Tech Universe: Monday 20 May 2013
- AIR DROP: SheerWind’s Invelox wind energy generators capture the breeze from high above ground and funnel the wind down through a tapering passageway that accelerates its flow to drive a turbine at ground level. Once it’s turned the turbine the air is released back into the environment. If necessary, the air from several towers can be sent through a single generator for the sake of efficiency. Each tower can be half as tall as traditional wind towers and the blades on the ground-based turbine can be 84% shorter. All of that means cheaper equipment and maintenance, while energy output is greater. Now all they need to do is clean out the CO2 on the way through too. SheerWind.
- WAY OFF: Google Street View is well-known and handy for anyone planning a trip to somewhere they haven’t visited before. Now GeoGuessr challenges you to work out where in the world a particular view was imaged. In the game you’re presented with a view you can travel through. When you think you know where it is, click a location on the map to find out how close or far off your guess was. There are plenty of clues to help, such as street signs and vegetation, along with which side of the road cars travel on. Be careful though: you could easily spend an afternoon ‘travelling’ when you didn’t mean to. GeoGuessr.
- BRICK BY BRICK: A 4 Km long railway track may not be specially exciting, unless it’s made out of 93,307 LEGO pieces. The track was put together in Denmark recently by around 80 enthusiasts who combined their bricks and rails over a period of around 6 hours. Once the train set off it was another 4 hours before it reached the end of the line. Just think what else all those hours of labour and dollars could have achieved back in the real world. LEGO.
- LOOK FOR THE NOISE: Trying to track down the source of an annoying noise? Car mechanics in particular can have trouble with that. Luckily the SeeSV-S205 sound camera is designed to pinpoint the source of a sound. The 1.78 Kg camera is shaped like a pentagon and can be held in one hand. The face holds 30 MEMS microphones sensitive to sounds between 350 Hz and 12 kHz, and a high-resolution optical camera that records 25 images per second. The microphones and camera feed data to a computer that creates a heat map style coloured overlay to show where the noise is loudest. It’s warm over there. Gizmag.
- LIFE SAVING LIGHTS: One area off Mexico where fishers make a living by catching halibut is also where Loggerhead turtles hang out. Unfortunately many turtles are caught up in the nets and drown. Simple LED lights that activate when they touch the water are not only increasing catches of halibut but also decreasing turtle by-catch. The lights are attached to the nets before they go in the water. It seems a simple but effective solution. New York Times.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 21 May 2013
- TEXTING IN THE RAIN: It’s pouring with rain and you just have to send an urgent text or email from your phone. But that’s OK, because you have your trusty umbrella. Or is it? Have you ever tried to type on your phone while holding an umbrella? The Brolly has you covered because of its special grip with holes for your fingers. The grip is made from rubber and ABS plastic, so it’s comfortable, flexible and strong. Meanwhile the rest of the umbrella’s frame is made of aluminium and fibreglass. A grip like that would be very handy too in sudden gusts of wind. The Brolly. Video:
- UMBRELLA SAVINGS: Once your umbrella has fallen to bits you probably drop it in the bin. The polyester part can take forever to degrade, while the metal is just wasted. The polypropylene Ginkgo umbrella from Italy on the other hand is completely recyclable. The struts are made from a single piece of polypropylene and can bend without breaking. The umbrellas can be heavily customised so buyers can choose their own colours for individual parts. Mary Poppins would approve. Ginkgo. Video:
- 1-PIXEL CAMERA: When researchers at the University of Glasgow recently made a 3D image they didn’t need a camera to do it. Instead they used simple cheap detectors with a single pixel to sense light and a computer to do some heavy duty maths. They shone patterns of light on to objects. Four single-pixel sensors were placed at various locations and recorded reflected intensities of light to produce multiple 2D images. The computer then combined the 2D images to produce a faithful 3D representation. The power here is that sensors could work in frequencies beyond visible light, perhaps even in the TeraHertz wavelength. It’s an interesting change from the megapixel race. University of Glasgow.
