What’s new? Tiny’s Huge; It’s Not Salt In The Wound; Glass Bead Game; Anti-Grav Arm; Simon Knows. Eye Of The Mouse; Cold Day On The Internet; Charge Top; Brand Quake; Plant Plastic. Old Computers; Ancient Virus; Zombie Killers; Seeing Eye Helmet; Oopsie. Mobile Service Station – In Space; Roller Solar; All-In-One Soldiers; Out Of The Fog; Drones On Drugs. Wearing Your Heart On Your Head; Saw Star Trek?; Does This Limb Suit Me?; Dot Triple X; Space Race.
Tech Universe: Monday 21 March 2011
- TINY’S HUGE: Engineers at the University of Illinois, USA, found that using carbon nanotubes rather than metal wires in memory reduced power draw to just 1%. They created memory bits by placing phase-change materials in the gap in carbon nanotubes. Passing current through the the bit switched it on or off. The tiny size of the nanotube meant a hugely reduced power draw. What can’t you do with carbon nanotubes?
- IT’S NOT SALT IN THE WOUND: Surgeons sometimes like to take a look around inside your body before they cut you open. A new disposable camera from the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Germany is the size of a coarse grain of salt. The 1 mm cubed microcamera fits on the tip of an endoscope. It has a resolution of 62,500 pixels and transmits data through the endoscope via an electrical cable. Because the camera’s disposable it doesn’t need careful and expensive cleaning after use, reducing costs. It’s hard to believe a camera could be that small.
- GLASS BEAD GAME: A team at the University of California taped a tiny glass bead to a smartphone camera and added specialised software to create a functioning microscope able to image tiny blood cells. The technique magnifies 350x, but the plane of focus is very thin. That’s where the software comes in, stitching the sharp parts together to make a single clear image. The US$20 microscope could prove its worth in rural or remote areas by capturing images and sending them to a pathologist in the city for analysis. Putting even more smarts in smartphones.
- ANTI-GRAV ARM: Remember those desk lamps where the arm balances the light in the right position? The x-Ar arm from Equipois does the same kind of thing. It’s an exoskeletal arm support that makes objects seem almost weightless. The support attaches to your wrist and bears the weight for you, while still allowing you full range of motion. Will it help me with my shopping bags?
- SIMON KNOWS: Georgia Tech in the USA has a robot called Simon. Simon can tell, about 80% of the time whether you’re paying attention to him or not. This ability is something we humans use all the time while interacting with others. Teaching robots how to know when they have a person’s attention could be important if they engage with human beings. Simon says “Look at me”.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 22 March 2011
- EYE OF THE MOUSE: The Cellulon evoMouse connects via Bluetooth or USB to your computer. It sits on your desk and watches your hand movements, rather than you moving the mouse itself. That means you can tap on the desk, drag, scroll, use pinch and flick gestures, even right-click directly on the desk to operate your computer. Not bad for a device that looks more like a dog.
- COLD DAY ON THE INTERNET: Where do you go in an Internet emergency? A data bunker, of course. Or not. But there are bunkers — secure hosting providers housed underground or behind blast-proof doors in case of emergencies like all-out war, or huge natural disasters. Many of the facilities are left over from the Cold War, scattered around Europe and the USA. I guess we Kiwis will be out of luck then.
- CHARGE TOP: Many people dream of never having to recharge their gadgets. A next best solution could be the Panasonic solar charging table. Solar panels in the middle of the table power wireless charging pads around the edge. Devices that use QI batteries could charge just by being placed on the table. Well, it’s a start.
- BRAND QUAKE: Japan’s recent earthquake has affected big brand names such as Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and Canon. Their factories have had to stop production to carry out safety checks, while power supply problems are also causing interruptions. Plants in the worst affected areas have closed. The article didn’t mention the staff, but we can only assume they’re facing difficulties too.
- PLANT PLASTIC: Pepsi’s new PET plastic bottle is made entirely from plant material — no petroleum products are used. The bottles are made from things like pine bark and corn husks, but Pepsi have plans to also use orange peels, potato scraps and other leftovers. Live testing will begin next year. So do the bottles biodegrade well too?
Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 March 2011
- OLD COMPUTERS: In spite of the name KIWI PC don’t appear to have any New Zealand affiliations. Their Ubuntu-based computer is designed specifically for older people. They claim a simple and intuitive interface, larger icons and text, a Software Centre for easy downloads of trusted additional software, durable and reliable hardware and a customer service hotline. The very colourful keyboard’s a riot too. It’s a very interesting idea.
- ANCIENT VIRUS: The first computer virus turned 40 the other day. It was created in 1971, and was given the name Creeper. Infected machines simply displayed a message. Ah, the good old days of innocence! Modern viruses often help create botnets, and number in their millions.
- ZOMBIE KILLERS: Meanwhile, Microsoft recently played a major part in shutting down the Rustock botnet. Their lawsuit aimed to cripple the leading source of junk email on the Internet. Together with law enforcement officials they seized computer equipment from Internet hosting facilities across the US. The machines they seized were command and control machines rather than the infected drones. Stake through the heart or chopping the head off, it’s the results that count.
