Tech Universe: Monday 04 July 2011
- SUB BOAT PLANE: Part plane, part boat, part submarine and part dolphin, the Seabreacher from Innespace is a water vessel like no other. It has a 1500cc engine, a watertight cockpit and 6 fins that allow it to cruise on or below the surface of the water and to launch 6 metres into the air. This 2 seater craft includes GPS and LCD screens that show what’s going on round the dorsal fin. Go play in the water. Seabreacher:
- UNDERWATER EARS: Researchers at Stanford University used the sensitive hearing of Orcas as their inspiration for a very sensitive underwater microphone. The microphones include 3 diaphragms of different sizes to capture the range of sounds. Each diaphragm is a membrane about 500 nanometers thick with nano-holes to allow water through. A fibreoptic cable shines light onto the diaphragm and the nature of the reflected light indicates sounds. The microphone has a sensitivity range of 160 decibels and can function at any depth. Except Orcas do it without fibreoptics, I presume.
- RED LIGHT: University of Toronto engineers have created solar cells that capture a broad range of light waves that may in theory reach up to 42% efficiency. They use colloidal quantum dots to link a layer that harvests visible light with one that collects infrared to capture the sun’s most energetic photons. Then we need to get real world efficiency up to the same level.
- INKY SUNSHINE: Engineers at Oregon State University have figured out how to print solar cells using inkjet printers. More commonly solar cells are created by adding chemical compounds to a substrate using vapor phase deposition. In that process most of the material is wasted. A compound called chalcopyrite is very efficient and can be printed like ink. The new process could reduce raw material waste by 90% and be much cheaper. Imagine a home printer for producing your own solar cells on demand.
- SHOW OFF: Sony’s HDR-PJ50 Handycam has one new little extra — a tiny projector so you can view your movies on the big screen. Sony claim it can project a 1.5 metre image on a wall. Stereo speakers and a digital amplifier handle the audio. Get ready for Reality video.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 05 July 2011
- TOOTHYBOT: Japan’s Hanako 2 dental robot has a silicone skin and mouth lining for added realism. With 10 degrees of freedom, the robot can also blink, sneeze, shake its head, cough and choke, just like a real patient. The robot can also recognize some words. At least it will only need to learn to say “Nnnggg” and “Arrgkl” to answer the dentist’s questions.
- FLOATING TRAINS: Japan will spend 9 trillion yen on a magnetically levitated train line between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The Maglev trains don’t touch the ground because of the forces between coils on the ground and superconducting magnets in the train. More than 60% of the line will be in tunnels under mountains. The 514 Km trip between Tokyo and Osaka will take around 1 hour, though that track won’t open until 2045. That’s crazy fast to travel at ground level.
- SHOCKING SIGNS: The PossessedHand from the University of Tokyo is a programmed armband that sends small amounts of electricity to muscles in the forearm that control movement. This lets the wearer know which finger to move. As a learning aid, the cuff could help wearers learn how to play a musical instrument or how to sign with the deaf. So, it’s basically a ‘shock collar’.
- HAVE HAL WILL TRAVEL: Seiji Uchida cannot stand without help after a far accident almost 30 years ago. Now he’s heading for the rocky Mont Saint Michel in France, thanks to an assistant who will carry him to the top of the hill. His assistant will wear a robot suit called the Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL, that makes it possible to carry loads up to 80 Kg. I can see a whole new trend in travel with this.
- GUTSY MERMAID: Scientists from Ryukoku University and Osaka Medical College have a new way to get images from inside your colon and stomach: a 1 cm self-propelled remote controlled capsule endoscope. They’ve called it The Mermaid. It can be swallowed or inserted and doctors drive it with a joystick while watching its movements on a screen. The level of control means doctors can capture images exactly from problem areas. Imagine equipping it with tiny lasers for zapping tumours too.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 06 July 2011
- TOUCHY ROBOT: Scientists at the Technical University of Munich want to give robots an artificial skin that can act as a tactile sensor. Hexagonal circuit boards each contain 4 infrared sensors that detect anything closer than 1 centimetre, simulating touch. 6 temperature sensors and an accelerometer increase the range of sensitivity. The sensor plates are linked together in a pattern like a honeycomb. It’s just like smart chainmail really.
- SENSITIVE TOY: A researcher at Wellington’s Victoria University has created a special mechanised toy designed to help autistic children learn how to play well. Auti, the possum fur covered prototype, includes sensors and a computer program. The toy shuts down in response to negative behaviours such as hitting or screaming, but responds to any positive interaction. Tests so far show kids like the toy. Imagine if guns had a controller to shut-down if the user was too aggressive!
