03 to 06 June 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Tuesday 03 June 2014

Google self-driving car.

Google self-driving car.

  • TOOTH FOR A TOOTH: One day your dentist may take a laser to your teeth instead of a drill. If it’s damaged, the hard dentin in the middle of a tooth is usually replaced with a synthetic material, like a filling. Researchers have shown though that rodent teeth with damaged dentin respond to a blast from a low-power laser. The laser light stimulates chemically active molecules in stem cells, prompting them to generate new dentin. Human clinical trials are next on the list, and then eventually your dentist may swap out a root canal procedure for a few zaps with a laser. Pew, phew. Gizmodo.
  • SUNNY OR NOT: Offices, tunnels and shopping malls can all be seriously lacking in windows to the outdoors. That means artificial lights that many people find unpleasant, or that give them the feeling of being shut in. CoeLux LED lights look just like a window letting in sunlight. The lights replicate the colour temperature of sunlight — Nordic, Mediterranean or Tropical — and also use nano-structured materials to recreate the Rayleigh scattering process that makes the sky seem blue. A high-tech false ceiling and window system create a sense of depth in what looks like the sky. In testing, even people with claustrophobia reported feeling happy and relaxed in a windowless room of just a few square metres. All that with no risk of sunburn or worrying about the room getting too hot. World Architecture News.
  • NO RIDING ON THE FLAT: The Energy Return Wheel from Britek is designed for bicycles, and it does away with both pumps and tires. The lightweight wheels are durable and offer precise handling because you adjust the tension of rubber stretched around a 29-inch carbon fibre wheel. Two layers of rubber are separated by a series of elastic cushions that react to compression. As bumps on the road compress the internal rubber layer, elastic potential energy stored within the wheel is returned and converted into forward momentum. The company is still testing the wheels and see one potential problem in the gaps that could accumulate mud and debris. They could add a thin sidewall to help prevent that build-up. No more punctures sounds like a bonus. Inhabitat.
  • HANDS-OFF APPROACH: German scientists are working on having pilots fly planes without touching the controls. In their experiments using flight simulators pilots wore caps full of electroencephalographic sensors and thought about what they need to do to fly the planes. Seven testers were successful in staying on course, while some also managed a landing approach in poor visibility. One problem is that pilots also use physical feedback from a plane’s controls to help them judge steering and other activities. Using brain control doesn’t allow for that feedback. I think I’d like pilots on any planes I fly on to be more hands-on. Technische Universität München.
  • NO SEAT DRIVERS: Sit back and relax: Google’s car will handle the driving. The small two-seater has a Stop / Start button, but no steering wheel or pedals. The car will be guided by data from laser, camera and radar sensors, but for testing, controls will have to be fitted. It’s designed for the city, has a flexible windscreen and a foam-like material at the front to help protect pedestrians. The electric car will initially be limited to 40 Kph to help with safety. It seems certain there will be a day where self-driving cars will be everywhere. BBC.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 04 June 2014

  • MUCK INTO WATER: Cow manure and clean water are often seen as extreme opposites in New Zealand, but they could be one and the same. Researchers at Michigan State University have created a system that extracts energy and chemicals from cow manure and produces water clean enough for livestock to drink. The extracted chemicals can be used to make fertiliser too. The system is an anaerobic digester that also uses flitration and reverse osmosis. The researchers say the filtration system can currently turn 378 litres of manure into 189 litres of water, but they believe the output can be increased. What a huge opportunity in a country where dairy farming is so popular. Science Alert.
  • PHONE ALONE: A mobile phone plus a bit of 3D printing is at the core of the Mobile OCT cancer detection device. The Israeli device consists of a smartphone to capture images, a lens, some lights and a plastic handle. The smartphone slides into a printed cradle, then the operator views potential tumours, such as skin lesions, using white or green lights. After capturing images into the app the operator can assess them personally, but also send them into the cloud for professional review. The device will be specially useful for screening for cervical cancer in places where that is currently expensive or difficult. Health diagnostic equipment is increasingly functioning with smartphones, making it much more accessible to those who would normally miss out. The Mobile OCT.
  • FLAG THAT BOAT: In some parts of the world pirates in small boats slip in under the radar and pose a threat to shipping. The WatchStander is a special radar system that aims to detect and deter pirates. Radar mounted on either side of a ship scans for small objects that seem to be moving to intercept. The radar automatically sounds an alarm and can trigger countermeasures, such as a powerful strobe light designed to confuse incoming pirates. One problem is that the system may inaccurately identify innocent fishing vessels, so automatic countermeasures may not be appropriate. Set the cannons to manual control only. New Scientist.
  • ON THE BOIL: Going off-grid? With your phone? Keeping the device charged will be a challenge. The FlameStower is a handy camping accessory that will help. The small device is designed to catch heat from campfires, grills or stoves and convert it to usable electricity for charging devices. The gadget has legs to support it, a small reservoir to hold water and a blade that goes into a fire. A USB cable quickly delivers 2.5 Watts of power to charge up a phone or other device. It should be a handy thing where fires are allowed. FlameStower.
  • SUPER COOL: Food can be cooled so it lasts longer, or it can be frozen for use later, though that loses some flavour and nutrients. Mitsubishi’s WX Series fridge though can keep food fresh by supercooling it. The technique preserves food at a temperature below freezing without actually freezing it by slow cooling and then keeping the temperature between about -3 and 0C. Supercooling preserves flavours and nutrients for up to 7 days. The fridge itself doesn’t keep everything at that temperature, but instead includes a Subfreezing Stocker in place of the usual chiller bin. A high-accuracy temperature sensor and a dedicated air volume controller work together to closely control the temperature. Ah, the art of compromise. Tech-on!

