21 to 25 July 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 21 July 2014

SolarMills incorporate a wind turbine with a solar panel.

SolarMills incorporate a wind turbine with a solar panel.

  • ZINGING ALONG: If you’re a part-time wheelchair user then the Zinger, at 17 Kg, may interest you. It folds, it’s electric, and it’ll carry you for up to 12 Km at speeds of up to 9.5 Kph. It has a tight turning circle, so is suitable for indoors as well as pavement. You steer with a couple of joysticks on either side by the wheels, and there are no arms to get in the way. The Lithium-ion battery can be charged in or out of the chair. The chair folds easily and fits handily in the boot of a small car. That’d be a mighty useful thing for those who need a bit of extra support. Zinger.
  • LIFE IN A BOX: That box on the front of a tricycle might just reveal it’s a Housetrike. The small box has a lifting lid, a pull-out inner box, and a couple of legs for support. When fully opened the whole thing is big enough to sleep one. The box can be completely shut, providing protection from the weather, but a couple of portholes at least give a view. While the Housetrike would be handy for travellers its designer has homeless people in mind. The trike combines transportation, shelter, security for personal belongings, and possibly even a way to earn money by carrying goods in the box. Delivery person by day, sleeping in the delivery vehicle by night. Gizmag.
  • SMELLY PERIL: You probably clean your clothes fairly regularly, but that usually takes a lot of water. Water’s in short supply aboard the International Space Station so the astronauts end up wearing their clothes for a long time and then shooting them out of the airlock, packed in an old spaceship, to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. A crew of six goes through 408 Kg of clothing every year. Before it’s ejected though the pile of smelly and dirty clothes can cause storage and weight problems, and lint from cotton fibres can clog filters. Now NASA are testing exercise clothing that’s been treated with an antimicrobial compound, or made with antimicrobial yarn. The astronauts will wear the garments for 15 days, hanging them to dry for 4 hours and then storing them in flame-resistant bags between uses. With any luck the new garments will allow the astronauts to use their clothes for longer before throwing them out. In this case, tossing out barely worn clothes really is just burning up money. Smithsonian.
  • YELLOW PERIL: Malaria’s a big problem around the world, but an equally big problem is fake anti-malarial drugs, possibly killing 200,000 people every year. Chemists at Oregon State University have created a simple and inexpensive test that can tell whether or not artesunate, one of the primary drugs being used to treat malaria, is genuine. First paper is impressed with a film that can detect the presence and level of artesunate. Then a single anti-malarial pill is crushed and dissolved in water. Place a drop of the solution on the paper and it turns yellow if the drug is present. What’s more the intensity of the colour indicates how much of the drug is in the pill. That colour can be compared to a simple colour chart, or measured by a smartphone app. Now the concept has been proven the researchers hope to turn it into an actual product. The next problem then becomes making sure those testing papers are genuine. Oregon State University.
  • ROLL UP, ROLL UP: LG Display’s latest 18-inch OLED TV panel has almost 1 million megapixels and can be rolled up to a radius of 3 centimetres without affecting its function. The panel has a 30% transmittance. That clarity is about 3 times that of current models. OK, but why would you want to roll up a TV? CNet.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 22 July 2014

