16 to 20 June 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 16 June 2014

The MindRider helmet.

The MindRider helmet.

  • CLUSTER CHARGE: Your phone takes too long to charge. Your electric bike or car takes too long to charge. And the batteries in the vehicle weigh a lot too. Researchers at the University of California have created a lithium-ion battery anode that could charge your phone in 10 minutes, though a car would take longer… They replaced the current graphite anodes with a three-dimensional, silicon-decorated, cone-shaped carbon-nanotube cluster. Tests showed that batteries using these anodes had a much higher rate of charge and discharge than those using conventional anodes. The team believe the new anodes make better contact and also allow electrolytes to flow more easily into the electrode, leading to better charging and thermal transfer. Everybody likes faster charging. University of California.
  • BUILD A PICTURE: The CreoPop pen doesn’t just let you draw things — it lets you draw 3D things. It doesn’t use melted plastic, which is both hot and bad smelling. Instead it uses ink that solidifies as you shine UV light on it from the built-in light source. Inks come in many different colours, including glow-in-the-dark and ink that changes colour with temperature. Each ink cartridge can print a 14 metre line at 3 mm diameter. The battery powered pen can be recharged via a micro USB port. Kids and artists everywhere should love that pen. CreoPop.
  • BROADBAND GOES UP: The Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science recently sent a transmission about the same size as a 22 MB video in 3.5 seconds from the International Space Station to a ground station in California. Ordinarily with radio that would take more than 10 minutes. The transfer was an experiment to beam high definition video back to Earth with a laser. It’s not that astronauts are making lots of home movies. Rather, the problem is that science instruments aboard the ISS and other spacecraft are collecting and creating huge amounts of data that can’t be handled by the existing slow comms systems. The test transmission began when the ground-based station sent a laser beam to the ISS which was then able to return a beam carrying data. If the laser system is implemented it could mean a broadband connection for the ISS, other craft and even the planets. More science, more quickly: potentially more progress. GigaOm.
  • AIM, FIRE, SHAKE: Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect early, so most people diagnosed with it die within a year. Tumours are often inoperable and pancreatic cancer cells are also difficult to reach with chemotherapy. That’s all very grim news, but scientists at Rice University hope they’ve found a way to tackle the tumours. The team modified nanotubes to carry chemotherapy agents and release them at a controlled rate. The nanotubes, around 50 nanometers long, are tiny enough to get inside cancer cells. Once inside they could be shaken to release the tumour fighting agents. Now the technique needs to be tested in mice to see if it actually works. Being able to target specific cancer cells could be a lifesaving achievement. Rice University.

Tech Universe: Thursday 19 June 2014

  • FRUIT? VEGETABLE? NO, CAR: Heinz make tomato ketchup, along with sauces and soups, which means they use a huge quantity of tomatoes. But they don’t use every scrap of tomato, so there’s plenty of skins, seeds, stems and leaves to deal with. Now Ford are scooping up that material and aim to process it into a composite bioplastic for use in their vehicles. The idea is to take the food waste, mix it with polyproprylene and cook it all at a lower than normal temperature so that the natural fibres aren’t degraded. The process uses less energy for production and creates lighter bioplastic which in turn reduces vehicle weight and fuel consumption. It will also be possible to recycle the plastic. The feasibility of this work is being tested at the moment, but maybe your next car will include tomatoes in its build. Inhabitat.
  • CUEING UP A COUGH: Under the weather? With a droplet of saliva, blood, or a nasal swab inserted into a disposable tracking cartridge Cue can diagnose what’s up with you and send the results to your smartphone. Using molecular analysis it can check whether you have flu or a cold, and it measures vitamin D, testosterone, inflammation, and fertility levels. The device can share data with your doctor, and also recommend exercise and food choices to help you stay healthy. Now if only the cure could be in a cartridge too. Science Alert.
  • IN THE DRINK: Pour your coffee, home made fruit juice, lemonade, beer, green tea or any other drink into the Vessyl drinking cup and it analyses its nutritional content such as calories, fat, sugar or protein on the spot, sending data to your smartphone. The app also lets you track progress towards goals such as losing weight or sleeping better. Tilt the cup away from you and it displays information about how hydrated you are. The cup is intended to be an adjunct to other fitness and activity trackers, allowing you to track the fluids you ingest, alongside your physical activity. There goes your favourite tea cup. Vessyl.
  • BRAIN BOX: A bike helmet can just be a bucket intended to protect your brain. Or it could be an adjunct to your brain, recording how engaged you are, signalling danger hotspots and areas where you’re more relaxed on your ride. The MindRider helmet system shows your levels of engagement in real-time as you ride or skate. A smartphone app allows for maps, tracks and sharing. A comfortable soft sensor embedded in the helmet’s foam is part of a brain-computer interface that uses electroencephalography to measure signals from the brain and translate them into a level of engagement. A small colour-changing light on the helmet shows green for relaxed and works through a gradient to red for sharply focused or stressed. The idea is that you can adapt your route so you ride in places where you’re more relaxed and less stressed, and your ride can help others adapt their route too, or even help city planning. Or the adrenalin junkies can head for the red spots. MindRider. Video:
  • JUST ADD SALT: Trees are made of cellulose fibres. Each of those fibres is composed of as many as 40 million smaller fibres, known as fibrils. Now Swedish researchers have found a way to bind fibrils together into filaments about 10 to 20 microns thick and as strong as the original fibre in the tree. The filaments could be used for creating natural clothing textiles or replacing fibreglass in cars, trucks and boats. The process uses common sodium chloride to bind the fibrils together, and the product is biodegradable when it’s no longer useful. To make materials that are stiff and strong or flexible, as needed, depends on how fibrils are arranged in the thread. Align the fibrils with the grain and the material is strong. Avoid that alignment and the material is more flexible. Usually going with the flow is the more flexible approach. KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Tech Universe: Friday 20 June 2014

