What’s new? Body Search; I See Ice; Fast Track To Study; 30 Pixel Camera; Sick Breath. Robot Parkour; Attention, Will Robinson; Pip The Pain; Iphone Reservations; Free Knowledge Isn’t Cheap. Blat Mobile; Underwater Bass; Sea Sharp; Up Up And Away; Reinventing The Wheel. Wallet Safe; Chipped Notes; Knowledge Block; The Speed Of Sunlight; iCandy. Blue Rain; Clothes Force; Buying’s Hot, Paywalls Are Not; Handy Cane; Green For Stop.
Tech Universe: Monday 10 January 2011
- BODY SEARCH: The latest Google Labs search shows you inside the human body, in 3D. Use Google Chrome or Firefox to view muscles, bones, organs, blood vessels and nerves, all with labels. Zoom in and out and even mark locations. Bone up before your next doctor’s visit.
- I SEE ICE: The IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole is now complete. The main IceCube detector contains 5,160 optical sensors on 86 strings embedded 2 Km below the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. This frozen observatory is looking for elusive dark matter. Through the ice, darkly.
- FAST TRACK TO STUDY: At the Technische Universitat in Munich there’s a very quick way down to the ground floors: not a lift, not stairs, but a slide. Why not add some practical fun to studying?
- 30 PIXEL CAMERA: How do you X-ray lightning? Quickly, and at low res. US scientists created a 680 Kg 30 pixel camera containing an x-ray detector that captures 10 million images per second. It caught images of lightning travelling at 1/6th the speed of light. The X-rays were all in the tip of the lightning bolt. Yes, that’s 30 pixels, not megapixels.
- SICK BREATH: We all know about breathalysers used to test drivers for alcohol, but now researchers have created a medical breath test. Polymer particles coated with metal oxide are deposited on microhotplates. Heating burns off the polymer, leaving a very porous and very sensitive metal-oxide film as the sensor. Biomarkers in breath change the electrical properties of the sensor. “That’ll be a $100 fine and we recommend a visit to your doctor.”
Tech Universe: Tuesday 11 January 2011
- ROBOT PARKOUR: Knocked a pen off your desk? You’ll probably lean on the table to support yourself as you bend down to pick it up. A team in Japan are teaching robots to mimic this behaviour — to use objects in their environment, rather than always avoiding them. The robot must first identify objects around it and then calculate how those objects could best be used. They may not yet be able to leap buildings in a single bound, but keep an eye on this.
- PAY ATTENTION, WILL ROBINSON: In Daegu, South Korea, 21 elementary schools are using robots to teach English to kids. The robots speak to the students, read them books and dance to music while moving their head and arms. The robots display an avatar of a Caucasian woman’s face, but that face reflects the expressions of Filipino teachers who are remotely controlling the robots. The new face of distance education.
- PIP THE PAIN: The Implantable Neuro Sensing and Stimulation chip is a medical device about the size of the head of a match. Implanted in the spinal cord, it measures the properties of nerves carrying pain signals to the brain and can block pain signals with electric pulses. Imagine that in the wrong hands!
- IPHONE RESERVATIONS: English has 26 letters in its alphabet, the Cherokee language 85. Tribal leaders worked with Apple to put Cherokee on the iPhone, hoping this will encourage young people to use the language. There are only 8,000 speakers of the language out of 250,000 Cherokee. The onscreen keyboard must be really crowded.
- FREE KNOWLEDGE ISN’T CHEAP: What did we do before Wikipedia? The free online encyclopedia’s recent fundraising drive raised $16 million from 500,000 users to cover operational costs for another year. Twice as many people donated twice as much money in total as in the 2009 drive. Brittaniwho?
Tech Universe: Wednesday 12 January 2011
- BLAT MOBILE: The Marussia Motors B2 carbon fibre car is a luxury sports model that looks right for Batman. It takes 3.8 seconds to reach 100 Kph, with a top speed around 350 Kph. The entertainment system will keep you occupied in traffic jams, even allowing you to make Skype calls. So much speed and power for traffic jams. Specs:
- UNDERWATER BASS: Sound diffuses underwater. It can also seriously disrupt marine life. Researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology, USA, are studying how to pick up sounds such as human heart beats from divers up to no good and reflect that sound directly back to them, amplified. Hydrophones detect the sound, transducers amplify it and time-reversal acoustics reflect the sound back at an intolerable 180 decibels, forcing the diver from the water. Sounds like a cartoon villain technique.
