Tech Universe: Monday 05 September 2011
- CLOUD BALLOONS: A changing climate provides many opportunities for intervention. A team of British academics plan to tether a hose to the ground and pump particles into the stratosphere. Their goal is to mimic the cooling effect of a volcano. The cloud they create should bounce some of the Sun’s energy back into space. In a scaled down test they’ll send a balloon to a height of 1 Km to pump water into the air. And if the water droplets fail, at least the balloon can offer a bit of shade. The Guardian detail the controversial plan and other unusual experiments.
- 4 LENSES, 3D, 2 EYES: Maybe it’s the glasses that are holding back 3D. If so, a new 4 camera system for creating 3D you can view without glasses may give it a kick. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute of Telecommunications are combining images from 4 cameras at once to send appropriate information to each eye. The 4 cameras must be precisely calibrated though so the images can be correctly aligned. Their system recognises identical objects in the image on all cameras, and even detects remaining anomalies to correct them in real time. Next they need to efficiently encode the video to compress the huge volume of recorded data and allow broadcast over current infrastructure. 3D: still trying. Fraunhofer Institute.
- LASER SPLITS: Researchers in the US have created a low-cost laser-powered handheld microscope to quickly detect E. coli and other bacteria. The microscope has a transmission mode, useful for viewing optically transparent things like cells. It also has a reflection mode, where it uses holography to create a 3D image of the sample being studied. By splitting a laser beam and applying some maths they can build a 3D image of the sample. The device uses low-cost digital photo sensors like those found in a smartphone. Images captured can be sent to a full-powered computer for detailed analysis. When’s that tricorder going to be ready then? BBC.
- MINE, YES MINE: There are scifi movies about blasting incoming asteroids out of the Earth’s path. But it seems some Chinese scientists hope to drag an asteroid in and capture it. Scientists from Tsinghua University in Beijing have set their eyes on a 10 metre object called 2008EA9 which will naturally come within a million Km or so in 2049. They figure they could nudge it into an orbit twice as far away as the Moon where they could study and mine it. Those slide rules better be utterly accurate, folks. Technology Review.
- STEAM ERA: Miele’s FashionMaster is an ironing board with a built-in steamer, wheels, and an iron that has a honeycombed plate to distribute steam evenly. The whole thing’s on wheels so it’s easy to move. Ironing? What’s that again? DVICE.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 06 September 2011
- MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL: The New York Times isn’t just a newspaper — it has a research lab too. One of their current projects is a smart bathroom mirror. Put an object such as a bottle of pills on the shelf and the mirror displays information about the drug and how you use it. Ask for coupons connected to a product on the shelf and the mirror displays what’s available. You could also view news headlines or watch videos on the mirror, shop online or exchange messages with other members of the household. Just don’t ask for its opinions on your appearance. Nieman Journalism Lab reports. Video: <>
- OCR FOR THE BRAIN: I’ve often wished for a data port in the side of my head that would transfer what I was thinking directly to words on screen. Princeton scientists are now working on it. Well, more precisely, their fMRI research has allowed them to generate words from what their subjects are thinking about. They were able to match categories of words to images of brain activity while a subject was thinking about concrete objects. They found that by analysing brain scans they could predict a subject was thinking about vegetables, for example, rather than perhaps cows. They couldn’t distinguish though whether the subject was thinking of carrots or celery. Fascinating, interesting, engrossing, captivating, absorbing. ScienceDebate.
- CATCH A SKETCH: Wacom’s Inkling pressure sensitive pen lets you quickly make a sketch in ink on any sketchbook or standard piece of paper. A small receiver unit on the paper captures what you draw with the pen and you can later transfer its data directly to your computer. Files can include layers and can be transferred to Photoshop, Illustrator and similar software or saved in other formats such as jpg or PDF. The best of back of an envelope combined with computer power. Wacom Inkling.
