Tech universe: Monday 10 October 2011
- STREAMLINED ELECTRICS: Brigham Young University students set a land speed record with an electric car they designed and built. The car reached 281 Kph. The streamliner style car was built from carbon fibre and used lithium iron phosphate batteries. An electrifying run. Brigham Young University.
- SPACE CAMPING: If astronauts are to explore beyond Earth they’ll need a home to live in. NASA’s Habitat Demonstration Unit has been tested out in the Arizona desert with crews making overnight stays. The prototype housing unit has a hard shell cylinder with 4 rooms, outside modules to deal with dust and hygiene, and an inflatable area with sleeping quarters and a lounge. A space version of a pop-top caravan, in other words. Technology Review.
- GET OUT THE SPF 1,300: The European Space Agency are planning a mission to the Sun. Their Solar Orbiter will fly close to the Sun to study plasma, magnetic fields and particles in the near-Sun heliosphere. The craft will be close enough that the sunlight will be 13 times stronger than on Earth. It will also be the first satellite to provide close-up views of the Sun’s polar regions. Launch is planned for 2017 from Cape Canaveral using one of NASA’s Atlas launch vehicles and the trip to the Sun will take 3 years. Sounds like a nice spot in the sun. European Space Agency. Solar Orbiter
- SOLAR CLEANING CLOTHES: University of California chemists may have found a way to avoid washing their clothes. They incorporated a compound called 2-AQC into cotton fabrics. They found that when the fabric was exposed to light it released hydrogen peroxide that kills bacteria and breaks down toxins. Imagine this in your sportswear. CNET.
- MIRAGE CLOAK: When light bends we see things that aren’t where they appear to be. Or we don’t see things we think we’re looking at. For example, on a hot day a road may appear to have a puddle of water on it. Researchers have found that transparent sheets of carbon nanotubes can create similar mirages when rapidly heated. In their demonstration of an underwater setup the nanotubes seemed to disappear completely when heated. It’s a kind of smoke and mirrors effect, only without smoke and without mirrors. Science News.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 11 October 2011
- WHIRLING TORUS: Sea Twirl wind turbines capture wind energy out at sea. But some clever thinking means they can still harvest wind energy even after the wind dies down. Vertical blades that can raise and lower attach to a torus ring. The spinning of the turbine pumps water up to the torus. The blades lower when the wind dies down to conserve the spinning. When the water drains out of the torus again it provides energy. A full-scale version could generate 39,000 megawatt-hours per year and store up to 25,000 kilowatt-hours. This would be enough to support 8,000 homes for one hour. If it’s a closed system surely that pump technique would work on land too. Discovery News.
- TIRES BOUNCE BACK: We’re conscious about CO2 emissions from vehicles, but they give us another pollution problem too: what to do with worn out tires. Dumped tires leach dangerous chemicals, provide breeding grounds for rats and mosquitoes and can cause fires. Researchers at Deakin University in Australia have a new recycling process. They segment tires into different component parts such as steel reinforcement and rubber, then create rubber powders for recycling into rubber products. The devulcanising process is mechanical, rather than using harmful chemicals. Resources, not rubbish — hooray! Science Alert.
- LEARNING DIMENSIONS: 3D might not be a huge hit at the movies, but it’s a winner in school biology classes in the Europe. Test results show that kids viewing 3D models of the body and how things like ears work get better results than kids who just see it on paper. Results also show that twice as many kids pay attention in class while using the 3D materials. The CSI effect comes to town. BBC.
- SLATED FOR SUCCESS: The I-slate is a single function tablet device designed to help children in India with their schoolwork. It’s a joint creation of Rice University in the US and Nanyang Technological university in Singapore. When mass produced the tablets should cost less than US$50 each. Because the slates use a low-power computer chip the goal is to have them run on solar power, like calculators. At the moment they use batteries. The I-slates will be pre-loaded with lessons for mathematics, science and social studies. One advantage over the chalk slates students currently use is that the electronic version can give instant feedback, for example on arithmetic problems. So when do Indian kids get 3D learning? Rice University.
- CHARGE ON THE RUN: Here’s an idea: charge your gadgets while you carry them around. The Powerbag messenger includes a lightweight removable rechargeable 3000mAh battery and Apple, Micro-USB and Mini-USB connectors and a USB port. Turn the battery on to charge devices plugged in inside the bag’s pockets. Recharge the bag itself via an included wall adapter. There are also pockets for general items such as books and papers and a laptop. It should be easier to charge one bag than half a dozen devices — I’m looking at you, airports. Powerbag.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 12 October 2011
- MARS REALITY: It took 3 years for NASA’s Opportunity Rover to trek the 21 Km from Victoria crater to Endeavour crater on Mars. At the end of each day Opportunity took a photo of the horizon. Now you can watch the trip in 3 minutes as a slideshow of some of the end-of-day photos. It’s a bleak but diverse landscape. Thanks JPL. Video:
- COFFEE ALERT: The Smart Lid fits snugly on your takeaway coffee and embeds a safe additive that changes colour with heat. If the coffee’s too hot to drink the lid changes colour to warn you, for example from brown to red, though other colours are available. As the drink cools the lid changes back to its original colour. “Tea. Earl Grey. Red.” Smart Lid.
- DORMOUSE SCREENS: Engineers at LG realised that computers are constantly refreshing LCD panels even when the data displayed hasn’t changed. They reckon they can put a frame buffer in the panel itself. The panel reads data from the buffer, rather than constantly requiring input from the CPU and GPU. That means the processors can sleep when they’re not required, using less energy and making a laptop battery last longer. Commercial products with this feature should be available within a couple of years. It makes sense to take a nap when you’re not needed. HP.
