Tech Universe: Monday 18 February 2013
- SHOPPING SPIKE: In places where the streets are routinely icy it can be handy to have spikes in the soles of your boots. The spikes are great for traction on ice, but not so good for indoor use, so if you’re walking to the shops you have a problem. Enter Meindl’s boots with retractable spikes. The wearer flips out a dial on the heel to extend the 6 spikes or flips it back in to retract them. Simple. Gizmag.
- ARMED WITH 3D: Makers of prosthetics tend to be commercial groups, and their products can be very costly. One teen in the US, with no training in prosthetics set about building a robotic hand just for fun. After some success in that he set himself the goal of creating a really functional prosthetic arm. With 3D printing and a clever use of Arduino, Bluetooth and an EEG headset to control movement he’s come up with a functional robotic arm that costs only $250. Any number 8 wire in there? Make.
- DRINK OF CLAY: The University of Virginia has found a simple way to help people in the Limpopo province in South Africa to clean up their drinking water. Their MadiDrops are ceramic discs that each last around 6 months while they filter impurities from water. The trick is in the silver or copper nanoparticles that are embedded in the discs. Local workers can create the low-cost discs and filters that use similar technology, so building local businesses and communities. The filters are made of local clay, sawdust and water and kill 99.9% of the pathogens in water poured through them. It’s great to see the locals can take control of the process and benefit from the manufacture and supply as well as the use of the filters. University of Virginia.
- ON TRACK: As you move around taking and uploading photos, checking in with Foursquare, tweeting and the like you know you’re leaving tracks that could be followed. But actually tracking someone would require a fair bit of dedication. Raytheon’s Rapid Information Overlay Technology software pulls all the data together and makes it a whole lot easier. Then it not only tracks, but can use the data it’s gathered to predict where you might be, when, and what you might do. Don’t feel paranoid; they really might be tracking you. The Guardian. Video:
- HEALING HOT FLASHES: The NAND cells in conventional flash memory such as the commercial SSDs in your computer or smartphone can be programmed and erased a few thousand times. Now Macronix have created a cell that heals itself when heated to 800 C and can be programmed and erased more than 100 million times. Heating plates built into the cells consume a little extra energy, but also allow for faster erasing, though Macronix don’t yet know why. It’ll be a while before these cells are available commercially. A little warmth can go a long way. Extreme Tech.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 19 February 2013
- KEY MESSAGES: When parents lend teenagers their car it tends to provoke anxious moments. Ford’s MyKey system allows for differing levels of access to a car’s systems by different users, recognised by the key they use. One key may allow a driver to travel at top speed, while another may limit the top speed to or below the maximum speed allowed on the roads. Ahhh, a hacker’s delight. BBC.
- HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PENGUIN?: One way to film penguins for a nature documentary is for camera operators to hang out for months in freezing hides. Another is to add robot penguins to a colony, as John Downer Productions did for the BBC documentary called Penguins — Spy in the Huddle. The company deployed 50 fullsize robot penguins that concealed cameras. The penguincams walked, got back up when knocked over, and even laid their own eggcams. They sent their data back via a satellite uplink and operated in temperatures as low as -60C. Spy robot penguins: brilliant! John Downer Productions.
- WHERE ARE YOU REALLY?: Smartphones these days may include apps to monitor the location of another smartphone user. If you’ve ever used such apps you may have noticed that a city location can be quite inaccurate — it may show a bus journey including a dip in the harbour, for example. Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid almost doubled the acuracy of GPS signals in a city with a system designed for use in cars. The system includes GPS, but also an Inertial Measurement Unit. That unit has 3 accelerometers and 3 gyroscopes measure changes in speed and maneouvres performed by the vehicle. Then a computer takes all the data and corrects errors in the geographic coordinates. The researchers hope to do away with the specialised device though and use the hardware already in smartphones to handle the measurements. It’d be good to know my partner’s not actually plunging into the harbour on the bus home from work. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
- TRACKING SHIPS: As ships move along trade routes they leave long tracks of elevated nitrogen dioxide levels behind them. Measured from space by the Aura satellite, those tracks are clearly visible in some areas where ships follow a narrow range of routes. Ships aren’t the only creators of NO2 though — offshore drilling and agricultural burning can also create the pollutant. NO2 can harm cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard the Aura satellite and other instruments are helping scientists study NO2 levels in the atmosphere. It’s scary to realise those tracks are being formed. NASA.
