Tech Universe: Monday 03 September 2012
- RADIO ANTS: At the University of York in the UK researchers are fitting 1,000 northern hairy wood ants with tiny radio receivers. The researchers want to to find out how the ants communicate and travel between their complex nests. Each radio receiver is 1mm in size while worker ants can be 8 to 10mm long. The receivers are glued onto the ant’s back just behind the head. That’s one finicky job! University of York.
- I SPY FIDO: What does your home security camera watch? If the answer is your front door then here’s another idea: keep an eye on the family pets while you’re out. The Maspro home security camera has a 110 degree field of view so it can be tucked into the corner of a room yet see the whole area. Owners can log in via their smartphone to see what’s going on. The megapixel camera has a digital zoom and tracks subjects to keep them in the centre of the screen. If you have several pets in view you can select which one to track at any given time. Alerts can be set up too, for example to send an email if there’s no movement for several hours. Wave to the camera! DigInfo TV.
- WAVING AT STORMS: The WaveGlider from Liquid Robotics is an autonomous ocean vehicle powered entirely by the waves and the sun. It includes numerous sensors for measuring water temperature, wind speed, and various wave characteristics, GPS and satellite communications. The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is using a WaveGlider named Alex in the ocean north of Puerto Rico to help track and forecast storms and hurricanes such as Isaac. It beats sending out a ship for the hazardous duties. International Business Times.
- WORKER BOTS: Coralbots are underwater robots designed to work in groups to repair broken coral reefs. The bots are being developed at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland to work on the cold water reefs in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The robots will have built-in video, image-processing and simple manipulation tools, such as scoops and arms. By working in swarms each robot can accomplish a small task, while collectively major tasks are achieved. And one day those cold-water bots may dream of repairing reefs in the warmer waters of the Pacific. BBC.
- JUMPING ROBOTS!: If something truly out of the ordinary happens we have a startle response that may cause us to jump or take quick action. Now UK scientists have created STARTLE software for robots. The artificial neural network looks out for abnormal or inconsistent data. If the software notices something unusual it cues investigative processing to handle it. This could mean, for example, that a self-driving car would notice and avoid a pothole. In robots it may notice low battery power or excessive heat. The design mimics a part of the brain called the amygdala whose function is to provide a rapid response to threats. Robot games could make fun use of that. New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 04 September 2012
- TUNED TO THE HEART: Medical devices inside the human body, such as pacemakers, cochlear implants and drug pumps, still need power to work. They use batteries at the moment, but the batteries are bulky and eventually run out of power. Engineers at Stanford University have demonstrated the feasibility of a super-small, implantable cardiac device powered by radio waves. The device itself is so tiny it could fit on the head of a pin and was implanted 5 cm deep — a location where it was thought radio waves couldn’t reach. The new technique uses a transmitter to send radio waves to a coil of wire inside the body. The power is transmitted by a combination of induction and radiation. High-frequency signals tuned and focussed just right can reach the depth that’s needed to power a device. So I guess you may need a radio transmitter in your shirt. Stanford University.
- TIGHTEN THE BELT: The van Allen Belts around Earth are filled with electrons, plasma waves and electrical currents dangerous to human space travelers, their spacecraft and orbiting satellites. So that’s where NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes are headed. Launched recently, their aim is to study the radiation belts and how they behave, in particular during solar storms. You’d think they’d have studied the radiation belts long before this. NASA.
- BIG SPACE: There aren’t any really huge telescopes in space, even though NASA and others would like some, because at the moment everything has to fit in a launch rocket to get there. Even though some items can be unfolded once they reach orbit, there are still limits on the unfolded size. That’s why Tethers Unlimited has been funded to develop a way to automate in-orbit construction of very large structures and multifunctional components. Their additive manufacturing technique called SpiderFab uses fused deposition modeling. They aim to combine SpiderFab with robotic assembly to make huge structures as required. Perhaps they could set up a factory in orbit? NASA.
