Tech Universe: Monday 24 September 2012
- PUT ON YOUR TOOTH COATS: It’s sad but true that the enamel on your teeth is vulnerable to decay. Researchers at Kinki University in Japan have created a 0.004 mm thin hydroxyapatite film that can coat individual teeth to prevent decay or to make them appear whiter. The film is made from the same stuff as tooth enamel so is pretty much invisible after being applied. I bet you have to change out the coating at regular intervals though. AFP.
- WARP FACTOR 1: Scifi starships may warp through space, but in our real-life it takes a very long time to travel short distances, such as to Mars. After all, Voyager 1 has been underway now for 33 years and has travelled only to the edge of the solar system. Eagleworks Laboratories at Johnson Space Center think we just may be able to use warp speeds after all. Eagleworks has set up an interferometer test bed to try to generate and detect a microscopic warp bubble. If they can prove the concept it could be developed into something that works. In the past enormous energy requirements have been cited as a limiting factor. A new analysis suggests that carefully tuning bubble thickness and intensity could make a substantial difference. Sometimes things seem impossible purely because we haven’t thought about them the right way. Icarus Interstellar.
- EYES ON THE STORM: Two NASA Global Hawk uncrewed aircraft originally developed for the military have been instead modified to help with atmospheric research. One has already flown several missions over developing tropical storms, while the other will soon also be put in service. The planes are based on the East Coast of the US and can spend up to 6 hours off the coast of Africa as storms develop, or 20 hours or more as the storms approach North America. That means the planes can be used for storm surveillance, spending a lot of time observing, rather than just flying short missions for a quick look. On one recent mission the plane flew for 25 hours. The planes are designed to fly around the entire storm gathering data, including dropping measuring devices into the storm itself. You have to wonder why the military would have let such valuable assets go. Wired.
- A FAST AVAST: Pirates look out! Zyvex Marine’s LRV-17 Long Range Vessel is made of carbon fibre-reinforced composites, reinforced with carbon nanotubes. It’s designed for reduced weight, with increased fuel efficiency and range. The boat can sprint at up to 40 knots and has a range of 1,500 nautical miles. The deep V-shaped hull uses an active gyroscope stabiliser for improved handling and reduced human fatigue. Global Maritime Security Solutions plans to use the boats to fight piracy off Africa and elsewhere. They need to get hold of a Global Hawk to help out too. Design News.
- BANK PHREAKS: A security researcher with iSight Partners demonstrated a series of attacks on touch tone and voice activated phone systems such as those used by banks. He was able to cause an Indian bank to dump customer PINs. The researcher claimed blind SQL injection and buffer overflow attacks could be served to almost any interactive voice response phone system. Malicious users could take advantage of these approaches to capture data or to crash banking systems. While the rest of us just swear at entering 16-digit codes to validate a new bank card. SC Magazine.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 25 September 2012
- WORK FROM THE JUNGLE: The Amazon in Brazil is known as one of the remote places on Earth, harbouring peoples who’ve had little to no contact with the rest of the world. Extreme Project Brazil though is helping to bring GSM and 3G to the Amazon jungle, with the help of 2 masts donated by Ericsson. Solar panels and wind generators supplement the generators needed to power things. This means that even remote peoples can get online. Mobile access is also helping villagers reach medical services, education and business opportunities, while improving adult literacy and lowering infant mortality rates. The power of communication really shouldn’t be underestimated. BBC.
- A WEATHER EYE: The European satellite MetOp-B launched recently into an 800 Km high polar orbit. Its mission is to monitor atmospheric humidity, wind speeds over the ocean, levels of ozone and solar activity and other data relevant to weather forecasting. The instruments are powered by a solar array, and were developed by NASA and other agencies. More satellites; more data. Even people in the jungles of the Amazon need better weather forecasts. PhysOrg.
- LONG RANGE COMPUTING: NASA relies on the Deep Space Network to help control its deep space missions. The DSN is a network of huge satellite dishes in California, Spain and Australia. But with so much going on at the moment the network is becoming overloaded. That’s why one suggestion is to build a supercomputer and radio dishes on the far side of the moon. A lunar base could help ease the load on the Earth-based network and also be used in combination with Earth’s telescope for very-long-baseline interferometry. Great idea. Now, where’s the electricity coming from? Gizmodo.