- PIXELLICIOUS: Sharp’s 8k4k HDTV has a 216 cm, 7680 by 4320-pixel display that they were showing off at the IFA trade show in Berlin. That’s 16 times 1080p resolution. The problem comes though in creating suitable 8k images to display. Sharp believe their massive screen has potential for medical uses. Imagine the Cooking Channel on that. Yum. DVICE.
- STRETCH SCREEN: Engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles, created a fully stretchable organic light-emitting diode. It’s made from carbon nanotubes and polymer electrodes layered onto a stretchable light-emitting plastic to produce a blue light. Their proof-of-concept device has its problems, losing conductivity if it’s stretched too far or too often, but it’s a useful starting point. Carbon nanotubes — is there anything they can’t do? PhysOrg.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 07 September 2011
- SEEING EYE GLOVE: Google has filed for a patent on a glove with sensors for viewing a room or controlling a computer with gestures. Called “Seeing With Your Hand” they suggest it would be useful for helping to find objects in places where you can’t see. The patent filing shows a sensor on the fingertips sending data to a processor in the palm. The processor then sends the info to a display. A glove that finds things could be very handy. GeekWire.
- SAILED SHIPS: Eco Marine Power in Japan is developing the Aquarius System — rigid sails for large ships such as oil tankers. These sails, lining both sides of the deck, are designed to harness both wind and solar energy, and will work both out at sea and in port. A computer controls their positioning to maximise efficiency and minimise drag, or even to lower them out of the way. Wait long enough and those trends return: it’s back to wind power. Eco Marine Power.
- CALL OUT THE BLIMPS: Remote towns in northern Canada can be isolated by snow and ice that makes roads too treacherous to use. And if storms stop planes from flying that just makes the problem worse. I guess that’s when you call out the dog sleds, or maybe the heavy lift blimps. Canadian company Discovery Air believe Hybrid Air Vehicles could carry up to 45 tonnes of goods at speeds up to 100 knots — no runway required. The hull is filled with helium for lift, while vectored thrust engines enable vertical takeoff and landing, as well as precision hover. The blimps can launch and load from all kinds of surfaces. But if storms ground planes won’t they ground blimps too? InnovationNewsDaily.
- SHOOT THE RIGHT ANGLE: The Fraunhofer Institute want to make things easier for movie directors. By mounting a microlens array in front of a camera sensor the recorded image contains multiple perspectives. What’s more the camera records a 4-D light field. The sensor records the position, intensity and direction of the light it captures. In post processing the director can choose depth of focus and angle of view on the fly. Actors beware: fewer reshoots probably reduces your income. Fraunhofer Institute.
- TRAINING WHEELS: Electric trains need a big jolt of power to move away from the station. That’s one reason why departures have to be staggered. On the other hand they throw away a lot of kinetic energy when they come in to a stop. Vycon Energy have proposed a system where that deceleration energy is captured and sent along the electric rail to a bank of flywheels at the station. Then it can be reused to start the next train. No sense throwing away energy when it costs so much to create more. Greentech Media.
Tech Universe: Thursday 08 September 2011
- COW TANK: How do you hide a tank? You make it look like a cow. Yes, really. In infrared anyway. BAE Systems Adaptiv technology allows vehicles to become invisible by mimicking the temperature of their surroundings or to appear to be a different object. Hexagonal panels of a material that can change temperature very quickly cover the tank. On-board thermal cameras register the temperature of the environment and alter the temperature of the panels so as to blend in or to project a false image. Your eyes and your heat-sensitive cameras may deceive you. BBC.
- AIR LIFT: The US Airforce issued a public challenge for someone to create “The Vehicle Stopper” — a device to safely stop fleeing vehicles, such as small cars or trucks. Many people sent in ideas, but the winner was a mechanical engineer from Peru. His idea is a small remote electric-powered vehicle that can accelerate up to 200 Kph within 3 seconds. It positions itself beneath the fleeing vehicle and then triggers a restrained airbag to lift the car and slide it to a stop. Now the Airforce intend to build a prototype. Simple, once you’ve thought of it. The White House.