- IT’S NOT TOAST: The Canadian Space Agency is sending a 10 Kg device called Microflow to the International Space Station for testing. The toaster-sized device uses fibre optics technology to detect cells in small quantities of liquid and potentially provide near real-time medical diagnosis for astronauts in space. It could also be used by people in communities remote from standard medical equipment. This is a flow cytometer that uses a laser to analyse a sample of liquid for its physical and chemical properties. Usually such machines weigh hundreds of kilos and take up a large chunk of the room they’re in. So who needs the bigger machines now? NASA.
- CHEAP FRAMES: The mainframe market is in decline as customers switch to banks of cheap servers instead. That hasn’t stopped IBM from releasing its new zEnterprise EC12 mainframe whose processing cores are 25% more powerful than earlier models. It also has better security and data-analytics tools than older models. With prices starting at around $1 million you could buy a lot of cheap servers instead. BBC.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 05 September 2012
- SEND IN THE RATS: Dogs are good at sniffing out explosives, but they take a long time to train and the training is expensive. The US military are researching a Rugged Automated Training System as another option. The system is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives such as IEDs and mines. If training costs are lower than for dogs, and given that rats are easier to transport, then rats could detect a lot more explosives and save more lives. Rats can also get into smaller spaces than dogs, so could be useful in searching rubble after an earthquake. Though someone trapped under rubble may be more frightened on seeing a rat than a dog. Armed with Science.
- FINISH WHAT YOU START: When people who’ve suffered a stroke are learning again how to move their arms and legs they are retraining their brains. But the person can’t always complete the movement they begin. US researchers aim to use robots to help. The person wears an electrode-studded cap so their brainwaves control a robot orthotic worn on the limb. The robot helps out only if the wearer is unable to complete a movement they start, eventually teaching the brain to reroute motor control. Researchers hope to soon begin trials of the robot orthotics. Having a robot finish what you start sounds like a great idea to me. Gizmodo.
- LIGHT MUSCLE: Scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have genetically engineered muscle cells to flex in response to light, and are hoping to use the light-sensitive tissue to build highly articulated robots. Usually neurons are what cause skeletal muscle to contract, though sometimes it’s electricity. These researchers used 20-millisecond pulses of blue light to cause muscle fibres in a dish to respond. This research could lead to improvements in robot mobility. Lighting the way for robots to follow.
- SEED THE SPEED: Researchers in Singapore have created a tiny antenna — it’s about the size of a sesame seed — that can support wireless speed of 20 Gbps. That’s 200 times faster than current WiFi speeds. It seems the trick is to fill the antenna cavity with polymer instead of air. Such a tiny antenna could be really handy for medical use. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research.
- 4K TV: Sony’s XBR-84X900 is an 84 inch 4K resolution TV that will ship later this year. It features a quad full high definition resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels and includes a surround sound speaker system. Catchy name. Ars Technica.
Tech Universe: Thursday 06 September 2012
- ON THE MAP: Terralink’s StreetCam3D will map all of New Zealand’s streets over the next year or two. On the back of a 4WD vehicle is a mast with high density, long range LiDAR sensor, 360 ̊ camera for spherical image capture and GPS and GLONASS receivers. As the vehicle drives round the streets it captures more than 1.3 million points of location data per second. All that data creates a realistic, highly accurate and measurable 3D model of the street environment. Such detailed information is potentially useful to Councils, utilities, rescue workers and others. Surely keeping the data up-to-date will be a major challenge, especially in places like Wellington CBD where major changes occur quite frequently. Terralink.
- THIRD EYE: Pivothead sunglasses look like any other sunglasses, but a tiny camera between the lenses can capture 1080p footage and 8-megapixel still photos. The glasses have 8GB of internal storage and can also capture audio. You control them with buttons on the frame. Cue the spy movie music. Gear Junkie.
