Tech Universe: Monday 03 October 2011
- BLUE LIGHT BEAT: Researchers at Stanford University hope to be able to eventually replace the standard electrical pacemaker with a new version that uses light. Heart cells called cardiomyocytes are naturally programmed to pulse. Researchers added a light-sensitive protein to the cells to cause them to pulse in time to a very specific wavelength of blue light. In time such engineered cells and a light source could be used to replace current pacemakers. Uh oh, Uncle Harry’s looking blue — an overactive pacemaker or lack of oxygen? Stanford University.
- PADD PROBE: The Padd is a handheld infra-red probe that helps diagnose peripheral arterial disease. It has about the same power as a TV remote control. The device is held against the foot for a few minutes to gather data before an internal processor assesses the circulation. The test takes only a quarter as long as other methods of diagnosis and doesn’t need a skilled worker to carry it out. Home diagnosis ahoy. Dialog Devices.
- SNAKE ARM: In some places, such as nuclear power plants, it’s impossible to send in human beings if there’s a problem — for example if they need to collect a sample of hazardous material. A team of engineers in Bristol, UK, has created a robotic arm that’s segmented in a snake-like way. An operator drives the arm remotely to move around obstructions and through narrow spaces to retrieve a required object. Cameras at the end of the arm allow the operator to manoeuvre and find the best path to the goal. This arm has the potential to change the way some industrial operations are carried out. Clever, but a bit bizarre. BBC.
- TAXIS SHOW THE WAY: Beijing’s traffic jams are a huge problem. In 2009 and 2010 researchers analysed GPS data from more than 33,000 Beijing taxicabs to see if that would help identify the causes of problem traffic. They found that traffic flowed more easily where city planners fixed the problems the taxicab data highlighted. The researchers say any city that has a high number of taxis could apply their system to locate and fix general traffic problems. There must be areas with lower than average taxi use though. Will their problems not be fixed under this scheme? Technology Review.
- HIGH-SPEED MARS: Those photos of Mars we’ve seen? They take about 90 minutes each to make it from Mars to Earth. But NASA want to speed things up so they’re sending up a Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. The system will encode digital data and transmit the information via laser light. NASA hope over the next few years to speed up space communications by between 10 and 100 times, supporting data rates of tens of gigabits per second. 90 minutes per image is really limiting. It’s the dial-up of space travel. NASA.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 04 October 2011
- 4 ON THE FLOOR: The Athos bicycle from Contes Engineering in the USA blends BMX, Freestyle, Downhill and Motocross, but its unique feature is that it has 4 wheels. It has 4 wheel independent suspension with 8 inches of travel and disc brakes, front and rear. A differential sends your pedal power to both rear wheels. 4 times the puncture problems! Contes Engineering.
- HIDDEN BUGS: Kids play with using lemon juice to write secret messages in invisible ink. But real spies may like to use InfoBiology to do the job. Chemists at Tufts University, USA, engineered bacteria with fluorescent proteins that glow under ultraviolet light. They created 7 strains of bacteria, each of which glows a different colour. The bacteria can be grown in combinations to create a message with a cypher created from colour patterns. The bacteria are then ‘printed’ onto nitrocellulose membranes like paper. The bacteria can be further manipulated to glow only in the presence of certain antibiotic resistance genes and to lose fluorescence over time. Obviously these messages aren’t for “Send help now” type messages. Wired.
- PARIS BLUES : Paris set up a fleet of 66 Autolib Bluecars as an experiment with car-sharing to reduce traffic congestion. Motorists can hire the 4-seater battery-powered cars for 30 minutes for 4 to 8 Euros (NZ$7 to $14) in addition to a 10 Euro per day cost for belonging to the scheme. Vehicles will be available from 33 charging stations. Each car can travel around 250 Km before needing to be recharged. Cheaper than a taxi I guess, but you have to get to the hiring station first. BBC.
