Tech Universe: Monday 13 August 2012
- SEE THE SOUNDS: What say your doctor can’t actually hear anything through that stethoscope pressed to your chest? The Cardionics ViScope for hearing impaired medical workers both amplifies the audio signal and displays the phonocardiogram or phonopneumogram visually. The device is about the size of a smartphone. Press the stethoscope against the chest, then the 1024×768 pixel display shows what the device can hear. Sounds can also be stored and downloaded for later analysis. Why just for hearing impaired doctors? Surely this would be helpful for all of them.
- GO FOR GREEN: If you’ve ever cycled up to traffic lights and failed to trigger them you’ll like the VIP Bike detection system from Traficon in Belgium. It uses thermal cameras to detect cyclists and give them enough time to cross an intersection. It can also count the number of bikes that pass through an intersection in a given period of time. It’ll be your duty to bike fast for the light so you’ll heat up and the camera will detect you better. Wired.
- IN THE PINK: UV silently damages us, and apart from waiting till we burn it can be hard to tell when to get in out of the sun. The University of Strathclyde had a great idea: cheap paper wristbands tailored to different skin types that change colour as they absorb UV. The UV dosimeter turns pink when you’ve had enough. As does some people’s skin. Daily Mail.
- IN THE HOUSE: Tesco in the UK is testing an interactive virtual grocery store in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport. The idea is that while waiting to board shoppers can use the virtual store to buy groceries to be delivered on their return. The select items from the virtual store and pay with their smartphone by scanning a barcode. Surely it would be easier to build a shopping list at home by scanning actual product barcodes and then upload that before you leave? BBC.
- CONCENTRATING POWER: In isolated areas in some countries electricity may be provided by expensive diesel generators, or not at all. This can make it hard for remote health clinics and schools to be effective. A team from MIT created a concentrated solar energy system that uses a parabolic mirror to focus the sun’s rays on a pipe and heat water for washing. The system also exploits the temperature difference between cold air and hot to generate power for other purposes. The parts can be created and assembled locally. A computerised control system adjusts the temperatures, pressures and voltages as conditions change so the system can run virtually hands-free. Even being able to wash hands on hot water is a great contribution to better health. MIT.
In August Tech Universe took almost 2 weeks off thanks to both illness and a holiday.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 28 August 2012
- HEALING HEAT: If you have a wound stitched up you have to keep looking at it to see how things are going. But what say the sutures themselves could report back on progress? US researchers have developed a new suture that contains ultrathin silicon sensors integrated on polymer or silk strips. They can precisely measure temperature that could indicate infection, and deliver heat to help with healing. The sutures can even be knotted without degrading the device. Delivering healing heat too is a nice touch. Technology Review.
- COOL CAMO: Bomb blasts release intense heat, and that heat may burn the faces of soldiers or firefighters. If the soldiers are wearing camouflage face paint the burns may be made worse as the paint is often based on oils and waxes. Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi have come up with a camouflage face paint based on silicone that could protect its wearer for a vital few extra seconds. Silicone absorbs heat outside of the spectrum produced by the intense flames of a bomb blast. The paint could also be further developed to help fireproof clothing and other fabrics. New Scientist. Video:
- THE KEY TO CLEAN: Dropped half your lunch on the keyboard again? Logitech’s Washable Keyboard K310 is what you need. It’s designed to be dumped into a sink full of cool water if you spill food or drink on it. Then give it a bit of a wash by hand. Drainage holes at the back help it dry off quickly too. Or just eat your lunch elsewhere. Logitech.
- DREAM SCENE: NASA has awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation funding to help in developing its Dream Chaser spacecraft. The craft is a small shuttle that could carry 7 people and some cargo to and from the International Space Station. It’ll be launched on top of a rocket and after its visit to the ISS will fly to a landing on a conventional runway. Leaving the planet it almost becoming routine, it seems. DVICE.
- AIR CAR: The tiny 3-wheeled 2-door AirPod car from MDI in France runs on compressed air rather than on electricity or conventional fuels. The car can travel at up to 80 Kph and run for 150 to 200 Km, at a cost of only 1 Euro for fuel. The car itself produces no pollution, but compressing the air in the first place relies on power whose generation may create carbon emissions. It also doesn’t have a steering wheel. Instead it uses a joystick. Yes, the car does run on air. MDI.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 29 August 2012
- ALGAL BLOOM: Sapphire Energy is setting up a 300 acre algae farm in New Mexico. It will produce 100 barrels of algae biofuel a day, or 1.5 million gallons per year. That’s a lot of land devoted to algae. If only they could find a way to make algae farms at sea. GigaOM.
- UNIVERSAL CHARGE: Ah, electric cars: drive around all day then plug in to recharge overnight. But think about it: if everyone plugs in at the same time won’t that create the kind of spikes electricity companies already see round dinner time or breakfast? And if everyone needs to charge their car at the same time, companies may have to build new generating plants. A study of real-world use in Texas has shown this is a genuine problem. Oops. Scientific American.
- INSIDE INFO: A new battery sensor from GE Global Research is small enough to actually sit inside the battery, rather than outside it as sensors usually do now. It fits between battery cells to give precise and relevant readings. Data from inside a battery while its in use could help extend battery life or, in the case of electric vehicles, help drivers optimise their driving. Reliable and accurate data can make all the difference. Wired.
