Tech Universe: Monday 20 June 2011
- BIG FAST: The world’s largest radio telescope is under construction in China. The single dish radio telescope will be 500 metres across, and known as the Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, or FAST. Feasibility studies took 14 years, while the telescope itself will take 5.5 years to build. First light is expected to be in 2016. Shouldn’t that be first sound?
- TAG TIME: In crime dramas they’re always checking the serial number from prosthetics taken from dead bodies. But how do you find out information about a prosthetic without removing it? Why, from its RFID tag, that’s how. The Ortho-Tag from University of Pittsburgh includes information about the patient, the implant, and the procedure before it’s inserted. Sensors on the chip are able to gauge pressure on the implant, chemical balance and temperature of tissues, and the presence of harmful organisms. All it takes to read the data is to place a probe against the skin. That’ll give the crime writers some new plot angles.
- JAMMY IDEA: More and more people are having medical devices implanted, and often the devices use wireless to communicate. Which of course opens the way to evildoers breaking in and altering the programming. MIT and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst have come up with a way to prevent such attacks by using a jamming transmitter to handle encryption and authentication. In an emergency medical personnel could still remove the jammer to communicate with the device. Whew. Imagine trying to type in a 16 digit authentication key in an emergency.
- PUFF AND STUFF: Those Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 controllers demand quite some manual dexterity — not possible for some paraplegics. The QuadControl adapter allows control via lip controls, puff and sip tubes and a head-operated joystick instead. The QuadControl adapters are hand-made by a retired aerospace engineer in Montana. The problem is that when he stops making them, there will be no more controllers. Sounds like a project for the Open Source and maker communities.
- GPS BOTH WAYS: The DeLorme inReach is a two-way satellite GPS communicator to be available later this year. It sends and receives text messages or emails, if paired with an Android phone. As a standalone device it can communicate with emergency services through set signals, or send status updates at regular intervals. Don’t get lost without it.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 21 June 2011
- EARTHSHINE: It’s 6 metres in diameter: a Geo-Cosmos globe made from OLEDs that’s been installed in Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The globe uses 10,362 OLED panels to cover an aluminium sphere that hangs 18 metres from the floor. It displays satellite images of Earth, while touchscreen panels allow visitors to call up and display images and data from all over the world. That’s a pretty huge globe.
- COOL CLOTHES: ClimaWare jackets allow the wearer to choose just how hot or cool they’d like to be. It puts around 20 heating and cooling points on parts of the body where we don’t sweat, but where we have a high concentration of blood vessels. Heat sinks, thermally conductive material, insulation layers and material that transfers or absorbs heat all combine to create a customisable jacket. LiPo batteries in a detachable belt power the jacket. Other items of clothing like scarves and shoes have also been designed. It’s not clear though if they’re actually for sale.
- Q FOR COIN: QR codes — you’ve seen them all over the place, but until now not on coins. That’s changed with the latest release from The Royal Dutch Mint. A Limited Edition set of coins commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Mint in Utrecht will feature a QR code. Scan the code and it directs you to a web page. Since it’s a collectors item, will the web page still work in years to come?
- FIRED: You never know when a fire extinguisher may come in handy, but they tend to be big and bulky. J&R Fire’s PFE-1 model though is about the size of a TV remote. It’s a one-use device that shoots coolant 3 metres on the press of a single button. It may be just the thing for a fire on the stove. Good fun for the kids too, I bet.
- LIVE LAUNCH: Iran’s space programme is taking flight with the recent launch of the Rassad-1 (Observation-1) satellite into orbit 260 kilometres above the Earth. Iran’s first satellite went into orbit in 2009. They’ve announced plans for several future launches, testing with live animals before sending a human into space. Imagine what we could do if countries would only combine their research.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 22 June 2011
- WHEEL FUN: The Edwards diwheel is a student project from the University of Adelaide. It somewhat resembles a wheelchair, with overgrown wheels and a seat slung between them. Computer controls give the machine added stability. Top speed is 40 km/h and it can climb a maximum 12° slope. Lead acid batteries give about an hour of use in playful mode. Don’t eat lunch just before playing with this.
- TEEN SCREENER: US officials must check 35 million cargo containers that go through ports each year. Among other things they’re looking for nuclear weapons and chemical warfare agents. One US teen, who built a nuclear fusion reactor when he was 11 years old, is now hoping to use that reactor to send neutron radiation into the containers. It’s possible to determine the contents of a container by the radiation it gives off in response. He plans to do real-world field testing in the next few months. Ambitious much?
