Tech Universe: Monday 09 July 2012
- ISLAND MOVES: Orsos Island may be hard to find, because it’s not only a 1,000 square metre island but also a yacht. The yacht is 20 metres wide, 37 metres long and covered in 160 square metres of solar panels. It has 6 double bedrooms plus crew quarters, and an entertainment room. Two diesel engines help it move from place to place, but only locally — longer journeys require a tow boat. There’s no sand though; what’s an island with no sand? CNN.
- GO LONG: One problem with electronics is that they don’t stretch or bend and that makes them harder to use inside the human body for purposes such as medical monitoring. Researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering combined a porous polymer and liquid metal to create flexible electronics. The electronics can bend and stretch to more than 200% of their original size without losing their electrical conductivity. But you have to wonder how the body reacts to materials like that. McCormick News.
- ROBOT ARMS: Working in a science lab may mean long hours of precise, repetitive and boring work, making cultures or dispensing exact amounts of a material. So who better to do that work than a robot? Mahoro, from Nikkyo Technos, is a general-purpose android for automating lab work. It’s faster and more precise than a human and can do clinical tests and work efficiently with biohazards. The scientists use a 3D scanner to capture 3D CAD data for all the tools and then create a virtual bench and a virtual robot. After a few clicks they’ve taught the robot how to do the task. Hooray for 3D scanners too. DigInfo TV.
- TAKE A DARE: When astronomers try to find out about the universe they have a lot to contend with: Earth’s atmosphere, radio signals, light from the sun. One reason they send telescopes into orbit is to reduce some of those problems. Now the search for a quiet, dark spot is taking them to the Moon to listen to radio waves at frequencies below 100 megahertz, hoping to spot ancient neutral hydrogen. The Dark Ages Radio Explorer hopes to put a telescope above the dark side of the moon where it would be shielded from Earth’s chatter. One big problem: NASA has to select DARE for a mission. Let’s hope they take that chance. New Scientist.
- FILTERED WATER: We can’t drink salt water, unfortunately, and desalination plants are expensive. MIT researchers are using computer simulations of sheets of graphene with precisely sized holes to filter the unwanted substances out of water and make it drinkable. The ideal size for the holes is one nanometer, as water molecules fit through but the salts can’t. Such sieves should be cheaper and require less energy to do their work than current filtration membranes. The team plan to build prototypes soon. Such tiny things for such a huge effect. MIT News.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 10 July 2012
- DAM HUGE: China’s Three Gorges dam has now been fully connected to the power grid. The dam has a total capacity of up to 22.5 gigawatts. That’s more than 5 times the capacity of Britain’s largest power station. The Three Gorges dam is the world’s largest hydropower project, but it displaced at least 1.3 million people and increased earthquake and landslide risks in the region. Those are massive costs. The Guardian.
- OFF-SHORE WIND: A 54 metre tall floating wind turbine off the coast of Portugal provides 2 megawatts — enough energy to power 1300 homes. The turbine is assembled on land and then floated into position where it’s anchored in the same way as off-shore oil rigs. The WindPlus consortium hope to secure enough funding for another 5 turbines. Floating them off-shore means they can be out of sight from land, but then the costs of transmitting the power ashore via an undersea cable increase. Having the source of electricity in sight could be a good reminder of the costs of the power we use. CNN.
- IN THE DARK: Dark matter is all mysterious and unknown. It’s so mysterious that it can’t even be directly seen, but only deduced by perhaps noticing how it bends light. But it seems dark matter may be hanging around Abell 222/223, a galactic supercluster system in the constellation Cetus. Astronomers analysed the observable matter that exists in the gas cloud between the two parts of Abell and concluded that a dark matter filament makes up the rest. They base their conclusion on the way light warps thanks to gravitational lensing. Ordinary matter between the two parts of Abell accounts for only 9% of the warping. It’s a bit like taxes really: you know your paycheck should have a lot more in it., and income tax accounts for what’s missing. PhysOrg.
