What’s new? Great Balls Of Glass; Bendy Phone; Prosecution Target; Human Helicopter; $50 PC. Sticky Current; Gravity Matters; Work’s Calling; Brick Walls Like Windows; Super Spy Cam. Screen Crumple; Bacterial Colour Code; A Ton Of Terabits; Satellite Dust; Touching Picture. Short Stop; Scout Copter; Solar Impulse; Wheels Unravelled; Another Touch On The Wall. Ears Up; Dolphin Spoken Here; More Talk More Juice; The Stars By Day; Sunny Autoclave.
Tech Universe: Monday 09 May 2011
- GREAT BALLS OF GLASS: Some parts of the ocean are so deep they are almost impossible to access. The Triton 36,000 is a full ocean depth submersible that aims to visit the
100,00010,000 metre depths of the Mariana Trench. It will take 75 minutes to descend. A sphere of high-strength specialty glass can withstand 16,000 psi and holds 3 occupants. It becomes stronger as it’s put under pressure. A wireless fiber optic system transmits light through the glass hull as projections on the inside walls, and the occupants use touchscreens to control everything. Take that, space programme.
Thanks to reader Bruce who pointed out I had too many zeros above. The original article cites 35,800 feet, which converts to around 10,000 metres, not 100,000!
- BENDY PHONE: The PaperPhone from Queen’s University, Canada, is a smartphone prototype. A 9.5 cm diagonal thin film flexible E Ink forms its display. Because it’s flexible, users can interact with it by bending it or writing on it with a stylus. The bending gestures actually look harder to use than touch and tap.
- PROSECUTION TARGET: US Apache attack helicopters are being fitted with a new high-tech Ground Fire Acquisition System. Cameras and infrared sensors will detect muzzle flashes from the ground and pinpoint location with an icon on the pilot’s screen. Then the location will be used for targeting. Or as the military say “… take information about incoming fire, get our sensors on it and identify and prosecute ground targets”. I’m so glad that in my world ‘prosecute’ involves lawyers not guns.
- HUMAN HELICOPTER: In a couple of days a human-powered helicopter from the University of Maryland aims to win a big prize. The Gamera is made from lightweight materials such as balsa and carbon fibre. It has a rotor at each of the four ends of its X-shaped frame. At the centre is a module where a pilot sits, pedalling by hand and foot to drive the rotors. if they rise to 3 metres, hover for 60 seconds and stay within a marked square they will win $250,000. Their pilot had better be in top form. Good luck.
- $50 PC: If you think every schoolkid should have access to a computer to learn about programming then the Raspberry Pi might be an answer. It’s a thumb-drive sized $50 computer with a USB connector for a keyboard at one end and an HDMI connector at the other. It sports a 700MHz ARM11 processor and 128MB of SDRAM, and runs Open Source software. An SD card provides storage. It should be available within 12 months. Smart businesses will sponsor these for local schools.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 10 May 2011
- STICKY CURRENT: Scientists at SRI International, USA, have created an electroadhesive film that sticks to walls when a small electric current is flowing but peels off when the current stops. The polymer film has a high voltage low power circuit printed on it. Applying a current creates electroadhesion, so the film sticks to things. A robot using the film on its treads can climb a wall. Spiderman had better not forget the batteries. Video:
- GRAVITY MATTERS: Our universe is full of matter, all affected by gravity — the force that keeps us attached to the Earth. But what does anti-matter do? Would it be attracted or repelled by gravity? Scientists at CERN hope to find out. They’ve managed to trap and hold 309 antihydrogen atoms for up to 16 minutes. The team now plan to watch how it interacts with gravity: will it fall up or down? Place your bets now, ladies and gentlemen.
- WORK’S CALLING: EnOcean has created self-powering sensors that communicate wirelessly over the Internet. Install them in light switches or on heaters, for example, and then monitor and control the devices from your smartphone. Designed for large businesses and industries they could help save energy and money. The sensors capture energy from their surroundings using solar cells, thermal and linear motion converters. Pranksters could have a lot of fun.
- BRICK WALLS LIKE WINDOWS: You might think that if you’re in a windowless concrete-walled room no-one can see you. Think again. The Prism 200c from Cambridge Consultants can see through walls, and it fits in a backpack. It’s a battery-powered radar device with a processor to analyse the signal and a screen to show what’s going on. Data can also be presented on a computer screen, even in 3D. Watch out for people with backpacks leaning against walls. Your secrets are no longer safe. Video:
- SUPER SPY CAM: Do you like showing off your tiny pocket camera? Well, that’s nice. But if your doctor needs to look inside you they’ll use the world’s tiniest video camera: the disposable 1.2mm Medigus IntroSpicio 120. It’s 1.2mm in diameter and 5mm long. It uses an advanced CMOS image sensor that produces images 220 * 224 pixels, with features like white balance, brightness control and freeze. The camera could also be used in industry. Or by stalkers and spies, of course.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 11 May 2011
- SCREEN CRUMPLE: E-ink make screens for readers like the Kindle. Now they’re working on embedding bendable e-ink screens in fabric or in Tyvex — the cloth used in some shipping envelopes. Such envelopes could be re-used many times with a permanent and programmable e-ink address label, for example. Imagine having personalised bottles for prescriptions too, with an embedded screen with ID, prescription and so on.
