I write a Tech Universe column for the NZ Herald. This is a fun assignment: Tech Universe brings 5 headlines each day about what’s up in the world of technology. Here are the links from last week.
While I find all the items interesting, some are just cooler than others. I’ve marked out those items.
Tech universe: Monday 04 October 2010
- HEALING SEAL: Paro is a cute little robot baby Harp seal that moves and sqeals. It learns and responds to different touches and the sound of people talking to it. Paro is used for pet therapy, relieving stress and improving mood and communication. Toilet training not required.
- PRIVATE SPACE: Two Russian companies are planning to create a Commercial Space Station by 2016. It will function as a space laboratory and hotel for up to 7 people at a time. Don’t expect a swimming pool, or a shower.
- TALK TO THE HAND: Nokia and the University of Cambridge Research Centre are working on stretchable electronic skin. The idea is to create flexible electronics for cellphones so they can be worn on hands or wrists. Airport security scanners are going to have to get a whole lot smarter.
- UNIDENTIFIED FLYING CRANE: The Australian Skylifter is a UFO shaped blimp designed to carry loads up to 150 tonnes. It can cruise at around 45 Knots for up to 24 hours, and carries a module for crew and control equipment. It’s fuelled with a combination of Diesel Electric and Solar power. Do we want 150 tonne loads floating above our heads?
- HEAT BOOST: University of Arizona physicists sandwiched a rubber-like polymer between two metals acting as electrodes. They used this device to capture heat and turn it into electricity by building up voltage between the two electrodes. This technique could capture the waste heat from a car and turn it back into power. An engine wrap should generate quite a bit of energy.
Tech universe: Tuesday 05 October 2010
- SOUND PROJECTOR: The Bass Unit is an icosahedral cabinet with 10 built-in speakers. Music bounces off the walls of a room and creates a surround sound effect no matter where you stand. 3D music. What next?
- WALK LIGHT: If you add light-sensitive proteins to the nerve cells of mice then you can cause their muscles to contract by shining an LED light on the mouse. In future this discovery could help paralysed people walk, or perhaps stop involuntary muscle movement for people with cerebral palsy. Meanwhile the world’s paralysed mice are squeaking with excitement.
- SKY SAILORS: Iran’s new military open-cockpit flying boat, the Bavar-2, carries machine guns and surveillance cameras. The engine and propeller are exposed though, and the underside is an eye-catching red. Better hope enemy gunners are colour blind.
- BRAIN WAVE: Brain tumours can be very tricky to reach, so neurosurgeons at Washington University are working with an MRI-guided high-intensity laser probe called the Monteris AutoLITT. It “cooks” cancer cells deep in the brain, but leaves surrounding brain tissue undamaged. It makes previously inoperable tumours accessible. A ‘fried’ brain could come to be a good thing.
- MOON SHOTS: China’s Chang’e-2 probe is on its way to orbit the Moon, testing technology before a planned 2012 uncrewed moon landing. Total travel time to lunar orbit should be around 112 hours. It will orbit 15Km above the moon, taking photos with a resolution of 1.5 metres. Images soon to be seen on Google Moon, I hope.
Tech universe: Wednesday 06 October 2010
- NAKED 3D: New TV sets from Toshiba make standard film and TV look like 3D. A special lenticular sheet creates an array of 9 overlapping images. Viewers sitting in the right place see different images with each eye, so the picture seems to be in 3D. Let’s begin the family arguments about who sits where.
- SHARK CAM: The National Geographic Society found a way to attach video cameras to shark fins so they didn’t slide off straight away. Attached cameras record video, sound and other data such as temperature, water depth or movement. Locator beacons allow the units to be retrieved when they eventually detach. See with the eyes of a shark.
- VISIBLE HEART: Check your pulse, respiration and blood pressure by looking in a mirror. A student at the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program placed a webcam behind a 2-way mirror to measure slight variations in brightness caused by the flow of blood in the face. Signal-processing software extracted the relevant vital signs and displayed the results in the mirror. One more thing to worry about every morning.
- CHANNEL VISION: Bar-Ilan University in Israel engraved concentric rings in spectacles. The rings shift the phase of light waves. Correctly manipulating the resulting interference creates a channel rather than a single point of focus. The upshot: wearers can see both near and far in perfect focus; bifocal or progressive lenses are not required. Not just seeing circles before your eyes?
