Tech Universe: Monday 02 July 2012
- CHARGE YOUR BEER: Thanks to materials scientists and chemists from the USA and Belgium we may one day be able to paint a battery on to almost any surface. The team painted layers of lithium cobalt oxide, gel electrolytes, lithium titanium oxide and copper to create a cathode, separator, anode and negative current collector respectively onto various surfaces. The battery worked on each surface, including a beer stein. One problem is that the gel electrolytes explode on contact with air, so you won’t be creating these batteries in the garden shed just yet. Scientific American.
- PHONE FRIENDS: Ford Keyfree is a smartphone app that works with Google Chrome to log you in to Facebook, Google, and Twitter without entering passwords. Bluetooth identifiers mean that your phone acts as a key. Oh, and the Ford in the name? Yes, the app comes from the car company. So: don’t lose your phone. FastCo Design.
- FLY ME TO THE MOON: Make out a cheque for £100 million to Excalibur Almaz and they’ll fly you to the Moon (and back). The commercial aerospace company based on the Isle of Man will take you to Lunar orbit in used Soviet spacecraft, maybe as soon as 2015. Soyuz-FG rockets will launch reusable re-entry vehicles into a low Earth orbit where they’ll dock with habitation modules that have their own propulsion systems. That’ll be the start of a 6 month computer-controlled round trip to lunar orbit. Sorry, but transfers to the Lunar surface are your own responsibility. Daily Mail.
- CLEANER STUFF: The global maritime industry accounts for 3% of global CO2 emissions, and yet the world relies on cargo ships for carrying goods from one place to another. B9 ships will be powered by sail most of the time and by biofuels when the wind’s not enough. Unlike ships of old though sailors won’t be heaving on ropes as the wind changes. Instead carbon fibre masts support the sails and the sails are controlled by computer. Ah, clean energy, so we can feel better about all the stuff that gets shipped around the world. B9 Shipping.
- BULLET MARKS: Copper and zinc ions from spent bullet casings break down the DNA that could be useful for identifying who loaded the gun. A UK team has come up with a way to manufacture bullets with a forensic coating that can trap skin cells. They first use aluminium oxide and urea to roughen the surface of the bullet. That leaves an abrasive surface that can catch skin cells. Then they use sticky pollen grains from the Easter Lily, coated in titanium dioxide and liquid plastic to cover the bottom of the bullet. That coating sticks to the hands of suspects and can be used to identify them. Moral of the story: wear gloves when handling bullets. New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 03 July 2012
- CALL THE COPPERS: Copper’s become so valuable thieves are stealing overhead and buried cables to make their fortunes. That causes all kinds of telecommunications problems such as Internet and EFTPOS outages and delays in trains. That’s why British Telecom have installed an AI algorithm called the Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker to monitor all 120 million kilometres of cable in their system. It can sense the difference between a telecoms cable being severed and a cable that has gradually failed. If it detects a problem it alerts security staff who can have police on the spot within 15 minutes. New Scientist.
- LONDON BY AIR: Emirates’ new Air Line makes a very short journey: across the Thames in London. The cable car takes only a few minutes to carry passengers the 1 Km between the Greenwich and the Royal Docks. And presumably you don’t have to be there half an hour before. Emirates.
- ALL A BOARD: The Bellyak is part kayak part bodyboard. The Bellyak is specially designed for bodyboating where a person lies flat on the board, belly down, and rides down the river. Could be fun, if you like kayaking, or bodyboarding, or, of course, both. Bellyak.
- AIRY GESTURES: Take a couple of iPads and a couple of motion tracking gloves and you can collaborate with someone else on a 3D virtual object by gesturing in mid-air. The iPads allow the collaborators to see what they’re actually doing, while the spatially aware system allows them to pinch, swipe and drag in the air to edit and work with virtual objects. The T(ether) system was created by MIT students to help them with their own work. Hello 3D virtual chess. Discovery News. Video:
- SUDDENLY SEEKING AMELIA: Amelia Earhart disappeared during her flight across the South Pacific in July 1937. Now, 75 years later, aviation archaeologists will use underwater robots on a reef of the uninhabited coral atoll formerly known as Gardner Island to look for the wreckage of her aircraft. Surface ships will use multi-beam sonar to map the seafloor. Then an autonomous underwater vehicle called Bluefin-21 will investigate the underwater reef slope with side-scan sonar and take photos. If they find what may be aircraft parts they’ll send down a tethered TRV 005 robot with a high-def video camera for a closer look. Solving those old mysteries can be very rewarding. Discovery News.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 04 July 2012
- 24 CARAT WHITE: Scientists at the University of Warwick reckon that nanodiamonds can get the washing cleaner. A nanodiamond is a piece of carbon less than ten-thousandths the diameter of a human hair, and it can help loosen crystallized fat from surfaces. That means that when you wash your clothes in cold water they’ll come out cleaner with nanodiamonds than without. Nanodiamonds sounds so much better than ‘tiny bits of carbon’. University of Warwick.
- BLOOD BUBBLES: Our bodies need oxygen, and that’s usually delivered via the lungs to the blood and then to the cells that need it. But if the lungs don’t work, then what? A doctor in Boston found a way to inject oxygen directly into the bloodstream using oxygen-filled microspheres. An injection could give doctors enough time to hook up a heart-lung bypass machine without damage to the patient’s organs. I’m sure before long athletes will find a way to use this too. Technology Review.
