Tech Universe: Monday 18 July 2011
- IF DOGS COULD FLY: If you’re a farmer and your stock are out in the far backblocks it may be a long trek to check on them. But the Flying Shepherd could help. It’s a UAV developed in the UK that scans an area and sends a live video feed back to base. If the farmer spots a problem they could go to check the stock in person. That makes a lot of sense.
- CABLES, CABLES EVERYWHERE: The cable that brings us Internet from the rest of the world is very significant to us Kiwis. But we’re not the only ones who rely on an undersea cable. If you’d like to know where they all are, well, there’s a map for that. Greg’s Cable Map shows that the world is festooned with cables. So what happens if the oceans acidify?
- MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: The US Army is thinking of equipping combat troops with touchscreen phones and tablets. They say that young soldiers are already very familiar with texting and that’s an advantage. As the article points out:
Many of the products sold at Best Buy are more advanced than the tools currently in the Army’s pipeline.And that, in its own way, is rather sad.
- TRAMS FOR CARS: We should all start using public transport instead of our own cars — at least, that’s what city officials keep telling us. But in Murcia, Spain, the city really means it. Citizens who turn in their cars get lifetime passes to its brand-new tram system. The whole programme included humour and participation with a Twitter campaign where traded cars were disassembled in response to tweets or Facebook comments, with the process broadcast via webcam. Of course, the public transport system needs to be highly functional in the first place.
- BIG WHEEL: You may not find a Yeti in the Himalayas. But you may see one next time you’re in Antarctica, and this one will have 4 wheels. Engineers at Dartmouth University in the USA are testing the autonomous vehicle as a way to explore the polar regions and bring back climate, ice and atmospheric data. The vehicle has a special composite skin, electric motor and standard ATV tires, but the equipment it carries will be sophisticated. Along with a GPS it may use ground-penetrating radar to detect and avoid crevasses. If they can rove on Mars then they must be able to rove in the Antarctic.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 19 July 2011
- CRAZY CYCLES: It’s cycling with no pedals or seat — the Ortovox Mountain Skyver bike is unique. It’s an all-terrain scooter/bike that folds up into a backpack. The idea is that you pack it up the mountains on your back. At the top you unfold it, stand on the foot pegs and head downhill. Brakes or breaks, though, that’s the question.
- A LEG UP: Prosthetics are enormously important for people who’ve lost limbs. The sophisticated models cost a lot though. The US Army have developed a simple and inexpensive prototype prosthetic leg that Afghani locals can make fairly easily without waiting for distant charities to help. A simple cast attaches to a sturdy metal rod with a flat hook. The cast can be remade at any time to allow for growth. Captain Hook surely holds the patent though.
- VOICE GEL: Problems with their vocal cords mean that some people just can’t speak. A team of Harvard and MIT researchers have created a gel version of polyethylene glycol that can be injected to restore vocal cord function. The PEG30 polymer moves just like real vocal cords. Wait till the Botox crowd latch on to this one for smooth voices.
- WIRELESS HEART: Some people with failing hearts use a mechanical pump implanted in their chest to help things along. Powering those pumps is a problem though, and a trailing power cord means infection has a way in. Researchers at the University of Washington have a wireless inductive power system that maintains efficiency even over small distances. Eventually a charging coil could be hidden in clothing while a receiving coil could be implanted just beneath the skin. Keep your clothes on to be tuned in and turned on.
- STEP BY SPOOK: The Mini IR Theremin is a new take on the spooky sounding and hard to play musical instrument. This one uses IR sensors to detect the distance between the Theremin and an object such as your hand, then translates that distance into a musical note. Pitch changes are in steps, rather than continuous as on the original instrument. Fixed notes takes away the spook though.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 20 July 2011
- OYSTER POWER: The Oyster 800 is a platform that moves to and fro in waves. As it moves it pumps water to generate electricity in an on-shore station. The 800kW device is to be installed off the coast of Scotland. This model is simpler, more robust and more efficient than earlier versions. Surely any country surrounded by ocean should consider wave power.
- FISHING FOR POWER: Instead of sending wave power to shore to create electricity, US scientists are considering sending 50 metre long ships out to harvest the waves and store power in batteries that they’d then bring back to shore. The ships could stay in port during storms and the current extremely costly cables wouldn’t be required. That could bring a whole new meaning to the phrase fishing fleet.