- SEEING EYE HELMET: Engineers from the University of Konstanz in Germany mounted a Kinect camera on a helmet, added a Bluetooth headset, Arduino LilyPad vibration motors on a special belt and a backpack computer. The gear could help a visually impaired user navigate to a specific destination indoors, using feedback to the user through the belt and headset. The Kinect can detect distance to markers placed in the environment. The helmet plus Kinect may not be a hit look, but with refinement this could be a very useful approach.
- OOPSIE: It’s the chip that runs any computer, of course. Engineers at Rice University in the USA are busy chopping bits out of the chips to make them work better in specialised devices such as hearing aids. Probabilistic pruning creates chips that are half the size, use half the power but that run twice as fast as unpruned chips. The pruning removes parts that aren’t really needed, but it does introduce errors. Luckily, the devices that use them are designed to cope with more errors than the pruning creates. Just so long as they restrict their errors to hearing aids, and not weapons or nuclear energy control.
Tech Universe: Thursday 24 March 2011
- MOBILE SERVICE STATION – IN SPACE: Satellites in orbit need fuel for minor course adjustments. Once a satellite’s out of fuel or breaks down it becomes space junk. The Canadian company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates plans to build and launch a robotic repair and refuelling satellite to take care of fixes and refuelling. It would move between satellites, servicing them and even towing them out of the way if they are defunct. If it’s broke, do fix it. Video:
- ROLLER SOLAR: It’s a bit like a roller blind: the OS retractable solar power system, the GSR-110B, is a 3Kg box that contains a sheet of solar cells. Pull out the sheet, as you’d pull down a roller blind or projector screen, and it gathers enough power on a sunny day to run a netbook for a couple of hours. This could be essential equipment for emergencies, or maybe camping trips or outdoor events. A genius idea.
- ALL-IN-ONE SOLDIERS: The British Solar Soldier project hopes to kit soldiers out in uniforms whose fabric has thermoelectric devices and solar cells woven into it. Today’s soldiers may carry 45 to 70Kg of equipment, all needing or supplying power. The Project aims to reduce the weight of battery packs by 50% by combining solar photovoltaic cells, thermoelectric devices and leading-edge energy storage technology. The novel fabric could reduce weight, allow longer range action and reduce the infra-red visibility of soldiers at night. Hey, why stop at clothing? How about genetically engineered photovoltaic skin?
- OUT OF THE FOG: If you wear glasses you’ll know the fogging problem as you come inside on a cold day. Researchers from Quebec City’s Université Laval reckon they have a solution: the world’s first permanent anti-fog coating. It’s a polyvinyl alcohol, a hydrophilic compound that disperses individual droplets of condensation. The coating’s applied on top of a base of 4 layers of silicon molecules that bond to one another and the alcohol and keep it permanently in place. Ah, fog-free forever; pass the alcohol.
- DRONES ON DRUGS: The Pentagon has been authorised to fly uncrewed surveillance flights over Mexico looking for drug traffickers and their networks. The RQ-4 Global Hawk drone flies up to 18 Km high. Its equipment includes synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and medium-wave infrared sensors. The drone can survey about 100,000 square Km of territory in a day. Authorities claim to have captured at least 20 high-profile drug traffickers already. Let’s face it: we’re all being watched, all the time, one way or another. RQ-4 Global Hawk Factsheet:
Tech Universe: Friday 25 March 2011
- WEARING YOUR HEART ON YOUR HEAD: The Emotiv EPOC 14 electrode EEG headset reads your feelings. But that’s not all — it lets you control Flickr with your thoughts and emotions. It connects wirelessly to your computer and interacts with the EMOLens software. As you feel happy, sad, anger or fear while looking at Flickr the software tags the photo accordingly. That co-worker who shakes his head a lot and laughs to himself all the time? He may just be checking Flickr for kitten photos.
- SAW STAR TREK?: Natalia Paruz is better known as The Saw Lady. She’s a musician and street performer in New York. The saw is hardly a high-tech item, but you should hear it playing the original Star Trek theme song. Just because it’s Friday. And Star Trek.
- DOES THIS LIMB SUIT ME?: HAL is a robot exoskeleton suit. It detects weak bio-signals and then operates motors to move joints in concert with the wearer’s muscles, helping them to walk or lift objects. As factory workers age, and as the general population ages, having this Hybrid Assistive Limb that can help with lifting and walking could be a real boon. The suit was developed at Tsukuba University, Japan. HAL, really?
- DOT TRIPLE X: Move aside .com, the .xxx domains may be coming to town. ICANN, against strong urgings by many parties, has issued a Draft Rationale for Approving the .xxx top level domain name for use by adult websites. Some opponents don’t want the domain as it will make porn more visible and accessible, while some in the adult industry worry it’ll make them an easier target for being blocked. Just like a real-life red light district, actually.
- SPACE RACE: What can you achieve with 1,000 NASA employees? A spaceship, of course, made of people. No, forget Soylent Green, these employees assembled in formation at Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building carpark. Their achievement was to create a human spaceship for the Space Shuttle Program’s 30th anniversary. They should have invited The Saw Lady.
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.