- TELESCOPE TRUCK: You can’t actually just plunk a telescope down on the top of a mountain and then leave it there to do its work unattended. It turns out telescopes need regular servicing. Until now the 105 tonne telescopes of the ALMA Array, 5 Km up in the Chilean mountains, have had to be loaded onto a truck and hauled down the mountain for routine servicing. That’s no easy task and fraught with risk. So now ALMA has a new truck that can offer on-site service. The Front End Service Vehicle is 11 metres long, 2.4 metres wide and weighs 23 tonnes. The truck includes insulated walls, generators to cool equipment, air conditioning and air tanks to help compensate for the thin air at that altitude. Jobs you’ve never hear of: telescope service person. Network World.
- FLOAT YOUR HOUSE: Instead of trying to hold back the waves the FLOATEC project aims to go with the flow. Dutch company Dura Vermeer is creating floating buildings. But while small buildings float fairly easily, large ones need special techniques. They create a floating grid of modules made of composite, concrete and expanded polystyrene. The grid is a container for concrete and forms the foundation of the building. I think I’ll stay put on dry land. EUREKA.
- CAN YOU HEAR ME?: The UK’s Prospero satellite was launched in 1971 and it’s still in orbit. It operated for 2 years, then was contacted regularly until 1996. Now University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory hope to re-establish communications. Contact codes were lost, but after much searching were found in the National Archives. Now engineers must rebuild suitable equipment and get permission to use the radio frequencies. It’ll be a feat of astro-archaeology. It’s crazy really that we just abandon satellites out there in orbit. BBC.
Tech Universe: Friday 09 September 2011
- SHOPPING SPOTS: The Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute have a gesture recognition system for interacting with a 3D display without gloves. Lasers, cameras and other sensors track movements made in a defined area. Called an Interactive Shop Window the idea is that potential shoppers could interact with a window display to find out more about a product or see variations on it. Although more and more shopping goes online I guess it wouldn’t hurt to make those window displays more interesting. PC World.
- OCEANS ALIVE: The US National Science Foundation are creating a high-power and high-bandwidth cabled ocean observatory in the Pacific Northwest. It will measure physical, chemical, geological and biological fluctuations in the ocean and seafloor. The NSF aim to collect and connect data from around the world with permanent sensors in the ocean. The sensors will allow for maps, images and ongoing data such as sediment movement. Real-time data will be streamed online when the observatory goes live in 2014. Does it include a fishcam? Wired.
- SHARED IMAGES: Toshiba’s FlashAir SDHC memory card includes WiFi. It supports peer-to-peer transfers as well as uploads to and downloads from servers. The card in the camera can both send and receive photos and videos. This could mean you never have to connect the camera to a computer to get the photos from it. Unfortunately though, we can easily guess what might be the next target for malware. Imagine ads or porn inserted onto your images… eWeek Europe.
- OUR INSECT SLAVES: University of Michigan researchers are experimenting with turning insects into cyborgs. They tethered a Green June Beetle and used piezoelectric devices to generate energy as the beetle flaps its wings. The power could be used to help control electrodes implanted in the central nervous system of the beetles, turning the insects into micro-air-vehicles under the control of a person. Which all seems so wrong on so many levels. PhysOrg. [I find this work repugnant, I must say.]
- OXYGEN ZAPPER: The core of some tumours contains low oxygen levels but radiation therapy and chemotherapy need oxygen to be effective. Purdue University have created a 1 cm long micro oxygen generator that can be inserted into a tumour. The device receives ultrasound signals which then generate a small voltage that separates oxygen and hydrogen from water. The oxygen increases the effectiveness of treatment. See, fresh air is good for you. Purdue University.
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 as supplied. The items that were published in The Herald may differ slightly.
While I find all the items interesting, some are just cooler than others. I’ve marked out those items.