Tech Universe: Monday 20 February 2012
- HOT WINGS: A team at GE Global Research studied the scales on Morpho butterfly wings. They found that when enhanced with single-walled carbon nanotubes, structures in the wings were extremely sensitive to heat changes. The wings can sense temperature changes down to .02 degrees Celsius, at a response rate of 1/40 of a second. The team believe their findings will help improve consumer electronic products that use heat sensors. You have to blow on the butterfly. General Electric Company.
- YOU’VE GOT CASH: Barclay’s bank in the UK is giving its customers a free smartphone app called Pingit so they can easily send and receive cash. After installing the app and registering, customers choose a contact from their address book, or enter a phone number, then enter the amount to pay. People who aren’t customers of the bank can receive but not send payments. The app is protected with a 5 digit PIN. This should be specially helpful for anyone whose uncle needs help sorting out their millions of dollars. Barclays.
- BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL: Scientists from the University of Cambridge in the UK have developed a more efficient solar cell that absorbs red light and harnesses the extra energy of blue light to boost the electrical current. The cells include pentacene, an organic semiconductor so they generate two electrons instead of one for every photon they absorb from the blue light spectrum. Two for one’s a good deal. Click Green.
- DROPS TO DRINK: Although we’re surrounded by oceans, they don’t directly provide us with drinking water. Now a Stanford University team has designed an electrochemical cell that can desalinate seawater. The cell draws ions from seawater into a pair of electrodes. An electric current drives chloride and sodium ions to different electrodes. The desalinated water can be retrieved and the salts released as waste. The team still need to find a way to remove sulfates and to improve the efficiency. At the moment the device removes only 50% of the salt, instead of the desired 98%. And let’s also find a way to stops the salts from being ‘waste’. American Chemical Society.
- NEW NUCLEAR: The US is building 2 new nuclear reactors in Georgia — the first to be approved in over 30 years. They’ll be built on the same site as two older reactors, cost $14 billion, and will generate enough power for 1 million homes. With more than 130 million homes in the USA they need a lot of power generators. CNN.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 21 February 2012
- LACY BIKE: Do you reckon a rugged mountain bike frame could weigh just 1.2Kg? The Arantix Mountain Bike uses an IsoTruss carbon fibre and Kevlar spider web-like open lattice tube design to cut the weight. The limited edition frame is handcrafted to create an ultra stiff and responsive bike. What about the aerodynamics of that lattice frame? Delta 7.
- DAILY SHOT: Some people have diseases or conditions that mean they must have injections at intervals, maybe daily, perhaps for years. The MicroCHIPS company has now successfully tested an implantable drug delivery microchip, to the proof of concept stage. The device can be monitored and controlled remotely while it delivers the metred doses for several weeks. Now the company are developing new designs to deliver up to 400 doses over more than a year. Imagine if it came loaded with chocolate or caffeine. MicroCHIPS.
- BYE BYE BIRDIE: The Scalado Remove app aims to clean up your smartphone photos. The app takes several photos of the same scene and then analyses the objects in that scene. Tap on a highlighted object to remove it from the image. This could let you take a photo of a landmark, for example, without the clutter of cars or other passers-by. I wish I could declutter my house as easily. Engadget.
- GO GO GECKO: A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts has created Geckskin, a device that can hold almost 320 Kg on a smooth wall. Based on how a gecko sticks to walls, the device can be easily removed and then stuck to another surface as many times as needed. Geckskin uses a soft pad woven into a stiff fabric in a way that maximises contact with a surface such as a wall, and includes a synthetic tendon that maintains stiffness and rotational freedom. Goodbye ladders. This just has to lead to new types of sports too. University of Massachusetts Amherst.
- CAR SPIES: Some British car insurers are offering their customers a telematics black box to install in their car. The telematics device uses sat-nav technology to track driver performance, monitoring speed, braking, cornering and the types of roads used during certain times of day. The data is sent back to the insurers, and drivers can access their own data via a web page. The system is mainly aimed at younger drivers who want to reduce their premiums by showing they drive safely. That has a lot of potential to backfire on the driver. BBC.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 22 February 2012
- POWER STRUCTURE: BAE Systems in the UK had a bright idea: turn carbon fiber into a battery. That means, for example, that a car made of carbon fiber can simply store energy in the body, rather than carrying around separate batteries. These structural batteries use nickel but future batteries should use lithium ion and lithium polymer technologies. At the moment the amount of energy the structural batteries store per weight is rather low, but of course BAE are working on that. Those carbon fiber cars truly would be electric vehicles then. SmartPlanet.
- MONEY TO BURN: Human beings have been littering in space for more than 50 years now, and as the rubbish piles up it’s becoming increasingly dangerous. The Swiss Space Centre aim to start a clean-up with their CleanSpace One project. Their idea is to send a craft that will find and grapple debris, beginning with an abandoned Swiss craft. Then both craft will de-orbit by burning up in the atmosphere. CleanSpace One and its maiden space voyage will cost about 10 million Swiss francs. It’s a shame the only way to deal with this problem is by burning everything. EPFL.
- SEQUENCE YOURSELF: Genome sequencing takes a massive computer and plenty of time and money. Or it did, until the MinION. The disposable DNA sequencing device is the size of a bulky thumb drive. It’s a comparatively low-cost, single use device that contains a sensor chip, ASIC and a fluidics system. Plug it into your laptop and sequence some DNA today. Oxford Nanopore Technologies.