- CELLULAR PRINTER: The Australians are getting into printing in a big way: they’ve printed organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper. Such cells could be embedded into laptop cases to provide backup power or perhaps into advertising signage. The process itself is just like printing on to a T-shirt. The printer uses semiconducting inks and can print at up to 10 metres per minute on to paper-thin flexible plastic or steel. The organic photovoltaic cells produce 10 to 50 watts of power per square metre. Ubiquitous solar cells could lead to a lot of changes. CSIRO.
- UP ON THE ROOF: Hyundai have a huge manufacturing plant in South Korea. It’s more than 213,000 square metres in size. And with all that empty roof space what better to do than to cover it with 40,000 solar photovoltaic modules? The peak capacity of the combined modules will reach 10 MW, and the completed plant will be able to supply stable electricity for some 3,200 households. That’s a nice way to generate some extra income from waste space. Hyundai.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 22 May 2013
- POINT AND SHOOT: If you’re into hunting but not a very good shot then the TrackingPoint smart rifle may appeal: you point and it locks a laser on the target. You pull the trigger, but it doesn’t fire until the weapon has been pointed in exactly the right place, taking into account dozens of variables, including wind, shake and distance to the target. The rifle has a built-in laser range finder, a heads-up display, a ballistics computer and a Wi-Fi transmitter that streams live video and audio to a nearby iPad. The recorded video can be shared online so you can show your friends what a good shot the rifle is. The scope can be passworded protected to prevent unauthorised users from accessing the tracking features. The targets, whatever or whoever they are, don’t stand a chance. NPR.
- BELT ON WATCH: People with epilepsy may have no warning before they experience a seizure. A smart belt from Rice University monitors respiration rate and electrical conductivity in the skin, both of which can give away an impending seizure. The device sends data via Bluetooth to a computer or smartphone that can alert the wearer. The belt was specially designed to be worn by children during the night and to alert caregivers. That’s the kind of tracking to invest in. Rice University.
- DVD ON THE AIR: German researchers have really cranked up wifi speeds: 40 Gbit/s at 240 GHz over a distance of one kilometre. That would deliver the contents of a DVD in less than a second. They did it with fully integrated electronic transmitters and receivers with active electronic circuits. The particular high frequency they selected means components can be small, while the atmosphere shows low attenuation in this frequency range. It also performs well in fog and rain. Just keep the DVD data coming. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
- DEEP DISH DVD: When some folks in Brazil watched rented DVDs recently they found the room filling with the smell of pizza. The DVDs were stamped with special thermal ink and flavoured varnish. As the disc heated it released the smell of pizza and the thermal ink melted into an image of a pizza with an advertising message embedded. I bet it took more than a second to deliver that DVD. Creativity Online.
- BUY A SMILE: Advertisers are keen to make their ads effective. If viewers enjoy an ad, the theory is they’ll be more likely to buy the product. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology collected video of people watching online ads. The viewers were asked for each ad if they liked it or not. Meanwhile software tracked their smile intensity as they watched the video and predicted whether they would respond positively or negatively. More than 75% of its predictions were correct. Of course, the software needs to distinguish between a smile of enjoyment and a grimace of distaste. New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Thursday 23 May 2013
- EASY BEING GREEN: With only 3 wheels and a price tag of less than US$7,000 the American two-seater Elio car manages around 35 Km per litre of petrol on the open road. Its top speed is around 160 Kph so watch those speed limits. It has two wheels at the front, the third at the rear, and body panels made of a composite. The passenger sits behind the driver rather than alongside. So no worries about the whole right-hand vs left-hand drive problem. Elio Motors.
- TOWER OF STRAW: The wind may ruffle your hair in the morning as you go to work, but unlike the hair on the Strawscraper in Stockholm that doesn’t generate any useful electricity. The hairs on the skyscraper are in fact piezoelectric straws that can recover wind energy. The straws are designed to give the building’s exterior the appearance of breathing, but also to create usable power through small movements generated by the wind. At least it shouldn’t need a haircut every few weeks, but cleaning could be a nightmare. Belatchew Labs.