- TITANIUM SCRUB: If you’ve ever taken the scrubbing brush to outdoor furniture you’ll be glad to hear that in future a spot of titanium dioxide may save you the bother. Scientists at Fraunhofer Institute incorporated titanium dioxide molecules into the plastic used in garden chairs. When the UV portion of sunlight strikes the chairs an electrochemical reaction produces free radicals that kill off bacteria, fungi and similar organisms. The treated chairs stayed clean longer. Now they’re working on applying this finding to outdoor paints, glass and other surfaces. Cleaning things with a bit of sunshine sounds good to me. Fraunhofer Institute.
- RADIOACTIVE BRA: US researchers hope to save women the risk and discomfort of regular mammograms with a wearable breast tumour detector. Tumours give a clear and well-defined signal with this detector. The flexible and wearable planar microstrip antenna system is optimised to work in direct contact with the skin. Eventually their work could mean a bra that that uses non-ionising radiation to detect cancerous breast tissue. That has to be better than a mammogram squish. EurekAlert!
Tech Universe: Wednesday 11 July 2012
- ROCK WATCHER: There are half a million asteroids out there orbiting the sun and we don’t know when one might just collide with Earth. Sentinel will be the world’s first privately funded space telescope, and it’s designed to find and map the asteroids of the inner solar system. The infrared telescope will orbit the Sun close to the orbit of Venus, and scan for asteroids. Data sent back to Earth will be analysed to plot orbits, and possible future collisions. Then comes the matter of preventing those collisions. B612 Foundation.
- STORM WATCHER: Solar storms produce extra bursts of radiation that can endanger both astronauts and Earth-based electronics. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the storms, for safety’s sake. You’d think a space telescope would do this job well, but it seems there’s a better solution, and it’s based here on Earth — at the South Pole. There are already neutron detectors in place there. After analysing data collected over the last few years, physicists say they may be able to predict the maximum amount of radiation damage to be expected from future flares. I guess neutrons travel so quickly there’s no time advantage in a space-based detector either. Science.
- BUSY HANDS: Pedalling a bike is good exercise for your legs, but what about your arms just hanging off the handlebars? Build up your arm muscles too with the German RaXibo Hand-Tret-Velo. A separate drivetrain adds hand cranks above the handlebars so the rider uses both arms and legs to pedal. The extra drivetrain feeds through to the rear wheel. It looks like very hard work. GizMag.
- HANDY NODE: Variable Technologies has an interesting idea that could go far. Their Node is a small cylinder that fits in your hand. It contains a micro-USB port, low-energy Bluetooth, status-indicating LEDs, accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope. Then it has room for a couple of interchangeable modules. It connects to a smartphone where an app displays graphs and other information. Open APIs are designed to encourage Arduino development. Additional modules measure humidity, temperature, and barometric pressure, or anything you can design. That’s a great adjunct to a smartphone. Variable Technologies.
- DOUBLE SUN: With solar cells you have to keep them pointed at the sun. The Israeli firm Bsolar may have just made that a bit easier: their solar cells are double-sided, making use of reflected light as well. The bifacial solar cells use monocrystalline silicon wafers and boron to capture reflected light on both sides. We may as well make more use of what we already have. GigaOM.
Tech Universe: Thursday 12 July 2012
- A CHIP IN THE GOAL: Goal or no goal? It may soon be settled by a chip in the football. The International Football Association Board have now approved 2 systems for use in the Premier League: Hawk-Eye and GoalRef. Hawk-Eye watches each goal with 6 cameras to decide if the ball crosses the line. If it does the referee is sent an encrypted signal. The GoalRef system uses a chip inside the ball and low magnetic waves around the goal. A change in the magnetic field behind the goal-line indicates a goal was scored, and again a signal is sent to the ref. I guess the worlds of football fans and hackers may soon intersect. BBC.
