Tech Universe: Monday 11 February 2013
- MARTIAN PIXELS: If you’d like to examine the surface of Mars in minute detail you could set up a space mission and travel there. Or you could download the high resolution image the European Space Agency has released. The image comprises 2702 individual swaths of the martian surface that together represent 87.8% of the entire planet. 61.5% of the entire surface is mapped at a resolution of 20 m per pixel or better. Some spots are missing because the relevant image was particularly affected by dust or atmospheric effects. The images were captured over around 10 years by the Mars Express craft, using a high-resolution stereo camera. Metre by metre we’re filling in the picture of our solar system. ESA.
- UP DOWN TURN AROUND: Ricoh’s omnidirectional camera takes a full 360 degree panoramic image in one shot. Two fisheye lenses each cover 180 degrees of view. The prototype camera combines the 2 pictures, then sends them wirelessly to a tablet or smartphone. The image works like a regular panorama, but you can also see up and down, and if you zoom out, the image becomes a sphere. DigInfoTV.
- FAR FLYING HORNETS: The Black Hornet Nano is more than just a toy helicopter. In the hands of British forces in Afghanistan it’s a battery-powered mini-drone equipped with a camera that relays video and still images to a handheld control terminal. The 16 gram 10 cm drone can be piloted directly or programmed to follow co-ordinates using GPS at up to 35 Kph. The drones have a range of 800 metres and can fly for up to 30 minutes. That’s quite a range. BBC.
- UV MELT: Manufacturing processes sometimes need objects to be held in place temporarily, for example with a light adhesive. But separating them may require an unwelcome force. The adhesion strength of an organic substance developed by AIST can be varied by shining light on it. Shine green light on the substance and it solidifies, while under UV light, it gradually liquefies. The light doesn’t heat or cool it, but only changes how liquid it is. The material is a weak adhesive, but the researchers hope to increase its strength. You’d think there would be medical applications for a substance like that too. DigInfo News.
- SHIVER THE TIMBERS: The hulls of ships accumulate bacteria that increase drag, reduce energy efficiency and block or clog undersea sensors. What’s more, the biofilm may attract seaweed, worms, and mussels. One way to help prevent this build-up is to use toxic paints that kill bacteria but are bad for the environment. Now researchers at Duke University think that ships could shake the bacteria off, literally. They’ve developed a material that deforms in response to electricity. Flicking a switch could cause the coating to move and deform, shaking off bacteria and other organisms. So would it take a single big shake now and again or frequent tiny shakes? Duke University.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 12 February 2013
- IN CHARGE: There you are, out in the bush camping, when you feel an urgent need to check your phone, which is now out of juice, even supposing you could get a signal. Don’t worry, just make a cup of tea with the PowerPot and let it charge your phone while the water boils. The pot itself can be used with almost any heat source, such as a wood fire or a propane burner and includes a built-in USB connector so you can charge all your devices. The pot uses the temperature difference between the heating plate on the bottom and the inside of the pot to generate power. How many cups of tea does it take to charge a phone? PowerPot.
- EGG TIME: Take a pot of water, add an egg or two, bring to the boil, and then hope you get the timing right for a perfectly cooked egg. Or, take an egg from the fridge, nestle it in the Eggxactly egg cup and tap the lid to start cooking. The device uses stretchy heating elements that enclose the egg and a microprocessor to control cooking time, reducing energy use to around 1% of the pot and boil method. It sounds great, but you may need to be in the UK for this one. Eggxactly.
- WRITE RIGHT: The Lernstift is a pen that could be handy for people who still actually write by hand. The pen contains motion, text recognition and pressure sensors, batteries and Linux-based electronics that detect when you’ve made a spelling or grammar mistake. If it detects an error it vibrates to alert you. The pen can also be used in calligraphy mode to help learn letter shapes. Charmingly, the website explains that the pen will ‘alarm’ you when you make a spelling mistake. Lernstift.
