Tech Universe: Monday 15 October 2012
- CARGO SURFING: Military cargo aircraft suck up a lot of fuel, so it’s not surprising that the US Air Force are looking for ways to reduce fuel consumption. Their latest tests are with vortex surfing, or using the airflow from a leading aircraft to help lift a trailing craft. This use of air flow is already common with migrating birds, racing cyclists and car racers. Formation flight system software does the trick, by positioning the trailing craft in the best place to benefit from the leading craft’s airflow. Tests suggest that over a long flight fuel consumption could be reduced by 10%. That’s handy, if you happen to have several aircraft all going to the same place at the same time. Network World.
- ICE WOULD BE NICE: The Polaris lunar rover from Astrobotic is now a completed prototype. The mission for the real thing will be to search for water ice at the Moon’s poles. It will also prospect for water, oxygen, methane, and other volatiles that could be useful for energy, supporting life, and producing rocket fuel. Solar panels on the rover will produce 250W of power. The rover’s about the size of a small car and can carry up to 70 Kg of scientific instruments. To determine its location on the Moon the rover will match surface pictures with satellite imagery taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. They need to get a few GPS satellites in place. Astrobotic.
- CHEAP READS: The txtr beagle is a low-cost ereader designed to connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The device is 5 mm thick and weighs 128 grams. It has a 12.7 cm grayscale E Ink 800 x 600 pixel display. Two AAA batteries in the base form a hand rest and provide enough power to read around 12 or 15 books. Cheap ereaders for school books would be a handy thing. Txtr. Video:
- WASTE NOT: 2.5 billion people don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets, which leads to millions of deaths each year and a lot of sickness. One problem is that the toilets we take for granted require huge amounts of water that would be better used for drinking or other purposes. A solar powered toilet from the California Institute of Technology aims to help. It breaks down human waste into fertiliser and hydrogen gas that can be used in fuel cells. Treated water can be used for irrigation or to flush the toilet. Photovoltaic cells capture enough light in a day and produce enough power to run the system for 24 hours. Even if they could put them in schools and markets, that would help. BBC.
- CHATTY WRISTS: The Larklife bracelet tracks your sleep, what you eat, and your exercise to help you make better decisions about your health. A 3-axis accelerometer tracks movement, while flashing lights give instant feedback and an app connected via Bluetooth helps you make sense of the data. The Larklife learns while you wear it and can alert you that you’ve been sitting for too long or that it’s time to eat. Generally my body tells me those things; a bracelet would be redundant. Wired.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 16 October 2012
- FOOT FLEXOR: The X1 robotic exoskeleton from NASA weighs around 26 Kg and has 10 degrees of freedom. It can help or hinder movement in leg joints. Used by astronauts in space it can provide resistance for exercises, but here on the ground it could help people walk. It has 4 motorised joints at the hips and the knees, and 6 passive joints that let the wearer sidestep, turn and point, and flex a foot. Now let’s see models on the catwalk wearing them. Just imagine! Network World.
- PHONES OR PEOPLE?: The International Telecommunication Union says there are around 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world. Not bad for a total population on the planet of around 7 billion. The figures don’t include a count of SIM cards used for tablets or laptops. China alone accounts for around 1 billion subscriptions. I wonder how many subscriptions are for people who have two or more devices, perhaps for personal use and for work? A count of how many people have mobile phones might be more useful. BBC.
- TRAVEL BUG: An infected female mosquito can give a person malaria. But if that infected person is then bitten by an uninfected mosquito they may in turn infect the mosquito and enable the spread of the parasite. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University gathered location data from the cellphones of nearly 15 million Kenyans as they travelled around the country. By mashing up the data with with maps of population distribution and malaria prevalence they were able to track how people carried the disease to areas of previously low infection. That means that rather than simply controlling mosquitoes, health authorities need to also control transmission, perhaps by screening travellers. I suspect wiping out mosquitos is an infinitely easier proposition. New Scientist.
