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 11 October 2010
- 16 MEGAPIXEL PHONE: Sony’s Exmor R back-illuminated 16 megapixel CMOS image sensors fit into mobile phones. The unit pixel size is a tiny 1.12μm. The photo diodes are arranged to produce high resolution, high sensitivity and low noise. Video is full HD. Forget the cellphone; those units would fit in jewellery.
- MAPS OF SAND: Prime the world’s smallest gyroscope with a locating GPS signal and then it handles location tracking on its own — indoors or out. A new optical gyroscope from Tel Aviv University is the size of a grain of sand. It uses semi-conductor lasers to track movement by measuring a vehicle’s rotation rate and linear acceleration. Now combine this with a tiny 16 megapixel camera …
- BODY AREA NETWORK: Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre’s lightweight, ultra low-power, wireless sensor nodes continuously monitor a person’s physical and vital parameters and send the results to an Android smartphone. The phone processes the data and sends it over the Internet to physicians or alerts the user to problems. Twitter feeds for heart-rate will be coming soon.
- CELLPHONE HEALTH: With Sana health software, workers in remote regions can use Android smartphones to collect data from patients. Sana can collect and transmit complex medical data including X-rays, ultrasound images, photos and electrocardiograms. The data goes via SMS to specialists, who then reply with an SMS diagnosis. It’s not clear if the phones take the X-rays or just accept the images.
- SPEAK IPAD SPEAK: Victoria University has a grant from the Marsden Fund that allows them to study whether iPads and similar devices may help autistic children to communicate. “It’s mine. Give it back.”
Tech universe: Tuesday 12 October 2010
- FIRST FLIGHT: Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise spacecraft is the world’s first piloted commercial spaceship. It has now proven it can glide to a safe landing after being dropped from the mothership at over 13Km above ground. If you have a spare US$200,000 you can book now.
- SENSING SEALS: There’s nothing as good as local knowledge. Scientists attached sensors to Antarctic elephant seals to learn about the shape of the seafloor. The devices record data every few seconds then send it via satellite when the animal surfaces. Free labour for science.
- POWER JELLY: Swedish researchers have taken the protein that causes some jellyfish to glow in the dark and used it to power microscopic fuel cells. A drop of protein on aluminium electrodes under ultraviolet light generates enough current to power a nanoscale device. So, maybe robot fireflies at dance parties?
- WORLD GAMES: The World Cyber Games gathers participants from 90 nations to play Counterstrike, Guitar Hero, Starcraft and other computer games. This year South Korea took winning place overall, while Australia won 1 gold medal. Sit down sports, yeah!
- GOLDILOCKS WIND: Wind farms have their down sides, such as changing local weather because they disrupt the usual airflow. But Stanford University researchers found that designing upwind rotors to generate just the right amount of turbulence would make downwind rotors more efficient and disrupt airflow less. Even green technology has its down side.
Tech universe: Wednesday 13 October 2010
- INFLATED MILITARY: Russia’s newest military vehicles look like tanks, fighter jets and missile launchers, even to radar and thermal imagers. But they don’t sound like tanks. That’s because they’re low-cost, light weight, blow-up decoys designed to inflate the size of the military presence in an area. Cheap and cheerful.
- FIND THE DRIVER: Google has several automated cars on the roads in California. They use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps to navigate the road ahead. So far they’ve travelled 225,000 Km. A trained human driver is ready at all times to take over if needed. That would be an Instant Driver.
- TREV ZERO: Trev is an Australian three-wheeled electric vehicle designed for urban commuting. It’s competing in the Zero Race around the world. The Lithium-ion polymer batteries drive the car up to 250Km on a single, three to four hour charge. The Aussies know how to name their vehicles. Photos:
- ROBOT PHYSIO: Berkley Bionics’ eLEGS exoskeleton is a robotic suit that allows paralysed people to walk as rehabilitation exercise. Crutches pass information about the wearer’s intentions to robotic legs that then move the wearer forward. eLEGS supports the wearer’s weight while the crutches provide balance. That’s a real support programme.
- GRAB THIS: The Australian Longreach bazooka fires an expanding lifebuoy 150m out to someone in distress. When the lifebuoy hits the water expanding foam is activated into a life-ring to provide buoyancy and give rescuers more time to assess the situation. That definitely beats throwing a life ring by hand.
Tech universe: Thursday 14 October 2010
- PATTERNWARE: Forget keyloggers and ID theft, the next generation of malware may be after your behaviour patterns. Malware could spread itself using a ‘behavioral pattern attack’ and so escape detection. What’s more, your patterns of relationships and behaviour could class you as more or less worthy of attack. Isolation suits this way.
- SEE THROUGH OPACITY: French scientists have found a way to reconstruct light after it’s scattered by an opaque object. Their finding could allow them to see inside things and people, without resorting to X-rays or ultrasound. The technique uses a green laser, a light modulator, a CCD and software to process the scatter pattern. Hmmm, the un-invisibility cloak.
- REALITY FILM: New software from Germany lets movie makers quickly change the apparent shape and size of actors. 3D scans of 120 men and women of varying size and shape were combined to create a single model that serves as the basis for a desired effect. Height, weight and muscularity can all be modified across frames of the movie. What you see is not what you get.
- WOOD CHIPS: Trees in the Amazon are being microchipped as a way to authenticate that they were logged sustainably. Data from the chip tells where the tree was grown and which sawmill processed the lumber. Engineers give each tree its own ID card containing a chip. Just like ear tags on cows, really.
- BACK TO NATURE: PlanIT Valley is a new eco-city being planned in Portugal. The city will collect data from a network of sensors, in the way the human nervous system works. An urban data centre ‘brain’ will control and recycle waste, water and power. Each building will also have its own computer as a failsafe. Natural features are deliberately used to play a part in the recycling system. This is definitely one to watch.
Tech universe: Friday 15 October 2010
- FLY RIGHT: If you’re a sniper you have to point your gun in exactly the right direction. DARPA’s new electro-optical system will soon handle the aiming, ensuring even crosswinds don’t send the bullet off course. An integrated spotter scope measures temperature, atmospheric pressure and other data relevant to improved targeting and sends that data wirelessly to the rifle. Ready, fire.
- NELL’S DATA: NELL, the Never-Ending Language Learner, is a computer at Carnegie Mellon University that’s reading the Web, aiming to teach itself in the same way humans learn. NELL’s building a knowledge base and has built up 440,000 beliefs in the last 9 months. The emotion chip comes later.
- GOOGLE POWER: Google are putting funds into a new offshore wind energy system in the US. The wind turbines will generate 6,000 megawatts of power for America’s East Coast. It’s not just hot air.
- SMILE, YOU’RE ON PARKCAM: Nice, in France, has more than 600 surveillance cameras on the streets. Intended to help authorities catch criminals such as drug dealers they are now to be used for detecting parking crimes too. Next it’ll be for looking at someone the wrong way.
- CROWDED WEATHER: The Old Weather crowdsourced science project asks you to read through handwritten ship’s logs looking for weather data. The handwritten logs are too variable for reliable text recognition, but the human eye can discern the contents. Marine weather data from early 20th century logs can help build up historic patterns as a basis for projections. The thrills, the spills, the weather reports.
These items didn’t make the column, but I thought they were very cool.
- FREEDOM FLIER: Jeb Corliss zipped up a wingsuit and then flew across the countryside. Just him and his suit (and camera). No external power source included. Watch the video in the article.