What’s new? Cheaper Chips; Smart Dummy; Upon Charges; Hot Air Phone; 3D Ripples. What’s Russian For GPS?; What’s Russian For Oops?; Pulp Faction; Jiggle Generator; Bumpy Smoothers. Solar Cycle; Leafy Tower; Eye On The Ball; Shape Shifters; Auto Aerobatics. Avast Me Hearties; Sun Bulbs; H Train; 99, Hand Me My Shoe; Tickle Me WheeMe. Underground Food Packets; Black Is The New Black; Boots Made For Walking; It’s A Rap; Left Click.
Tech universe: Monday 06 December 2010
- CHEAPER CHIPS: The US Air Force Research Laboratory created the fastest interactive computer in the US Defense Department — by connecting 1,760 PlayStation 3 systems. It can perform 500 trillion floating point operations per second. The $2 million Condor Cluster also includes separate graphical processing units and coordinating servers. The cluster will be used for AI research, pattern recognition research and other tasks. All up it will use only 10% of the power of comparable systems and costs only 5 to 10% as much. It’s easy being green.
- SMART DUMMY: General Motors is adding smarts to its vehicle crash test dummies. The new dummies, each costing around $500,000, contain around 80 sensors that record and transmit crash test data 10,000 times per second. The 200 or so dummies come in all kinds of realistic shapes and sizes. They feel the pain so we don’t have to.
- UPON CHARGES: ElectroHub’s charging pad charges anything that takes ordinary batteries — though you need to use the batteries supplied with the hub. This wireless charging station is designed to work with virtually all electronic devices. Put the device on top of the ElectroHub and leave it to charge. Cellphone makers: get creative!
- HOT AIR PHONE: Or, for an alternate way to charge your iPhone: how about adding its own personal wind turbine? Tjeerd Veenhoven modded his iPhone with a PC fan enclosed in a soft rubber skin, and used it to charge his iPhone. It took 6 hours, but hey, if you’re stranded at sea or lost in the bush, you’d be glad of it, I’m sure.
- 3D RIPPLES: A recent Apple patents lets viewers see pictures in 3D regardless of their angle of view, without the need for 3D glasses. A special reflective screen has a rippled texture and projects different images to each eye. Multiple images projected to different points on the ripples let multiple users watch at once. Come on Apple, we’re waiting for holograms!
Tech universe: Tuesday 07 December 2010
- WHAT’S RUSSIAN FOR GPS?: A few days ago Russia launched 3 GLONASS-M satellites to complete its global navigation system of 24 satellites for civilian and military use. GLONASS rivals the American GPS system. Go Russia!
- WHAT’S RUSSIAN FOR OOPS?: The 3 Russian satellites veered 8 degrees off course and crashed into the Pacific Ocean 1500Km from Hawaii. Fortunately 20 of 26 satellites currently in orbit provide pretty good GPS coverage already. Perhaps Russia could start an underwater GPS system.
- PULP FACTION: Flexoresearch, a Thai firm, is using hungry enzymes to recycle laminated paper such as cigarette packets and fast food wrappers that other processes can’t recycle. The enzymes turn the products into pulp that can be used to create new paper products, or building materials that can replace asbestos. The process also produces clean plastic. And gets the whole lot sparkling white!
- JIGGLE GENERATOR: It’s the size of a coin, can sit in your pocket, and generates 1.56mW while you move. A Japanese researcher used a material called Galfenol which changes its magnetic flux when compressed, which generates voltage. Weights deform the material as it moves, creating electricity. Imagine artificial trees with leaves made of this, blowing in the wind. A new concept for wind power.
- BUMPY SMOOTHERS: Humpback whales swim well because of the bumps, or tubercles, on the front of their flippers. The bumps cause vortices in the water, creating lift. The U.S. Naval Academy has shown that adding similar bumps to underwater turbines increases their efficiency. This could solve the severe problem of underwater power turbines stalling or failing to produce sufficient power. Some things are just counter-intuitive.
Tech universe: Wednesday 08 December 2010
- SOLAR CYCLE: Kyocera’s Solar Cycle Stations are 3-metre walls of solar cells that allow owners of battery powered bicycles in Japan to recharge their bikes. A connection to the grid means bike owners can still charge up, even if it’s cloudy or at night. Imagine having these around town. City Councils: take a look.
- LEAFY TOWER: Taichung in Taiwan is to have a 300 metre tall tower with an observation deck, a restaurant and office space. Ho hum. But the design is straight out of sci-fi. Various eco-features provide power and purify rainwater, but what’s astonishing is large leaf-shaped observatories made from strong, lightweight material. They will carry up to 80 people up and down the outside of the building. Bizarre.