- CLEAN BEAM: The toilets on a plane aren’t the easiest to use, what with the cramped space and the special fixtures. Because blind people may find them even harder to use that sighted people do the School of Design at Hong Kong Polytech have created a BrailleWise system to help. The system adds a beam at waist height around the toilet compartment. The beam includes text and symbols in Braille to explain where amenities such as toilet rolls are located. That’s a simple and elegant solution. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
- GAS DOWN: If you’re creating a $40 million gas platform out at sea one thing you don’t want it to do is sink while it’s still being built. Yet that’s what happened to Iran’s latest 1,850 tonne structure a few days ago. Iran has the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves after Russia. Reports say no one was injured in the accident. At least it didn’t explode. The Globe and Mail.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 13 February 2013
- GREEN BEER: The Alaska Brewing Company is being a bit clever and using its own brewing process to power the brewery with a unique boiler system. A furnace burns the waste accumulated from the brewing process, creating steam to power the majority of the brewery’s operations. Previously they shipped the spent grain out at high cost to be used for other purposes such as stock feed. The spent grain steam boiler should offset the company’s yearly energy costs by 70%. That’s a nice bit of almost perpetual motion there. Associated Press.
- LIGHT TOUCH: Epileptic seizures range from the minor to the incredibly disruptive and dangerous. Although many people are able to control their seizures with drugs, around 40% of people with epilepsy can’t control the seizures at all. Now researchers at the University of California have succeeded in controlling seizures in mice by using an EEG-based computer system. When the system detects a seizure it activates thin fibre-optic strands implanted in the brain. The light turns on certain proteins that stimulate or inhibit specific neurons in the brain and so arrest ongoing electrical seizure activity. The research with mice could lead to better ways to help people with uncontrollable seizures. That’s some skilled brain manipulation. UC Irvine.
- MONITORING THE MONITORS: TV programmes often have security guards watching banks of screens that show what carefully placed cameras see. When guards spot a problem they take action. Researchers at Universidad Carlos III of Madrid have just made that kind of system smarter by having software analyse the images in real time. Anomalies, such as a vehicle moving in the wrong direction, set off an alert for a human to investigate. They say the system could be used for public and road safety and will work with existing surveillance cameras. Which is all fine, so long as it’s someone else the cameras are watching. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
- ROSE TINTED LENSES: O2Amps glasses enhance our view of oxygenated blood beneath the skin. That can help medical staff identify veins or detect bruising. One variant though, with Oxy-Iso lenses, may be able to help people who are red-green colour blind. Tests so far are producing positive results. The lenses hinder the perception of yellows and blues through at the expense of enhancing reds and greens, so may be dangerous for driving. Solutions are just never that easy. Txchnologist.
- ISLAND OF THE SUN: The Swiss are building 3 islands in Lake Neuchâtel. Each island is 25 metres across, contains 100 photovoltaic panels, and serves as a laboratory to demonstrate the efficacy of floating concentrated solar power plants. The power generated by each island will be sent via cable to the electricity grid on land. Those PV panels have to go somewhere, so why not on a lake? Clean Technica.
Tech Universe: Thursday 14 February 2013
- FRESH EYES: The Second Sight Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is now on the market in the US. If the name’s too long for you, think bionic eye for blind people. 60 electrodes are implanted in the retina and interact with glasses fitted with a special mini camera. When tested on 30 people who were completely blind the system allowed some to see a little, while others could read newspaper headlines. The prosthesis replaces the function of photoreceptors in the eye that send impulses for the brain to convert into images. Things are definitely looking up for those with vision problems. Business Insider.
- CLEANER COAL: People have long burned coal to provide heat or light and generate electricity, but the combustion produces all kinds of pollutants. Chemical looping replaces burning with a much cleaner process. Instead of making coal react with air, the looping process exposes it to oxygen-bearing materials such as iron oxide. The reaction produces nearly pure carbon dioxide gas and iron metal. The CO2 is easy to capture, while the iron goes on to react with oxygen, creating heat that’s used to make steam and generate electricity. That’s an improvement, but there’s still all the surplus CO2. Technology Review.
