Tech Universe: Tuesday 25 October 2011
- SNAP THEN FOCUS: The Lytro camera has been launched, to go on sale in 2012. It’s a short square tube with a fixed f/2 lens at one end and a touchscreen at the other. It has only 2 buttons: power and shutter. The camera includes an 8x optical zoom, and captures 11 million light rays of data. The Lytro is a light-field camera whose images you process on your computer to choose which point will be in focus. The light field sensor collects the colour, intensity, and direction of every light ray flowing into the camera, capturing a scene in 4 dimensions. You can also refocus pictures directly on the camera. The 8GB model stores 350 pictures. When can we get this in our smartphones? Gizmodo.
- GLASSES IN THE ZONE: A new Heads Up Display called Sportiiiis from Canadian company 4iiii Innovations is designed for athletes. It attaches to your existing sunglasses and receives data wirelessly from devices such as a heart rate or cadence monitor. After processing the data it indicates to wearers via red, yellow and green LED lights and audio updates whether they’re within a pre-configured optimum workout zone. That sounds non-intrusive so you can keep your eyes on the road. Gizmag.
- OPEN SCOPE: The GLObal Robotic telescopes Intelligent Array, or GLORIA, is a free and open-access network of robotic telescopes. Anyone who has an Internet connection and a web browser will be able to access GLORIA and do research in astronomy by observing with robotic telescopes. The project will last 3 years and integrate 17 telescopes, with one apparently in New Zealand. It’s not clear when the project will start operation. Gloria.
- HYBRID ROBOTS: The S2 robot from Meka Robotics resembles an Anime character with expressive puppy ears. The robot’s eyes contain cameras and can move almost as quickly as human eyes. The movements are smooth, as befits a robot that may be used for human assistance. But with dogs ears… Science News Blog.
- BLINKING CHAIR: Some people who use wheelchairs can’t use their arms to push the wheels, their hands to control a joystick, or even turn their head to operate a controller. Most can still use their facial muscles though. A Japanese research team is developing a controller that responds to winking the eyes hard enough to make the cheeks move, and clenching the teeth. A wink changes direction, while clenching the teeth stops or starts the chair. The team think they could incorporate the controls into a pair of glasses or goggles for commercial use. If they’re going to use goggles, why not just detect eye movement and blinks? DigInfo News.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 26 October 2011
- HALF POWER ROOF: The roof of Blackfriars train station on a bridge over the River Thames in London will be covered in more than 4,400 photovoltaic solar panels. The bridge itself was built in 1886, but the station’s being upgraded. The 6,000 square metres of solar panels will generate an estimated 900,000kWh of electricity every year, providing 50% of the station’s energy. Shiny. Panasonic.
- LOCKED AND FLOATED: Quantum Locking is a new term to learn. It describes a phenomenon that will astonish you once you see its effects. Scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel wrapped a thin superconductor around a crystal sapphire wafer and then froze it. Tiny imperfections allowed some magnetic forces through the superconductor in magnetic channels called flux tubes. The flux tubes lock the magnetic field in all 3 dimensions. That all sounds pretty dry, but what it means is a disc that can levitate in a locked orientation. Tilt it and send it on a journey floating above a magnetic disc and it will fly around without wobbling. Still sounds dull? Watch the video and you’ll see why it’s so amazing. It’s OK to be smart.
- ZOMBIE ARRAY: With satellites crashing to Earth all over the place these days it’s a good thing DARPA are thinking about cleaning up in space. Their idea is to turn some of the orbiting junk into a zombie antenna array. The Phoenix system will put a Tender satellite into the graveyard zone to pick apart dead satellites, focusing on the antennas. Once the antenna is free the Tender will attach it to a Satlet that acts as a new controller. The device is then guided into a useful orbit as part of a communications farm. But what about the rest of the dead satellite? Does it just stay up there till it crashes too? Wired.
- SQUARE SAIL IN SPACE: For a Demonstration Mission in a couple of years time NASA plans to launch the largest ever solar sail. They hope to use a solar sail for for missions such as advanced geostorm warnings, economic orbital debris removal, and deep space exploration. They plan to test a sail 38 metres by 38 metres, along with testing navigation features such as attitude control. At least if it all comes crashing back to Earth a sail should burn up on re-entry. NASA.
- COOL CARS: What colour’s your car (if you have one)? The right colour could reduce the car’s fuel consumption. The Berkeley Lab Environmental Energy Technologies Division in the USA studied the effects of car colour on heating from the sun. They found that using paint that reflected more of the sun’s rays would keep a car cooler, meaning the air conditioner wasn’t needed so much. A smaller air conditioner draws less power, increasing fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions. You could also maybe try opening windows and putting shades on windows while the car’s parked folks. Environmental Energy Technologies Division.