Tech Universe: Thursday 05 June 2014

  • ONE WAY TO GO: Do you have a tendency to get lost, especially in strange cities? The BackTrack Personal GPS Tracker does one thing: mark up to 3 places in the GPS before you leave. After you’ve walked around for a while select the place you want to return to and you’ll see exact directions to your destination. At the size of a matchbox, the device will easily fit into a pocket. Red Ferret.
  • AROUND THE WORLD IN 180 STEPS: For many people Internet access depends on various wires and cables laid across the ground, in the air or under the sea. In some places though that kind of infrastructure is just impossible. That’s why Google reportedly plans to put 180 small, high-capacity satellites into orbit around the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites. The small satellites will be able to deliver Internet access to unwired regions of the globe. That’s going to be a lot of orbiting hardware that someone will have to track. Ars Technica.
  • BY DEGREES: Australian researchers have created a thermometer that can measure temperature differences to 30 billionths of a degree in one second. The device works at room temperature by injecting red and green light into a highly polished crystalline disk. The two colours travel at slightly different speeds in the crystal, depending on the temperature of the crystal. By concentrating and measuring the light the researchers are able to determine that temperature very accurately — 3 times more precisely than the best current thermometers. The same kind of technique could also be used for other measurements, for example of pressure, humidity or force. There must come an end point at some time where no greater precision is possible. PhysOrg.
  • TINGLING TOUCH: Braille is an important communications tool for many blind people, but learning it can be challenging and expensive. The HoliBraille is a smartphone case that combines chord input with a series of feedback vibrations that let the user know what the system is registering. First an Arduino microcontroller talks to the phone case via Bluetooth. The case then activates individual vibro-tactile motors next to the fingers that make up the chords. The smartphone also means it’s possible to create games to help users learn Braille. Tests so far suggest the device is very accurate, though the team are now working on an autocorrect system to help those typing in Braille chords to achieve even higher accuracy. Feedback is so important in learning and in daily life. The Conversation.
  • A DOG’S LIFE: Concerned about your dog or cat’s health? The PetPace collar monitors temperature, pulse, respiration, activity, positions and other parameters of dogs or cats. Data is sent via WiFi and feeds into a smartphone app. If there’s cause for concern the app sends an alert. The battery is a LiPo 250mAh, that lasts for more than 6 weeks between recharges. Lack of walks will show up pretty quickly. PetPace.

Tech Universe: Friday 06 June 2014

  • A MATTER OF BALANCE: Bikes are about balance, steering and pedalling, all things kids can take a while to get control of. The Jyrobike takes balance out of the process, thanks to a flywheel. A control hub in the front wheel keeps the bike balanced, even if the rider wobbles — no training wheels required. This would be a great product for city councils to make available for hire to encourage cycling. And how about a version for adults to learn on? BBC.
  • BEATS BY DR: Doctors have been using stethoscopes for a very long time, but the Thinklabs One stethoscope’s chestpiece includes digital features that amplify sound over 100 times and it connects to recording devices and smartphones. Select a filter to focus in on a particular sound range to listen to. A rechargeable Lithium Ion battery means the device needs charging only once or twice a week. Headphones also replace the standard earpieces for better quality sound. Doctors can also work with recorded sounds, creating waveforms, amplifying and further filtering the sounds, even slowing the sounds down for better analysis. Even your heartbeat can be on file. Thinklabs.
  • TERROR FOR CELLS: Quadrapeutics blows up cancer cells from inside. The technique, developed at Rice University, combines gold nanoparticles, laser pulses, x-rays, and chemotherapy. First come the drugs. Then gold nanoparticles are tagged with antibodies that target specific cancer cells. After the cancer cells ingest the nanoparticles near-infrared laser pulses excite the free electrons on the gold nanoparticles generating heat which destroys cancer cells through intracellular explosions. Pre-clinical trials suggest this technique could be used on solid tumours that have proven hard-to-treat, such as brain, lung, and prostate cancer. Exploding cancer cells sounds suitably dramatic. IEEE Spectrum.
  • STACK THE FUEL: A stack of fuels cells is about the same size as a stack of CDs, and their job is to efficiently convert natural gas directly into electrical energy. German researchers have developed a compact, safe and sturdy fuel cell system that generates electricity and heat in private households from natural gas. The systems can be mounted on a wall and are easy to maintain, yet they can generate enough power for a household of 4 people. Practical tests are underway in Europe while the researchers work on decreasing production costs and increasing the lifetime of the equipment. The miniature power station for home use is based on a solid fuel cell which can reach a temperature of 850C. It sounds like it would have a nice side effect of heating the house too. Fraunhofer Institute.
  • POWER WRAP: Power lines carry electricity around but batteries store it. Or so the old way of thinking goes. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have developed a way to both transmit and store electricity in a single lightweight copper wire. Eventually the copper wires could be replaced by special fibres with nanostructures. The techniques sheathes a single copper wire with nanowhiskers treated with a special alloy to create an electrode. Then a second sheath creates a second electrode and the two layers are separated by an insulating gel. The effective result is a supercapacitor on the outside of the copper wire that can store energy. The researchers suggest one potential application could be a jacket that powers electronic gadgets and other devices. Goodbye batteries. University of Central Florida.