- DONE WITH MIRRORS: If your brain’s swelling, perhaps after a stroke, the surgeon may have to drill a hold in your head to relieve the pressure. In that case you’d better hope the drill doesn’t slip or you could be in real trouble. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute hope to make such procedures much safer with their high energy femto-second laser. The laser beam is guided by an arm containing micro-mirrors that precisely control the cut. The mirrors include highly-reflective electric layers to reflect 99.9% of the laser beam, rather than the 90% of previous mirrors. That means higher-powered laser beams are used for cutting. What was that about needing a hole in the head? Fraunhofer Institute.
- ATTACK OF THE HELMET HEADS: Giro’s Air Attack Shield racing bike helmets were designed for aerodynamics, optimised for efficiency in wind tunnel testing. The polycarbonate shell is lightweight and durable. The design suspends the helmet slightly above the head and creates a path for air to flow through, keeping the rider cool. At least this time the hole’s in the helmet, not the head. Air Attack.
- BOTS ON THE BALL: The 2014 soccer World Cup will be held in Brazil. Thousands will go along to watch the games, and someone has to keep an eye on all those fans. Among the security detail will be 30 PackBot robots similar to those deployed by military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The PackBots will carry cameras to investigate suspicious objects and explore threatening environments. Let’s hope they’re not kept too busy. CNet.
Tech Universe: Friday 24 May 2013
- HEALTH IN A BOX: We’d like to think that hospitals and medical clinics are places full of light and life-saving equipment. In many parts of the world though they are dark and empty, lacking a reliable source of power, or funds for supplies. The WE CARE Solar suitcase brings a bit of sunshine to those in need. The portable, cost-effective solar suitcases include high-efficiency LED medical task lighting, a universal cell phone charger, a battery charger for AAA or AA batteries, and outlets for 12V DC devices. The basic system comes with 40 or 80 watts of solar panels, and a 12 amp-hour sealed lead-acid battery. That’s one suitcase that could save lives. WE CARE Solar.
- THE HIVE MINE: Landmines are a particularly nasty remnant of many wars. There are still around 250,000 buried in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and other countries from former Yugoslavia thanks to the wars of the early 90s. As in other parts of the world, locating the buried mines is very costly and extremely dangerous. A team of Croatian researchers is turning to an unusual solution: they’re training honeybees to associate food with the smell of TNT. Bees can detect odours even 4.5 kilometres away. The idea is to release them in areas that have already been de-mined to cluster around any that may have been missed. Why make robots for a job bees can do naturally? Wired UK.
- PLAYING WITH FIRE: Perhaps you’re a gamer who wants an edge over your fellow gamers. Are you prepared to be shocked for it? The Foc.us gaming headset uses transcranial Direct Current Stimulation to increase the plasticity of your brain and make it work faster. The device sends a small electric current through the prefrontal cortex using a 2 x 2 focused electrode array. It can be controlled manually through a touch sensor or by an app on a compatible mobile device. This sounds like the kind of device others should report on before you buy. Foc.us.
- COILED BRAINS: Usually a CT scan requires a huge and expensive scanner, but there are many places in the world where such technology is simply too expensive. Now researchers are testing an inexpensive headband that can tell if you’ve experienced brain trauma. The volumetric electromagnetic phase-shift spectroscopy clinical coil checks the conductivity of brain tissue for perturbations that could indicate swelling or bleeding. Tests so far show the device can distinguish between healthy adults and individuals known to have brain trauma. There’s a safe use for a headset. GigaOm.
- STICK TO THE BEAT: Doctors can tell a lot from your heartbeat, but you may need to be wired up to monitoring equipment. A team at Stanford University is developing a tiny monitor as thin as a piece of paper and the size of a postage stamp that could fit under a sticking plaster on your wrist. Their heart monitor is made from a layer of rubber covered with tiny pyramid bumps. The flow of blood deforms the pyramids slightly which separates outer layers of flexible electronics, creating a change in the electromagnetic field and a current that can be measured. The team are now working on making their sensor wireless. A sticking plaster on the wrist beats a headset any time. Stanford University.