- MIXED MESSAGES: The UnLoc system is an attempt to combine all kinds of data to give people a way to navigate indoors, where GPS is useless. It aggregates signal data using wi-fi antennas, cellular radios, compasses, gyroscopes and accelerometers to navigate. For example, an accelerometer may detect a lift, or a series of wifi access points could mark out a corridor. In tests the system showed it could be accurate to within 1.7 metres. In larger buildings such as universities, hospitals and large department stores this kind of navigation could be extremely useful. Now the crime show detectives should be able to use this too. Scientific American.
- WHICH WAY TO THE GAMES?: The 2012 Olympics start any day now and thousands of people from many countries are on their way to London for the games. An app called VoiceTra4U-M aims to help them all find their way around. It translates voices from 13 languages and text from an additional 10. It’s designed to work best with travel-related questions such as how to reach a destination rather than just general conversation. The speech or text is sent to a remote server for translation. I hope the local phone networks are ready for all the extra traffic. Discovery News.
- SPEEDY INTERNET: There’s a new 10 Gigabit Internet connection linking China and the US so research organisations can more easily and quickly share data. In a recent test they transferred 24 gigabytes of genomic data between countries in less than 30 seconds. An earlier transfer of a file the same size across the standard Internet took more than 26 hours. That’s fast. Just think what spammers could do with that. Kurzweil AI.
- GLOBAL ROAMING: When the little robot roamed around a laboratory in France it wasn’t just doing its own thing. Instead a man in Israel, lying inside an fMRI scanner, was controlling the robot’s movements by thinking about them. Before the experiment researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel worked with their tester to learn his brain patterns. Then they developed software to translate his thoughts into robot movements. Meanwhile the researchers also managed to convince the robot’s driver he was present in the lab in France by surprising him with a mirror. That’s one way to handle the whole avatar thing. BBC.
Tech Universe: Friday 13 July 2012
- DEEP SCAN: The Genia Photonics molecular laser scanner is a spectrometer for radiation in the terahertz band. Its low-power non-ionising beam can penetrate most materials including wood, leather, cloth, ceramics, plastic, and paper, and scans the surface of your body through clothing. It silently does its work from up to 50 metres away and at very high speed, detecting traces of drugs or gun powder, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons. So the airport staff can just check you out for security threats while you hang around the waiting area. Kurzweil AI.
- QUIET SPEED: The low profile Superbus from Delft Technology University looks more like a stretch limo. The prototype carbon fibre electric vehicle travels at up to 300 Kph on dedicated infrastructure, or slower on ordinary roads. The bus is suitable for long distance travel and runs on 4 electric motors. A lithium-ion battery pack will take the bus around 200 Km. Rather than recharging the battery pack onboard, it can be quickly replaced with a freshly charged pack. The vehicle is seen as a competitor for trains. At that speed though the battery lasts less than an hour. Superbus.
- ONE IN A MILLION: Some cells in the body are rare and unusual, and their presence may signal cancer or various diseases. But picking out these rogue cells from amongst billions of normal cells is very tricky and rather slow. Now a team at the University of California has developed a high-throughput flow-through optical microscope that can detect rare cells with sensitivity of one part per million in real time. The camera checks 100,000 cells per second, making detection fast and effective. You never know when high-speed may make the difference between life and death. University of California.
- SHAKE A LEG: Robots can walk, but not the same way humans do, until now. A set of robot legs from the University of Arizona walks in a biologically accurate manner, mimicking human legs. In a human being the CPG is a neural network in the lumbar region of the spinal cord that gathers data from different parts of the body and sends appropriate signals to the legs to let us walk without thinking about it. The robot also uses sensors to detect load, ground contact and position, and uses a simple processor to send movement signals to the legs. It almost sounds like a second brain. Kurzweil AI.
- LEGGING IT: One of the sprinters in the 2012 Olympic Games is a double amputee. Oscar Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated before he was one, will be using prosthetics when he competes in both the 400m sprint and the 4x400m relay. He’ll also compete in the Paralympics. I guess he has a blade in both camps. Oscar Pistorius.
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.