- DRIVING THOUGHTS: Nissan and the Swiss Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne have teamed up to try to create a consumer car that reads the driver’s mind. For example, a driver may think about turning and the car will adjust its speed and road positioning appropriately. The system aims to use statistical analysis of brain activity and eye movement along with scans of the surroundings to predict a driver’s intentions and evaluate their cognitive state. “You seem to be planning to turn left soon. Would you like help with that?” Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.
- SNAPPY SNAPPING: Any photographer knows that using filters on the lens of your DSLR is a handy thing, even if just to protect the glass. But filters are hard to attach and remove, with fiddly screw threads. Xume Quick-Release Adapters fix the problem by using adapters that attach with powerful NdFeB rare earth magnets instead. The system puts an adapter on each lens and on each filter or lens cap. After that a filter or lens cap just snaps on or off in a moment. Xume promise the magnets won’t harm any of the electronics or other parts of your camera or accessories. Even keeping the lens cap on in a bag would save me some anguish. Xume.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 05 October 2011
- LAB DOG: Alpha Dog from Boston Dynamics can roll over, prance like a Lippizaner and climb over rubble. It’s a new 4-legged robot designed to carry 180 Kg loads for up to 30 Km at a trot. At the moment the dog’s just a lab prototype. It’s not your average military canine. Wired.
- STEPPING UP THE POWER: At Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre in East London in the UK pedestrians will be powering the lights, thanks to Pavegen floor tiles. The tops of the tiles are surfaced in 100% recycled truck tires so they’re hard wearing. Each time a person steps on a tile the kinetic energy is converted to electricity. Hmmm, so going shopping could be good for the environment. Sounds dangerous. Core77.
- SUPERSIZED TELLY: The Sharp Aquos 80-inch LCD for consumers is a 1080p Smart TV with built-in wifi, LED backlighting and access to apps such as Netflix where it’s available. Sharp claim a dynamic contrast ratio of 6,000,000:1 and to eliminate blur and motion artifacts in fast-moving video. Sharp AQUOS Advantage Advisors can also remotely connect to the TV through the Internet to assist with TV setup, troubleshoot and optimize the picture quality. How far away would you have to view that monster from? Start planning your lounge extension now. Sharp Electronics Corporation.
- HIGH SIGHT: We do love our webcams. The latest placement uses a high-definition Mobotix camera to show us the peak of Mt Everest. It’s powered by a solar panel, of course and is online during daylight hours. It’s actually part of a climate change and global warming research programme and transmits its images wirelessly to the nearby Ev-K2-CNR Pyramid Laboratory/Observatory. Unlike bird and animal cams there’s probably not a lot of activity to see. Mobotix. Mt Everest webcam.
- CAR PAD: Disney’s Appmates are toys that control iPad games. The first series of toys work with the free Cars game. The physical toy car is placed on the iPad screen. The game recognizes metal sensors underneath the car and as you move the toy car an on-screen car moves around the screen. The cars cost, but the game and screen scratches are free. Gizmodo.
Tech Universe: Thursday 06 October 2011
- GET A GRIP: I’m not a skier so imagine that an ideal ski has a smooth flat bottom. Not so with the Spoon ski from DPS. Their new ski has a convex base and 6 downward-facing ‘cleats’ that protrude to add grip in deep powder. The makers mention massive flotation, nimble handling, and huge sprays. I’m not sure how flotation and grip go together, but if you’re a deep powder skier these may be worth a look. Gear Junkie. Video:
- LIFE VEST PATCH: If you’re dumped into the ocean unexpectedly a life vest could save your life, but rescuers need to be able to find you. That’s where the Finns come in — they’ve designed a search and rescue radio antenna that can be sewn into a life vest. The antenna’s designed for use with the Cospas-Sarsat worldwide search and rescue satellite system and could help pinpoint the wearer within minutes. The flexible and lightweight antenna is robust against water exposure and moist conditions, and resistant to wear and tear. Surely the antenna could be used for land-based safety equipment too, such as for mountaineers. European Space Agency.