- BRAINY SOLUTION: Sometimes medical personnel or researchers need to monitor a person’s brainwaves, perhaps to diagnose epilepsy or other problems. Usually EEG systems take at least an hour to apply in a hospital by a trained technician. Then the subject of the study has to stay tethered to the monitor. Imec, Holst Centre and Panasonic have created a mobile EEG headset. The portable headset is put on in a moment like a hat. It allows the subject to move around normally and in a variety of real-life locations while transmitting readings directly to a wireless receiver up to 10 metres away. That should make for more accurate and more realistic readings too. MedGadget.
- DEEP BREATHING: If a submarine is disabled and sinks its crew are in big trouble. The Submarine Rescue Diving Recompression System is a remotely operated vehicle that can dive to 600 metres and ferry up to 155 crew members to the surface. As it ascends it can maintain a pressure of up to 5 atmospheres. At the surface the sailors can be transferred directly to decompression chambers. The system can be deployed anywhere in the world within 72 hours from its home port of San Diego in the USA. Is there 72 hours of air in a disabled submarine? Gizmodo.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 17 October 2012
- CLIMBING CHAIR: People who use wheelchairs aren’t too keen on steps. A new prototype robotic electric wheelchair from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan uses 4 wheel drive and 5 axes to climb over obstacles. It uses its wheels as legs to climb a step when the user drives it with a joystick. If it’s on uneven ground the wheelchair also makes sure the seat remains level. Sensors allow the wheelchair to assess steps and other obstacles. The user can also extend stabilisers and line up the wheels to turn in a circle. The designers now need to test the wheelchair with a variety of users. Not requiring curb cuts would be a good thing in itself. DigInfo TV.
- HEAD SHOCK: People with chronic migraine may suffer from headaches most days of any month, but an implanted neurostimulation device could provide some relief. The Genesis neurostimulation system delivers mild electrical pulses to the occipital nerves at the back of the head. Tests have shown the device to reduce the average number of migraines per month from 22 to 16. The one thing is that the researchers don’t really know why it works, just that it does. Don’t try this at home folks. New Scientist. Video:
- PASSING OUT: With massively breached and leaked passwords creating a growing problem the security firm RSA has taken to storing elements of passwords and associated security questions on different servers. That means if one server is breached it doesn’t give attackers enough information to be useful. People supplying passwords won’t see any difference, as the action happens behind the scenes. Researchers suggest though that such massive breaches aren’t as big a problem as individuals giving away passwords in phishing attacks. There just has to be a better solution to security problems than passwords. BBC.
- ON THE MAP: Hestia is a system from scientists at Arizona State University that measures carbon emissions from individual buildings and locations. The system mashes up data from public databases with traffic simulations and energy consumption models to pinpoint sources of CO2. Once authorities can see exactly where the biggest carbon emissions are they can work to reduce them. The system can also verify whether promised cuts have taken place. Scientists using the system observed that electricity production swamps other sources, and that traffic jams are an important source of carbon emissions. Identifying the actual problem is the first step to solving it. BBC.
- DARK DNA: Analysing DNA to find clues to sickness is slow and costly. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found a way to couple genetic material to a luminous molecule that goes dark only in the presence of a specific target. It’s quicker than traditional methods of checking DNA — an analysis takes only 6 hours rather than 48. Apart from anything else that should help reduce anxiety amongst those being tested, and even that is a good outcome. KurzweilAI.
Tech Universe: Thursday 18 October 2012
- ROADS AT WORK: One section of of Cermak Road in Chicago is very special. It uses sustainable design techniques to improve the urban ecosystem, promote economic development, and increase the safety and usability of the street. Along with a lot of recycled materials, it uses photocatalytic cement that cleans the surface of the roadway and removes nitrogen oxide gases from the surrounding air. The street features wind and solar power lights, including LEDs and points them correctly to preserve the darkness of the sky. Bike lanes, pedestrian havens and bus shelters make the street friendlier for those who aren’t in cars, while roadside gardens use rainwater and divert rainfall away from sewers. Now for the rest of the streets. City of Chicago.