- AMAZING CANE: The Yissum Research Development Company in Israel has devised a virtual cane for visually impaired people. The user points a handheld device in the direction they’re walking. Sensors inside the device extrapolate distance and height of nearby objects from reflections of an invisible beam. The cane provides feedback to the user through vibrations. A prototype has worked well for users navigating a maze in the dark. They couldn’t find any blind users to test it?
- CLEANER SAND: Ordinary sand is used in many places around the world to purify water. Researchers at Rice University coated coarse grains of sand with graphite oxide and massively increased the sand’s ability to remove contaminants. This could benefit people in developing countries whose access to clean water is limited. Bu they still need to coat the sand.
- SPAM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT: Researchers say that traditional spam no longer pays what it used to so email spam volume is dropping. Spam-sending botnets are being shut down and high-profile arrests are proving a deterrent. But now email spam is being increasingly used to deliver malicious payloads rather than just to sell pharmaceuticals. And in worse news: the spammers are moving on to other delivery channels, such as hacked web sites, Twitter and Facebook. So, spam still does pay after all.
Tech Universe: Thursday 07 July 2011
- WATCHING US ALL: Canadian company UrtheCast plans to put two video cameras on the ISS to record images of Earth 24 hours a day. Video will be broadcast online. One camera will be high-def, with 1 metre resolution, while the other will have a lower, 3 colour resolution. Viewers will be able to pause, rewind and zoom. Hasn’t this been the plot of a few sci-fi movies?
- CATCH UP VIDEO: There may be a glitch with delivering video from the ISS: its Internet connection runs at about dial-up speeds. The ISS orbits at 8 kilometres per second. It’s tricky for the data to travel between the ground computers and the laptop on the station, so there’s usually quite a lag. Funny to think of dial-up speeds being measured in Kilometres per second.
- SPY BALL: Japan’s military developed a flying spherical reconnaissance drone. The sphere is almost half a metre in diameter and weighs only 350g. It can fly for 8 minutes at up to 60 Kph. Something about it being a sphere just makes it so much more impressive than a regular drone with a rotor blade on top.
- RARE IN EARTH: Rare earth minerals are essential to high-tech electronics. At the moment 97% of them come from China. Now a team of scientists led by the University of Tokyo has identified 78 locations at depths of 3,500 to 6,000 metres around Hawaii and Tahiti with heavy concentrations of rare earths. Deep sea mining will be a big challenge.
- FAST FUN: 260 Kph is a respectable speed for a car. Even more so when it’s a toy. The Schumacher Mi3’s ultra-light carbon fibre chassis, 11 hp electric motor and 12-cell battery pack help with the speed. There should be some real-world use for that.
Tech Universe: Friday 08 July 2011
- HELIPLANE: The Eurocopter X3 is a hulking helicopter that has propellers on wings and a tail as well as the main rotor blade. The propellers counter the torque of the main motor and provide thrust. The helicopter’s designed to be both fast and affordable. Helicopter or plane? You choose.
- PIECE O’ HUT: If I mention ‘treehouse’ you may think of a tiny hut in a tree. But in Crossville, Tennessee is the largest tree house in the world. An oak tree with a 4 metre diameter hosts the treehouse, though 6 other trees help to hold it up. The treehouse has more than 80 rooms over 10 floors, along with numerous porches and staircases, but it’s all built from scraps. At around 9,000 square metres it’s far from a child’s playhut. I wonder what the building inspectors think of it.
- SWEET PRINTER: 3-D printing is becoming quite trendy, but it uses boring materials like plastics or metals. No, what’s tasty is the British 3-D chocolate printer. New temperature and heating control systems manage the accurate heating and cooling cycles and flow rates chocolate demands. Ahh, chocolate: the pinnacle of science and engineering.
- PHOTO SHOPPING: One South Korean supermarket chain has taken over the walls of a subway station with images of grocery items. As commuters pass by they take photos of QR codes beside products they want, using their smartphone. Then they check out. By the time they get home at the end of the day the groceries are waiting on the doorstep. I hope they leave room for the buskers.
- TEAMING FISH: The SHOAL Robotic Fish was created by scientists at Essex University in the UK. Onboard sensors detect pollution, while an Underwater Mobile Ad-hoc Network allows the data to be sent back to base. The idea is that the fish work together in shoals around ports and other aquatic areas. Intelligence algorithms mean that if one fish detects significant amounts of pollution then the whole shoal will work together to locate the source. They’re functional and beautiful. Watch the video.
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.