07 to 11 July 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 07 July 2014

The skin of one person skin reflects electromagnetic waves differently from the skin of another.

The skin of one person skin reflects electromagnetic waves differently from the skin of another.

  • A DRY READ: Do you like to read your book in the bath, or waiting at the bus stop, or walking along the street? What happens when it rains, or you drop the book in the bath? The You-Bumi Waterproof Book Cover Bath Bag may be the answer to your bibliophilic dreams. The specially constructed plastic bag retains air inside along with the book so it will float as well as protect against careless splashes. Of course, you’ll be wondering how to turn the pages. That’s why it has special covered slots for your fingers which also allow you to hold the book properly. Now you’ll be able to read in the shower too. Japan Trend Shop.
  • MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Skin tone may be one feature that can help us recognise and distinguish individuals, but it can be hard to tell similar shades of skin colour apart — in the visible spectrum, that is. Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology have been analysing patches of skin and found something interesting. The skin of one person skin reflects electromagnetic waves differently from the skin of another. Look at patches of similarly coloured skin with light of another wavelength, such as infrared or ultraviolet, and they look nothing alike. The researchers hope that these differences could be applied in medicine, perhaps revealing health issues, or in biometrics, perhaps replacing or complementing facial recognition or fingerprinting. That raises interesting possibilities for tracking people. Popular Science.
  • SWIM DIFFERENT: If you’re swimming where there sharks hang out you may like some warning if any turn up. The prototype Clever Buoy from Australia aims to provide that warning. The device has two parts: one sits on the sea bottom and sends out a sonar signal. The other floats on the surface and detects that signal. Anything over a couple of metres long that swims between the two changes the signal. But the system can tell the difference between sharks and other large animals such as whales, because they all swim differently. If the Clever Buoy detects a shark it sends out an alert via a wireless satellite communications system. Now they just need to train the sharks to swim between the buoys. Clever Buoy.
  • REBOOT: Imagine if the boot lid on your car could not only cover and protect the boot but also store power to run the lights. European scientists have developed a composite material based on activated carbon fibres that is strong and stiff, but also conductive, creating a supercapacitor. They’ve created the material in both a flat form and shaped like a car boot lid. So maybe the whole car body could be used this way too. Chemistry World.
  • VANISHING TRICK: Separating water from oil can be very hard to do, especially when they mix together as an emulsion of tiny droplets. MIT researchers have found an inexpensive way to do separate such an emulsion with membranes that have hierarchical pore structures. A very thin layer of nanopores lies below a thicker layer of micropores. The membranes can be made with contrasting wetting properties so their pores either attract oil and repel water, or vice versa. The droplets shrink down as they pass through the pores until the liquids are completely separated. It sounds simple when you put it like that. MIT.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 08 July 2014

  • MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN: You spend a fortune to heat the shower water then it just flows down the drain after briefly touching your body, taking all that expensive heat with it. EcoDrain gets some of that heat back from the waste water and uses it to warm the rest of the shower water. The device is a simple heat exchanger that passes clean cold water in a separate pipe through the hot waste water. The cold water picks up heat as it flows past, so less hot water is required to give you the warm shower you’re after, saving both power and money. The device has no moving parts and needs no electricity to run. There’s a thing that could be made a standard fitting in new buildings. EcoDrain.
  • FOREVER GOLDEN: Toast: too light or burnt all too often differ by only the minutest turn of the dial. If the toaster’s already warm or the room’s a bit chilly that can throw things off too. Dualit’s new toasters calculate each variable in the toaster, from room and toaster temperature to how many slices it has toasted or how long it has had to cool, in order to produce perfectly toasted bread with every slice. Choose a setting on the dial and each slice will be toasted exactly how you like it. Now we know they’re just joking. Pocket-Lint.
  • BEHIND YOU: As a cyclist you need to be aware of what’s going on all around you — not just ahead and to the sides, but behind you as well. That usually means turning your head or checking a mirror. But how about if you had a micro radar that could pick up vehicles as much as 140 metres behind you? With a front unit on the handlebars that uses lights for status display and a back unit that flickers faster as cars approach you don’t need to be swivelling your head to watch what’s following you. The device also includes an API to communicate via Bluetooth BLE with phones, but the creators haven’t yet made an app for it. An audible alarm could add extra zing too. Backtracker. Video:
  • A SEPARATE ANSWER: Unless you remember to carry your keeper cup with you all the time if you stop to buy a coffee from a roadside vendor you’ll end up throwing away the laminated paper cup it comes in. The plastic keeps the drink warm and stops the liquid from soaking through the paper but because it’s bonded to the paper the cup can’t be recycled. In the UK more than 2.5 billion such paper cups end up in landfill each year. The Green Your Cup though instead lightly glues a thin plastic liner into a recyclable paper cup. The two elements easily come apart during recycling, yet as far as the person drinking the coffee is concerned the cup looks, feels and tastes the same. There’s a neat solution to something that shouldn’t be a problem. Green Your Cup Video:
  • SHAKY CHARGE: About 75% of people in Kenya don’t have access to mains electricity, but music and dancing are an important part of the culture. That’s where the SPARK comes in: it’s a musical instrument you shake so beads inside make noise. While the shaker’s making noise though it’s also charging up a battery thanks to a magnet moving inside a copper coil. After 12 minutes of shaking there’s enough energy stored to run a light for an hour. Lights can be plugged in to the device via USB, and the device can also charge phones. It makes musical shakers that don’t charge anything seem a bit wasteful.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 09 July 2014