- EARS WIDE: The Russian RadioAstron telescope is headed for an orbit that extends almost to the Moon. Its job is to sync up with radio antennas on the ground, creating a telescope whose ‘dish’ is almost 30 times the diameter of the Earth. Its own antenna is only 10 metres wide but when its signals are combined with those from ground-based telescopes it creates very sharp observations — about 10,000 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. The dish will collect 144 megabits of data per second, but only part of that will be received by a few Earth-based stations. Data volume is a problem again.
- CAR CHAT: Scientists from the University of Bologna, Italy want cars to talk to one another efficiently to share data such as a car crash ahead on the road. Acceleration sensors in their system detect abnormal conditions, such as a crash. The system then uses WiFi to alert nearby cars, then pass the signal on to cars optimally placed to send the message further afield. While a great idea it could be wide open to all kinds of hacking and abuse.
- CAR SYNC: Ford plan to turn some of their SYNC enabled cars into Wi-Fi hotspots. Use a USB modem to connect the car to the Internet then join the password protected network. Or just use your smartphone or tablet to create a hotspot.
Tech Universe: Thursday 21 July 2011
- RECHARGE OR BUS: If you have to wait around for a bus it’s good to be able to do something useful — like charge your phone. One advertiser in the US is equipping their bus shelter ads in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston with 5-volt battery USB ports. Travellers can charge up their devices while they wait. It may be one of those rare times when you hope the bus actually will be late.
- FLY AND DRIVE: The Model 367 BiPod is a flying car with 2 fuselages. It has 2 seats and is a hybrid-electric aircraft. Up to now it has only hopped and not actually flown as the propellers aren’t installed. Two 450cc internal combustion engines will drive generators that feed an electric power system. In flight the engines will power 4 propellers. On the road they will power 15kW motors on driving wheels. The wings will be stowed between the fuselages. Separated fuselages could be handy when driving an overly chatty passenger.
- TWEET FEVER: In Brazil scientists have identified a high correlation between people tweeting they may have dengue fever and the official statistics for where the disease appears. Official notifications of dengue can take weeks, meaning treatments lag behind the outbreaks. Software that monitors and analyses tweets can identify current trends so health services can quickly take action. Which also suggests a better official reporting system could be useful.
- LIGHT WALLS: A luminous textile from Philips integrates LED lights into Kvadrat Soft Cell wall panels, absorbing sound and creating ambient lighting. The surface of the panel glows softly and effects can be adjusted. An ambience for every occasion.
- MAGNETIC CLIMB: Climbers rely on their carabiners not to undo at a crucial moment. But the same locking systems that make a carabiner safe also make it hard to use. Black Diamond Equipment created a new Magnetron carabiner that relies on magnets. While unlocked, the magnets on the lock repel each other. But when closed around the steel steel insert in the carabiner nose they attract, keeping the carabiner closed. The big question though is does it feel as safe?
Tech Universe: Friday 22 July 2011
- GOOD VIBRATIONS: People in the upper part of a 39 story building in Korea thought they were in an earthquake. They weren’t though: the shakes were caused by 17 people in the 12th floor gym doing a Tae Bo workout. Scientists established that the folks doing Tae Bo created a vibration cycle that collided with vertical vibration cycle unique to the building. Their exercises amplified the building’s natural vibrations. Nothing to get excited about.
- SIGNAL MAP: The BBC want to map the UK’s 3G coverage. They’ve asked people to install and use a special Android app that tracks the presence or absence of a signal and its type: 2G or 3G. The app ignores any signal boosted by a femtocell. It doesn’t measure signal strength or throughput though. The published map should help others work out where their best chances of a good signal are. Cafes and tourist spots: beware!
- SOS PHONE: The Russian Just5 Space phone is designed for the elderly and children. It handles only phone calls and SMS messages and offers a simple user interface with large buttons. It also amplifies sound and has a special SOS button on the back that calls a programmed number. Surely a GPS for tracking the phone would be an essential feature too.
- DIGITAL PILL: Intel and GE have created a social network based around a touchscreen tablet specifically to help Seniors either living in their own home or in a care facility. Care Innovations Connect provides brain exercises, daily surveys and medication reminders, access to community news and social networking. The touchscreen device also allows healthcare providers and Wellness Coaches to easily monitor the Seniors for problems. It seems daily checkins are required.
- SECRET STREAMS: US computer scientists are working on software called Telex that hides data streams from banned websites inside data from ‘acceptable’ sites using public key cryptography. It’s intended to allow users in countries that filter web sites to access banned sites without detection. The stream requires a private key to be able to see the markers that allow the data to be hidden. Telex is not yet available to the public, but the developers have been using it successfully for a while. It’s all good until the government makes it illegal.
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.