Tech Universe: Monday 01 October 2012
- WAKEY WAKEY: The CarSafe smartphone app is used in conjunction with a phone mounted on the windscreen to warn drivers when they’re drowsy or they drift out of a traffic lane. The front camera observes the driver’s head position, gaze direction and blink rate, while the back camera watches the road, monitoring distance from the car in front and whether the car’s straying across the lines on the road. The app switches rapidly between cameras. As more powerful smartphones emerge the developers expect to be able to make the system work at greater road speeds. Remember not to mute the phone before use. New Scientist.
- TWO BEES OR NOT TWO BEES: How do you count how many bees you have? This might be an interesting question for apiarists. So how about a honey bee counter? One apiarist in the US built his own. A long row of tiny gates runs across the entrance to the hive. Each gate is monitored by a pair of infra red reflectance sensors that register a bee as it passes through the gate. The device doesn’t actually count distinctly individual bees, but plotting the entrances and exits on a graph does give a good idea of overall hive activity. That’s infinitely better than trying to count them on the move. Gizmodo.
- FAST FONT: Drivers sometimes look away from the road to read devices in the car, such as a GPS. Researchers in the US tested to see if the typeface used on such screens affected how long drivers would look away from the road. They found that men spent less time with their eyes off the road if a Humanist typeface were used instead of the Square Grotesque face that’s common now. The difference in glance time could mean 15 or 20 metres of travel — long enough to have an accident. The results for women showed little difference between typefaces. Now that difference is an interesting avenue for research. IT World.
- DOG GONE: Toyota’s Human Support Robot is designed to help disabled people live more independently. Much like an Assistance Dog, it will fetch things, open curtains, and pick up objects that have fallen to the floor. The robot has a telescopic body so it can reach up to higher spots and a single arm that uses little power and moves slowly to prevent accidents and injuries. The owner operates it via a tablet. Well, I guess dogs can’t reach up to high places, and they definitely can’t be controlled by a computer. Gizmag.
- DOCTOR’S LITTLE HELPER: If your doctor ever looks in your ear they use a thing called an otoscope. The Remotoscope could offer diagnosis at home though, especially for parents of young children who are liable to ear infections. It’s a clip-on attachment and app that turn an iPhone into an otoscope. The Remotoscope would allow a parent to take a photo or video of the eardrum then send the images directly to a doctor for review. The iPhone’s built-in flash lights up the eardrum and the app handles automatic zoom and crop, image preview and auto calibration. Doctors may be able to hold back on needless antibiotics by seeing images of the ear over several hours or days. Who’d have thought a few years ago that we were seeing the introduction of a new medical device called a smartphone? Georgia Institute of Technology.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 02 October 2012
- ITTY BITTY BANG BANG: Cars that drive themselves are all very well, but what say you’re a kid who needs to get around in a wheelchair? An electrical engineer at Imperial College London is working on a smart wheelchair with laser scanners and sensors to predict collisions. An onboard computer then adjusts speed and direction to avoid bumps. The Assistive Robotic Transport for Youngsters wheelchair is being tested with children. The controls can be set to increase or reduce the ability of the wheelchair to override the driver’s commands. So demolition derby races would be out then? Technology Review.
- OLD SALTS: Lithium ion batteries are expensive, as they depend on the rare metal Lithium. Scientists at the Tokyo University of Science are using sucrose to create anode material for Sodium Ion batteries. Sucrose powder is heated in an electric furnace that excludes oxygen to create black hard-carbon powder. The powder is then used in anodes. The researchers believe a practical version may be 5 years away. Such batteries should be cheaper because the supply of sodium is unlimited. Saltwater perhaps? DigInfo TV.
- SUN TRAP: Brisbane Materials has developed an anti-reflective coating that can boost the power output of solar panels by 3% by increasing efficiency. The coating is applied at room temperature as the last step in making a solar panel. Glass panels are coated with a liquid solution of silicon dioxide, forming an ultra-thin layer of porous glass that reduces reflection by 75%. Every percentage gain is a good one. GigaOM.