- CARS AT WORK: Nigel is a Mini Cooper. It’s not just any Mini Cooper though, but is fitted with 230 sensors that create a log of everything that happens in the vehicle. Users can see it all via an iPhone app. At the moment the app may point out milestone events, such as using the right-turn indicator for the 500th time. But the USC’s Center for Body Computing believes that some sensors could monitor driver health instead. Although they’re in the early stages of their work they suggest appropriate monitors could tell a driver their heart rate goes up every time they arrive home or at the office, or that certain sections of the route are polluted and affecting their health. Information is power. Fast Company.
- PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THE BIRDS: Using aerial drones for capturing images is all the latest thing, but back in 1907 a German photographer used pigeons for the job. He created a lightweight miniature camera and harness and trained carrier pigeons to carry it. Then he’d release the pigeons about 90 Km from home while a pneumatic system in the camera took images at regular intervals. Training the pigeons to carry the camera was one thing, but getting them to image the correct targets was quite another. PetaPixel.
- SHOCKING SORES: Those who are bedridden risk pressure sores. The sores form when the skin compresses in one position and cuts off blood supply. The sores are not only uncomfortable, but cost hospitals around the world a lot of money. Doctors at the University of Calgary in Canada tested underwear that mimics fidgeting, which relieves the pressure. Electrodes in the underwear deliver 10 seconds of stimulation to the buttocks every 10 minutes for 12 hours a day. During a 1 month trial none of the 37 patients developed a sore. Ah, underwear for the dedicated hard-core gamers. BBC.
- PUMPED: People with diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar levels and perhaps administer insulin. The JewelPUMP from Debiotech in Switzerland carries 500 Units of insulin and is applied to the skin. A special Android powered phone, the JewelCOM, features an integrated blood glucose meter and uses dedicated SIM card security to communicate with the JewelPUMP. The pump itself includes a couple of buttons for administering doses if the phone is out of action. The patch is waterproof and includes an alarm in case it gets too hot. How long till someone hacks this to deliver other substances? MedGadget.
Tech Universe: Friday 19 October 2012
- AN EXTRA PUSH: Yamaha’s JWX-2 power assist unit is designed to fit almost every wheelchair. The electric unit provides a bit of extra push when the wheelchair user needs it, such as rolling up a slope. Most people have one arm stronger than the other, so the unit can easily be set to assist more on one side or the other. Beats having to ask someone nearby for help. DigInfo TV.
- THIS SIDE OF THE BLACK STUMP: If someone asks us for directions in the street our answers aren’t always very precise. We may mention “that street over there” or point out a direction with our hand. If autonomous robots in future are to be able to seek help from humans then they must also learn to interpret such symbolic location identifications. The Interactive Urban Robot Project in Europe aims to interpret speech and gestures so it can find its way from place to place without using maps or GPS. That’s a massive undertaking: we humans having trouble enough understanding one another. IEEE.
- UP HIGH; DOWN LOW: The trouble with making cat videos for the Internet is getting in the right position for filming. If the cat’s on the floor you have to lie down for the best angle. If it’s on a fence you may have to stand on tiptoe. The HiLO Lens for iPhone aims to solve the problem of pointing your phone the right way. The small right angle lens easily attaches to and detaches from the phone, meaning you could hold the phone parallel to the floor to get that low angle on your pet. Or hold the phone over your head and shoot downwards towards a crowd. The gadget itself is made with 3 lenses and a prism, rather than just a mirror, while a free app helps sort out any problems with the image. Get your phone ready for dealing with the crowds at the Hobbit premiere. HiLO Lens.
- SINGLE FILE: The United Arab Emirates know a great deal about their citizens. Their Identity Authority holds more than 103 million digital fingerprints and more than 15 million digital facial recognition records so as to enhance security and help people avoid identity theft. They claim they have the largest biometric database in the world. So long as they don’t have any kiosks they should be fine. Gulf News.
- SUNNY DENMARK: The Danes are serious about solar power. The country as a whole has a target that 35% of the Danish energy supply will be based on renewables by 2020. Private households and public institutions are able to store surplus energy in the public grid, and the government are working on establishing smart grids. 36 MW of capacity is being mounted every month and the Danes expect to reach their goal for 2020 of 200 megawatt solar cell capacity this year already. Have a clear goal, a plan and stick to it. It works. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.
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.