Tech Universe: Monday, 27 May 2013
- OLD FOLKS GONE: Roke Manor Research in the UK have a new tracking tag that could help keep tabs on old folk with dementia, lifejackets or even livestock. The Agitate device is made from two plates, one of metal, the other of a charged material. Even the slightest movement between the two creates electrical energy that powers a radio pulse lasting just a few nanoseconds. The signal may be short but is very powerful and can be picked up at least 20 kilometres away. There are no batteries: all the power is derived from jolting the device. Ear tags work nicely for livestock, but what about the old folks? New Scientist..
- SLIP SLIDING AWAY: A new coating from the University of Michigan is mostly air, but it can keep liquids such as coffee, soy sauce or vegetable oil from staining your clothes. The superomniphobic coating is applied to surfaces by electrospinning — using an electric charge to create fine particles of solid from a liquid solution. The coating is a mixture of rubbery plastic particles and liquid-resisting nanoscale cubes. Between 95% and 99% of the coating is actually air pockets, so any liquid that comes in contact with it is barely touching a solid surface. That means droplets have no incentive to spread and roll off the surface. While a coating like this would be handy for regular shirts and trousers it could help protect soldiers and scientists from chemicals, and lead to advanced waterproof paints that dramatically reduce drag on ships. Just don’t let the politicians near it. University of Michigan.
- HARD DRIVING: Driving along in your 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and feel you might need a break? That’s OK, the car can take over some of the driving for you. In the right conditions the car can steer itself through city traffic or drive on the open road without your input. It uses radar, infrared and optical sensors to track lane markings or the car ahead, and can also park itself, brake automatically to avoid hitting humans or other cars and sense when the driver is becoming fatigued. It’s so tiring watching others work. New York Times.
- VIEW FROM THE TOP: Your cellphone may have a rotten signal down at the beach but try video calling from the top of Mt Everest and you’ll be right. A British mountaineer recently made the first video call from the top of the mountain using a smartphone. The call was part of an effort to raise money for charity. The climber made the call using Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network service. So maybe it’s just a matter of getting the phone high enough. The Verge.
- MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: It’s a bit of a pain remembering to take medication: you have to take the right pills or potions at the right time for maximum effect. AdhereTech’s new smart bottle is here to help, with its automated phone calls or text messages. The bottle has a 3G chip for communications and is programmed by the pharmacist who loads it with medications. The bottle senses when it was opened and how many pills were removed then sends its data to a server. The server compares the data to the patient’s prescription and can send text alerts or phonecalls to caregivers. The data has an open API so can be used by the patient or medical staff. Is that your pill bottle calling? AdhereTech.
Tech Universe: Tuesday, 28 May 2013
- SPEED CHARGE: Charging a cellphone seems to have grown quicker over the years, but Eesha Khare of California thinks it should take only 20 seconds. She’s invented a tiny flexible supercapacitor that can last for 10,000 charge-recharge cycles, compared with 1,000 cycles for conventional rechargeable batteries. So far she’s only used her supercapacitor to power an LED but she says it could fit inside cellphones and other portable electronics. There’s only one question: how soon? NBC News.
- GROW YOUR OWN GRAPHENE: What do hemp and graphene have in common? It turns out you can make one from the other, according to researchers at the University of Alberta. Graphene is ideal for use as electrodes in batteries and supercapacitors, but it costs a lot to produce. Hemp is relatively inexpensive because the plant grows quickly and easily. One part of the plant called bast is usually just wasted, but process it the right way and it separates into nanosheets similar to graphene. Bingo, the hemp can be used as an electrode. So, that makes all parts of the plant useful then? Chemical & Engineering News.
- TRUCK IN A BOX: The Ox is a truck designed for Africa. 6 of the trucks fit into a single shipping container when packed flat. Then each truck takes 3 people less than 12 hours using standard tools to assemble — no high-tech engineering degree required. The low-cost front-wheel drive vehicle is powered by a 2.2 litre diesel engine, weighs 1.7 tons, and can carry a maximum payload of 2.2 tons. It also has a wide track, high ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, and can apparently drive through water nearly a meter deep. It sounds as though it would also be easy to fix and maintain. Jalopnik.
- WATER IN THE TANK: It’s all very well having a wind farm out at sea, but ensuring a constant and steady supply of electricity is tricky. Norwegian scientists have suggested using an underwater battery system. A tank sits on the seabed at a depth of 400 to 800 metres. Open a valve and water flows in to start the turbine turning, generating electricity. When the tanks are full electricity is used to pump the water out again, perhaps taking excess energy from wind turbines or solar panels. The deeper the tanks are sited the greater the water pressure difference and the more energy is stored. One has to wonder how fish fare in all of this. Phys.org.