- SEA SHARP: Sea urchins eat rocks, literally. But their teeth stay razor sharp, and that could help us make tools that never need sharpening. Sea urchin teeth are constantly growing. They’re made up of layers of calcite crystal plates and fibres cemented together. Between the layers are weak organic materials. The arrangement of nanocrystals seems to hold the secret. Giant sea urchins: your next sci-fi nightmare.
- UP UP AND AWAY: The British Hybrid Air Vehicle SkyCat looks like a traditional airship. It’s different though because it can stay in the air for up to 3 weeks at a time and then land anywhere, on any surface, even by remote control. It doesn’t need runways, roads or ground crew. Filled with helium and including turboshaft gas turbines, the full size craft will be around 330 metres long and carry 900 tonnes. Isn’t helium running out? Hybrid Air Vehicle:
- REINVENTING THE WHEEL: It’s not easy driving on the Moon, with all those rocks and all. The Canadian Space Agency is testing a new type of wheel for lunar rovers. iRings wheels use chainmail tires filled with granular particulate matter, like in a bean bag. That allows the wheel to conform to a rock surface as it travels over it. Remote control vehicle enthusiasts would love this model. Video:
Tech Universe: Thursday 13 January 2011
- WALLET SAFE: The polycarbonate, fibreglass or carbon fibre iWallet requires your fingerprint before it opens. A biometric reader keeps it closed until the right fingerprint is detected. You can also link the wallet via Bluetooth to your phone so if the devices are more than a few metres apart an alarm sounds. At US$300 to $600 you may not have enough cash left to protect though.
- CHIPPED NOTES: Clever counterfeiters may get around the safeguards printed in banknotes, but silicon chips may be the ultimate deterrent to fraud. Gold, aluminium oxide and organic molecules deposited directly onto the notes through a patterned mask create a thin-film transistor, or TFT. The TFT can respond to low voltages, perhaps transmitted by readers similar to those used for RFID. Now they just need to figure out how to use the TFTs to prevent fraud. Why bother? Just replace banknotes with an electronic wallet.
- KNOWLEDGE BLOCK: In 2007 Estonia suffered crippling cyberattacks. Now it’s set up a Cyber Defense League of programmers, computer scientists and software engineers. In wartime these volunteers will come under military command to defend their country. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a group with a name like Cyber Defense League?
- THE SPEED OF SUNLIGHT: The Australian Sunswift IVy recently set a new world speed record for a solar-powered vehicle, when it reached an average 88.8 Kph over 1 Km on a cloudy day. The previous record was set in 1988. The vehicle used about 1050 W on its run without batteries. Speedy, even if it does resemble R2D2 carrying a tray.
- ICANDY: Italcementi make a transparent cement called i.light. Resins are embedded that allow light to pass through. This transparency could significantly reduce costs for lighting, while making for a more attractive building. In the old days the bits that let light in were called windows.
Tech Universe: Friday 14 January 2011
- BLUE RAIN: The United Arab Emirates is known for heat and deserts. Last year UAE scientists claim to have created 50 rainstorms by generating fields of negatively charged particles. Towers release electrons into the air where they attach to specks of dust. Heat carries the dust up where the negative charge attracts moisture and creates rainfall from clear skies. That’s some good blue skies thinking.
- CLOTHES FORCE: GO Collection clothes from Silvr Lining will charge your MP3 player or smartphone for you. Adorned with 15*20 cm solar panels they supply 5 volts through a USB port. The current collection includes trousers, jacket, utility vest and overcoat. Just keep facing the sun.
- BUYING’S HOT; PAYWALLS ARE NOT: A Pew Internet survey found that around 65% of US users have paid for online content such as music, software, ebooks and ringtones. Only 11% spend on premium website content such as the Wall Street Journal though. It’s a tough sell when the competition’s free.
- HANDY CANE: The iSonic adds a little something to the standard white cane blind people use: it vibrates to let you know when you’re within 2 metres of an object. It can also identify certain colours and announce them. But if it doesn’t vibrate do you have to guess whether it’s because there’s nothing there or the cane ran out of juice?
- GREEN FOR STOP: Piracy’s quite a problem at sea — there were 430 pirate attacks in 2010. A new technique using lasers though could deter pirates while not actually wounding them. A metre-wide green laser beam targets the entire vessel and its crew, temporarily blinding the pirates and leaving them unable to operate. I guess the pirates should make sure to wear eye patches.
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.