- EYE ON THE BALL: A fly’s eye has hundreds of facets so it can see in all directions. Compare that to a regular camera with a flat and restricted field of view. A Swiss university, EPFL, has created a new camera, made up of a hundred tiny lenses arranged around a hemisphere. The camera and its processor can see 360 degrees in true 3D. It could be used to show soccer matches or other sports with an ‘inside’ view. Should we expect more ‘3D effects’ plays in sports matches too?
- SHAPE SHIFTERS: A new carbon nanotube rubber from Japan can withstand extreme temperatures. It’s viscoelastic, so whatever shape you coerce it into, it springs back to its original shape. Usually these materials shatter if they freeze, or melt if they get too hot, but the new material keeps its shape. This material could be used in shoes, car shock absorbers, or even in spacecraft. Bounce me to the moon….
- AUTO AEROBATICS: University of Queensland trained a computer system to compare the blue of the sky with the red-green of the ground. The system measures and identifies the horizon using wide-angle cameras and allows planes to precisely and speedily guide themselves through extreme manoeuvres such as loops and barrel rolls. No word on handling under cloudy skies, or over the sea.
Tech universe: Thursday 09 December 2010
- AVAST ME HEARTIES: Avast security software aims to keep PCs safe, but you have to pay for it. Unless you’re one of the 774,651 people who used a licence code released on a file-sharing site. Avast knew about the sharing, but tracked it instead of fighting it. They saw the licence being used in 200 countries, including Vatican City. Then they had the pirated version pop-up a link to the free or paid versions. That’s a lesson in how to go with the flow.
- SUN BULBS: Nokero’s newest solar lightbulb captures the sun by day with its polycrystalline solar cell. At night 4 LEDs release the stored energy over 6 hours. If necessary the bulb can be turned to high power for a brighter light that lasts only a couple of hours. The aim is to replace kerosene lamps in places where that’s the only source of light. But it’s handy for overnight camping trips anywhere.
- H TRAIN: China’s first light-rail train fuelled by hydrogen took to the tracks recently. It’s driven by a permanent-magnet synchronous motor and frequency converter which together provide high power, efficiency and energy conservation, but create little vibration and minimal noise. It goes like a rocket, but quietly.
- 99, HAND ME MY SHOE: Maxwell Smart had his trusty shoe phone. Now American researchers are suggesting a shoe radar, for those times when your GPS loses its signal. The shoe radar detects how far your foot is from the ground. If that distance doesn’t change then you must be stationary. An Inertial Measurement Unit, estimating your movement while out of GPS range, can take that into account, before determining your position. That’s technology: always on the move.
- TICKLE ME WHEEME: The WheeMe is a diminutive massage robot that clings to your body (the horizontal parts, anyway) and gently massages you. Built-in tilt sensors stop it from moving far enough to fall off. The videos make it look more ticklish than massage-y. WheeMe? Seriously?
Tech universe: Friday 10 December 2010
- UNDERGROUND FOOD PACKETS: FoodTubes proposes a network of underground transport tubes, powered by Linear Induction Motors. Goods would be carried in lightweight, 1 meter x 2 meter capsules, addressed and controlled by computers. They claim this delivery system for food, water, sewage, oil, gas and other vital commodities would save up to 4 billion tonnes of CO2 per year worldwide. The Internet of food. Slideshow:
- BLACK IS THE NEW BLACK: Black absorbs light. Used inside telescope tubes it help keep an image ‘clean’. But conventional black still reflects a fair few photons. NASA want to make their scientific instruments as efficient as possible, so they’ve developed an even blacker black, made of multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Tiny gaps between the tubes absorb 99.5% of the light that hits them. The material has to withstand the heat and cold of space, and the vibrations of launch. How do you work with a material you can’t see?
- BOOTS MADE FOR WALKING: ReWalk robotic exoskeleton uses sensors and motors to allow paralysed patients to stand, walk and climb stairs with the aid of crutches. Leg braces respond to subtle changes in upper-body movement and shifts in balance. A backpack contains the processor, while a control panel on the wrist allows the wearer to choose modes of operation. The walkinator’s on their back.
- IT’S A RAP: The FBI have arrested and charged a 23 year old Russian. He’s accused of using the Mega-D botnet to send 10 billion spam e-mails per day, breaking several laws in the process. Here’s hoping he’s another one who bites the dust.
- LEFT CLICK: Devices to drive electric wheelchairs often rely on the user physically clicking a button on a plate inside their mouth. That can make eating and talking a bit tricky. The University of Bristol put a microphone in an earbud to ‘hear’ and identify 4 different tongue clicks. It then transmits commands to a chair or robotic arm. Does a double-click just go in circles?
Notes: 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. Above 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.