- BIG PRINT: 3D printers are starting to become popular, but we probably think of them making smaller objects. Dutch DUS Architects recently opened their KamerMaker movable 3D printer pavilion which can print entire rooms out of recycled plastic. The ‘Room Maker’ printer can create rooms up to up to 2.2 x 2.2 x 3.5 metres in size. Oh, go on then, just print another room for the house. Inhabitat.
- BALANCED GRAVITY: NASA’s thinking of setting up an outpost to act as a staging area for missions to the moon and Mars. A gateway spacecraft would hover in orbit by the Moon, supporting a small crew. The craft would need little energy to hover at Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 where the gravity of the Earth and Moon are at equilibrium. The idea raises questions though about how to keep astronauts safe from radiation and how to supply the spacecraft. The other big problem is whether the mission will be approved and receive funding. Let’s hope they take a balanced view on it. Orlando Sentinel.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 03 October 2012
- DON’T SHAKE HANDS: Surgeons need a very steady hand, and it can be tricky if the patient moves or their hand shakes a bit while they’re working. So US researchers are developing a Smart Micromanipulation Aided Robotic-surgical Tool that compensates by making hundreds of precise position corrections each second. The system incorporates a high-speed high-precision distance sensor that provides positional data to a computer. The computer in turn signals small piezoelectric motors integrated into the surgical device to control the position of the tool tip, keeping it steady and in the correct position. The researchers hope to develop the tool for surgical use within the next few years. Optical Society of America. Video:
- HOME AND AWAY: People with Alzheimer’s may sometimes wander off and go missing. Havering Council in East London, which has a high population of older people, is giving some folk an On Track device that lets a control centre track them using GPS. They wear the device like a wristwatch. If the wearer goes far from home the control centre may call a carer to see if they’re meant to be out and about. Or a carer may call the control centre to help find someone who’s lost. There could be quite a lot of people who would like to equip their older relatives with a device like that. BBC.
- BLINDSIDED: One artist in California lost her eyesight because of age-related macular degeneration that created a blindspot. Now, like 49 other people in the US, she has a miniature telescope in her eye and can see again. The tiny telescopic implant projects images onto an undamaged portion of the retina. The brain needs a while to retrain itself with such an implant, but it doesn’t usually take long. Blind in one eye, and has a telescope in the other. LiveScience.
- A SPRING IN THE STEP: Accident or illness may make it hard for you to walk. The Kickstart custom kinetic orthosis is designed to help those who have neurological disorders affecting the strength of their legs to walk with greater ease and precision. It stores energy during flexing of the knee and releases it to help propel the foot forward during extension. The device stores and releases the energy using spring tension, so it doesn’t need a battery or external power. For once, something that doesn’t need a battery! MedGadget.
- COOL CLEAR WATER: Navajo people in Arizona have to spend a lot of time hauling drinkable water from distant places. There is an aquifer below their land but it’s too salty to drink and recent droughts have created a water shortage. But a self-sufficient solar-powered desalination plant may solve that problem. Solar panels power pumps that bring the water to the surface and boil it. The steam passes through a membranes that filter out salt and other contaminants. The purified water collects in a condenser, and vapour pressure differences help draw more vapour through the system. And what happens to the salts? New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Thursday 04 October 2012
- DROP ZONES: Blood tests are important to many people, including those using drugs to treat HIV and tuberculosis that can be toxic to the liver. But in some places blood tests are expensive and difficult to access. Diagnostics for All, in the US, has created a 2-centimetre square of paper that filters a drop of blood into five zones, each containing a different dye. Within a few minutes the dye changes colour to signal different levels of enzymes that indicate liver damage. The test is quick and inexpensive and could be really useful in developing nations. Why not just release it to the consumer market in the wealthier nations and let a portion of each sale fund the tests in developing countries? New Scientist.
