Tech Universe: Monday 01 August 2011
- UNDER THE GUN: The Shadowhawk UAV is around 2.5 metres long, weighs 16 Kg and can cruise at over 50 Kph. For military purposes this drone helicopter can film and track subjects, using various imaging devices. It can carry grenade launchers or a 12 gauge shotgun with laser targeting. Keep an eye on the sky at all times. Vanguard Defense are the manufacturers.
- PRINT YOUR PLANE: Aeronautical engineers in the UK recently tested out a 1.5-metre-wingspan 3D printed drone aircraft with a successful 10 minute flight. The aircraft body, including moving parts, was created from hard nylon in a 3D printer. The airframe used a strong geodetic structure originally used in World War 2 but that is too costly using normal manufacturing processes. This plane’s parts took 2 days to design and another 5 days to print. Is it recyclable when the plane develops a fault though? New Scientist.
- HALE BLIMP: Lockheed Martin’s HALE-D is a high altitude long endurance demonstrator blimp designed to operate up to around 20,000 metres high. It has a big solar array on its upper surface for power. At that height it can be used for surveillance, communication, observing weather and similar tasks. The skies are becoming very crowded. Lockheed Martin reveals the details.
- SHARP TARGETING: The US Navy’s Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System, developed by Boeing, combines an M242 machine gun capable of firing 175 rounds per minute, with a solid-state high-energy laser weapon module. The laser makes targeting highly accurate and is a weapon in its own right. Point and shoot. More from Boeing.
- UNBLOCK YOUR EARS: Wish your neighbours would stop playing dire music when you’re trying to enjoy some peace and quiet? Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have shown for the first time how to transmit sound in an audible frequency range in only one direction. This technology could allow your dire music to reach the ears of your neighbours while blocking theirs from reaching you. The system is sensitive to small variations in conditions and can operate at different frequencies. There are so many uses for this. PhysOrg has the science.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 02 August 2011
- CANOE IN YOUR BACKPACK?: You just never know when you might need a canoe, so why not keep one in your backpack? The Adhoc full size canoe weighs 4.1 Kg and can be assembled in 5 minutes. The telescopic poles that make the frame are carbon fibre, and the skin is made from Aramid — a heat-resistant synthetic fabric used in racing sails. The whole thing folds into a backpack. Concept or reality, DesignBoom shows the images.
- QUICK FLASH: The European X-ray Free-Electron Laser is being built near Hamburg, Germany. When finished in 2015 it will emit X-ray flashes a billion times brighter than those from conventional X-ray sources. That will mean 3D X-ray images of single molecules or the atomic details of viruses. 27,000 X-rays per second will be generated by a 3 Km long superconducting accelerator. Gotcha! XFEL EU has all the specs.
- BRAIN CAPS: University of Maryland, USA, are working on a cap to read brainwaves. The non-invasive, sensor-lined cap looks a bit like a swimming cap studded with sensors and wires. Neural interface software directed by a wearer’s thoughts could be used to control computers, robotic prosthetic limbs, and motorised wheelchairs. The cap uses electroencephalography to read brain waves and the software then translates that into actions. Could it work to feed control in as well? Read more at University of Maryland.
- WALK ON WATER: The water strider is an insect that can literally walk on water. Now Chinese scientists have created a bionic microrobot that can do the same thing. The tiny robot, propelled by 2 miniature motors, has 10 superhydrophobic wire legs and 2 movable, oar-like legs. The robot could be used to monitor water quality. So long as the monitoring equipment doesn’t weigh anything, of course. All the science is at Applied Minerals & Interfaces. Video:
- A BRICK OUT OF THE WALL: If only we could see through walls as chaotic radar can. Canadian scientists have found a way to ‘tune’ ultra-wideband radar with a chaotic oscillator. It creates an irregular signal using a fixed algorithm also known to the receiver. Objects on the far side of a wall reflect distorted radio waves, but this system can make sense of the distorted signals. Sounds a bit like cryptography where sender and receiver both use the same distorted patterns. New Scientist has the details.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 03 August 2011
- TELL ALL TABLET: SK Telecom are mashing together a shopping trolley, accurate indoor positioning technology, smartphone and tablet to create the Smart Cart, being tested in China. Shoppers draw up a shopping list on their smartphone using the Smart Cart app — it helps them find coupons and special deals too. When they reach the supermarket their shopping list on the smartphone is synced with the tablet on the trolley. The tablet knows where they are in the store and offers more coupons and product information while they shop. When they’re done the tablet shows a list of purchases, membership points and coupons. And surely then transmits that data to the cash register… SK Telecom press release.
- HANDY TURNS: The prototype YouTurn is a very different type of cycling glove, but in its final form it’ll be an attachment that can be used with any glove. LEDs on the back of the glove form an arrow that’s motion-activated. The arrow points in the direction of your turn, depending on how you move your hand. The device is independent of the bike itself. No information for those ahead of the cyclist though. Kickstarter has the intro video.
- LESS HEAT; LESS LIGHT: The EnFocus skylight both lets light through and captures it to create power while keeping a room cool. Lenses concentrate and direct sunlight onto slivers of solar cells to generate power. Light that doesn’t hit the modules diffuses into the room below uniformly to create ambient light. Each solar panel can create up to 288 watts of power. The optical modules track the sun during the day to concentrate the light. Energy, cooling and light — that’s a nice 3-for-1 effect. GigaOm sheds more light on the process.
