Tech Universe: Monday 29 August 2011
- POWER WALKING: Each time we take a step, up to 10 watts of power is lost as heat. It would be useful to be able to harness that energy and use it to power a cellphone or other device. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin are developing this idea using a technique called electrowetting. As the foot moves, conductive liquid droplets, such as mercury or galinstan, interact with a dielectric material to generate a small charge. In experiments only a few milliwatts have been produced, but the researchers hope to scale it up. You have to walk to talk. Scientific American.
- ORWELL’S CAMERAS: We’re being watched everywhere we go these days thanks to CCTV cameras. Researchers at Kingston University in the UK are working on artificial intelligence to recognise certain ‘dangerous’ behaviours, such as holding a gun, and then track a person across multiple cameras. Specific types of public behaviour are “trigger events” — perhaps a crowd of people running. When a trigger event takes place the system collates camera images from before and after the incident. The AI could ‘follow’ a person from where they were before the event to where they go afterwards. Bringing peace and harmony to all society. BBC have more info, including the name of the research team-leader.
- WORMHOLE USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a wormhole. Unfortunately it doesn’t allow staff and students to instantaneously transport themselves across the galaxy. Instead it’s a video and audio link with Stanford University, some 5,000 Km away. An area with a video screen and microphones in each cafeteria has plexiglass domes above and below it. The domes help focus sound. The idea is to allow people to strike up casual conversations in a relaxed setting with folks at the other university. And definitely not to watch for suspicious behaviour. Boston.com.
- SPEEDY SPIDER: Worried about how much energy the Internet sucks up? The University of Sydney’s Spectral Phase Interferometry for Direct Electric-Field Reconstruction computer chip may help. The SPIDER chip measures signals where the phase of light is used to encode information — such as on the Internet. Unlike the current bulky and expensive laboratory equipment, SPIDER uses little energy although it operates at ultrafast speeds. Researchers say the chip will speed up high-precision broadband sensing and various scientific applications such as spectroscopy, molecular fingerprinting and attosecond physics. So the less energy it takes, the more we’ll use it. Science Alert has details.
- ARTIFICIAL BRAIN: The SyNAPSE processor IBM are working on rewires its connections as it encounters new information. That’s similar to the way a living brain works. The system uses 2 prototype neurosynaptic computing chips, each with 256 computational cores. One core has 262,144 programmable synapses, while the other contains 65,536 learning synapses. The system learns not by making physical connections but by paying more or less attention to input signals. In the long-term IBM want to build a chip system with ten billion neurons and hundred trillion synapses. Would you like more chips with those brains? BBC.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 30 August 2011
- TV BEHIND THE TIMES: Sony have come up with a way to try out a virtual TV for size in your living room. Print off a special marker, take a photo, upload the photo to a website and then select which TV you want to assess. The website shows the selected TV in place on your image. Once you decide on a particular TV you can then download a PDF with specs. Which all seems rather longwinded and last century. Surely there should be a smartphone app for that. Sony.
- BUOYS IN THE NAVY: The US Navy has installed PowerBuoys about 30 Km off the New Jersey coast. Their job is to produce up to 40 kilowatts of electricity each and power ocean-based sensors. The system detects and tracks vessels as part of an anti-terrorism and maritime surveillance program. Ocean waves move hydraulic fluid in each buoy, which spins a generator to create power. Using what’s at hand: so sensible. Scientific American tells the story.
- MEMORY VORTEX: At the University of Southampton in the UK researchers are working with nanostructured glass to create a new type of computer memory. The radially polarized optical vortex converter creates whirlpools of light that can be read in much the same way as data in optical fibres. Data is written, wiped and rewritten into the molecular structure of the glass using a laser. This approach is cheap and compact. I like the sound of a vortex reader. University of Southampton have the scientific detail.
- READ THE MOVIE: People who are deaf or hard of hearing really need subtitles to be able to enjoy most movies. But those subtitles may be thought to detract from the movie experience for those who don’t need or want them. Sony created a clever way to reconcile those differences: special glasses that add subtitles just for the wearer. The glasses add subtitles below the movie that appear to be in the same plane, so the wearer doesn’t need to constantly refocus. Imagine using these for a backchannel commentary. BBC report.