- NEED A HAND?: Our hands are very complex and capable of very sophisticated movements and actions. Gestures we take for granted are very hard and costly for a robot to imitate. The Sandia robot Hand takes a new approach. Its digits attach with magnets, and the electronics are mainly the same parts found in cellphones. It also costs only about 1/25th what a state of the art robot hand costs. The Sandia Hand can pick up a door key, or an AA battery and insert it in a torch. The current hand has 3 fingers and an opposable thumb, as researchers found this is enough for most activities. The hand is operated by glove or control panel. With its dexterity, this robot hand could be an asset for disarming bombs. A spare hand is always useful too. Scientific American.
- LIGHT WARMTH: Aerogels are extremely lightweight materials made from silica. The problem is, they’re also fragile and brittle. Now scientists from the Glenn Research Center in the US have made them up to 500 times stronger by using polymers. These new versions of aerogel are very flexible and could be used to create highly insulating clothing, or perhaps in the walls of fridges and freezers. NASA are also considering using the aerogel in spacesuits. Extra warmth for much less weight must be a winner. BBC.
Tech Universe: Thursday 30 August 2012
- MOON SHIP: An Australian billionaire is creating an almost exact replica of the Titanic. Building work will soon begin in China. The replica is slightly modified to increase safety, will run on diesel not coal and will have more lifeboats. The billionaire, Clive Palmer, sees the ship as a tribute to the original designers and builders, as a way to make people happy and ‘to go to the Moon’. Surely building a spacecraft and going to the Moon would be a better way to go to the Moon. BBC.
- LEAVE A NOTE: Researchers in Saudi Arabia are working on ways to include RFID devices in banknotes. The main aim is to prevent counterfeiting. Since banknotes are designed to resist stresses such as bending, folding and even going through a washing machine, the RFID chips use organic components so they can withstand the same treatment. They’re using nonvolatile ferroelectric memory to reduce power draw. One side effect, of course, is that once numbers of chipped notes are in circulation it will be possible to build up significant tracking data. Such data could reveal who is buying forbidden goods or receiving undeclared income. And those are things governments would probably like to do and citizens would prefer they don’t. IEEE Spectrum.
- NATURAL TRANSISTORS: Researchers at MIT are using a 2D version of molybdenum disulfide to create electronic components. This opens up possibilities for new products, such as whole walls that glow or clothing with embedded electronics. The material comes naturally with a bandgap — the key property that makes it possible to create transistors. The material is so thin it’s completely transparent, and can be deposited on almost any other material. Or maybe transform whole walls into video displays? Kurzweil AI.
- BATTERY BELT: LG Chem’s new lithium-ion batteries can twist and flex and even be tied in knots. The batteries use a spring-like, spiral electrode design on thin strands of wire that can be woven into a cable. The batteries are relatively low powered but the developers are working on increasing the power. Such a design could lead to such batteries forming part of a headphones cable, or being woven into textiles or accessories such as belts and wristbands. That would definitely be a handy way to carry extra batteries. Technology Review.
- FELT HEAT: Scientists at Wake Forest University in the US have created a felt-like material that uses body heat to generate electricity. The material uses carbon nanotubes to do its work. It could be incorporated into clothing and is fairly easy to create. So how about the clothes generate the power and the accessories store it? CNN.
Tech Universe: Friday 31 August 2012
- IN THE DARK: If you read from a backlit screen just before going to bed you may be harming your sleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tested the effects of self-luminous tablets on melatonin suppression. Their study showed a connection between 2 hours of use of a backlit tablet before sleep and reduced melatonin. That could affect the quality of sleep. Melatonin’s produced at night and in the dark, and its suppression has been implicated in sleep disturbances. The study suggests that reducing screen brightness can help avoid reduced melatonin. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
- MOLECULES AWEIGH: Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have created a mechanical device that can measure the mass of individual molecules one at a time. This ability could help doctors study viruses and diagnose diseases. The nanoscale device uses a tiny, vibrating bridge-like structure. When a molecule lands on the bridge, its mass changes the oscillating frequency in a way that reveals how much the particle weighs. The device uses standard, semiconductor fabrication techniques, so it’s easy to mass-produce. Next goal: weighing atoms? California Institute of Technology.
- UNDERSEA MINING: One way to get the uranium needed for nuclear fuel plants is to dig it out of the ground. But it turns out the world’s oceans are full of the stuff too — 4.5 billion tons of it. US researchers used mats of braided plastic fibres, embedded with uranium-absorbent amidoxime, to capture trace amounts of uranium from 200 metres down in the ocean. After the mats are drawn up they’re washed in an acidic solution that captures the radioactive metal for refining. Extracting uranium from the ocean is 5 times as expensive as mining it from land. They should find a way to attach the material to shipping, or even fishing nets to get uranium as a sort of by-catch. New Scientist.
- SOFT LIKE A ROCK: DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation programme is working on a new low-cost silicone robot that can change its appearance to match the background, and hide in plain sight. The soft robot uses microfluidic channels for actuation, camouflage, display, fluid transport and temperature regulation. Air and various fluids allow it to change its color, contrast, apparent shape and temperature to blend in with its environment. That means it can hide whether against a plain background or something like rocks. The robot currently needs 30 seconds to change colour. You’ll never see it heading your way. DARPA.
- STRAIGHT SHOOTING: Physicists at Harvard University have created a silicon and gold flat lens that’s only 60 nanometres thick. Lenses are usually thicker in some parts than others, which can create distortion in a signal that passes through them. The flat lens scales from near-infrared to terahertz wavelengths, and is simple to manufacture. Precisely tuned V-shaped structures on the lens capture incoming light and hold onto it briefly before releasing it again. That changes the direction of the light, but without aberrations. That sounds like it could be handy in conjunction with lasers. Harvard University.
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.