blades reach the coast of Denmark they can be loaded on to a ship for the next part of the journey. Once the turbines are operating, with 3 blades in place, each one generates enough energy for the annual energy consumption of an average family — in 30 minutes. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.
  • AIRY CLEANER: Worried that your vacuum cleaner may scratch your wooden floors? The body of the aiRider vacuum cleaner floats on air, rather than riding on wheels. That also makes it seem weightless when you’re using it. You’d think that blowing air out below the cleaner would also blow all the dirt around too. aiRider.
  • HIDING THE JEWELS: Al Fayah Park in the United Arab Emirates should be completed in 2017. The park will feature cafes, community gardens, a public library, recreational spaces, as well as public pools and saunas all set amidst lush gardens. To protect the 125,000 square metres of gardens from the hot sun that would quickly dry them out is a network of interconnected canopies with the texture of a dry and cracked desert. The canopies are designed to be walkable terraces, providing partial shade for the oasis below. Gizmodo.
  • GENES INSIDE: People with profound hearing loss may be assisted by a cochlear implant, but they may still have trouble distinguishing different musical pitches or hearing a conversation in a noisy room. A cochlear implant converts sounds into electrical impulses, then uses electrodes to relay these signals to the auditory nerve leading to the brain. Its job is to replace hair cells that would normally do that job. Now Australian researchers are testing cochlear implants in guinea pigs to deliver gene therapy that encourages the growth of long, spiky neurons toward the electrodes of the implant. Tests suggest that those neurons improved hearing in the test animals. They hope to soon test the technique on humans. From literal to figurative guinea pigs. Science.

Tech Universe: Friday 02 May 2014

  • CLEAN AS A CAR: Car a bit dirty? Buy a Nissan Note and that may never happen again. The European model Nissan Note test car is coated with specially engineered super-hydrophobic and oleophobic paint called Ultra-Ever Dry that repels mud, rain and everyday dirt. Nissan don’t plan to include the coating as a standard production item, but if the tests work out may offer it as an after-market option. No more weekend carwashes, eh? Nissan.
  • AWAKE AT THE WHEEL: A car driver may grow drowsy and risk being involved in an accident. Researchers have tried various methods of detecting that drowsiness, including watching eye movements or establishing that a car is drifting out of its lane. Now researchers at Washington State University have developed a system that analyses the movements of the steering wheel to detect driver drowsiness. Data analysis from simulations showed that variability in steering wheel movements and variability in lane position best predict driver fatigue, and that steering wheel variability predicts lane drift. A low cost and easily installed sensor can check for steering wheel variability and could be installed during the manufacture of the car or as an after-market accessory. Sometimes solutions are simpler than we think. Washington State University.
  • HEATED WASTE: Asphalt roads may absorb a lot of sun, but rather than put that potential solar energy to good use it’s just emitted as heat. Solar Roadways have a different view: why not capture the energy and use it to power microchips that could light LEDs and make the road smart? Their hexagonal road panels feature photovoltaic cells and circuit boards, 128 programmable LEDs, a heating element to help deal with ice and snow, and are topped with super-strength textured recycled glass. The company has created a parking lot as a prototype, with a generation capacity equivalent to a 3600 watt solar array. A Cable Corridor alongside the parking lot houses standard power and data cables, doing away with overhead wires. But is it feasible over extended distances? Gizmag.
  • BULK HOUSING: Why wait months, or even years, for your house to be built when a 3D printer could do it in a few hours? A private company in east China recently printed 10 stand-alone single-story houses in a single day. The walls were made from layers of refined construction waste or mine tailings mixed with quick-drying cement, but roofs could not be printed. The printing array has 4 printers, each 10 metres wide and 6.6 metres high that use multi-directional automated sprays. It’s hard to imagine a production line for houses though. Xinhua. Video:
  • WATER TROUBLES BRIDGES: Concrete degrades over time thanks to water penetrating into tiny cracks, so bridges and other structures may develop faults that need maintenance. In fact, bridges may last less than 50 years. US engineers have developed a durable Superhydrophobic Engineered Cementitious Composite concrete mix. Unlike regular porous concrete, this mix repels water, and its ductile nature means that any cracks that do form don’t propagate and lead to failure. The new mix includes additives that create a microscopic spiky surface nearly impermeable to water, while unwoven polyvinyl alcohol fibres, each the width of a human hair, are strong enough to let the concrete bend without breaking. Engineers say the SECC mix could last for hundreds of years without needing repair. By then maybe road bridges will be superfluous anyway. Txchnologist.