- SAY AAH, ROBOTS: In Scotland some trainee medical staff are using lifelike robots to practice their skills. The robots are computer controlled and can react moment by moment to the actions of the trainees. The robots are designed to display symptoms such as asthma, heart attacks and infections. So long as they don’t treat live people too much like the dummies they practiced on. BBC.
- SPEED TAGGING: Tagging big fish such as tuna, marlin and sharks to track them isn’t new, but the tags themselves need to be carefully designed to penetrate the skin and be retained for as long as possible. Thanks to the 3D printing possibilities of fused metal powder CSIRO has been able to rapidly develop better tags. Conventional machining meant delays of a couple of months for each iteration of a design. With the 3D printer though it takes only a couple of days. Half a dozen iterations, with testing and refinements, have led them to develop an effective fish tag. Who knew fish tags were so complicated? CSIRO.
- NEEDLES OUT: Live vaccines against diseases such as HIV and malaria can save many lives. But they need to be kept at a constant very cold temperature and must be delivered with a needle, which brings contamination risks. Now scientists at King’s College London have been able to create a dried live vaccine that remains stable and effective at room temperature. They also created a microneedle array from the dried vaccine and successfully used it to vaccinate test mice. The patch has many tiny very sharp needles that quickly dissolve and distribute the vaccine in the skin. This research could lead to much improved vaccination rates in developing countries and elsewhere. Presumably too the patches can be applied by people without medical training. King’s College London.
Tech Universe: Friday 15 February 2013
- UNFOLDING DRAMA: Pull the 25 Kg Hungarian Moveo electric scooter from the back seat of your car, spend a few minutes unfolding it and slotting in the seat, then you can zoom off round town at up to 45 Kph. A full charge takes an hour and will carry you for around 35 Km. At your destination fold the scooter in two and wheel it along behind you like a suitcase. The carbon-composite body is designed to protect you from all the parts that might make you grubby. It’s an interesting idea, but the initial unfolding seems a bit fiddly. Gizmag.
- THE FINE PRINT: There’s plenty of talk about 3D printing for large objects such as fish tags or airplane parts, but Nanoscribe GmbH have created a speedy 3D printer for objects smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The laser lithography printer uses ultra-short laser pulses to polymerise and dissolve photosensitive materials leaving the desired structure. Then tiny areas of a structure can be stitched together to create a larger object. The technique is a hundred times faster than older methods. That’s precision printing. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
- OLD NEWS: First there were storytellers, then newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, Twitter, rubbish bins… In London the Renew newspaper recycling bin doubles as an open-air information screen. The fibreglass bins have screens at each end that display news and information such as where nearby hire bikes are. The news is drawn from journalists or feeds from magazines. The screens can also be used for emergency messages. No news is good news. The Guardian.
- KILLER PACKAGE: An ongoing problem with cancer treatment is to kill just the cancer cells and not the healthy tissue around them. A capsule developed at UCLA wraps a protein that destroys cancer cells in a nanoscale shell that degrades harmlessly in non-cancerous cells. Tests on lab mice showed significant reduction in tumour growth. Using a protein avoids the risk of genetic mutation posed by gene therapies and the risk to healthy cells from chemotherapy. That’s a helpful targeting system. UCLA.
- DROP SHIPPING: The DropTag combines a battery, a low-energy Bluetooth transmitter, an accelerometer and a memory chip. Attach it to a parcel before shipping and it logs any g-forces above a set risky shock level while in transit. The parcel’s recipient can then use a smartphone app to scan the tag and see if the parcel was mishandled during shipping, even without opening it. And if the tag says transit was smooth but the parcel’s contents are still broken, what claim do you have then? New Scientist.