- TURN TO MARS: Sir Richard Branson is setting up short commercial flights into space that start soon. He also plans in his lifetime to help get people on their way to inhabiting Mars, though he didn’t reveal any specific plans. Every journey starts with a thought. CBS News.
- OLD NEWS: The Dark Energy Camera in Chile has just come online to survey galaxies at the farthest reaches of the observable universe. Astronomers expect to observe galaxies so far away the light left them when the universe was only half its current age. Capturing 570 megapixels per image, the camera holds 74 CCDs specially sensitive to the redshifted light from distant galaxies and stars. 5 lenses are uniquely shaped to correct optical aberrations, with the largest around 1 metre across. The camera has a 2.2 degree field of view — large enough to record an image of the sky around 20 times the size of the Moon as it appears to us here on Earth. With a world so focused on News it’s good to see some are looking to the ‘olds’. Dark Energy Survey.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 26 September 2012
- MY SPACE FOR BIKES: Cycling at night? Worried about other vehicles crowding you on the road? The Bike Lane Safety Light clips to your bike and has all the usual functions of a red light. But switch it to laser mode and it displays a pair of lines beside you, marking out your space on the road. Claim your territory, cyclists! Xfire.
- LASER PAPER: Lasers need space between two mirrors so light can bounce back and forth, a gain medium to increase the amount of light, and energy. Or they used to. Usually lasers are made by pouring liquid crystal between two glass plates covered whose coating makes the molecules align in a particular manner. The new technique from a team at the University of Cambridge uses a polymer solution film to align molecules of liquid crystal printed onto them. The laser dots use the special optical properties of the liquid crystal to get rid of the mirrors, and a dye is added for gain. The low cost process could be used to create smart wallpapers or for display and lighting applications. Do not look directly at the wallpaper. BBC.
- SOUND SCAN: Ultrasound scanners use pulses of high frequency sound to build up a picture on a computer screen. They’re commonly used to scan pregnant women and generally cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That pretty much restricts their use to hospitals. On the other hand, an ultrasound scanner created at Newcastle University costs less than a hundred dollars and its output power is 10 to 100 times lower than conventional hospital ultrasounds. The handheld device works with any recent standard computer and plugs in via USB. The low cost and easy compatibility could make the scanner very useful in places where health care is often inaccessible. And probably many households too. Newcastle University.
- STEGOSAURUS TURBINES: Dinosaurs may have gone extinct, but they had some good ideas. It seems that adding dinosaur-back shaped edges to wind turbines can increase their power and efficiency — enough to be worthwhile for power companies to consider. Siemens is increasing the area of blades by adding DinoTails — a serrated edge that resembles the back plates of a stegosaur. The serrations add lift and power, and reduce turbulence and noise. Other tweaks such as small fins, and small changes to the shape where blades join the main shaft also increase lift and efficiency. So long as Siemens don’t pick up on the whole extinction meme. New Scientist.
- SMELLOSCOPE: We humans can tell the difference between the smells of oranges and lemons, but making machines that can tell odours apart is tricky. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts developed a sensor array to detect microscopic levels of many different metastatic cell types in living tissue. In other words they can differentiate between different types of cancer thanks to distinct protein levels. Gold nanoparticles and green fluorescent protein quickly activate in response to patterns in the proteins in cancer cells. The nanoparticle array can be taught to recognise many healthy tissues, so it also recognises when something isn’t correct. The new technique is very sensitive and accurate at detecting different types of cancer. Just like the nose of some dogs. KurzweilAI.
Tech Universe: Thursday 27 September 2012
- TWIN PEEKS: Sony’s DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars can record HD video and 7.1MP still images too. They have a 10x optical zoom (and 10x digital) and are designed for for birdwatching, sporting events and close-ups of wildlife. They provide continual autofocus while zooming and perform well in low light. Shots are geotagged with built-in GPS, and an LCD can display your current location on a map. The binoculars have a 35.6 degree field of view, 1.1 cm lenses and are image stabilised. Just watch out for the neighbour who’s not really watching the birds near your house. Sony.
- CHOCOLATE TRACKER: Nestle in the UK has a different kind of promotion going called We will find you. Six KitKat or other chocolate bars contain a GPS device. When it’s activated a control centre is notified and a team tracks down the owner within 24 hours. The lucky chocolate eater will win £10,000. You are where you eat. JWT London.