- TELLING VOICES: Diagnosing Parkinson’s is a bit tricky, but a researcher from the UK created a computer algorithm to detect changes in voice that can reveal who’s at risk. The algorithm analysed detailed voice recordings from 50 people with Parkinson’s and was able to use differences in voice patterns to predict with 86% accuracy who developed the disease. It’s almost scary what we can reveal without knowing. BBC.
- BIG PICTURE: The Flea3 FL3-U3 camera easily fits in the palm of your hand, yet it captures video at 4K resolution. The camera can send video to any compatible USB 3.0 equipped device in real-time. The gadget is only around 30 mm on each side and has a maximum resolution at 21 frames per second of 4096×2160 pixels. Does size matter or not? Gizmodo.
- OUT OF THE POO: The the No-Mix Vacuum Toilet from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore turns human waste into electricity and fertilisers. It also reduces the amount of water needed for flushing by up to 90%. Two chambers separate the liquid and solid wastes, and a vacuum system like those used on aircraft reduces the amount of water needed for flushing. The toilet system sends liquid and solid wastes for separate processing, to be turned into useful products such as fertiliser and methane. Installing such toilets in public restrooms or institutions like universities could save a lot of resources. And it beats just dumping all the waste. Nanyang Technological University.
Tech Universe: Thursday 05 July 2012
- TWIN LOOPS: If you played with toy cars as a kid you might have had a track where the cars looped the loop. Now real cars with real drivers have pulled off the same trick in a life-size loop. At the X Games in Los Angeles two stunt drivers travelled at exactly 52 miles per hour to traverse a pair of 66 foot tall loops, and experienced the full force of 7Gs. Don’t try this at home folks. Wired.
- RUN THIS WAY: If a riot erupts around you which way should you go to find safety? A new smartphone app could help. It collects everything from social networks such as Flickr, Instagram, FourSquare, Facebook and Twitter and processes the data using natural language analysis to understand what the messages are saying. Then it identifies spots where things are quiet and points you that way. Smart phone! BBC.
- MORE BLUE, LESS BLUE: Glass doesn’t just transmit light indiscriminately — it often blocks parts of the spectrum, including blue. But our biorhythms are particularly affected by blue light as it makes a difference to our hormonal balance. That’s why the Fraunhofer Institute used an inorganic coating only 0.1 micrometers thick to make glass that lets more blue light through. The creators claim the glass can improve health and may help people feel more cheerful in winter. Plus, step outside now and again. Fraunhofer Institute.
- REALITY PAPER: When photos are printed on normal photo paper the picture looks flat, and changing the direction of a source light just creates annoying reflections. But what say you could view the images in 3D instead? US researchers are creating a new kind of paper with specular micro-geometry, which means the surface is actually covered in thousands of microscopic hills and valleys that change how light reflects. A photo printed on that paper would reflect light the way real objects do as the light source moves, and we’d perceive it as 3D. Now that’s adding realism to photos! Gizmodo.
- PAPER VIEW: Electronic paper from Plastic Logic can display video in colour at up to 12 frames per second. While that’s not good enough for movies it should be enough for animations on web pages. Their organic thin-film transistor uses less power than an equivalent display with an LCD backlight and is thin, light, flexible and extremely robust. Now add specular micro-geometry for some interesting 3D effects. Techworld.
Tech Universe: Friday 06 July 2012
- GREASED LIGHTNING: Scientists with the US Army are working on a guided lightning bolt weapon called the Laser-Induced Plasma Channel. It’s designed to take out targets that conduct electricity better than the air or ground that surrounds them. A laser pulse that lasts for two-trillionths of a second causes air to focus the light into a filament. That creates an electro-magnetic field strong enough to rip electrons off air molecules, creating plasma. Then they direct the plasma with a mirror along the path of the laser beam to a target. Electricity follows the path of the plasma, exploding ordnance or just frying the objects it travels through. Kapow! US Army.
- HOT SHIRTS: The US designed and made Apollo business shirt uses phase change materials to absorb heat from your body when you’re in a hot place and store it in the fabric. Then if you go back into the cool the shirt releases that heat to help warm you. That’s one way to keep your cool. Ministry of Supply.
- THINK FOR A SPELL: Researchers at Universiteit Maastricht trained people to activate certain areas of their brains. Then, using an fMRI scanner they detected which area of the brain was active and use that data to type letters on a computer. Participants performed a different mental task for each letter of the alphabet and the spacebar and so were able to spell out words. The ultimate goal is to allow people who are completely paralysed to communicate. No doubt some folks will then criticise their choice of font. ScienceDaily.
- SPELL AND SPEAK: The Proloquo2Go app speaks on behalf of those who are unable to. The app allows a user to tap buttons on a tablet and then speaks sentences in a real and appropriate voice. Some tech is liberating. BBC.
- A QUICK READ: If you want to read the latest book from one Argentinean publisher you’d better be quick about it. ‘The Book That Can’t Wait’ is an anthology of first time authors and is sold in an airtight bag. As soon as you open the bag air and light start to fade the ink on the pages. Within 2 months all the text has disappeared. The publishers hope to prompt book buyers to get on with reading the book, rather than leaving it in a pile until they get round to it, sometime or never. And if the buyer doesn’t get around to opening the bag? PSFK.
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.