Tech Universe: Monday 14 November 2011
- BRIGHT EARS: If winter really really gets you down perhaps you suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Finnish company Valkee Ltd claim their earbuds can help by shining bright light into your brain through your ears. Their clinical trials showed that 92% of the patients with seasonal affective disorder achieved full remission with doses of 12 minutes of light per day. Just hope the light doesn’t come out the other side. PR Newswire.
- TB SPEEDTEST: Tuberculosis still kills nearly 2 million people each year, mainly in developing countries. Current tests are costly and slow, but researchers from the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi in India are developing an electronic nose. The $30 handheld unit is battery operated and works rather like a breathalyser. A person blows into the device, then sensors pick up TB biomarkers and give an almost instant diagnosis. The low cost and ease of use should make it possible to catch more cases of TB in remote areas. Cheap, easy, effective: 3 winning characteristics. Yahoo News.
- FLY BY WIRELESS: United Airlines will offer satellite-based, in-flight internet access on more than 300 aircraft flying worldwide, starting in 2012. Internet access will use the satellite-based Panasonic Avionics Ku-band system. UA plan to have equipped their whole fleet by 2015. But will it cost as much as the seat? BBC.
- SUCKED WET: Ed Linacre’s an Australian with a plan to suck water out of the air in deserts and use it for irrigation. His low-tech Airdrop uses a turbine intake to suck air down through underground pipes. Moisture condenses out of the air and collects in a tank. From the tank it can be used to drip feed plants with water. An LCD screen displays tank water levels, pressure strength, solar battery life and system health. The low tech system should make it easy for farmers to install. James Dyson Foundation.
- SMART CRIME: Are you sure about that app you downloaded for your smartphone? Criminals are making trojan apps that silently send expensive SMS messages while appearing to do something else. It’s a dangerous world out there; be very careful what you install. BBC.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 15 November 2011
- VIRTUAL CLOTHES: Some British stores are experimenting with virtual mirrors in clothes shops. The mirror first records you as you stand in front of it. Then by using gestures you can ‘try on’ various clothes, capture images of yourself in the clothes and share the images with friends by email or Facebook. Hours of fun for you and your pals. BBC.
- FORGET BLACK NIGHTS: What’s really really really black? A new material from NASA that absorbs more than 99% of the ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and far-infrared light that hits it. The coating that does this trick is a thin layer of multi-walled carbon nanotubes positioned vertically on various substrate materials. Because it reflects almost nothing the material will be useful in sensitive detectors looking at the far universe as well as the Earth’s surface, oceans or atmosphere. The black material will also be useful for cooling instruments in space because it helps radiate heat away. Wait, I thought black absorbed heat because it didn’t reflect light. NASA.
- RETURN TO PRINT: Polaroid cameras were big a few decades ago: snap the picture and a few moments later the photo would emerge from the camera. Now Polaroid have gone digital with their 14 megapixel Z340 Instant Digital Camera. 3×4” prints are created with ink-free Zero Ink Printing Technology that embeds cyan, yellow, and magenta dye crystals in an advanced composite material. The paper appears white until the crystals are heated. The LCD means you can crop and add borders, then select which photos to print. Wait long enough and everything comes back. Polaroid.
- SHEAR SOUND: Hot water, soap and a scrubbing brush are pretty good at cleaning things. It’d be good to do the cleaning with cold water and without the scrubbing brush and soap though. Researchers from the University of Southampton are working on an ultrasonic attachment for taps that uses less water and power than the equivalent pressure washer. The nozzle generates both bubbles and ultrasound. The bubbles create a shear force that effectively scrubs surfaces they contact. Let the bubble do the cleaning. University of Southampton.
- THIN SAVINGS: If solar cells are thin they cost less to manufacture. The problem is thinner cells absorb less light so they don’t generate as much electricity. Scientists at Caltech and Northwestern Universities have designed nanoscale wedges that strongly absorb blue light at the tip and red light at the base. The patterned films absorb an average of 70% of the light across the entire visible spectrum. Next they intend to apply the technique to solar cells. They also cost less to transport, put less strain on support structures and be easier to install. Technology Review.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 16 November 2011
- FRONT WHEEL MISSING: Take a look at the Ryno electric motorcycle and you may think someone’s stolen the front wheel. They haven’t though — it’s designed to have only one wheel. The unicycle has a range of 48 Km, and can run at up to 32 Kph. The LiFePo4 battery that powers it can recharge in 1.5 hours. The turning radius can be as little as on-the-spot, but it may need up to 1 metre. The bike’s on-board Auto Balance Systems continuously monitor for balance and take control if necessary to keep the bike upright. Finding parking would be simple too, I imagine. Ryno.
- LONG RIDER: The 2012 machines from Zero Motorcycles pack more energy into their electric power packs to give them a range of almost 200 Km at up to 140 Kph, and 3,000 complete charge cycles before the pack reduces to 80% of its original charge capacity. The bikes also include regenerative braking which extends range by recapturing energy into the battery pack when slowing. Silent, fast and capable. Discovery News.
- WORLD OF YOUR OWN: Many planes these days provide you with your own entertainment screen, but you could go one better with Epson’s Moverio BT-100 multimedia glasses. They let you watch what you please, but they’re also transparent so you can keep an eye on the world around you. The glasses run on Android, have earbuds, WiFi, a 4GB SD card and internal memory, along with a trackpad for control. So it’s like augmented reality with a split personality then. Epson.