  • ON YOUR BIKE: The rain unexpectedly starts half way through your bike ride. Do you stop and pull out the rain gear you thought to bring in your bag? Not with the Funnell backpack: tug on the cords in the backpack straps and a raincoat unfolds itself over both you and the backpack. Put your arms in the sleeves and zip up, then you’re done. If you have great balance you may not even need to stop the bike. Of course, folding the jacket back into the pack could be the tricky part. Funnell backpack.
  • THE BIKE YOU LIKE: You need to set a bike up correctly to give you the best fit or it’ll be uncomfortable to ride, maybe enough that you abandon the idea of cycling altogether. One option is to get a custom frame, but that’s a costly way to go. The Universal Bike aims to give you an affordable but almost infinitely customisable carbon fibre frame so you can get everything just right. The design allows for an easy change of geometry, changing the angle of front forks and seat tube and the length of the bike. To set it up take a few body measurements and feed them into an app along with the style of bike you want. The bike frame is marked so you can read settings the app provides and easily apply them. There’s no need to fill the shed with different kinds of bike if this one so easily adapts to any riding style. Universal Bike.
  • THE DOG KNOWS: We know dogs can sniff out drugs, food and even the dead, but hard drives? In Rhode Island the police aim to catch those trafficking in images of child sexual abuse with dogs that can sniff out hard drives, thumb drives and the like. A Task Force first identifies suspects and obtains a search warrant. Then the dog comes in to help find hidden stores of images. In one case a dog sniffed out a thumb drive containing images of child sexual abuse hidden four layers deep in a tin box inside a metal cabinet. Surely hiding a thumb drive amongst other electronics would confuse things a bit. Providence Journal.
  • FOREVER FOCUSED: You may think you’re concentrating on something, but chances are your attention has actually drifted. Research suggests we actually zone out somewhere between 20% and 40% of the time. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame think we could be more engaged and attentive if software would point out when we’ve lost focus. They use commercial eye tracker software and then observe specific features in the way the eyes move, such as how long they fixate on words, where the eyes move next, their overall movement patterns and other contextual cues. This analysis can suggest when a reader has lost focus, and then the idea is to pause the presentation of text, perhaps replaying portions, until the reader regains focus. The researchers believe such a system could improve learning or help prevent disasters among those whose jobs require a high level of attention such as air traffic controllers. And if we did away with sleep we could work 24 hours a day too. New Scientist.
  • SLOT CARS: The valet parking at Düsseldorf airport is handle by robots. Book parking online then drop your car at the valet parking spot and confirm on a touch screen that no-one’s in the car. The robot measures the vehicle, picks it up with a forklift-like system, and places it in one of 249 reserved parking slots. The robot also knows when to have the car ready for returning passengers as it accesses flight data and customer trip information. A smartphone app lets passengers make any changes they need. But do you have to tip the robots? Mashable.

