Tech Universe: Monday 13 February 2012
- SHOWY BULLETS: Bullets are so explosive and damaging. The SmartRounds company have developed ShockRounds, intended to replace bean bags and rubber bullets. A micro-sensor in the 18-mm projectiles detects acceleration and deceleration. When the bullet slows down, because it hits its target or something nearby, it deploys a liquified, compressed gas. That makes a big bang and a flash, while the bullet itself is also intended to hurt. Look, if you’re going to put yourself in the position of being a target dark glasses and ear protection are vital. Wired.
- SHOWY CAMERA: If you like your camera to have plenty of pixels then the Nikon D800 will be hard to beat with its 36.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Its maximum resolution is 7360 x 4912, while its new metering and autofocus systems are very sensitive too. The camera also grabs video at 1920 x 1080, with uncompressed digital output via HDMI. Hi-def all over. Pop Photo.
- FALCON AND BATTERY: An SUV crossed with a minivan, with falcon-wing doors and powered by battery? That’s the Tesla Model X. The falcon-wing doors for the passengers in the two back rows of seats lift up, but are hinged so they stay close to the car. It seats 7 adults, but the vehicle has plenty of room for luggage: both in the boot and under the bonnet, because the batteries are under the platform of the car. It has an all-wheel drive system that spins front and rear wheels separately. The open doors would make a handy porch on rainy days, but you’d want to watch out for wind gusts. Tesla Motors.
- A COAT AND BATTERY: A team at the Polytechnic School of Montreal in Canada have found a way to build a battery into the very fabric of a garment, rather than just being attached. It’s a lithium ion battery that uses a solid polyethylene oxide electrolyte. The material can be stretched and looks like artificial leather. The team wove strips in with cotton and connected everything with conductive threads. So far all the team have done is illuminate LEDs but there could be many other uses. Their next challenge is to make the fabric waterproof and washable. Hmm, batteries don’t usually get on very well with water. New Scientist.
- BIKE AND BATTERY: San Francisco has a lot of hills, and that’s hard work for cyclists. Now the city are experimenting with a shared bicycle programme that features electric bikes. Federal funds will support both the bike share programme itself and research to see how effective it is in replacing car-share trips. The experiment will place 90 e-bikes at about 25 locations alongside an existing car share programme. Organisers hope some people who set out to hire a car will switch to a bike instead. A boost to the top of the hill and freewheeling down — what’s not to like? NY Times.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 14 February 2012
- WARRIOR MUSCLE: The Warrior from iRobot in the US is quite weighty at around 200 Kg. A metre long, it’s a large robot with an arm, tracks and flippers. It can move at up to 13 Kph and is strong enough to pull a car. The arm can lift more than 68 Kg. A remote operator uses half a dozen cameras to see what’s around the robot, while driving it with an Xbox controller. The Warrior’s intended for search and rescue, firefighting or military use. It’s that mix of game controller and military tech that’s disconcerting. Technology Review.
- EVAPORATING TAGS: RFID tags are very handy for tracking things, but they still cost a bit too much. Now scientists at the University of Montpellier, France, believe they can cut the cost by up to 80%, by using less metal. Their process deposits an aluminum coil antenna onto paper by using thermal evaporation. They have a prototype, and now need to develop it. The never-ending tech problem: it’s a great idea, but costs too much. Discovery News.
- SOLAR HOT, DIESEL NOT: Diesel’s popular in India because of electricity supply problems. But solar panels now cost only a quarter what they cost in 2008, finally making electricity from diesel generators more expensive than from solar power. Analysts hope the cost factor will give solar technology a boost. Once something’s cheap enough there’s usually no stopping it. New Scientist.
- MOLE SCAN NOTES: Skin Scan is a smartphone app from Romania that aims to build up a worldwide database of skin cancer information, while also helping individuals. A person takes a photo of a mole and the image is analysed by the Skin Scan servers. A result is returned to the user with a rating from low-risk to high-risk. The app allows a user to track particular moles over time. At the moment their assessments are about 70% accurate, compared with 85% for a dermatologist. Someone needs to take this over and make it free. GigaOM.
- HIGHER RISE: However tall the building, it’s just never enough. Now in Azerbaijan a businessman plans to build a tower more than a kilometre high. And it’ll be built on an artificial island in the Caspian Sea off Garadag, southwest of Baku. Construction should start in 2016 and be complete by 2019. Hmmm, huge tower, artificial island. Not sure I’d go anywhere near it. News.az.
Tech Universe: Wednesday, 15 February 2012
- SPACE DOCTOR: So you’re in space and you get sick. What are your fellow astronauts to do, since they’re probably not doctors? With any luck they’ll be able to use the ESA’s augmented reality unit. The head-mounted display gives the wearer 3D guidance in diagnosing problems or even performing surgery. At the moment the system uses ultrasound. A prototype headset overlays an image on the patient’s body and provides cue cards so the wearer knows what to do and what they should be seeing. Surgery in zero gravity could be quite a trick though. ESA Technology.
- EARS, BRAIN, COMPUTER: When we hear a sound such as a word certain parts of our brain activate. One scientist in the US recorded brain activity in test subjects while playing them various words. A computer algorithm then determined which words correlated with which brain activity. Then the subjects heard a new set of words and the computer was able to pick out and repeat recognisable words. The researchers hope to one day give those unable to speak a voice. Or the rest of us a way to feed our thoughts directly into the computer. The Guardian.