- SNOW DOWN: It’s Day One for you taking up snowboarding and before you know it you’re rocketing down a slope out of control. The Boarder Kontrol is a snowboard for beginners. The board includes a blade that can be lowered into the snow to work as a brake. The rider pulls on a leash to slow down and releases it to raise the blade and speed up again. The boards aren’t designed for individual purchase but to be used in snow schools and at resorts. That’s not a bad starting point. Boarder Kontrol.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 20 February 2013
- BOATING IN A BOX: Carting a small boat about can be a problem. The Transporter packs down into a self-contained box, small enough to carry on a quad bike, that takes only moments to reassemble at your destination. A single compartment holds all the other sections, including nose, pontoons, lifejackets and oars. While on the water seats are around the edges of the boat where the pontoons are so it’s very stable. Clever. Better-Outdoors.com.
- KEEP THE RUBBISH FLOWING: The landfills near Oberlin, Ohio, aren’t just storing rubbish. Instead they’ve replaced coal for around half of the town’s energy supply. Anaerobic methane fermentation can turn 1 million tons of municipal solid waste into 1 megawatt of power, so two nearby landfills compress, filter, and dry emitted methane gas before sending it into the local utility grid. By 2015 Oberlin expects to source around 90% of its energy from landfill and other renewables such as hydro, solar and wind. Keep creating rubbish, folks. Good.
- RETHINK THE JEANS: Wearing denim jeans? They were brought to you courtesy of cotton, 42 litres of water, up to 15 vats of dye, an array of harmful chemicals and heaps of energy. In other words, the environmental cost is probably much higher than the price tag suggests. A researcher at Heriot-Watt University thinks the environment could be better off if jeans were made of sustainable wood instead. The Tencel fibre is made of cellulose, while digital printing gives it the appearance of stone-washed denim. Tencel requires only 20% of the water, energy and chemicals needed to manufacture conventional jeans. It’s worth thinking about. Heriot-Watt University.
- TRIPLE CHARGE: Lithium ion batteries are very popular for all kinds of devices. But they can discharge quickly and be relatively slow to recharge. One problem is that the silicon anodes break down because they are constantly swelling and shrinking as the battery charges and discharges. A team of researchers developed a replacement: silicon nanoparticles etched with pores that increase the surface area and allow expansion and contraction without breaking down. The new technique allows batteries to recharge within 10 minutes and hold 3 times as much energy as existing batteries. A 10 minute recharge would be a dream. Time of India.
- MOVE OVER TV: As television moves from analogue to digital it frees up parts of the wireless spectrum known as white space. Those frequencies penetrate walls, bend around hills and travel long distances. That’s good news for delivering broadband Internet over WiFi which can take up those frequencies. In Africa there are plenty of places with no Internet. In fact they may also have no phone, no electricity and little else going for them, except for the sunshine. A new scheme is bringing Internet to the schools though, by using solar panels to power wireless signals that can be delivered by a traditional TV antenna to smartphones and tablets. The same solar panels can also power the chargers needed to keep the devices running. Maybe all the TV channels could be replaced by WiFi and deliver the programmes online? New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Thursday 21 February 2013
- WATCH THE STATS: The SmartBall from Catapult Sports will capture masses of data for sports players, their coaches and fans. Players wear a GPS tracker so the system knows where they are on the field. Meanwhile the ball contains a sensor. Beacons inside the ball transmit 5 times per second, sending as far as around 5 metres. Signals are received by one or more nearby players. Data is sent from the players to the sidelines and collated to create a 2D model of how the players and the ball move on the field. Coaches can track in detail both how the players perform and how they’re interacting with the ball. The data could also be used to provide fans with more info about the game. This conjures up an image of a future where robots love sports for the stats goodness, while humans watch for the plays. Wired.
- SHOWING THE WAY: Oxford University reckon a car could learn routes you regularly drive, such as the way to work or the kids’ school, and then do the driving for you. Their version of a self-driving car uses lasers on the front and a camera on the roof of the car to create a 3D image. The sensors also notice unfamiliar objects such as pedestrians. Once the car knows a particular route it could drive that portion. The aim of this approach is to keep costs lower than those for a fully self-driving car. So many people drive the same routes each day. Handing over some of the driving could be a relief. The Telegraph.