- FLASH, EYE: Researchers for Bionic Vision Australia recently successfully implanted an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes behind the retina of Dianne Ashworth’s eye. The implant’s connected via a tiny wire to a device behind her ear. When researchers stimulate the electrodes Ashworth can see flashes of light. The researchers now aim to study how Ms Ashworth responds and to develop a high-acuity implant with 1024 electrodes. And one day maybe the implant can be connected to glasses like those from Pivothead. The University of Melbourne.
- COOL MOVES: Some athletes turn to steroids to enhance their performance, but researchers at Stanford University have created a cooling device called ‘the glove’ that works better. When our body temperature increases specialised heat-transfer veins in our hands, feet and face help cool us down by cooling our blood. The glove is a rigid plastic mitt that creates an airtight seal around the hand. A slight vacuum is created and water circulates through the plastic lining. That quickly cools the core body temperature. Tests on one subject reduced his muscle fatigue and over time enabled him to substantially increase how many pull-ups he could do. The trick will be to make the device small, and embed it in athletic clothing. Stanford University.
- SHARK AND TELL: Every summer basking sharks visit The Isle of Man. The Manx Basking Shark Watch would like to know more about them. That’s why they’ve started the shark passport tagging programme. They’re fitting sharks with Smart Position or Temperature tags that stay on for up to 5 years. The satellite tags allow the organisation to track where individual sharks travel to and whether they return to the same spots in summer. It’s a good thing sharks don’t have privacy organisations. BBC.
Tech Universe: Friday 07 September 2012
- MOVING CARPET: Very young kids with leg disabilities may be unable to move around freely, so the Japanese Magic Carpet has been designed to help them. The device is a small platform with wheels and castors that can move between 0.4 and 4.0 Kph by pressing a couple of large buttons. It can go forwards and backwards, left and right, or make a 360º turn on the spot. One charge will take it up to 4 Km. The platform can carry up to 90 Kg so a carer could ride along too. The designers say this will also help children when they later move to an electric wheelchair. It sounds fun for any age. DigInfo TV.
- BED WHEELS: Panasonic’s electric care bed, designed for use in nursing homes, combines a bed and a wheelchair. The wheelchair is built in to the bed which splits in two lengthwise. One half then folds itself into a seat shape, after pressing a button on the remote, and can be wheeled away. The idea is to do away with having to lift a patient between bed and wheelchair, and to reduce the number of care workers required in the process. That’s a clever idea. DigInfo TV.
- WASTE FUEL: One complaint about biofuel is that it may divert crops better used for food. It’s also relatively expensive. On the other hand, society spends a lot of time and energy processing human waste. South Korean researchers want to solve those two problems with a thermochemical process to convert lipids from sewage sludge into clean biodiesel. Biofuel requires lipids as a starting material, while sewage sludge the researchers studied produced 2,200 times more lipids per gram of feedstock. Unfortunately sewage sludge may include contaminants, so the researchers developed a noncatalytic method of processing that converted about 98% of the sludge lipids to biodiesel. Sewage sludge is cheap and readily available, after all. American Chemical Society.
- LIGHTS ON THE WATER: New York City needs a huge water supply. After the water arrives in the catchment it must be treated to remove cryptosporidium, giardia and other pathogens. New York will soon open the world’s largest ultraviolet drinking-water disinfection plant. The UV light alters the DNA of water-borne pathogens preventing them from reproducing. 56 UV units will process up to 9 billion litres each day, complementing the chlorination that has long been used. So if UV light alters the DNA of pathogens what does it do to us? Nightclubbers beware. Scientific American.
- CONE OF AVOIDANCE: Wind turbines catch wind to make electricity, but all too often the spinning blades hit and kill birds and bats that fail to see them. The Catching Wind Power device from Sigma Design in the US claims to have a solution. The enclosed device has no external moving parts. A cone catches incoming air and squeezes it to more than 4 times the pressure. That spins a turbine that generates power. The cones are large and easy for birds and bats to see and avoid. So long as they don’t fly into the cone, of course. Treehugger.
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.