- LUNGS FOR BIKES: It’s an annoying fact of life that bike tires go flat. Imagine if just riding the bike were to inflate the tires to the right pressure, as set by you. The PumpTire Kickstarter project aims to make self-inflating bike tires a reality. A small hollow channel called a lumen is compressed where the tire is in contact with the road. The pressure forces air through a valve into the tire itself. When the lumen expands again it draws in air from outside. A special valve allows the rider to set a desired pressure. Simply brilliant. Kickstarter.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 31 August 2011
- PHANTOM FILM SPEED: To make a slow motion video you have to run a camera fast. So how about 1 million frames per second? The Phantom v1610 from Vision Research will record at that speed for reduced resolution, or notch it down to 16,000 fps at full resolution. The camera uses a proprietary widescreen CMOS sensor with 28 micron pixels, and 12 bits per pixel depth. The camera comes with up to 96GB of high-speed memory. 1 million fps is very impressive indeed. Vision Research. Take a look at some amazing videos.
- SECOND WAVE: In an era where a race may be won by a fraction of a second and scientific applications rely on precise timings it’s important to be able to measure time accurately. The world’s most accurate clock is in the UK — it’s an atomic clock that loses or gains less than 1 second in some 138 million years. The CsF2 clock at the National Physical Laboratory measures the energy required to change the spin property of caesium atoms. One standard second is how long it takes just over 9 billion peaks and troughs of electromagnetic waves to go past in the clock. So we can also measure a nine-billionth of a second perhaps? BBC explain just how the caesium fountain works.
- TUMOUR DEPRIVATION: Engineers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Germany have created a medical electronic sensor chip. It determines the oxygen content in tissue fluid and sends the data wirelessly via a nearby receiver to the patient’s doctor. The chip could spot a loss of oxygen around a tumour that would suggest the tumour was growing aggressively. An implanted sensor like this could reduce the need for regular checkups at a hospital. The chip must not only do its job reliably but also resist contamination from bodily processes and not be rejected by the body. Researchers hope to also add a pump that can release chemotherapeutic agents close to the tumor. Oxygen for drugs: a fair swap. Science Daily.
- SEEING MOUSE: The LSM-100 wired mouse from LG incorporates a scanner. Unlike most portable scanners, it can scan pages up to A3 in size. A Smart Scan button on one side allows you to swipe across a page to scan it, while OCR software turns words into text. A handy feature in a mouse. Gizmag share the details.
- ELECTRON PHOTOS: Theories say electrons orbit a nucleus. Now physicists have seen it for themselves, thanks to IBM’s work with the pentacene and naphthalocyanine molecules and a scanning tunneling microscope. Next researchers hope to work on molecule-sized machinery. With the objects they’re imaging becoming smaller and smaller they may soon be able to see nothing at all. ScienceNOW show the pictures and explain the process.
Tech Universe: Thursday 01 September 2011
- PARENTS BIKE: The Taga Bike combines a bicycle with a baby stroller. It has one wheel at the rear and 2 in front. A child’s stroller seat fits between the front wheels. The bike also cleverly folds up to become a regular stroller — handy for sneaking it onto trains and buses, or just wheeling the child around shops and on long walks. It can even hold 2 children at once, or just groceries. A very cunning idea. Taga Bikes.
- AMAIZING SHIRT: The Omni-Freeze Ice Baselayer t-shirt from Columbia Sportswear disperses body heat through specially shaped flat yarns. Crystals in the fabric undergo a state change from a solid to a gel when wet. So when you sweat you cause a state change and the fabric draws heat from your skin for a while. The crystals are a product of maize, while the shirt itself is mainly polyester. The drawback: the shirt needs to dry again for another bout of cooling. Best used in dry climates then, where sun and wind will dry the fabric while you wear it. Gear Junkie.
- GAME, SIT AND MATCH: The CVAC Pod is an egg-shaped pressure chamber that may be helping top athletes stay at the top. It simulates high altitude and compresses the muscles at rhythmic intervals thanks to a computer-controlled valve and a vacuum pump. The idea is that this will improve circulation and boost oxygen levels in the blood, also removing lactic acid. Simply sitting in the pod apparently helps an athlete adapt to a range of conditions. Ah sitting around to get fit: where do I sign up? Wall Street Journal tell the story.