- MORE HEAT THAN LIGHT: You’d think by their name that photovoltaic cells would convert light to electricity, but a new cell from MIT converts heat instead. A material has billions of nanoscale pits etched on its surface. The material absorbs heat and emits a carefully tuned wavelength of light. The light is then converted to electricity. The generator can be heated by any fuel or by sunlight and can run 3 times longer than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight. Heating and lighting all in one. MIT explain the whole process.
- KNEE HIGH TO A MARIONETTE: You may think of marionettes as belonging to a children’s party, but the girl, man and dog that walked down the street in Nantes, France the other day all dwarfed their human operators. Little Giant, is a 6 metre tall, 770 Kg female puppet with hair made from the tails of 70 horses. All the puppets are operated from cranes by teams of puppeteers. Spectacular. Laughing Squid tells it.
Tech Universe: Thursday 04 August 2011
- THOUGHT CHANGE: The Toyota Prius X Parlee bicycle is a prototype just now. It uses a monocoque carbon-fibre frame and is aerodynamic. It seems to have plenty of gears, for even the steepest slopes. What it doesn’t have though is gear levers. Instead the rider trains an iPhone app to recognise their brain waves. Then they change gears by thinking about it. The rider wears a special cap and backpack to handle the thought-reading. The smartphone mounted on the bike can also monitor the rider’s speed, cadence and heart rate. Very smart, for a bike. Toyota Prius Projects has this and more.
- FOXY ROBOTS: Foxconn in China assemble products for Apple, Nokia, Sony and others. Over the next 3 years they intend to employ 1 million robots to replace some of the human workers. They currently employ 1.2 million humans and 10,000 robots. Do the robots get bargaining power? Xinhua News has the story.
- UNWIRED COUNTRY: Does your wifi die between lounge and kitchen? IEEE 802.22 has a standard for that, though actually it’s meant for geographical regions, not just your house. The new standard is for Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRANs) and uses free spaces in the TV spectrum. It makes broadband wireless at up to 22 Mbps per channel available up to 100 Km from a transmitter. Our rural colleagues should be pleased. The IEEE set the specs.
- DOGGED TRACKING: You may be being tracked on the web even if you try to avoid it. Some sites use a service called KISSmetrics that records what visitors do on a site and where they came from — and that’s not unusual. But Researchers at U.C. Berkeley have found that even if you turn off cookies or enter privacy mode in your browser you still may be tracked. The persistent tracking software stores a unique ID for each user in places other than in a traditional cookie. Users must empty their browser cache between visits to evade the tracking code. “I am not a number. I am a person.” Wired reports.
- A LITTLE POWER: Researchers at Rice University, USA, have packed an anode, electrolyte, and cathode into a single nanowire to create both a battery and a supercapacitor. The entire nanowire is a few micrometers long and has a total area of about 0.5 square cm. The electrode materials are cheap and easy to synthesise at room temperature. The batteries could be used to power nanoelectronic devices. Rechargeable, we hope. PhysOrg explains the manufacture.
Tech Universe: Friday 05 August 2011
- MONEY FOR CONCRETE: The 1 Km tall Kingdom Tower is starting to take shape with the first actual rendering from Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Tenders are out in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and construction is expected to begin soon. The tower itself will cost $1.2 billion to build, while the entire Kingdom City project may cost $20 billion. Plans include an outdoor space at level 157 that sticks out from the side of the building. Conspicuous. Wealth. Gizmodo has the write-up.
- PUT IT ON THE PLASTIC: It’s made of plastic and is about the size of a credit card. Its components cost only a few cents, but it can detect AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, about as well as a setup costing thousands. The mChip, or mobile microfluidic chip, from Columbia University needs only a tiny drop of blood. The blood is circulated through carefully designed channels that trap antibodies. A layer of solid silver grows and light measures the thickness of the silver, giving a quantitative result that doesn’t rely on skilled interpretation. Cheap and easy to use saves lives. Columbia University.
- DAWN VIEW: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is examining Vesta in detailed closeup. Dawn will orbit the asteroid for a year and then move on to dwarf planet Ceres. At 530 Km across many astronomers classify the pockmarked Vesta as a protoplanet that could have developed into another Earth or Mars. It, umm, looks like an asteroid. Read more at Scientific American, and see the photos. Photos:
- TEA. HOT. GREEN.: Tokyo Institute of Technology have created a robot that can think and learn for itself using a Self-Organising Incremental Neural Network. This capability allows the robot to act when conditions change and its programming is no longer sufficient. It can learn new instructions, perhaps from other robots on the Internet and apply previous learning to new situations. So a British robot may teach a Japanese robot how to make a cup of black tea, and the Japanese robot could apply that learning to make green tea. Wired explains.
- BRAINY BRAKES: If you’re driving and need to slam on the brakes in a hurry every moment counts. But there’s a tiny gap between the thinking and the acting. Researchers at the Berlin Institute of Technology in Germany had drivers on a simulator wear an EEG cap. They discovered which part of the brain activates when drivers have to apply the brakes in an emergency. Having the the driver’s thoughts activate the simulator’s brakes shaved a tenth of a second off how long it took to stop. Good, but how to do it without the skullcap? io9 has more details.
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.