What’s new? The Keyboard That Doesn’t Work Without You; Into The Skin; Plastic Zap; Battery Aid; Gamers Eye View. Cubots; A Mote In The Eye; Another Port In The Storm; Far Out; The L It Is. Tech Universe: Pure Water; Real Time Data Miner; Glory Be; Cell Boost; Stretch The Sun. Tech Universe: Surfing Stats; Wireless Bike; Untouched; Boom, It’s Fuel Efficient; 3D Walking. Doctor Talk; Stop Chip; The Phantom; Rear View TV; The One Where You Look.
Tech Universe: Monday 28 February 2011
- THE KEYBOARD THAT DOESN’T WORK WITHOUT YOU: The SonarLocID keyboard detects when the user moves away and instantly locks the screen, hiding what the now absent user was working on. To unlock the screen again the user must provide a fingerprint or ID card. You’d better hope no-one steals the keyboard or you may be in trouble.
- INTO THE SKIN: A new probe from the University of Rochester, USA, takes photos through human skin to show clear 3D images of all the tissue up to 1 millimeter deep. The probe uses a drop of water as a lens. An electric field changes the shape of the lens and therefore its focus. Images are precise to a micron. One application may be to check skin lesions without removing them. I foresee a whole new Flickr group starting up.
- PLASTIC ZAP: Plastics tend to insulate from electricity rather than conduct it. But Australian researchers used an ion beam to mix metal into a polymer and so create cheap, strong, flexible and conductive plastic films. If cooled enough the new mix can even act as a superconductor. Conductivity and resistance can be finely tuned too. Soft, plastic electronics. This is one to watch.
- BATTERY AID: Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are great but they still wear out and degrade over time. One problem is that the negative terminal, the anode, may develop cracks that impede the flow of current. Research funded by the US Department of Energy is experimenting with embedded plastic microspheres. When problems occur the microspheres break apart and release a ‘healing’ substance such as indium gallium arsenide, or insulating material as required.
- GAMERS EYE VIEW: Sony recently showed off a demo of 3D dual-view split screen viewing — one screen was showing 2 different images at the same time. Viewers with special glasses each see a different image, depending on their viewing position. Duelling gamers, for example, could share one screen while they slug it out. The technique still needs some refinement and isn’t yet on sale. Still with the special glasses.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 01 March 2011
- CUBOTS: So who knew robots could be modular? Cubelets from Modular Robotics are blocks about a couple of centimetres on a side that contain sensor, action, or operator functions. Blocks can drive or rotate, sense distance or temperature, or hold a battery, for example. Snap blocks together and they just work. Each cubelet contains a computer and communicates with its neighbours. Like. Want. Watch a video.
- A MOTE IN THE EYE: The trend is definitely for computers to get smaller and lighter, but now it’s reaching the millimetre scale. A new prototype from the University of Michigan packs an ultra low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio with an antenna all in the space of 1 cubic millimetre. The sensor could monitor pressure in the eye, warning of glaucoma. In the eye? Really? Eeww.
- ANOTHER PORT IN THE STORM: Intel’s high-speed Thunderbolt connects computers and peripherals at up to twice the speed of USB 3.0. Over copper cables it should reach up to 10 Gigabits per second, while over fibre optic cable that top speed could be 100 Gb/sec. That’ll be a bonus for transferring high definition video and other data intensive applications. A single cable can carry power, data and connections for peripherals. Fewer ports and cables — really, or just yet another one to add to the jumble?
- FAR OUT: Low-tech antennas throughout Europe combine with BlueGene/P supercomputer powered data processing to create a giant telescope, called LOFAR. The 15 Km wide array absorbs cosmic radio waves from the full sky, looking for pulsars and similar transient signals. The telescope’s network transmits data at 10 gigabits per second. Well, pish, with Thunderbolt that’s not such a big deal after all. Go fibre optic and increase that to 100.
- THE L IT IS: The QuaDror is an ingenious structural support system for buildings, furniture, bridges and anything that needs holding up. 4 identical and interlocking L-shaped pieces are collapsible for transport but create a strong trestle shape when assembled. They can also be used as sound barriers. It’s simple yet very effective.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 02 March 2011
- PURE WATER: The Purist sports bottle incorporates a 20 nanometre silicon dioxide layer inside the polymer. This glass-like layer protects the inside of the bottle from odours, staining, and mould build-up. The bottle’s still flexible though, just like a plastic one. And none of that horrible plastic taste.
- REAL TIME DATA MINER: Having lots of data is fine, but processing and analysing it can take a very long time. That’s no good when you’re monitoring someone’s lifesigns or working with a fast-moving stock market and need realtime information. IBM’s Linux-based InfoSphere Streams handles continuous and analyses massive amounts of live data at more than 200 times a second. Input sources can include VoIP, email, audio, video and well as more traditional data. Given it’s Election Year, something like this could be an evolutionary step up from The Worm.