  • WRIST EASY: Just press the Safelet band on your wrist and you can summon help from friends, family and even the police, if you like. The safety bracelet works via a Bluetooth Low Energy connection to a smartphone. When you activate the signal the people you’ve selected to be your guardians receive an alert and are notified with your location. The bracelet is designed to help the wearer feel more confident when going out and about on their own, knowing that if something happens they don’t need to be alone. There could be quite a few parents who might be happy for their kids to wear a device like that. Safelet.
  • STICK WITH A BUDDY: If you’ve ever been frustrated by a weak cellphone signal then you could be interested in the goTenna. It’s a peer-to-peer device that communicates slowly but over long distances with other goTennas, and without needing a cell signal, WiFi or a satellite. The small baton, a little longer than a hand, pairs via Bluetooth with a smartphone. It uses ultra-low-band frequencies, 151-154 MHz, so it has low bandwidth but a very long range, limited only by the horizon. In open country at the top of a mountain the signal could travel up to 80 Km, but in a city it may only reach 1.5 Km. The idea is that you buy the device in pairs, at least, with one for yourself and one for each family member or buddy, then use it to send text messages or GPS coordinates. GigaOm. Video:
  • LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER: Tossing another sheet of waste paper in the recycling bin? Just hold on a moment — that page could perhaps be turned into a supercapacitor to store an electric charge. Batteries use chemical reactions to store large amounts of energy, but are slow to charge. Capacitors, on the other hand, use an electric field and charge and release energy quickly. But they can’t store much. Supercapacitors offer both speed and capacity, generally using forms of porous carbon that can suck up charge like a sponge. An Indian scientist found that waste paper, heated and cooled, then mixed with sulphuric acid at 180C and carbonised at 800C produced a form of carbon with a massive surface area of more than 2300 square metres per gram. Combined with an electrolyte gel the material forms a supercapacitor able to store a charge. The material could eventually be used in electric cars. And waste paper is abundant and inexpensive. New Scientist.
  • ROUGH AND READY: Try using a tablet out in the sun and the glare will probably lead you to quickly turn it off. A novel glass surface though reduces both glare and reflection. US researchers did two things to a piece of glass that reduced glare and made it anti-reflective. On a very fine scale, they roughened a glass surface so it could scatter light and ward off glare without reducing transparency. Then they etched nanoscale teeth into the surface to make it anti-reflective. A nice side effect was that the textured surface repelled water, mimicking a lotus leaf. A tablet with teeth. American Chemical Society.
  • SHAKY DESIGN: At the University of Nevada are three 50-ton shake tables that simulate earthquakes. The lab can be used to test the design of structures such as bridges so they have a better chance of withstanding an earthquake. One recent test was on a new design of bridge support. A reproduction of a portion of the bridge was built in the lab and strapped to the tables then loaded with sensors. The structure was put through ten different earthquakes, including one similar to the immensely destructive magnitude 6.9 Kobe quake of 1995. While damaged, the bridge design did remain standing, but the data from the shakes can now contribute to making it even safer. Shake, rattle and roll. Gizmodo.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 July 2014

  • A TURN OF THE HAND: Flash a hand signal while riding your bike to indicate a turn. With the Biking Glowes DIY kit you can make that a literal flash. The kit gives you what you need to add flashing LED lights in the shape of an arrow to your gloves. The KIT includes LED-beads, conductive thread, coin cells and coin cell holders, along with instructions. There’s a fun project for a dark evening. Etsy.
  • META METAL: Your polarised sunglasses can see through the glare of a sunny day on the water because they block out light that is horizontally polarised. Australian researchers have created a metamaterial that allows them to twist, or polarise, light at will, and switch the effect off and on directly. The material could lead to some interesting developments in electronics. The effect works by shining light onto pairs of meta-atoms, causing the top one to rotate and twist the light. As for meta-atoms, they are a pattern of tiny metal shapes that make up the metamaterial. That all seems so very meta. Australian National University.
  • FLIGHTS OF FANS: The Airbus E-Fan 2.0 should be a very handy little two seater plane for training pilots. Its remarkable feature is that it’s silent in flight, thanks to its two ducted-fan motors putting out a combined 60kW of power, with 120 lithium-polymer battery cells providing an hour of flight time. That’s a lot of batteries to replace once they wear out. Gizmodo.
  • THE SOUNDS OF SCIENCE: The Bioscope system being developed in Taiwan monitors a hospital patient’s temperature, heart rate, movement and bodily noises, and transmits that data wirelessly to a computer that tracks their health. The bandages include a housing for sensor modules which can be swapped in as needed. Heart rate is measured through electrical activity at the skin surface, and physical movement via an accelerometer. Sounds are gathered through a contact microphone and temperature through a contact thermometer. The idea behind the system is to be able to monitor people more easily once they leave the hospital, and to be able to make basic diagnoses remotely. Listening to the body sounds like a good idea. New Scientist.
  • BEYOND YOUR GRASP: There are times when an extra pair of hands, or even just a few extra fingers could be useful: think about trying to open a drink bottle with one hand, for example. Researchers at MIT are developing a robot device that attaches to the wrist, adding what amounts to two extra fingers. The robot fingers move in sync with the wearer’s real fingers to grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. The device could be useful for various everyday tasks, including lifting and carrying larger objects. That could be specially useful for those whose hands are too weak to hold on to objects for more than a moment. MIT.