- SHARE THE SUGAR: The MyTelcare Diabetes Pal combines a wireless glucose meter with a smartphone app and website to let people with diabetes not only monitor their own glucose levels, but easily share the data with family, caregivers and doctors. The person uses a cellular-enabled blood glucose meter to test a drop of blood. The device then automatically sends the data to a server which feeds it on to a smartphone app. Graphs and charts show trends, while export features and reports mean the data can be used by those who need it. And if they included a log-in function places like schools could have one meter for many users. PR Web.
- SICK COW WALKING: In the UK some farmers are attaching tracking sensors to their cows. The Silent Herdsman collar includes an accelerometer that can detect a cow’s gait in 3D. Sluggish leg movement, for example, suggests a cow may be sick, so the collar sends a signal to the farmer. The collar also senses heat to help determine when a cow is ready for mating. Data is sent via WiFi or 3G to an app that informs the farmer about the health of the animal. If it leads to better animal care it sounds like a good thing. Mashable Video. Silent Herdsman:
Tech Universe: Thursday 23 February 2012
- SINGING GLOVES: Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada have created a pair of gloves that cause a computer to produce human-like vocalisations. The right-hand glove contains motion sensors that let an open hand create vowels while a closed hand creates consonants. Meanwhile 3D position sensors on the same glove affect pitch. A foot pedal controls volume. The left-hand glove has buttons to activate consonants such as p or b that need a sudden release of pressure. The gloves were designed as a voice synthesiser for people with disabilities, but they’re also being explored as a musical instrument — a wearer could sing a duet with herself. The duets are rather odd. New Scientist.
- QUAKE STUDIES: Chinese scientists believe the air guns used to help find oil can be also used to study and predict earthquakes. In oil exploration, the air guns shoot sharp blasts of pressurised air that generate seismic vibrations. Geologists can then map the structure of rock deposits or other features. The Chinese studies use air guns to deliberately generate consistent seismic waves rather than just waiting till they occur naturally. This lets the researchers make more detailed studies of the ground. The team hope to improve their ability to detect faultline stresses and give early warnings of naturally occurring quakes. It sounds something like playing with fire. ScienceNOW.
- SKI SPIKES: Snowshoes need a toe hole and spikes so you can walk uphill. But it would be easier to glide down slopes than walk and the spikes don’t help. The Hive hybrid snowshoe cleverly lets you both walk and glide. A hinged flap with spikes folds up into the toe hole leaving a smooth surface on the bottom. The bindings also move to a locked gliding position. Climb up; glide down. It looks fun. Hive.
- TAKE A NUMBER: Norway is about to start using genome sequencing of cancer tumours in an effort to improve its national healthcare service. Similar schemes in other countries use conventional genetic testing but Norway’s plan is to sequence DNA. This could allow doctors to identify the best drugs to treat specific tumours. The DNA sequencing approach is becoming possible because the cost of the technique has plummeted recently. Better diagnosis, better treatment — it’s a win all round. Nature.
- LISTEN TO THE BEAT: Scientists and engineers at Oregon State University and the University of California have created a tiny electronic device that monitors a person’s heart rate, respiration, movement and similar vital signs. It doesn’t need to be in direct contact with the skin either, and the battery lasts for a week without recharging. Data from the device can be downloaded by doctors and others to assess a patient’s well-being. The researchers aim to make the device even smaller and cheaper so it could be widely used. But will it tweet the data? Oregon State University.
Tech Universe: Friday 24 February 2012
- HOLD YOUR TONGUE: If you rely on an electric wheelchair you need some way to control it. The Tongue Drive System from Georgia Institute of Technology puts the control into the user’s mouth. An inconspicuous dental retainer includes sensors, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and an induction coil to charge the battery. The retainer is moulded to fit tightly around the wearer’s teeth. Meanwhile the person has a tiny magnet attached to their tongue. As the wearer moves their tongue data from the sensors is sent to a smartphone and interpreted to move a cursor on a computer screen or to move the wheelchair. So it is all in the way you hold your mouth. Georgia Institute of Technology.
- SMART PHONE; SMART BAG: A team in Dubai think we could use RFID tags on our personal possessions to make sure we never again walk off leaving our keys or wallet behind. Their IPURSE concept merges RFID and near-field communication technologies into a single system. Your smartphone could contain a list of the items in your bag and then alert you if one or more of those items were removed or left behind. Yes. Alpha Galileo.
- GO FOR GREEN: Sometimes as you drive round town it seems like you catch every red light. But what say your car could call ahead to the nearest intersection and let it know when it would arrive? The intersection could then advise the car whether it could proceed or must stop. This is the idea of one professor at the University of Texas, who says it would be just like reserving a room at a hotel. Great idea, until a city decide to charge for it or sell higher access levels. Some of us could be stuck with the red forever. Discovery News.
- WOUND ZAPPER: The US Army is testing a bioelectric bandage. The bandage contains small silver and zinc dots in the pattern of tiny batteries that create micro-currents when moist. The electric current is supposed to ease pain, kill infectious microbes and speed up healing. Woo. Nice one. Discovery News.
- NOAH’S SUBURBAN HOUSE: Suppose you live by a river, perhaps the Thames in London. And suppose the height of that river increases, perhaps because of climate change. Wouldn’t it be handy if instead of flooding your house were to float? That’s the story for the UK’s first amphibious house to be built beside the Thames. A lightweight timber construction rests on a concrete hull, creating a free-floating pontoon. 4 permanent guideposts keep it in place so it doesn’t just float away. I wonder where the lifeboat’s stored. World Architecture 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.