- MOVIE MIX: Many Worlds is a 15 minute movie whose plot changes according to the mood of the audience, or more particularly, certain members of the audience. As the audience enter the cinema 4 are selected to represent the rest and to wear small sensors that capture heart rate, muscle tension, brainwave activity, or skin conductance. As they watch the movie an algorithm assesses the captured data and chooses which prerecorded version of a scene to show next. A responsive soundtrack is also used to control mood, perhaps making it more discordant to create more fear if the audience seems bored. Have fun discussing that movie with friends who saw it at a different session. Many Worlds.
- ROBOTS AT LARGE: The VGo telepresence robot makes it possible for 7 year old Devon Carrow to attend school in New York. His robot goes everywhere the rest of the class go: to the library, the auditorium and the lunchroom, though a teacher has to lift the robot up any stairs. That’s not too hard though as it weighs only a little over 8 Kg. The other kids take it all in stride and treat Devon as though he were physically present. The teacher uses a microphone that allows Devon to hear her, while it helps other students hear her too. It’d be interesting to see how it works out if multiple students, or even all of them, had robots at school while they stayed home. Yahoo!
- CYCLISTS AFLOAT: In Eindhoven in The Netherlands the Hovenring is a special roundabout bridge for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge is circular, 72 metres in diameter, and suspended from cables that hang from a 70 metre pylon in the middle. A counterweight and M-shaped supports help keep the bridge from swaying or twisting. One problem was the steep climb up to the bridge, so they lowered the road to make a more gentle slope. That’s how to keep cyclists and walkers safer. Inhabitat.
Tech Universe: Friday 22 February 2013
- MIRROR SHIMMER: The European Southern Observatory needs a new mirror on one of its telescopes. The mirror’s 1.12 metres across, which is a fair size, but it’s also only 2 millimeters thick — thinner than most glass windows. When the mirror’s installed it will be continuously deformed to correct for the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere and so create much sharper images. That’s why it’s so thin. To change its shape 1170 actuators apply a force on 1170 magnets glued to the back of the thin shell. They can do that up to 1,000 times per second. The whole thing’s controlled by very sophisticated special-purpose electronics, of course. Oh, and those 2 millimetres of glass were ground from an original block that was more than 70 millimetres thick. That’s an extremely sophisticated system. European Southern Observatory.
- COASTER IN CHARGE: The onE Puck from Epiphany is basically a thick drinks coaster. Inside is a Stirling engine though, so when you put a hot or cold drink on top of it electricity is generated. And what do you do with that electricity? Charge your phone, of course. That’s a nice asset in the office. Epiphany onE Puck.
- LOGGING ROADS: A team of engineers analysed the cellphone call logs of 680,000 Boston-area drivers, tracing commutes anonymously from origin to destination. They found that during rush hour 98% of roads in the Boston area were below capacity while 2% had more traffic than they could handle. Roads that connected different areas of the city tended to be most congested. They also found it was a small number of drivers from just a few areas who caused congestion, because they made particularly intensive use of the problematic roads. By reducing traffic in just a few areas planners could make everyone’s trip faster and smoother. Now what will they actually do about it? The Boston Globe.
- GENETIC EXPERTS: Ordering a medical test is one thing, but interpreting the results needs a lot of skills and knowledge. While most doctors can handle things like blood tests, working with DNA sequencing test results may require very specialised expertise. Coriell Life Sciences in the USA aim to help with ordering, storing, and interpreting whole-genome-sequence data for doctors. One aspect of the service is that the genomic data is stored in one place, then doctors can order various analyses and interpretations of parts of it. The doctor receives a report, then adds data to the patient’s medical records and explains what it all means. Technology’s hard enough to keep up with; medical technology must be a nightmare for doctors. Technology Review.
- WALKING ON AIR: Volvo’s V40 hatch is designed to help protect pedestrians who end up being hit. Sensors in the front bumper detect when a pedestrian has been hit then trigger an airbag that inflates near the bottom of the windscreen. The airbag is designed to prevent head injuries which are the biggest cause of death for pedestrians. Pedestrians: check the car’s make and model before throwing yourself in front of it. The Daily Telegraph.