Tech Universe: Thursday 10 July 2014

  • CALORIE CRUSH: Counting calories? It’s tedious work and not terribly accurate unless you destroy the food in the process. A prototype device from GE can get an accurate measure of the calories on your plate though. The device passes low-energy microwaves through a weighed portion of food and measures how the microwaves are changed by the food. Since fat and water affect the microwaves in different ways the device subtracts water and fat weight from the total weight to derive the calorie content. At the moment all the food must be blended or liquid but GE aim to develop a more sophisticated version that can just measure a regular plate of food. Meanwhile just put all the food in a blender. Yum. Technology Review.
  • CHAIRED SECRET: The EarlySense Chair Sensor is something doctors and hospitals may invest in. It’s a cushion for a chair and is hooked up to a nearby monitor. Sitting on the cushion allows patient’s heart rate, respiratory rate and movement to be continuously monitored. Similar systems previously were only available for a patient lying in bed, but the cushions means people can sit up, improving healing, reducing the risk of complications and reducing the length of hospital stay. The sensor also alerts staff if the patient tries to get up from the chair, so someone can go and help. Cushions like that could be a hit in movie theatres to judge how to make more exciting movies. EarlySense.
  • FLIGHTS IN BLUE: There’s no hiding behind this blanket: embedded with neurosensors interconnected with fibre optics that measure the wearer’s brainwaves, the blue blanket turns red when the person using it is tense or stressed. British Airways has been testing the blankets on flights between London and New York. The airline hopes the information this gives them about passenger wellbeing will help them better time meals and improve other inflight amenities such as lighting and movies. The blanket doesn’t do all the work alone though: volunteer passengers had to wear a headband that measured brainwaves and sent the data via Bluetooth to the blanket. Maybe the horror movies are best avoided. Science Alert.
  • STOP START CONCEPT: Safe, effective contraception is a huge issue for millions around the world, including being able to stop and start at will. US researchers are working on a tiny computer chip that can be implanted under a woman’s skin and release a small dose of levonorgestrel every day for 16 years. The key thing is though that the woman can use a wireless remote control at any time to stop or start it. Security is hugely important so communication with the implant has to occur at skin contact level distance. In addition secure encryption prevents a third party from trying to interpret or intervene between the communications. The idea could also be expanded to other medications. The project has been backed by Bill Gates, and will be submitted for pre-clinical testing in the US next year. Don’t lose the remote. BBC.
  • A TON OF BRICKS: Many a child has slotted together toy bricks to build houses, garages and other structures. Kite Bricks bring the idea into actual buildings. The Smart Bricks are constructed of high-strength concrete, designed to be easily joined together, with open internal spaces for insulation and infrastructure elements. The bricks are made to order, including shapes, sizes and finishes, both inside and out, so a building can be quickly, easily and quietly put together. The Smart Brick offers high thermal control, full passage of pipes, wires and cables, finishes for both indoors and outdoors, extraordinary tensile strength, ease of construction and safety of materials. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle earthquakes. Kite Bricks.

Tech Universe: Friday 11 July 2014

  • POINT AND SPEAK: How about if you could run your finger along a line of type and hear it read aloud? The Finger Reader may be only a proof of concept research prototype at this point but it has some interesting capabilities. It’s designed to help visually impaired users with reading texts or words and takes the form of a ring the user wears on their index finger. Inside are a camera and some haptic actuators for feedback. As the user runs their finger along a line of text on perhaps a business card, a menu in a restaurant or on a sign, the device reads the words out loud. Feedback from the device helps users keep their finger on track. While this device is designed for people with visual impairments, it could clearly be helpful for children or adults learning to read, and for people confronted with a language they don’t understand. Think how useful that could be for reading print that’s way too small too. Finger Reader.
  • SHIP OUT OF WATER: A fully assembled oil rig can weigh as much as 110,000 metric tons. But do you assemble it at sea or find some way to transport it to its drilling destination? The Dockwise Vanguard is a huge transport vessel that can submerge itself up to 15 metres — that’s enough to slide under an oil rig or ship and lift it up onto the deck. Then the Vanguard carries its load at speeds as high as 14 knots. The transport vessel’s ability to submerge also means it can lift other vessels for maintenance and overhaul at sea, acting as a dry dock without the inconvenience of heading back to a port with suitable facilities. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see! Wired.
  • AIR SHIP: European researchers are developing airbags that could help stop a ship from sinking in an emergency. They could also be used to stabilise capsized ships or lift those that have already sunk. Kevlar-reinforced balloons have cartridges attached. When triggered gunpowder oxidises an epoxy resin which inflates the balloons. A second cartridge containing compressed air helps to cool the explosion. The project is currently at proof of concept stage. Next up is developing a control unit for the whole system. Keeping a ship afloat in an emergency makes good sense. Wired.
  • A LITTLE PROGRESS: It’s bigger than a motorbike, but only just. Toyota’s 3-wheeled 2-seater i-ROAD electric vehicle will be tested out in a car-sharing programme in Grenoble, France. The Smart City car-sharing scheme is designed to reduce traffic congestion and promote clean air by encouraging people to use public transport and then switch to an electric vehicle if necessary for the final portion of their journey. Travellers will be able to pick a car up at one location and drop it off at another. That’s a useful idea. Inhabitat.
  • UNDER GLASS: The Mall of the World to be built in the United Arab Emirates will cover more than 4.5 million square metres — around 450 hectares. The temperature controlled facility will contain the world’s largest shopping mall and an indoor theme park covered by a retractable glass dome that opens during winter months. The idea is to also include a cultural celebration district, shopping and entertainment, hotel rooms and apartments and other hospitality options. One aim of this giant pedestrian area is to draw as many as 180 million visitors per year to Dubai. There’s nothing quite like a mall to draw the crowds. io9.