09 to 13 June 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 09 June 2014

World cup kick.

World cup kick.

  • THE BAND PLAYS ON: A smart watch may be something you like to wear, but its wrist strap probably isn’t so clever. A wrist band from ProLogium though could double the watch’s battery life. That’s because their wrist band is actually a battery, made from thin, flexible lithium-ceramic cells. The 1.5mm thick solid state batteries are made of non-flammable materials and won’t explode or catch fire if cut into pieces. That not exploding thing is pretty handy. Engadget.
  • INVESTED: Sudden cardiac arrest, or at least the risk of it, can be a problem for some people whose doctors give them a defibrillator vest to wear while they wait for surgery to implant a device. The vests though are bulky and uncomfortable so about 20% of patients don’t keep them on at all times. Students at Johns Hopkins University redesigned the vest to make it more wearable. The waterproof fabric is thin, breathable and stretchable and encases electrical components, capable of delivering a 200-joule shock, in thin pockets on the sides. A bulky control box has been replaced with a WiFi wrist device. So far the vest is only in prototype, but further development is planned. Better design is sure to increase compliance. Johns Hopkins University.
  • IT’S A WRAP: If the jacket you wear could act as a battery for your gadgets and wearable devices would you wear it? Chinese researchers are working on wrapping cotton fibres with carbon nanotubes to create a high-performance Li-ion battery. The resulting fibres can then be woven into fabrics. The researchers now want to improve performance in capacity and cycle life. Then, of course, there are things to consider such as the effect of rain, whether such clothes can be put through a wash, and how safe we’d feel being wrapped in a battery. Phys.org.
  • SUITABLE CONDITIONS: The Antikythera mechanism is a computer from ancient Greece found in a shipwreck 120 metres down in the Aegean Sea. To investigate the wreck and maybe find more such mechanisms researchers are diving down to check it out. For that they’re using a $1.5 million pressurised Exosuit that works like a personal submarine and means the operator can resurface after 5 hours of work without worrying about decompression. The aluminium alloy suit has articulated joints that let divers freely move their arms and legs and thrusters to help the diver move around. A cable back to the ship supplies power and comms as well as a rebreather to scrub carbon dioxide from the air, while a battery provides backup in case of a cable problem. New Scientist.
  • IN THE DARK: Hydrothermal vents deep below the ocean are a rich source of information for researchers. The problem though is the environment: it’s hot, dark, and deep below the ocean — not a great place for researchers to work. Ocean Networks Canada have a solution in the form of the Tempo-mini Vent Camera, deployed at a depth of 2186 metres in the Grotto Hydrothermal Vent off the coast of British Columbia. The HD camera is encased in a 3000m rated titanium pressure housing, and temperature and oxygen probes monitor water conditions. It’s dark down there, and the local inhabitants like it that way. The camera has powerful lights, but they’re only turned on for half an hour or so several times per day. Electrodes around the camera and lights produce chlorine too so things don’t grow on the device and obscure the view. Next perhaps: a study of the disruptive effects of intermittent lighting on creatures of the deep. Gizmodo. Video:

Tech Universe: Tuesday 10 June 2014

  • GROOVY: Cocktails in space anyone? With commercial space flights in mind the question of how to drink cocktails in zero gravity becomes more pressing. The Zero Gravity Cocktail Glass could be an answer. Grooves on the inside of the glass use capillary action to draw liquids from the bottom up into your mouth when you take a sip. 3D printed prototypes have proven the concept, now the drinking vessels just need to be made from glass for the discerning drinker. Next up: dealing with the consequences of overconsumption in zero G. Cosmic Lifestyle Corporation.
  • ROCKING: The rocks around us have generally developed over the ages by geological processes. Not plastiglomerate though. The newly named material forms when melted plastic rubbish on beaches mixes with sediment, lava fragments and organic debris such as shells and coral to produce a whole new type of rock. The material has only been found in Hawai’i so far, but researchers believe it probably exists elsewhere too. Hmm, is it better to have plastic floating loose and disintegrating in the oceans or forming into rocks that may never degrade? Science Alert.
  • HEART ON SLEEVE: PulseOn measures your heartrate on your wrist rather than your chest. The watch, designed for athletes and people aiming to keep fit, has an optical sensor on the back to detect the pulse through the wrist. Built-in algorithms make sure the readings are accurate in different situations. Data goes to a smartphone app via Bluetooth so wearers can view graphs and all the info they need. It sounds easier to use than a chest strap. MedGadget.
  • JOINED UP THINKING: Some LED lightbulbs can be connected to a WiFi network for added features. Samsung’s LED bulbs though can form their own Bluetooth mesh network — up to 64 bulbs at a time. That network can also include smartphones or other devices, meaning you can control features such as dimming and colour from your phone. It also means you could flash the lights when you receive a call. How about adapting the flashing sequence with caller ID? Ubergizmo.
  • JOINED UP DRIVING: If we want to use cars that drive themselves or perhaps are networked to one another and traffic lights and parking meters and so on then they’ll need to be tested and redeveloped and tested again. At the University of Michigan researchers have an area of around 130,000 square metres to test their ideas on. The test facility will simulate a city centre and 4 lane highway, along with merge lanes, stoplights, intersections, roundabouts, road signs, a railroad crossing, building facades, construction barrels and eventually a mechanical pedestrian. One pedestrian? That may need to change. The University of Michigan.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 11 June 2014