- CELL JACKET: NTT Docomo in Japan are working on a cellphone ‘jacket’ that could charge the phone’s battery in only 10 minutes. An external lithium-ion battery sleeve draws more than 5 amps for the speedy charge. That compares with a normal ultra high speed charger drawing around 0.5 amps. If it could give a 10 minute recharge to any phone it could be a big seller. Engadget.
- CLEAR SOLAR: Solar cells need a transparent conductor layer that allows light to pass into the cell and electricity to pass out. That’s a tough ask and the indium tin oxide used now is not only rare but brittle. Researchers at Northwestern University have an alternative: single-walled metallic carbon nanotubes. These nanotubes are flexible and carbon’s plentiful. Using these carbon nanotubes could make it easier to incorporate cheap solar cells into clothing and everyday objects. The day must come where solar cells are as plentiful as paper. Science Daily.
- BLOOD STAMPS: People with AIDS who take powerful drugs are at risk of liver damage and death. This is a particular problem in Africa as the blood tests take time and are expensive. A Harvard University chemist has created a specially prepared patch of paper the size of a postage stamp that offers a fairly reliable diagnosis, and costs only a few cents. The enzyme AST is released into the blood when liver cells break down. A drop of blood is put on the paper. The layers of paper filter the blood to allow clear plasma through to chemicals that react with ASTand then change colour. After 15 minutes a dot in the centre of the paper stays pink or turns purple, indicating a problem. Pink or purple huh? They’re not always simple to tell apart. NY Times.
Tech Universe: Friday 07 October 2011
- 3,000 K BY SUN: In a couple of weeks the 2011 Veolia World Solar Challenge will have contestants driving solar powered vehicles 3,000 Km from Darwin to Adelaide. Apart from 5kW hours of stored energy, cars must produce all their power from the sun or the kinetic energy of the vehicle. Teams have to pass through several checkpoints along the way and camp out in the desert at night. That must be a nice quiet trip. World Solar Challenge.
- PARKING SPORT: IBM and Streetline from San Francisco teamed up to add sensors to parking meters and analyse the data. The sensors determine if a parking space is taken by a car and how long the car stays. The aggregated data shows how a city’s parking spaces are used over time. Meanwhile a smartphone app can alert drivers to nearby vacant parking spaces. Studies around the world show that drivers become frustrated and angry when they can’t find appropriate parking spaces, and that driving around searching for spaces wastes fuel and creates pollution. And we all have the anecdotal evidence on that too. IT World.
- MESS ABOUT BOAT: The Bodrum WaterBuggy from Turkey is a small circular boat best suited for pottering about in smooth water by the shore, like the pedal boats you see for hire. It features a 10 HP engine, and a single button for start and stop. Then use the joystick to drive. It takes up to 3 people and goes up to 10 Kph. A turbine system makes 360 degree turns simple. Looks like a lot of fun. Not so handy for families with 2 adults and more than 1 kid though. Waterbuggy.
- FIRE BOXING: Boeing’s Precision Container Aerial Delivery System may offer a new way to fight huge forest fires. The system lets cargo planes drop more water more quickly and more precisely. Each container is essentially a reinforced cardboard box holding a water ballon with 950 litres of water or fire retardant. The boxes are easily loaded onto a cargo plane. Containers are dropped from a height that allows the plane to avoid dangerous flames and smoke, but a delayed opening mechanism makes the drops more accurate and effective. Great in-the-box thinking. Boeing.
- WHERE’S NOAH?: So there’s a tsunami on its way and you don’t have time to get to high ground. Maybe you’d rather take your chances in a yellow enhanced fibreglass tsunami escape pod called Noah. The company claim it’s guaranteed to protect against tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes. Features include a pole to hold on to. They also claim a pod can hold 4 adults, although the pictures make it look like it’d be a very tight fit. Science News.
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.