- BACTERIAL COLOUR CODE: Certain infectious bacteria have a distinctive smell. Researchers attached sensors to petri dishes growing various bacteria and then watched as they changed colour. The sensor for each bacterium showed a unique pattern of colour changes over time. The sensors were even able to identify specific species and strains of bacteria. From smell to colour to name. Astonishing.
- A TON OF TERABITS: 100 terabits of information per second through a single optical fibre is quite an achievement, yet at least 2 groups have just achieved that record. That one second burst could give you 3 months worth of HD video. While such speeds are excessive for individuals, companies that handle huge amounts of data, such as Google and Amazon could put it to good use. Not to mention scientists and film makers.
- SATELLITE DUST: I tend to think of satellites as being at least the size of a rubbish bin, maybe bigger. Cornell’s Sprite satellites though are about the size of a postage stamp. Each chip collects data such as chemistry, radiation or particle impacts. The thin chips may in future travel like dust by force of the solar wind, without any fuel of their own. I’m sure there’s room for tiny solar sails though too.
- TOUCHING PICTURE: People with impaired vision may read a text book by Braille or with current text to speech technology, but diagrams are a problem. Monash University in Australia have created a prototype device called GraVVITAS to help. It’s a standard touchscreen tablet PC. Small vibrating motors attach to the user’s fingers and buzz when an object displayed on the screen is touched. Sound guides the user to the diagram, then a voice explains it. I’m sure everyone could benefit from a voice explaining diagrams. Great idea.
Tech Universe: Thursday 12 May 2011
- SHORT STOP: Up in the bush in Alaska there are often no runways and pilots may have to take off and land in very short distances. One teenager built his own specially modified Super Cub plane and has been practising landing in a mere 5 metres, with take off in a tiny 3 metres. Huge, barely inflated tires cater for the rocky landing areas, the engine puts out 210 HP, but the composite propeller weighs just 6.3 Kg. Sounds just like a MacGyver trick.
- SCOUT COPTER: The Aeryon Scout Quadrocopter is an uncrewed aerial vehicle that sends real-time streamed video to a smartphone or laptop. Flight paths can be programmed or adjusted ad hoc via a touchscreen. The camera’s stabilised and on a gimbal so it has a full range of motion, but it can also easily be swapped out for a different type of sensor. Look outside: is there one above you now?
- SOLAR IMPULSE: The annual World Solar Challenge takes place in October this year in Australia. A team from UC Berkeley College of Engineering, USA, is entering a carbon fibre vehicle called Impulse. 6 square metres of solar cells provide the power for a 9 HP motor to drive 2,900 Km from Darwin to Adelaide. The 3-wheel, single-seater car has been highly optimised, even down to factoring in the southern hemisphere location. Tilt those solar panels.
- WHEELS UNRAVELLED: Uneven terrain poses a challenge for any robot, and there are many ideas for locomotion. A new idea from an engineer in the USA is to give the robot corkscrew legs. The corkscrews rotate parallel to the ground, moving a prototype along quite effectively on grass, sand and gravel, though they don’t work so well on smooth surfaces. So how about adding a tread?
- ANOTHER TOUCH ON THE WALL: There’s electromagnetic radiation all around us, coming from electrical wiring, cell phones, household appliances and the like, and people are pretty good antennas for it. Researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington are exploring how to turn that into a usable gesture-based interface. A person wearing a wrist grounding-strap, analog-to-digital converter and small computer could touch the wall, for example, to control devices. It’s an intriguing idea.
Tech Universe: Friday 13 May 2011
- EARS UP: Neurowear’s Necomimi is a commercial headband that monitors brain signals. Furry ‘cat ears’ respond to detected signals by perking up or laying flat. Gimmick today; useful tech tomorrow.
- DOLPHIN SPOKEN HERE: US researchers are using pattern recognition to try to learn the basics of natural communication amongst dolphins. A diver will carry a small computer and hydrophones to recognise sounds and will respond by selecting a recorded sound. The software is designed to discover interesting features in any data set. Watch out for those cross-cultural language bloopers.
- MORE TALK MORE JUICE: A researcher at Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea, sandwiched tiny strands of zinc oxide between two electrodes with a sound absorbing pad on top. Vibration from sound hitting the pad compressed and released the zinc oxide, generating a current. A prototype converted 100 Db sound to 50 millivolts of electricity. They aim to eventually power a cellphone by talking. Which comes rather too close to perpetual motion.
- THE STARS BY DAY: 37,440 exposures of the night sky stitched together created the Photopic Sky Survey — a 5,000 megapixel photo. Nick Risinger travelled thousands of kilometres to make the images of the night sky using 6 air-cooled cameras each fitted with their own lenses and filters, and software to ensure each exposure contributed the right data to the whole. The interactive 360 degree image is available online for viewing day or night. We need to keep the stars visible offline too.
- SUNNY AUTOCLAVE: Sterilising medical instruments in an autoclave is straightforward with good access to electricity. But for developing countries with plenty of sun and not much electricity a new design from Rice University, USA, should be very useful. Curved mirrors focus sunlight to produce steam that heats a hotplate to 121C for 30 minutes. It all sits in a plywood box wrapped in silicon-based Thermablok insulation, which has the highest R-value of any known material. Those sunrays sure are useful.
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.