Tech Universe: Thursday 27 October 2011
- ON A ROLL: GroundBot from Swedish firm Rotundus is a 25 Kg 60 cm robot shaped like a ball that hosts cameras and sensors. It can move across most surfaces almost silently at up to 10 Kph either using GPS or by remote control. The sphere is sealed and can operate up to 16 hours on its battery. The GroundBot could be used for surveillance, search and rescue or industrial tasks such as checking possible gas leaks. Surveillance cameras on walls and poles are so old-fashioned now. Rotundus.
- SOLAR AIRSHIP: A Canadian company called Solar Ship reckons its hybrid airship will be useful for aid organisations and mining companies. Their new delta-shaped craft is a hybrid solar ship — it’s filled with helium, and has solar panels across the top of its body. The solar panels provide lift and drive. The makers say the craft can take off and land on an area the size of a football pitch, yet travel up to 1,000 Km with 1,000 kilos of cargo. Smugglers may like this one too. Toronto Star.
- TV ON THE MOVE: In the US the U-Verse Wireless Receiver from AT&T will let subscribers move their viewing device around the house to any room where they want it and still watch TV. The TV is paired to a wireless device and then broadcasts are re-encoded and streamed over the home’s wireless network. I’m guessing you won’t use this with the ginormous flat-screen attached to the wall. Gizmodo.
- BLOBBING BEHIND WALLS: Researchers at MIT have developed a shortwave device that displays real-time video, in the form of red blobs, of human beings moving behind a 20 cm thick concrete wall up to 20 metres away. Problems include the wall being the brightest object and huge loss of signal strength, but the researchers have found workarounds. Mounted on a truck, their system would be practical for combat in urban areas. And be sure to hide in amongst a flock of animals if you’re the one being sought. MIT News.
- STRETCHY TOUCHSCREENS: Researchers at Stanford University have created a flexible and stretchable skin-like sensor using spray-on carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes in the transparent film act like springs that enable the sensor to accurately measure the force being applied to it. Then the film springs back to its original shape. The film could be used for touchscreen computers or perhaps as an artificial skin for prosthetics. Does it come in pink and brown? Stanford University.
Tech Universe: Friday 28 October 2011
- HOVERBALL: We caught a glimpse of this Japanese flying sphere a while ago but now Japan’s Ministry of Defence have given it an official outing. The sphere weighs 350 grams and is 42 cm in diameter. It can hover, fly against walls, land and roll, and achieve speeds up to 60 Kph. Made from commercially available parts, it costs around US$1400. A larger version could spark some serious UFO sightings. ScienceNews Blog.
- WALKIES: BlueBiped, the Passive Walking Robot has no motors, no sensors, no power source, yet in a test last year it was able to walk around 15 Km in 13 hours. The robot is a set of aluminium legs with the same weight and proportions as human legs. Created by Nagoya Institute of Technology in Japan the legs are given a slight push and they can walk with a human gait, using their own weight, down a slight slope. Like humans, the robot walks by falling forwards. Well, that’s walking taken care of. ExtremeTech.
- SHOE TRACKS: Folks in the US will soon be able to buy shoes that include an embedded GPS device. They’re intended for people with Alzheimer’s so their carers can track them easily if they wander off. It’s not uncommon for someone with Alzheimer’s to go for a walk, become confused and get lost, sometimes with fatal results. Software will allow alerts if the shoes go past an arbitrary perimeter. People with Alzheimer’s may remove bracelets or other tracking devices as they may be suspicious of them. Given that we often see news reports about people with Alzheimer’s who are missing, let’s hope shoes like this really do save lives. The Boston Globe.
- GLOVES ON: Touchscreens are all good, until it’s cold. In cold temperatures the tech itself may not respond well and generally won’t work if the user’s wearing gloves. A new capacitive touch panel from SMK Corp takes care of both problems. It’s intended for use in car navigation systems and can handle temperatures from -30 to +85°C. It’s designed to be highly sensitive — enough to detect a touch through a glove. If your car’s that cold or that hot you’ll have much bigger problems than operating the nav system. Tech-On!
- THE 60 PERCENT: By 2015 the United Nations are hoping that 60% of everyone in the developed world and 50% of people in developing nations will be using affordable broadband. Their research has shown that currently 20% of the world’s population are Internet users. Within that though, things are unevenly distributed, with some having speedy connections and others much slower speeds. It’s an ambitious but useful target. BBC.
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.