Tech Universe: Thursday 24 July 2014

  • BLOW UP THE LIGHT: An 85 gram solar powered inflatable lantern can give up to 16 hours of light after charging in the sun for 6 or 7 hours. In fact, the Lithium-Polymer Ion battery can hold a full charge for over 4 months. The cushion-shaped LuminAID packs flat, so it’s easy to ship and to carry. It’s also waterproof and can float. A few puffs blow it up so the LED light is more diffused, creating a more gentle ambient light without glare. Designed for use in disaster areas, the lantern would also be handy for trampers. That would be very easy to keep in the emergency kit. LuminAID.
  • PUMPED UP: A rover on another planet may encounter all kinds of terrain, and designing wheels to handle that variety takes a lot of thought. Researchers at Seoul National University have created a wheel that can deform, so it has a large radius to better climb over things, or a smaller radius better for squeezing under things, as required. The wheel takes its adaptable form from a famous origami trick called the magic ball pattern and needs only a single actuator to transform. IEEE Spectrum.
  • DRIVING FORWARD: It may not have deformable wheels, but the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate vehicle the US Marines are testing can drive itself around a battlefield. The vehicle can also be driven normally or operated by remote control. How does it defend against being captured by the enemy? Gizmodo.
  • SIT, DON’T STAY: Honda’s Uni-Cub is a tiny personal mobility device that could perhaps replace something like a bike or a Segway. Riders sit on the device and propel it by small posture changes, leaning in the direction they want to go. The Uni-Cub has a single larger omni-directional driving wheel, with a couple of smaller wheels that help with turns and moving sideways. The device could find a use in places like galleries, airports and museums. Bopping to the rhythm of music in headphones could make for an interesting travel experience. BBC.
  • A NEW SPIN: A new energy generation installation on the roof of a building in Kingston, Jamaica should produce more than 106,000 kWh of energy every year. The array includes 50 SolarMills from Windstream, that incorporate a wind turbine with a solar panel, each taking up the roof space of a single regular solar panel. The solar panel is split so one part is raised higher than the rest. Holding up the higher part is the wind turbine portion, with a blade spinning around a vertical axis. The company say that each SolarMill provides the highest energy density currently available in the renewable market. Wind and solar together are a powerful combination. Science Alert.

Tech Universe: Friday 25 July 2014

  • DRINKS AND DIPS: Has your drink been tampered with? Might it contain a drug? The Pd.id can tell you in moments. Dip the rechargeable stick in your drink and it collects a tiny sample of the fluid in its reservoir. Then it tests the sample with light, current and temperature to determine the unique spectrum of its molecular components. If it detects any of the drugs in its database it shows that with its LED light. It can also pair with a smartphone. The device is about the size of a thumb drive and is intended to help everyone avoid becoming the victim of a date rape drug. Now the problem is to find a way that people will want to actually use it — perhaps a celebrity needs to make it a trendy test to do. Pd.id.
  • PICK AND PRINT: If you’re designing your own electronic devices then you may need a customised circuit board. The Squink printer makes prototyping those boards easy. Design the board on screen and then print conductive traces on a sheet of paper. Next swap printing modules to print glue in the right spots. Swap to yet another module and the printer picks and places components on the board. Then connect a power cable and you’re done. Imagine if schools could have access to that. Gizmodo.
  • SEEING EYE JET: Fog can be very challenging for pilots to land and take off in, especially with helicopters and small planes. Skylens is an augmented reality headset so pilots of business jets and helicopters can take off and land in fog, torrential rain, snow and dust storms. The system uses smart goggles fed with video from multispectral cameras embedded in the plane’s nose. The goggles show clear images of the terrain, overlaid with information on local air traffic. A tiny depth-sensing camera on the instrument panel tracks the movement of the pilot’s head so images can be synchronised, and allowing the pilot to look around rather than just at instruments. The headset also shows other instrument data such as artificial horizon, airspeed and altitude. Cameras that can see through fog just make great sense. New Scientist.
  • COMPOUND EYES: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon can capture 3D motion without needing actors and models to wear special suits studded with markers. They’re testing their tracking system in a two-story geodesic dome covered with 480 off-the-shelf cameras across its entire inner surface. Software tracks an estimated 100,000 different points in motion. The 3D tracking is so accurate that it can capture the motions of every individual particle in a handful of confetti tossed into the air. Now try it with multispectral cameras and a fog machine. Gizmodo.
  • MARS IN SIGHT: The United Arab Emirates is setting up a Space Agency and planning a project to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021. The UAE already has programmes in satellite communications and TV broadcast, along with an Earth mapping and observation system called Dubai Sat. The new project is intended to be an inspirational challenge, bringing benefits to both the people and the economy. Mars 2021 has a nice ring to it. Sheikh Mohammed.