- ISN’T A WOMAN JUST LIKE A MAN?: Soldiers wear body armour, of course. But until now the designers haven’t catered for differing body shapes, or more specifically, for the 14% of the US Army who are women. Female soldiers reported they often had trouble bending over, getting in and out of tight spaces like military vehicles, or positioning their rifles against their shoulders because the body armour was too big. Finally though, some female soldiers heading to Afghanistan will field test the first body armour that is shorter and better tailored for women. So the designers just hadn’t noticed that women’s bodies are different from men’s? Jacksonville.
- EFFICIENT CHAOS: Many processes create waste heat as a by-product that needs to be disposed of. Turning that heat into electricity though would be much more useful. Current thermoelectrics convert about 5 to 7% of heat energy into electricity. Chemists at Northwestern University in the US believe that introducing disorder into the structure of the materials may make the process more efficient. Adding sodium atoms and nanocrystals of strontium telluride to the standard thermoelectric lead telluride and then fracturing the material increased its efficiency to around 15%. The cracks allowed electrons to move but reflected heat vibrations within the crystal. There aren’t many things that work better after being shattered. Nature.
- BRAIN SLIP: A team at Johns Hopkins University have designed nanoparticles coated with poly(ethylene glycol) that can safely and predictably infiltrate deep into the brain. Once embedded in the brain the particles can slowly and steadily disperse drugs to treat cancer and other diseases. Until now it’s been a problem to administer chemotherapy at a dose high enough to penetrate the brain yet low enough to be safe. Previous attempts to use nanoparticles have failed because the particles would stick to nearby cells instead of dispersing. These particles are more slippery and don’t stick to the site where they’re introduced. So why don’t the nanoparticles just keep slipping right on by their targets? The Johns Hopkins University.
Tech Universe: Friday 28 September 2012
- WIPEOUT: Uh oh. People using Samsung smartphones running the TouchWiz user interface could be in for an unpleasant surprise. A security researcher from the Technical University Berlin discovered that a single line of malicious code on a website could wipe all the data from the phone. The phone could be sent to the website from a scanned QR code or NFC tag. Better hope the Cloud backup has been working. International Business Times. The exploit is demonstrated at around the 10 minute mark on the video.
- GLASS BITS: Magnetic bits on tape don’t last forever and CDs and hard drives may only last a decade or two. But Hitachi say their quartz glass plate technology can store data indefinitely. The glass can endure extreme temperatures and hostile conditions without degrading. The plate stores data as dots inside a thin sheet of quartz glass. It can then be read with an ordinary optical microscope. The binary data can then be processed with a computer. The prototype is 2 cm square and 2 mm thick and can hold 40 MB per square inch. Hitachi believe they can fairly easily increase the storage. Hmm, will a microscope fit inside a computer? PhysOrg.
- MAPS ON THE GO: Researchers at MIT want to help rescue workers map buildings as they traverse them. They created a wearable sensor panel that includes a Kinect, a laser rangefinder, a cluster of accelerometers and gyroscopes, a camera, wireless, and even a barometer. As a test subject walked around inside a building observers were able to track progress on a map created in real-time. The wearer was able to add simple annotations with a clicker to mark points of interest, but the team hope to expand the possibilities for more meaningful annotations. It could be handy for explorers to create maps of unknown territory too. MIT News.
- SEE-THROUGH SOIL: When biologists want to study plants and their roots they have a big problem: soil obscures their view. UK researchers have developed a transparent soil that lets them see exactly what’s going on underground. They used used 350 to 1600 micron wide pellets of a synthetic and transparent polymer, Nafion. Then they saturated it with a water-based solution that refracts light. Now they have see-through soil. They also added minerals and fluorescent dyes for both nutrients and to see the size and shape of pores. That could make some rather interesting window gardens. io9.
- CHARGE ON THE GO: Need to keep your phone charged all day? An entrepreneur in Chicago found a solution after her phone kept running out of charge during her busy day: a small bag with a flat charger sewn into the lining. Place the Everpurse on its charging mat for 6 hours, perhaps overnight, to recharge an iPhone twice during the day. The purse also charges the Galaxy S3. Nice one. Women 2.0.
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.