Tech Universe: Monday 18 June 2012
- HOT AND COLD: Pyroelectric nanogenerators may sound like a new way to generate power from heat, but in fact the ancient Greeks came up with the idea. More than 50% of the energy generated in the US (and probably other countries) each year goes to waste, commonly as heat. A team at Georgia Tech in the US made nanowires out of zinc oxide then made them into an array of short lengths of wire standing on end. Then they applied heating or cooling, which rearranged the molecular structure, creating an imbalance of electrons that generated an electric current. Add this to a laptop and I bet it could help enormously with battery life. American Chemical Society.
- HIGH SIGHT: How do you inspect a wind turbine? They’re tall structures and it’s not easy to get a close-up look at things. That is, unless you use a special climbing robot like the one from GE. Inspections usually involve stopping the blades and taking photos through a telescope. But the remote-controlled wall climbing robot carries a wireless high-definition video camera. A vacuum pump keeps the robot glued to the wall it’s climbing and soft tracks maintain grip even over bumps. The robot’s grip is strong enough it could even carry a 100 Kg weight behind it. Suddenly there’s a market for very light people to accompany the robot on inspections. GE Reports.
- DID U LOCK?: That D lock you use to secure your bike? It takes 4 seconds to cut it with bolt cutters. The TiGr titanium lock won’t succumb to bolt cutters, and angle grinders and the like take at least twice as long to break it as they do the D lock. The TiGr is shaped like a long U, and its arms take in both wheels and the frame as well as a post. The lock cylinder is made of CNC machined stainless steel. When not in use the lock stores easily along the top bar of the bike. Making it easy to carry is a smart move too. TiGr.
- WATCH THE GRASS GROW: The John Deere Tango E5 electric lawnmower doesn’t have a driver’s seat or handles because it offers fully autonomous mowing. You install a preset boundary wire then the Tango E5 mows randomly and frequently within that area keeping the grass short. The mower includes a traction sensor device that makes it back away from obstacles such as trees. It can maintain up to 1800 square metres of lawn, and automatically returns to its charging station when the Li-Ion batteries are low. At a tad over 15 Kg though you wouldn’t want to leave it unattended in the case the neighbours ‘borrowed’ it for a sneaky mow. John Deere.
- NEEDLED BATTERIES: We’re coming to rely more and more on batteries for gadgets and devices, but how long a charge lasts is a constant source of pain. Researchers at Washington State University believe they can triple the capacity of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries can also recharge more quickly and more often. Their new technology uses tin for the anode instead of graphite and involves growing tin nanoneedles directly onto copper foil using a standard electroplating process. That sounds very promising. Washington State University.
Tech Universe: Tuesday, 19 June 2012
- LIGHT HEADED: Cyclists need to be visible to other road users for their own protection and the LumaHelm may do the job. The interactive helmet is covered with strips of LED lights that respond to sensor input. The lights are hooked up to an Arduino Uno and the helmet includes an accelerometer, so as the wearer moves their head the pattern of lights changes. That could mean, for example, that tilting the head to the left could cause lights on the left side to display a turn signal, or a tilt back could show a pattern of stop lights. Performance artists will love this one. Exertion Games Lab.
- BABY ROBOT: DeeChee is a robot at the University of Hertfordshire that’s learning language as a human baby does, moving from babble to words. The open source humanoid machine is designed to resemble a child, which helps researchers think of it differently than if they were looking at a computer screen. The researchers aim to quantify the transition from babble to recognisable word forms in detail. Babble in, words out. Wired. Video:
- FAST BUS: The UK’s first fast-charge electric bus will carry passengers through Coventry city centre. It uses 56 batteries that charge in 30 minutes rather than the usual 6 or 7 hours, and that makes the service viable. The bus also captures regenerated energy from the brakes to help things along. BBC.
- HER SPACE: China’s Tiangong-1 space station is seeing China’s first female astronaut this month after the Shenzhou-9 craft carried her into orbit. The craft was launched by the Long March-2F rocket. It’s long past time for Chinese women to join the space party. Xinha.
- SIMON TAPS: People with arthritis in their hands may benefit from exercise, but tapping your fingers could become very boring very quickly. Unless you use the Braintap game. A small box displays sequences of lights, plays music and shows your score. Meanwhile you wear a glove that has LED lights at the ends of the fingers and is connected by wire to the box. After the box plays a sequence of lights and sounds you must tap your fingers in the same sequence. Even without arthritis that could be a tricky game. Discovery News.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 20 June 2012
- VIRTUAL SURGEON: Brain surgeons have a very tricky job to do, but how do they rehearse? Until now they’ve had generic programs that let them practise a type of surgery, but the Surgical Theater takes that a step further. The system takes the CT and MRI scans from an actual patient to build a 3D virtual model. Then the surgeon can practise their moves in a realistic way using a haptic stylus, and even rotate the images to check they haven’t damaged blood vessels they won’t actually be able to see. The unit will undergo clinical trials this year. Sometimes modern medicine is just like magic. MedGadget.
- WEAK KNEED: A group of British researchers created a device that generates electricity when you walk, thanks to the motion of your knees. An outer ring applied to the knee rotates during walking. Teeth on that outer ring pluck 4 energy-generating arms attached to the inner hub. The arms are made of a piezoelectric material that generates current when it’s under strain. At the moment the device generates 2 milliwatts, but the researchers aim to increase that to around 30 milliwatts. That could be enough for some types of GPS tracking, but not to power a smartphone, for example. It sounds like a lot of effort for very little reward. Discovery News.