- GLORY BE: NASA’s Glory satellite, to be launched soon, will study how the sun and atmospheric aerosols affect Earth’s climate. The octagonal craft will contain enough hydrazine fuel for 3 years. Sensors will measure aerosols, clouds and solar irradiance. Some of that real-time analysis would be helpful. Watch a video.
- CELL BOOST: University of Washington tested 47 study participants by strapping cellphones to their heads for 50 minutes. One phone was off while the other was muted but receiving a recorded message. Scans showed changes in brain activity on the side with the active phone, suggesting that cell phone radiation boosts brain activity. Did they also test for feeling dorky?
- STRETCH THE SUN: A researcher at Stanford University, USA, has created stretchable solar cells. The solar cells can be stretched along 2 axes by 30% without breaking or losing power, then snap back to their original shape. They could be used in clothing or on exteriors of cars, lenses and architectural elements. Why don’t we just wrap everything in solar cells?
Tech Universe: Thursday 03 March 2011
- SURFING STATS: Surfing, on the sea not the web, seems the epitome of freedom from tech: just a surfer, a board and the waves. A joint project by Pukas and Tecnalia set up a high-tech surfboard with sensors, GPS, computer, accelerometer, compass and other gadgets to track how the surfer’s doing. Dude. Video:
- WIRELESS BIKE: With all the good stuff enclosed within the front wheel, the Shadow Ebike claims to be the world’s first wireless electric bicycle. No brake cables, gear cables or electric wires from motor, batteries, controller or throttle are visible on the bike. The bike has a 36V 10AH Lithium battery and weighs 26 kilos. Oh, and it’s very yellow. Now let’s ditch the chain too for real freedom.
- UNTOUCHED: The NEC HS100-10 Contactless Hybrid Finger Scanner reads and recognises both your fingerprint and the pattern of veins in the finger for positive identification. And it seems to do it without you needing to actually touch the scanning unit. How clean is that?
- BOOM, IT’S FUEL EFFICIENT: When GMC engineers tried to make the Terrain SUV more fuel efficient by keeping the engine running at lower revs they struck a problem with noise. A low frequency boom would be too disturbing to those in the car. By adding active cancellation for the engine noise they’ve been able to boost efficiency while keeping customers happy. Microphones detect the unwanted noise then the system pumps out a cancelling signal through the vehicle’s speakers. So ABS may come to mean ‘anti-boom system’.
- 3D WALKING: The University of Twente in the Netherlands is working on a robotic exoskeleton called LOPES. It will help teach stroke victims how to walk again by providing gait training while assessing motor function. The device helps the wearer move their legs in 3 dimensions while walking. I bet sports trainers will be looking into it too.
Tech Universe: Friday 04 March 2011
- DOCTOR TALK: The Phrazer is a novel handheld device that allows medical practitioners to deliver care even to patients who don’t speak their language. Vital signs are monitored through the handgrips, while interactive on-screen videos help patients enter information about their medical problems. After the ‘consultation’ the device produces a standard medical record. The battery powered Phrazer weighs only 680 grams, has wifi, Bluetooth, 3G and other connection possibilities and can hold more than 100 languages. Medical tricorder v0.1a?
- STOP CHIP: A Harvard graduate student has provisionally patented a device that could be added to computer chips to control their power draw at a very fine level. For example, if an MP3 player is simply playing music, it may not be necessary to power the image and graphics processors at the same time. The device could make gadget batteries last longer or computer-controlled devices use less energy. If it’ll make my phone battery last longer then hurry up and do it!
- THE PHANTOM: Rolls Royce has their first prototype electric car, the 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric. The car is a test model that may never go into production. It sports a 96 cell lithium-ion battery pack, 2 water cooled motors for 290 kW max power and 800 Nm torque, and the traditional Rolls look. A heroic effort.
- REAR VIEW TV: Cars have their blind spots, especially when reversing. To help prevent injuries and accidents Gentex Corp, in the USA, have added an LCD display into the indoor rear-view mirror. The LCD shows video of the area directly behind the video, but only while the vehicle’s in reverse. The video disappears in forward gears. A lot depends on the positioning of the camera, but surely anything that helps prevent driveway deaths is worth a look.
- THE ONE WHERE YOU LOOK: Tobii Technology focus on eye tracking — not the one where you discover what people look at on a web page, but the one where you control your computer by look alone. At CeBIT 2011 they’re showing off a prototype Lenovo laptop that tracks your gaze with infrared lights and figures out by the reflections from your eyes where you’re looking on the screen. Yup. Your screen really is watching you.
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.