- WIND BOUNCERS: Mention wind energy and you’ll probably think of the giant arms of a turbine or of a sailing ship. But there’s more than one way to catch the wind. Korean scientists have built a prototype that captures the power of the wind blowing through cables on bridges. 2 rods, the correct distance apart, cause and capture eddies in air currents, moving a magnet within a copper coil to generate a current. This could generate sufficient energy to run sensors to monitor a structure’s health. Self-sufficient bridges sounds good. Now, how about bouncing power cables?
- DRIVE CONTROL: Spanish researchers have developed a prototype device that could replace the controls in a car and make it possible to drive with only one hand. The device allows drivers to steer, accelerate, change gears and apply the brakes. Motors on the device give the same kind of feedback to the driver as they’d receive from traditional controls. Ah yes, keep one hand free for coffee.
- ORBIT OF AQUARIUS: Together with partners in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France and Italy, NASA has launched a new satellite to collect environmental data, including the salinity of the oceans. Thermal microwave emissions that indicate surface salinity will be collected using radiometers. The Aquarius/SAC-D Observatory is intended to help scientists understand the ocean and the global water cycle. It will map the open oceans once every seven days for at least three years with a resolution of 150 Km. Satellites are a great solution.
Tech Universe: Thursday 23 June 2011
- DOWN DEEP: Ever wondered how they dig the trenches for undersea communication cables? Well, it’s the job the CTC Marine UT-1 Ultra Trencher was built for. It’s lowered over a cable, then uses high power jets of water to turn the surface below the cable into a fluid so the cable sinks down. It weighs more than 60 tons and can gouge out a trench 2.5 metres deep and up to 1 metre wide. Walking across the seabed to bring us the Internet, hurrah!
- GOOGLE SEAFLOOR: Google collaborated with oceanographers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to create undersea tours of portions of the Earth. Data is available for around 5% of the seafloor — half of all that’s been mapped so far. Coming soon: Google Centre-of-the-Earth.
- PUBLIC PHONE: Students at Belgrade University had a bright idea: the world’s first public solar charger for mobile phones. A small tower has solar panels on top, and a comfortable bench around it. Cables for different models of phones are available from the central post. Since being installed it’s charged thousands of phones. That’s a whole new meaning for public phone box.
- SAVE YOUR SKIN: It can take many months to recover from serious burns, and may involve difficult grafts. ReCell technology from Avita takes skin cells from the person with the burn, cultures them and then sprays them back on. ReCell makes the spray-on material available in less than a week, rather than the several weeks other methods may require and the variety of cells collected means fewer scars. What a difference a spray makes.
- CHECK THE EXITS: The SafetyNet is a redesigned trawling net for fisheries. It includes illuminated reinforcing rings that make holes for smaller bycatch fish to escape the net. The rings may be powered by batteries or by built-in turbines. Around 27 million tons of fish each year are discarded from catches as they’re too small or the wrong species. Lighting up the rings lets the fish see where they can exit. Exit towards the rear of the net please.
Tech Universe: Friday 24 June 2011
- PLASTIC PASSPORT: Passports, banknotes and other precious items need to include measures that make counterfeiting difficult or impossible. Scientists at the University of Sheffield have come up with polymers whose very structure creates colour. They mix together highly ordered polymer layers that can create any colour in the rainbow using just 2 polymers. The colour changes depending on the viewing angle. The polymers are very complex to create, so should be hard to counterfeit. No more colour photocopying the money.
- DOT WHATYOULIKE: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, have changed the generic top-level domain name rules. From next year almost any suffix will be available, if you can pay the $185,000 fee, and prove your claim to the name. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the first one.
- TRICK ROBOT: OK, we know cyclists can stay upright because they’re moving. A new thin unicycle robot from Poland can balance even while standing still. The robot consists of a single wheel. The motor, battery and controls stay stationary in the centre, while a rubber tyre rotates around the outside. A weighted lever sits inside the body of the wheel. If the wheel tilts, 3 sensors — an inclinometer, an accelerometer and a gyroscope — detect the movement. They send signals to a control unit that moves the lever as a counterbalance. The next step is to have the robot roll and steer. This would fit so well into a sci-fi scenario.
- GREEN PANELS: In the US Google have put $280 million into a fund that helps homeowners install solar panels on the roof. This is their first investment in distributed renewable energy, rather than big projects that set up energy plants. Just think what that kind of funding could achieve here.
- BRAINWAVE: The BioBolt is an implant that goes into a human brain. Unlike other such implants it doesn’t penetrate the cortex and is covered over with skin. It’s about the size of a coin and has a small film of microcircuits attached. The microcircuits detect patterns of firing neurons, amplify and filter the signals, then transmit them through the skin to a computer. Researchers hope to be able to send signals through the skin to a smaller device worn like jewellery, rather than a computer. Eventually they hope the BioBolt will be able to help paralysed people control their limbs through their thoughts. Each brain implant is a step closer to giving paralysed people more control.
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.