- VERY SUCKY: The Personnel Assisted Vacuum Climber is a backpack that lets its wearer scale a 30 metre wall without any ropes. The user presses two suction pads against a flat surface, such as a wall. A vacuum pack assembly generates suction that holds the pads to the wall. A support system helps support the climber’s weight. The device was created at Utah State University as part of a US Air Force challenge. The device is far too noisy for stealth use, but the team aim to work on that. That could have some interesting industrial uses too. Business Insider.
- FLIPPING OUT: A qubit is the quantum computing equivalent of a bit, and until recently each one has lasted a maximum of a few seconds. Now Canadian researchers managed to make them last for 3 minutes. They aligned the spins of some phosphorus atoms in ultra-pure silicon-28. Then they applied a series of half the radio-frequency pulse that could flip the spins by 180 degrees. This caused the spins to enter a superposition of two states: flipped and not flipped, and to stay in that state for a little over 3 minutes. Back in the day that was called not knowing whether you were coming or going. New Scientist.
- DEEP SOLAR: Solar cells are power generating devices that sit on the roof of a building, or at least in a farm on land. Or they used to be, now that the US Navy has found a way to make them work underwater. One problem is that solar cells are usually optimised for light frequencies on land, but sunlight underwater is biased toward the blue/green portion of the spectrum. High-quality gallium indium phosphide cells work best for those wavelengths. Early results show an output of 7 watts per square metre of solar cells at a depth of around 9 metres. Just don’t fry the fish. US Naval Research Laboratory.
Tech Universe: Thursday 21 June 2012
- SEEING PINK: O2Amps are rose-coloured glasses from 2AI Labs that amplify the almost imperceptible signals of oxygen flow beneath the skin. The lenses highlight veins, for example, which could be very useful in hospitals. Spotting changes in bloodflow though could also be useful for casino staff, or for security staff. Now there’s a market for makeup to foil such glasses. Changizi.
- SHOW SOME LEG: Today’s prosthetic legs are far from the peg legs of yore, but they’re still not always specially beautiful. Bespoke Fairings are 3D printed covers that use a durable, lightweight polymer and allow clients to customise their own prosthetics. Fairings can also be enhanced with patterns, graphics, and materials so each person can have a really customised prosthetic. If you’ve got it, show it off. Bespoke.
- FLY FLY: The FlyNano personal seaplane has had a successful first flight. The single seater electric seaplane can fly up to 3,000 metres high but is better close to the ground or water. Cruising speed is around 140 Kph. I wonder if it would fit on a personal yacht? FlyNano.
- APP POS: Some British bank customers can withdraw money from an ATM without their EFTPOS card. Instead they request up to £100 via a password protected app on their smartphone which returns a 6 digit number to tap in to the ATM. The digits on the phone are hidden until the user taps on them as a means to foil shoulder surfers. Great, lets get rid of all those plastic cards! BBC.
- PUFFER JACKET: Klymit’s Ulaar jacket aims to keep you at exactly the right comfortable temperature, even out in the elements. The jacket’s a loose-fitting shell, but add argon gas and it insulates the wearer from the cold. The wearer uses a small cartridge of argon gas to inflate and deflate the jacket. Every 1 mm of argon has the same insulation properties as 3 mm of fabric. Inflating the jacket also makes it a tighter fit so body heat is retained. Since argon’s an asphyxiant you may want to make sure you deflate the jacket outdoors. GadgetWiki.
Tech Universe: Friday 22 June 2012
- POWERED CELLS: The Santa Rita jail in California is the 5th largest correctional facility in the US and needs a constant supply of electricity to keep the cells locked and the buildings secure. To help meet the power demands the jail has its own 1.2-Megawatt peak-power solar PV array, a 1 MW molten carbonate fuel cell power plant, 5 small wind turbines, a 4 MW battery pack and a solar tracking system with 1100 solar panels. All of that means that if the main power grid goes down the jail can meet its own energy needs, keeping up to 4,000 inmates secure. And just in case that all isn’t enough, it also has 2 back-up diesel generators. That’s enough inmates to fill a small town such as Westport. Scientific American.
- MUSICAL WALK: People who’ve been injured or have certain conditions may experience problems walking because they don’t know when their foot has hit the ground. This can lead to uncertainty and falls. The Sensastep system plays tones by their ear to help them recognise their own steps. A special foam insole contains pressure sensors and sends a tone via small ankle transmitter to a receiver behind the ear. The earpiece plays different tones for pressure on the heel or toe, allowing the wearer to judge their steps. I’m sure that kind of system could be tuned up to help athletes such as runners too. Sensastep.
- BIRDS, BEES AND ROBOTS: Farming can be tedious, back-breaking work, so how about using swarms of robots to do the planting and harvesting? An inventor from Iowa in the USA is basing his small autonomous 6-legged robots called Prospero on the swarming skills of insects, birds and fish. The robots can plant individual seeds and remember where they are. Groups of the robots crawl across the ground communicating with one another, staying together as a group, and evaluating the soil. When they plant a seed they mark its position with a small dob of reflective paint. The inventor believes he could also create a shepherd robot to co-ordinate the activities of the swarm. There are some farm labourers who’d better start getting some robotics training. Discovery News.
- A FRAMES: Getting spectacles that fit correctly can be a matter of trial and error. PQ Eyewear A Frame glasses may solve that problem completely. The specs include an A shaped wire structure in the middle of the frame over the nose that makes it easy to adjust how far apart the two lenses are. A hinge mechanism allows the lenses to slide across the frame. But really, why not just buy the right size frames in the first place? PQ Eyewear.
- AMATEUR SPACE: NanoSatisfi in the US wants to send an Arduino-powered satellite into space, perhaps carrying your experiment. Their ArduSat satellite will be made of off-the-shelf parts and will run on Arduino boards. The craft, systems and launch should cost less than $100,000 all up. That’s a pretty cheap satellite. Kurzweil AI.
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.