- DISC WORLD: Still using DVDs? The Duplium EcoDisc is thinner, lighter, extremely flexible and more durable than a standard DVD. In production the disc requires 52% less CO2 emissions, 50% less polycarbonate, 50% less production energy and it uses no toxic bonder. The Cloud has 100% less polycarbonate. Duplium.
- BLOOD ON THE LENS: First person shooter games usually involve the player carrying a gun. In Warco, an interactive training game for young journalists, they’re shooting with a camera in a war zone. The game’s creator, an ABC Australia correspondent, hopes the game will provide some initial training for young journalists to introduce them to concepts like not standing in the line of fire. It’s not intended to replace the careful training they’ll need for real life shooting. If it’s commercially available it may also appeal to those who don’t want to play killing games. BBC.
Tech Universe: Thursday 13 October 2011
- WIND BENEATH THE WING: Wind turbines tend to stand around waiting for the wind to blow just above ground level. But the winds are more reliable a little higher up, so why not bring the turbine to the wind, like flying a kite? The 59 Kg Makani Wing 7 is designed to take off vertically and fly straight up to around 1 Km or higher where it catches the wind and flies around a circular path. The wing itself keeps the craft aloft, while propellers generate energy. A cable brings the prototype’s generated power back to a flatbed truck on the ground. The prototype is around 9 metres wide and can generate 20 kilowatts. Developers hope a larger commercial version could generate a megawatt. Benjamin Franklin would have liked that one. DVice.
- SNAP: We’ve seen it on TV: the Federal Agent snaps a photo of someone then the computer quickly matches the photo and spits out a name. Now the FBI in the US are making that partly a reality. Their nationwide facial recognition service will allow local police to identify unknown subjects in photos. At the moment the police must already know a name to obtain that person’s photo. With the new service photos can be matched and a set of possible identities returned. I guess they’ll have to make it illegal to wear a disguise while committing a crime. NextGove.
- BUSTED: The Washington County school district in Florida, USA, want to keep better track of student attendance. That’s why they’ve installed fingerprint scanners on school buses. They already use the scanners inside the schools themselves, but most students use buses so the scanners were moved. Parents can still opt to have their kids sign in the usual way, rather than using the scanners. Foolproof: I doubt any kid would get on the bus and not actually go into the school when it arrives. WJHG.com.
- QUICK MATCH: On TV shows DNA tests take only a few minutes to return results. In real life those tests can take months, or with recent developments, several hours. The tests rely on a Polymerase Chain Reaction to amplify specific DNA sequences. The standard process relies on temperature changes and that’s where the holdup has been. Now researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Lab have cut testing time to less than three minutes. The new process pumps hot or cold water through a foamed copper block that contains the sample, making things much speedier. This could bring a quick medical diagnosis while you wait at the doctor’s office, rather than going home and worrying. Ars Technica.
- GRIT YOUR TEETH: Stanford University want to better understand how collisions in sports matches cause concussions. They’re equipping athletes with a mouthpiece whose sensors measure the force of hits to the head. Accelerometers and gyrometers in the mouthpieces measure the linear and rotational force of head impacts and transmit the data back to a monitor at the sidelines. Researchers hope the mouthpieces will provide better data than sensors in helmets that can move during play and throw measurements out. Put these on boxers! TechNewsDaily.
Tech Universe: Friday 14 October 2011
- TYPING BLIND: Stanford University’s Army High-Performance Computing Research Center have developed a tablet Braille writer. Instead of the blind person needing to figure out where to put their fingers on the flat glass screen the keys find the person’s fingers. The user touches 8 fingertips to the glass then the keys orient themselves correctly. The system would easily cater for users who have small or large hands, and for having the tablet in any orientation, even hanging around the neck. Useful too for anyone who’d like to touch type on a touch screen. Stanford University.
- GROUND CONTROL: The pilot of the US Navy’s new K-MAX helicopter stepped out before the craft took off and headed for a control room on base. The drone will be used to ferry cargo around Afghanistan’s extremely difficult terrain. The K-MAX is capable of moving 2,700 Kg of gear per day while pilots control it from a ground control station. Video games get real. Wired.
- HISTORY DRONES ON: Archaeological sites are often in hard to reach areas with rugged terrain, so scientists are turning to drones for help. On a recent trip to a remote area in Russia a quadrocopter weighing only 1 Kg was able to obtain very clear images of almost 200 kurgan burial mounds 2,300 to 2,800 years old. Since the drones are small and light they can fly close to the ground, although wind can be a problem. WHat were the ancient cultures doing in such inaccessible terrain in the first place? Scientific American.
- EYE HACK: As we get older our eyes change, becoming less quick to focus, which usually makes it harder to see items close up. The GlassesOff app, in development now, aims to retrain the brain and help older eyes see more clearly. Creators claim that 3 sessions per week, each of 45 minutes, for 3 months will make a difference in correcting or even preventing Presbyopia. Definitely sounds too good to be true. GlassesOff.
- POOPER BURNER: A scientist from Hebrew University of Jerusalem aims to help clean up dog poop. Rather than owners scooping poop into a plastic bag that goes in the rubbish the AshPoopie will scoop and burn. Shaped roughly like a walking stick the bottom of the prototype device scoops up the poop. Inside the device the poop is combined with the contents of a replaceable cartridge. After a minute or so sterile, odourless ash emerges that can be dropped on the ground. Sounds a great idea, but what’s in the cartridges and will it cost heaps to replace them? CNET. AshPoopie
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.