- SPANISH ON THE FLY: The AT&T mobile network in the US is testing translation technology to let a person send a text message in one language and the recipient read it in a different language. After registering a phone as having a preferred language, text messages to that number would be automatically translated, for example, from Spanish to English. The technology works on any cell phone and doesn’t require any extra software. The system will be tested in a working pilot soon, using employees of the company. All the usual caveats about automatic translation must still apply. Technology Review.
- SEA PLUS: The US Navy uses vast amounts of fuel (600 million gallons last year), and spends a lot of its time at sea. So they’re developing a process to extract carbon dioxide from seawater and produce hydrogen gas. The CO2 and H2 are then converted into jet fuel, all while they’re underway at sea. Their initial research is promising, but now they need to optimise and scale up the process. Jet fuel manufacturing ships, a cunning idea. US Naval Research Lab.
- HILL CLIMB: San Francisco has steep hills which make it hard for cyclists, and car parking isn’t easy to find. So Scoot Networks have set up a scooter renting service with a fleet of electric scooters available for hire by the hour. A smartphone app lets a user find a scooter available for hire nearby and reserve it. Then the user docks their smartphone in the scooter’s dash, where it serves as a key, dashboard and payment method. The battery-powered scooters can travel about 40 km on one charge. Using the smartphone as a key is clever. Discovery News.
- HEAD GAMES: Eye tracking equipment can cost thousands of dollars, but researchers at Imperial College in London have created a headset that costs less than $50. The GT3D uses video game console cameras and could allow wearers to control a computer without touching a mouse, keyboard or screen. Two cameras are attached to a pair of glasses and then calibrated while the wearer looks at a pattern of dots on a computer screen. The device is very accurate and has been proven to work. The creators see the headset as particularly useful for people with disabilities. As such headsets become common I wonder if eye doctors will see an increase in related eye strain problems? CNN.
Tech Universe: Friday 05 October 2012
- BIT BY BIT: An international team of geologists plans to drill 6 km down beneath the seafloor to reach the Earth’s mantle. They will use 10 Km long drill pipes to bore a 30 cm hole through ultra-hard rocks. Their mission will start out in the Pacific Ocean as the Earth’s crust is at its thinnest under the sea. Each drill bit has a lifespan of only 50 to 60 hours. The mantle makes up 68% of the Earth’s crust, yet we have little idea what it’s made of or how it works. Samples from this drilling project should help us understand more about our planet. That’s dedication: changing out drill bits every 50 hours. CNN.
- THE NEW BLACK: If you make solar cells from black silicon they absorb the infrared radiation that makes up around a quarter of the sun’s light. Ordinary solar cells can’t do that. Black silicon is made by blasting pulses of laser light at standard silicon. Researchers at the Heinrich-Hertz-Institut have successfully built prototypes of black silicon solar cells. They aim to use such cells to increase the efficiency of commercial solar cells. Waste not, want not. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.
- SUN TRAP: Sharp’s new transparent solar panels can be mounted on balconies or skyscraper windows without blocking the view. Each black panel is made of laminated glass infused with photovoltaic cells. The panels aren’t very efficient, but then they don’t need to be on the roof either, meaning more of them can be used. If used on skyscraper windows, the panels could also help cool offices by blocking heat from incoming sunshine. In this case quantity beats quality. CNET.
- HAPPY IN A CUBE: The micro compact home is designed for those who are happy with minimal living space. Each cube is 2.6 metres on a side, and packs in a kitchen area, double beds, storage space, and a shower and toilet cubicle. The cube has a timber frame covered with anodised aluminium. It’s insulated and has double-glazed windows. Cubes can be joined together for more space and recycled if you have no further use for them. You’d need a fair bit of outdoors out the door though. M-CH.
- MELTING MOMENTS: Electronics can be very handy in medicine, but you can’t easily use them inside the body. Imagine though, if your doctor could implant an electronic device that would simply dissolve away once it was no longer needed. Such a device could act as a programmable bactericide to help heal a wound, for example. Now researchers are working on a device that melts away in liquid. The ultrathin sheets of silicon and magnesium are encapsulated in silk, a biocompatible material. Add liquid and the device just melts away. Cue the Mission Impossible theme music. DARPA.
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.