  • CUP IN HAND: Whether you have the shakes or are on a picnic, having a stable cup that’s easy to hold yet hard to knock over and spill is a bonus. The Kangaroo Cup fits the profile. Its 11 year old inventor wanted to help her grandfather whose Parkinson’s Disease meant he often spilled his drinks. She started out with mouldable prototyping plastic and iterated through several designs to come up with one that worked. Three legs that function as handles make for a stable cup, even on uneven surfaces, and also elevate the part that holds the liquid so it doesn’t touch the table. That means no coaster or saucer is needed. After experimenting with ceramics, the cups are now made from BPA-free plastic, and are safe for dishwasher and microwave. These could be a huge asset in childcare facilities, rest homes, hospitals and for a day at the beach. Kangaroo Cup.
  • COOL TRIP: Comets tend to be big chunks of ice and rock. As they approach the sun though they warm and form a tail of ice and dust. 67P/Churyumov-Geraskimenko is no exception, though it has one difference: it’s about to have a spacecraft land on it to study the nucleus up close. The European Space Agency’s robotic Rosetta spacecraft was launched in 2004, heading for the comet. After years of hibernation, its cameras have been turned on and in a few months the craft’s lander will settle on the comet after 17 months in orbit. Since a comet has little gravity, the lander will anchor itself into the surface with harpoons to keep from floating away. What a cool ride. Science Alert.
  • WARM DIP: Venus is quite unlike Earth: it has a toxic atmosphere, a bone dry surface, extreme heat and air pressure high enough to rupture the hull of a submarine. The European Venus Express spacecraft has been orbiting for 8 years now, sending back data. But now is time for the mission to come to an end so for the next few weeks the craft will perform aerobraking, repeatedly dipping into the atmosphere for closer study. Engineers hope the craft will survive the dips so it can be sent back to a higher orbit and continue observations until its fuel runs out. Let’s hope that ride will be cool enough. New Scientist.
  • HOT TIP: A team at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US has found a way to invisibly mark and track objects with nanoparticles. This could help reduce counterfeiting and other crimes by linking objects to their manufacturer, seller or buyer. The particles have a unique melting point that makes for a thermal barcode that can be detected with scanners. The team added tiny particles to dinitrotoluene, a precursor to TNT. Even after the material had been exploded the unique tag could still be detected. Nanoparticles like these could be added to banknotes or to pharmaceuticals for authentication. Counterfeiters are really going to have to step up their game. BBC.
  • COP ON HAND: Police have long used fingerprints to help solve crimes, but the age of the prints themselves could help rule out suspects. For example, was the print of a neighbour or relative left when the crime was committed or days before that? Fingerprints are made up of sweat and grease, including a complex mix of cholesterol, amino acids and proteins. The chemicals disappear at different rates, so by analysing the relative proportions forensic experts can now date fingerprints to within 1 or 2 days, up to 15 days. Previous efforts that focused on the actual amounts of the chemicals had failed. Researchers need to create a database from extensive tests on real crime scenes though before the technique can be used as evidence in prosecutions. Now there’s data mining. Discovery News.