- SHOWER BED: Dornbracht’s Horizontal Shower may make your mornings easier. You lie on a heated bench, while 6 shower heads directly above play water on you, using programmed temperatures and intensities. Set it up for a gentle massage, an invigorating spray or a soothing sprinkle. The controls are in the head of the bench so you don’t even have to lift an arm to change the programme. It still won’t change the fact you have to get up and go to work. Archello.
- MOTION DETECTIVE: Microsoft’s Kinect generally senses people standing in front of it, but in India some visually impaired people may wear it instead, as a key component in a haptic belt. The viSparsh is the product of a team of young engineers in India being guided by the University of Pennsylvania. The Kinect sensors detect obstacles within a range of a couple of metres and the belt then vibrates to guide the wearer. The team hope to reduce the weight of the system, improve the battery and then have the device manufactured in the US. The Kinect just needs to be resized now. IBN Live.
- CHARGING ALL OVER: Charging an electric vehicle can be a problem. Charging stations aren’t widespread in the way petrol stations are. That may change though. Swiss company ABB manufacture industrial machines for oil, mining and utility companies. But now they want to back a widespread EV charging network across Asia, the US and Europe. ABB also produce chargers, including the heavy duty DC items that can recharge a car in less than 30 minutes. If they’re ubiquitous and fast, and there’s free wireless, that’d be a winning combo. Chicago Tribune.
Tech Universe: Thursday 16 February 2012
- HIS OWNER’S VOICE: Poor old dog, alone at home all day while you’re at work. Perhaps a robot playpal would keep it company? One Microsoft developer used Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio, a Kinect and sundry cameras, speakers, mechanical parts and wheels to build a robot he could operate while at work. The robot throws and retrieves a ball, dispenses treats and plays the owner’s voice for the dog. I suspect allowing dogs in the workplace would be more fun for everyone. Engadget.
- LIFE IN A CAPSULE: The NASA Biocapsule is made of carbon nanotubes and could be implanted under the skin of an astronaut. It’s designed to release a substance after being automatically triggered by something like radiation. An astronaut might have half a dozen capsules implanted in their thigh. Each would require only a small incision and a stitch. Each inert capsule could release many metered doses over time. Back on earth these capsules could be used to control diabetes or deliver chemotherapy to a targeted site. It’s essentially a magic pill then. Gizmodo.
- DRIVE SPEED: An international team of researchers has found a way to make your computer hard drive hundreds of times faster than it is now. The key point is that instead of using a strong magnetic field to flip the bits in data they can use an ultrashort heat pulse. The process uses less energy too because it doesn’t create a magnetic field. Oh goodie, more heat inside the computer. University of York.
- STRETCHY CIRCUITS: If you want to integrate electronics into clothing, or perhaps to wrap a phone around your wrist the gold circuits need to be able to bend and stretch too. In this video you can see how that works, using silicone coated with a very thin layer of gold. And the gold of the circuits could provide the glitter for those stretchy clothes. io9.
- MASSAGE SUIT: The Elektrodress is a Swedish invention that may benefit people with nerve disorders, such as Multiple Scelerosis, Cerebral Palsy or Parkinson’s. The electrode suit helps the body relax with electronic muscle stimulation and vibration therapy. Once relaxed the wearer can function better and enjoy increased movement. Tweak this to provide massages and it’ll be a winner with the general population too. Fashioning Tech. Video (in Swedish):
Tech Universe: Friday, 17 February 2012
- HEART YOUR HARD DRIVE: Just like fingerprints and DNA, our heartbeat patterns are unique. Could that give us a new technique for keeping data private? A team at the National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan, used an ECG to extract the unique mathematical features underlying a heartbeat pattern. Then they used the pattern to generate a secret encryption key. One goal is to build an encryption system into hard drives that could be operated by a simple touch. Fingerprints, irises, heartbeats, thought patterns — what’s left? New Scientist.
- COAL POWERED CARS: Feeling good about your nice clean electric vehicle that doesn’t pollute the air? Wait just one minute. Where did that electricity come from and how much pollution did generating it cause? The University of Tennessee studied electric vehicles in China and found they have a higher impact on pollution than petrol vehicles because of the coal-fired power plants used to generate the power in the first place. Oops. Inhabitat.
- CLEAN CLEAR WATER: Camelbak’s 2012 All Clear Microbiological UV Water Purifier is a refillable water bottle that purifies tap or river water with a 60 second blast of UV light to kill most the bacteria and other nasties like Giardia that could make you sick. A small LCD screen on the lid tells you what to do and handles the 60 second countdown. It treats around 60 litres per water with each battery charge. A USB cable can recharge the battery in around 5 hours. The bulb itself should last for around 9 years, treating 3 bottles per day. Add this to your emergency kit. Camelbak.
- WATER WHEEL COMEBACK: When water flows downhill from a reservoir to a consumer it develops so much speed and pressure that the water company have to slow it down before the user turns on the tap. The methods used create excess heat and pressure. Now Rentricity in the USA has found a way to turn that excess into electricity with a turbine called a Flow-to-Wire. The water turns a wheel connected to a generator, simultaneously reducing flow and pressure and creating electricity. One water treatment plant working with the device has cut their power bill in half. Some inventions are just plain sensible. Discovery News.
- OFF THE SCRIPT: If you’re in hospital there’s a fair chance you may be given the wrong medication because of an unclear prescription or just human error. A study from the University of New South Wales found they could drastically cut such prescription errors by using electronic prescribing technology. There’s still the possibility of error though, for example, as a doctor may just choose the wrong drug from a drop-down menu. There’s no bypassing the human error factor. Science Alert.
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.