- TECHNICAL BOXING: Amateur boxing bouts are judged on points, but the ringside judges have to have a good eye to spot when a punch has landed. And they have to be quick to press the scoring button. Australian researchers aim to make things easier with smart fabrics that detect scoring blows. Electrode strips on the vest send a signal to a ringside computer when a boxer’s glove completes a circuit. The computer assesses the signal for duration to discriminate between a scoring point and a push. Boxing by the numbers. New Scientist.
- SURFER PRESERVER: Big wave surfers are at risk of drowning if that huge wave pushes them under. One surfer decided to add an airbag to his wetsuit. Billabong wetsuits took up the idea and their V1 suit works like an airplane lifevest. The surfer pulls a cord and a CO2 cartridge instantly inflates an air bladder on the back of the suit, bringing the wearer quickly to the surface. Changing out a used cartridge takes only a few minutes and the surfer can be back in the waves. Gizmodo tell the story.
Tech Universe: Friday 02 September 2011
- MOVIE POD: If you’re looking cool in your 3D glasses now, just wait till you wrap Sony’s new HMZ-T1 personal 3D viewer around your head. The headset includes a pair of 1280 x 720 OLED panels capable of 3D graphics and headphones with 5.1-channel virtual surround sound. It shows the equivalent of a 19 metre screen as viewed from 20 m away. Because the broad viewing area is actually wider than our actual field of vision it’s really immersive. Plug the headset into your computer, Bluray player or other source via an HDMI cable. There’s also an HDMI pass-through output so you can hook in an extra headset for a friend or a regular display. Lose yourself in an exclusive movie. SlashGear tell more.
- 3D CORDER: The Panasonic HDC-Z10000 is an integrated twin-lens 2D/3D camcorder. The 3.5-inch LCD appears 3D to the naked eye by sending slightly different images to each eye. View in 2D at the flick of a switch. The camera uses a Double 3MOS System with an effective 6.57 megapixels for each lens to create full HD 3D video. F1.5 ultra-low refractive index lenses allow shooting in low light. Image stabilisation helps create clear and steady images. Perfect for recording videos to watch with your 3D headset. See the full specs at Panasonic.
- TROLLEY RAGE: It can be very annoying fighting your way through narrow supermarket aisles clogged with clumps of people debating the merits of different brands of instant noodles. Now it could get worse. Sainsburys in the UK are testing trolleys with attached iPads for ‘watching sport’. The trolleys have a tilting iPad holder and speakers, and an onboard battery with a self-charging solar panel to power the device. They also include — and this is the most worrying item — a sensor on the front of the trolley to sound an alarm if you’re about to bump into someone because you’re too engrossed in the iPad. Heaven forbid you get supporters from rival football teams shopping in the same supermarket. The Telegraph have the story.
- ASHES TO WATER: It used to be that when the time came you were either buried or cremated. In future you may be liquefied. The Resomation alkaline hydrolysis unit dissolves a body in heated alkaline water. Crematoria use a lot of energy and produce greenhouse gases and mercury from amalgam fillings. The new process uses less power, produces fewer greenhouse gases and captures amalgam fillings and implants such as pacemakers. The machine weighs the body, then applies the correct amounts of water, potassium hydroxide and heat. Body tissue dissolves and the bones are crushed to ash. Just pour me on the garden when I’m done. BBC.
- PLASTIC IN THE BLOOD: Stitching together blood vessels is very fine work, especially if those blood vessels are less than 1 mm wide. The stitches themselves can cause problems too. A team at Stanford University School of Medicine have found that a polymer can help them glue blood vessels together. Poloxamer 407 is made of polymer blocks and becomes solid and elastic when heated above body temperature. Surgeons use it to open the blood vessels so they can glue the ends. As the polymer cools it dissolves harmlessly into the bloodstream. The technique hasn’t yet been tested on humans, but looks promising. Plastic truly is everywhere. Stanford University Medical Centre.
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.