Tech Universe: Thursday 12 June 2014

  • KICK DIFFERENT: The World Cup takes place in Brazil this year, and one lucky punter will deliver a very unusual kick before the first match. A research team has developed an exoskeleton called the BRA-Santos Dumont that will be used to help its paraplegic wearer stand and kick the ball. The robotic bodysuit is controlled by signals from the brain. Kicking a ball without being able to feel the contact wouldn’t be very rewarding, so the suit has special electronic circuits in its feet. Those circuits will send a return signal to artificial skin on the wearer’s arm, giving a sensation of movement and contact. The suit is the culmination of 30 years work for its developer who was asked in 2009 for ideas to help the world see Brazil in a different way. That request led to the idea of kicking off the football tournament a bit differently. So is wheelchair football part of the Cup too? Discovery News.
  • WATCH OUT: Many smart TVs in Europe use the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV standard which was designed to allow broadcasters to add extra information to programmes or so advertisers can better target viewers, thanks to the Internet connection. That sounds very useful. The problem is that with a cheap antenna smart TVs could be hijacked by attackers. The attackers could perhaps misuse a Facebook account the smart TV owner had logged into or display a notice on screen asking for credit card or other sensitive information. What’s more, once the attackers have gathered the data they’re after they just take down the antenna and there’s no trace of them or their activity. It could make one long for the good old days when a TV was just a TV. BBC.
  • GECKOS AND LADDERS: Geckos can famously run up and down walls and across ceilings. The trick is courtesy of tiny hairs on their toes. A gecko toe consists of a hierarchical structure of stalk-like setae 100 microns long and 2 microns in radius from which a bundle of hundreds of terminal tips called spatulae up to 200 nanometers in diameter branch out and contact the climbing surface. The spatulae then stick to the surface because of van der Waals intermolecular forces that also make it easy to move the toe. The US military have now taken all this information and created a device that let a climber ascend and descend some 8 metres of glass using a pair of hand-held paddles. The device could allow soldiers in full gear to be more effective in urban settings, climbing walls without ropes or ladders. Burglars may find it handy too. DARPA.
  • SMASHING: Polymer scientists in the US can potentially make displays on smartphones shatterproof. They created a material that puts a transparent layer of electrodes on a polymer surface. It is as transparent as the currently used indium tin oxide but more conductive. After tests which bent the material 1,000 times, it remained flexible and maintained its shape and functionality. It sounds as though it can also be bent, perhaps allowing for folding or rolled displays. University of Akron.
  • LOW BEAM: Lasers have become universally useful in the 60 or so years they’ve been around. It takes quite a bit of power though to excite electrons in a medium to high energy and then knock light particles out as the electrons calm down again. Now researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new kind of polariton laser that requires much less energy and that works at room temperature. The new prototype requires 250 times less electricity to operate than its conventional counterpart made of the same material. Electricity goes in and is bounced around with electrodes and mirrors in just the right way to create a coherent pool of low energy polaritons which are part light and part matter. As the polaritons decay they release a beam of single-coloured light. With more development this technique could allow lasers to be used in computer circuits or perhaps in medical devices and treatments. Activate the polariton beam emitter. University of Michigan.

Tech Universe: Friday 13 June 2014

  • GOING UP?: A 3 minute ride up and down 1585 metres of track at a top speed of 105 Kph makes a thrilling rollercoaster ride. The Polercoaster to be built in Orlando, Florida puts all of this on the outside of a 174 metre tower, creating a vertical rollercoaster. The project should open in 2016. Gizmodo.
  • COLOUR YOUR WORLD: If you want to actually write or draw something on a piece of paper you may be choosy about the colour of the ink. The Scribble Ink ballpoint pen gives you lots of options — about 100,000 of them in fact. Unlike the pens you normally use, this one includes a 16 bit colour sensor at the top and refillable colour cartridges in cyan, magenta, yellow, white and black. Point the colour sensor at any real world object and the processor inside the pen works out how to create that colour. The ink from the cartridges is mixed in a chamber and then flows out through the nib so you can write or draw in almost any colour. Another version of the pen does away with ink cartridges and gives you a capacitive tip for drawing on a tablet. A USB port, Bluetooth and a Lithium-ion battery round out its features. That could make scribbling on a passport so much more colourful. Scribble.
  • HOW DO YOU FEEL?: Pepper is a robot designed to read and respond to your mood. The Japanese robot from Softbank is around 1.2 metres tall, weighs 28 Kg and has multiple cameras, audio recorders, directional microphones and sensors in its head, using facial recognition to gauge how the person it’s interacting with is feeling. Pepper speaks 17 languages and learns how to behave over time, drawing on feedback uploaded to the cloud by itself and other units. The robot has fully articulated arms and hands but no legs, instead rolling on a base, though it can also dance. A tablet mounted on its chest helps with communication. Perhaps the tablet should be mounted on the head, given the robot’s height and shape. CNN.
  • LOOK THERE: Serious gamers may be interested in the Sentry from SteelSeries. The device is an eye tracker rather than a controller and is designed to help users train themselves in looking at the screen. The Sentry provides statistics on where the user is looking, including fixations per minute. That’s dedicated gaming. Gizmodo.
  • ON THE DOT: Colloidal quantum dots are solid, stable light-sensitive nanoparticles that show promise for making cheaper and more flexible solar cells, as well as better gas sensors, infrared lasers and infrared light emitting diodes. One previous problem has been that exposure to air would reduce efficiency, but a new form of the dots doesn’t bind oxygen when exposed to air, so is more efficient. The development could lead to more sophisticated weather satellites, remote controllers, satellite communication, pollution detectors, or even roofing shingles that are also solar collectors. When solar panels are as inexpensive and as easy to use a current roofing materials that’ll be the biggest breakthrough. University of Toronto.