  • THIS IS NOT A DRILL: Don’t care for the dentist’s drill? It may not be long before your dentist puts away the drill. A tooth develops decay when minerals leach out through a microscopic defect, undermining the enamel and possibly leading to a physical cavity. At the moment dentists drill out the decay and fill the tooth with amalgam or composite resin. The new technique uses a tiny electric current to speed up the re-entry of calcium and phosphate minerals into the tooth to repair a defect — that’s the way nature would do it, but more slowly. The technique doesn’t need a drill or an injection and the tiny electric current can’t even be felt by the patient. And presumably your face isn’t numb for hours afterwards either. King’s College London.
  • GOAL: In 2014 the World Cup football matches should include some very clear decisions about whether or not the ball has crossed the goal line. In the stadium 14 high-speed cameras operating at up to 500 frames a second capture the position of the ball in 3D. Each goal has 7 cameras trained on it at all times: two at the halfway line, two more between halfway and the goal line and another camera behind the goal. A fibre-optic cable carries live data from the cameras to an image processing computer that monitors the movements of every object on the pitch, filtering out players and the referee. The ref wears a watch that vibrates when the ball crosses the goal line. The GoalControl-4D system should make the ref’s job a great deal easier and make it harder for fans and players to argue with the decisions. Discovery News.
  • OPEN AND SHUT: In a hurry at the supermarket? Had to wait while the automatic doors get around to recognising that you want to pass through? You’re not alone. Now researchers have worked out how to make such automatic doors a lot smarter. Their solution comes in the form of a 3D time-of-flight laser scanner to feed data to algorithms that can detect people, track their motion, and make educated guesses about whether or not they’re aiming for the door. The sensor is designed to function in direct sunlight, total darkness and points in between. The software estimates when you’ll arrive at the door, and times things so that the door will have just finished opening as you get there. Parents of toddlers beware. Spectrum IEEE.
  • EASY AS ONE TWO: When people are prescribed opioids it can be too easy to accidentally overdose, especially if they’re using other prescription medicines too. In case of an overdose an injection of naloxone hydrochloride can save their life. But such injections are tricky to administer and probably require a trip to a medical centre or hospital. Evzio is a handheld device that can be prescribed alongside the opioid and that anyone can use to deliver the lifesaving injection, following either written or verbal instructions. A user removes a safety guard then presses the gadget against the thigh for 5 seconds. The Evzio delivers the injection and also advises calling for qualified medical help. Almost anyone should be able to remove a safety guard and press. Evzio.
  • KNOCK, KNOCK: Tap, tap, tap: using your smartphone means lots of tapping, pinching and swiping with a fingertip to get things done. Qeexo’s FingerSense technology though may change that, as it can tell the difference between a fingertip, a knuckle, a fingernail, and a stylus. That means you could set up one action to be triggered by a fingertip, say typing text, and another to work when you tap with your knuckle, for example selecting and copying text. The system uses the device’s accelerometer to to pick up on the vibration patterns different parts of the hand produce when they come in contact with a touchscreen. That would have interesting possibilities for passwords too. Wired.
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