- HYPERCORDER: Monitoring the environment for contaminants and hazards can be a long and involved process occupying many hours in a lab. A new sensor from Tel Aviv University can do the work in real-time. The hyperspectral camera interprets reflected sunlight radiation that bounces off an object, material, or environment. Different chemical compounds reflect different colours — most of them invisible to the human eye, but visible to the new sensor. The hyperspectral camera could be used from a few centimetres or up to 800 Km away, meaning it could be mounted on a plane, satellite or weather balloon. Tricorders? Toys. American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
- CLIPBOARD PROTECTOR: The Ballistic Impact clipboard from Impact Armor Technologies is designed to protect law enforcement officers from bullets and stabbing. It withstands multiple shots from various guns and from knife attacks and blunt objects. Is this instead of bullet and stab-proof vests? Impact Armor.
Tech Universe: Thursday 17 November 2011
- FLAT LIGHT: Columbia University designers developed the inflatable LuminAID solar light. Essentially it’s a sealed plastic bag with a solar panel and a light. Turn it on, then blow into the valve to inflate the bag and disperse the light. The thin film solar panel fuels 2 coin cell rechargeable batteries. The LuminAID can charge fully in 6 hours to provide 5 hours of light. It packs flat so large quantities of the lights could be easily and cheaply shipped to disaster areas. A brilliant simple design. LuminAID.
- HEAT AND LIGHT: The inner core of the Earth lies 2500 Km beneath the surface. It’s probably as hot as the surface of the sun and the pressure is 3.5 million times that at the surface. But we don’t really know much about it. A team at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France hope to change that with an X-ray beam called ID24 at Grenoble in France. For microseconds the laser beam will heat materials the size of a speck of dust to incredibly high temperatures for stud, measuring a million results per second. The beamline will be opened to researchers around the world in May 2012. Such tiny measurements for such enormous results. European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
- 175 DEGREES OF SEPARATION: Some surfaces are coated with substances like Teflon or wax to make them resist water or oil — hydrophobic or oleophobic. A new coating, NeverWet, claims to be superhydrophobic. It doesn’t just resist liquids — they simply roll right off. Teflon, for example, has a contact angle of 110 degrees. A perfect sphere would have an angle of 180 degrees. NeverWet claims to create droplets with an angle of between 160 and 175 degrees. The videos are certainly convincing. NeverWet.
- SLIPPERY SLOPE: A Slippery Liquid Infused Porous Surface is what the pitcher plant uses to trap insects. The insects land on a leaf and slide down because the plant locks in a layer of water, creating a slick coating. Using that technique as a model, scientists at Harvard have created a material that has the same super-slippery properties. They created a nanostructured porous material with a lubricating fluid that repels a wide variety of liquids and solids. The material is simple and cheap to manufacture. Hmmm, this sounds familiar. Harvard.
- DRY INSIDE: So you wrecked your smartphone by putting it through the wash? HzO has what you need for your next phone. Their WaterBlocked nano-scale film protects the electronics from water with special water-repelling properties. Water can still enter the device, but the vapour-coating on the electronics protects them, and prevents corrosion. The phone can even still work underwater. All by the power of a ‘magic’ coating. HzO.
Tech Universe: Friday 18 November 2011
- SPINNING VIDEOS: If you like to prop up your smartphone to video yourself you need to stay pretty much in one spot or else you move out of frame. The Swivl can follow your movements so that’s no longer a problem. Put your smartphone or small camera in the slot and pick up the marker. The Swivl stand follows the marker to track you as you move around. The Swivl moves both horizontally and vertically, leaving you free to move as you need. Next it needs to be able to fly and follow. Swivl.
- LOOK FAST: What kind of game controller do you prefer? How about if you could control a game just by looking at it? Eye Asteroids from Tobii Technology is an arcade machine that uses the Tobii IS-1-L Eye Tracker. Stand in front of the screen and it figures out where you’re looking then shoots down asteroids threatening the Earth. Don’t try this while drunk. Tobii Technology.
- THE BOX IS MORE FUN: Fresh from North Carolina State University are polymer boxes that fold themselves into shape when a light shines on them. A flat pre-stressed plastic sheet is printed up with bold black ink, then cut to a pattern. When an infrared light, such as a heat lamp, is moved over the sheet the black lines absorb more energy than the rest of the sheet. They contract, creating a hinge that folds the sheets into 3-D shapes. The width of the black lines determines both the angle and speed of fold. Wider lines contract more and fold to a bigger angle. By applying patterns of lines to both sides of the polymer complex structures can be created. Forget using this for wrapping items — it’s a clear case of the packaging being the most fun. North Carolina State University.
- THE PRINCESS AND THE SLEEP SENSOR: Sleep sensors normally require the subject to wear an annoying headband or bracelet. A new model from Bam Labs though slips unobtrusively under the mattress. The sensor mat continuously detects heart rate, breathing rate, motion and presence and sends data wirelessly to an online server where it’s analysed. The analysis is available via the web or a smartphone app. This means caregivers can easily monitor groups of people and watch trends while the sleeper enjoys their rest. Burglars could find the data handy too. Bam Labs.
- 8 TRACK RECORDING: Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland created a computer system that can track and distinguish between multiple players in a sports match. It could also be used to track any groups of people, such as surgical teams or shoppers. The system uses 8 cameras, while algorithms help track individuals by how they stand out from their surroundings, along with reading their jersey numbers. I doubt the shoppers will be willing to wear jersey numbers. Discovery 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.