- MOON VIEW: Bootleg copies of the original Apollo 11 moonlanding tapes have been found and restored to create clearer and more extended footage of the event. NASA erased the original magnetic tapes, but a bootleg VHS copy included clear footage of the one small step. That must be one of the worst archiving decisions ever made.
Tech universe: Thursday 07 October 2010
- WATER-POWERED YACHT: The carbon-fibre Tang yacht has sails of course. But while it’s moving under sail propellers in the wake charge a 144-volt lithium ion battery pack. When the wind drops the batteries drive twin E motion 18-kilowatt permanent-magnet motors. The batteries also power onboard devices offering all the comforts of a land-based home. Recycled motion, FTW.
- GAS-POWERED BIKE: The SiGNa electric bike has a canister of sodium silicide strapped to the carrier. When water is added, the mix creates hydrogen gas that generates electricity. Instead of recharging just swap in a new cartridge of powder. The bike can travel around 95Km on a single charge. Where to get the powder from is a whole different matter.
- NUCLEAR-POWERED CAR: Uranium nitride rips the hydrogen atoms off a carbon atom but destroys itself in the process. If scientists could discover how to stop its self-destruction they could use uranium nitride as a portable source of nuclear power, perhaps in car engines. Not in New Zealand, they couldn’t.
- AIR-POWERED PLANE: Flying a plane usually means adjusting flaps, such as elevators and ailerons. The DEMON unmanned air vehicle from the UK instead blows blades of air from slots along the back of the wing to control lift. This technique uses fewer moving parts, means less maintenance, and makes the aircraft more stealthy. Blades of air; who would have thought?
- CAR-POWERED TRAFFIC: An MIT project called CarTel collects and analyses data from GPS devices in cars to provide real time traffic reports. CarTel can receive more than 600 data points a second, so even passing cars can exchange useful information. CarTel uses a combination of WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular connections as appropriate. Better hope there are no cellular message delays.
Tech universe: Friday 08 October 2010
- BRIGHT E-READER: A University of Cincinnati “zero-power” design for electronic devices puts layers of oil and pigment behind a display screen. The 2 layers sandwich reflective electrodes. Reflected ambient light and a small electric charge allow the electrofluidic e-Display to show a fast, bright display in full colour, readable even in bright sunlight. That’s a win for summer reading and viewing.
- URBAN MINING: Rare earth metals are crucial in electronics, electric cars and even wind turbines. Faced with supply difficulties Japan and other countries are reclaiming the metals from used electronics. Each ton of used electronic parts yields only 150 grams of rare minerals though. No word on what becomes of the rest of the ton of waste.
- GUARD ROBOTS: Camera-equipped Mobile Detection Assessment Response Systems are diesel fuelled vehicles. They patrol the Nevada National Security Site, a radioactive waste storage and weapons-testing site, alerting guards back at the base if they spot a problem, such as intruders. Each sentry bot can operate for up to 16 hours at a stretch. Double shifts. Do they earn double-time?
- BYE BYE BOTTLE: The world is littered with plastic water bottles. An Australian designer hopes her biodegradable polylactic acid bottle will change that. Not only will the bottle disintegrate after 2 years, but its shape ‘fits’ snugly with other bottles. The designer hopes the shape will encourage people to think about the environment and re-use bottles rather than throwing them away. I doubt people who readily throw away plastic bottles will have any second thoughts.
- OCEANS COUNT: The global Census of Marine Life took a decade and 2,700 scientists. To complete it they used satellites, manned and unmanned submarines, cameras, gyroscopic and GPS sensors attached to marine life, sonar, acoustic tags, seabed sensors, underwater robots, DNA barcodes, oh, and people too. 30 million entries accumulated in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System database. Results include 6,000 new species. And how many plastic bottles did they find?
These items didn’t make the column, but I thought they were very cool.
- Unfired earthen bricks made using standard clay reinforced with wool from sheep and a seaweed extract are stronger than regular bricks. The materials are local to the area where the research was carried out, and nor firing the bricks saved on energy to make them.