- MIX AND MATCH: Wind energy or ocean power? In Japan they’re not choosing between the two, but incorporating both into a single turbine. Mitsui Ocean Development & Engineering Company’s hybrid system combines a floating vertical-axis wind turbine with an underwater turbine that generates power from ocean currents. The hybrid effectively doubles the efficiency of a typical wind or ocean current turbine. The wind turbine portion is expected to be 47 metres tall, while the underwater portion will be 15 metres in diameter. Each turbine could generate enough energy for 300 households. Go on, add some solar panels. Inhabitat.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 29 May 2013
- IN THE BALL: A new smart soccer ball and soccer boot from Adidas report back statistical data to a tablet or computer. A dedicated app can pull up info such as speed, rotation, distance and direction of the ball. The ball contains motion sensors, to detect pressure, angle, and which foot you kicked it with. You do need to remember to charge the ball before a game. Soon there will be nothing left in life that doesn’t need charging. Engadget.
- ON WATCH: Aeryon’s SkyRanger drone can fly for 50 minutes, recording visible light or infrared images as it goes. It takes off and lands vertically, and can hover for precise observations. The drone grabs 15 megapixel still images and streams 1080p video with embedded geotags and metadata. What’s more the whole thing weighs only 2.4 kg and folds up to fit in a small carry bag. You never know now who or what is watching you. SkyRanger.
- STEAMING BIKE: It takes a certain kind of person to strap a hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket to their bicycle. The other day in France one cyclist did just this and reached a top speed of 262 Kph. The highly concentrated liquid hydrogen peroxide mixes with a catalyst, breaking down into heat, water and oxygen. That creates steam that’s almost 350 degrees C. When pushed through a rocket nozzle it propels the bike, fast. So really the bike’s just a way to hold the rocket. Discovery News.
- BEE COOL: As Kiwis we have a fondness for buzzy bees, but that usually refers to the wooden toys. A new Buzzy bee from the US was developed specially to help distract kids (or adults) when they need an injection or have to have blood drawn. Buzzy is a small vibrating bee-shaped device with a unique ice pack. It crowds out pain by sending stronger motion and temperature sensations down the nerves instead. Along with the buzzing bee there are game cards to help keep kids distracted while blood’s being drawn. Clever. Buzzy4shots.com.
- DEAD TREES: The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere is steadily increasing. At Columbia University researchers have created filters made from a plastic material that absorb large amounts of CO2 when they’re dry and give it back when they’re wet. The CO2 filled filters could be particularly useful for glasshouses that are sealed to avoid losing water and heat. Plants respond well to CO2 and it’s often used to enhance growth. It seems an indirect route since plants take up CO2 anyway and have other benefits for the environment. Columbia University.
Tech Universe: Thursday 30 May 2013
- CAPS AWAY: If you’re the kind of driver who has trouble with routine tasks such as checking the oil, water or washer fluid, and you drive a Ford then you’re likely to find the augmented reality app from Inglobe Technologies pretty useful. Hold your iPad so its camera can see the engine compartment and an overlay shows where the crucial items are and how to access them, even including which way to unscrew the cap. Perhaps this would be most useful on rental cars. Gizmodo.
- PHONE SPECTRUM: Whip out your smartphone and quickly test for environmental toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses and other molecules. Well, maybe you can’t do that right now, but thanks to researchers at the University of Illinois such capabilities aren’t far away. They’ve developed a cradle and app that use the phone’s built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor. The cradle contains various lenses and filters and keeps the phone’s camera correctly aligned. It also has a slot for a normal microscope slide that must be correctly prepared. The phone measures the spectrum of light from the slide and reports the data, just as a larger and much more expensive high resolution spectrophotometer would. Scientific field work seems to be growing easier and cheaper all the time, thanks to smartphones. University of Illinois.
- SWIMMING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT: Can’t bear to go swimming because you’ll miss out on listening to your tunes? The FINIS Neptune MP3 player doesn’t use earbuds. Instead it transmits audio through the cheekbone directly into the inner ear via bone conduction. Attach the 2 side speakers to your goggles straps with spring clips and rest them on your cheekbones. meanwhile the player sits at the back of your head. The player has a high contrast OLED screen that makes it easy to choose what to play. The unit is waterproof to 3 metres and holds about 60 hours of playback, while the battery lasts more than 8 hours so should suit most swimmers. Meanwhile, without earbuds you can still hear what’s going on around you. Which could be rather handy. Finis.
- POWER TO THE PEOPLE: The River Congo is the second largest river in the world, dumping 42,000 cubic metres of water every second at Inga Falls. A new hydroelectric project plans to take advantage of that volume to generate 40,000 MW of electricity, starting with a smaller project to generate just 10% of the full amount. The energy though will go to the Congolese copper mines, South Africa and potentially Nigeria, Egypt and even Europe. The Congolese people are unlikely to use any themselves, since they are generally far from any power grids. The potential is there, it just won’t be very evenly distributed. New Scientist.
- THINKING OUTSIDE THE ORBIT: Thanks to orbiting satellites GPS lets us work out our position on Earth quite accurately. But spacecraft can’t really use Earth-based techniques for working out their position. For one thing, the margin of error increases with distance from Earth so a spacecraft out at the edge of the solar system could be as much as 500 Km away from where it’s supposed to be. One idea is to use pulsars that emit x-rays. By measuring the arrival time of pulses from 3 different pulsars a craft could work out its position in 3D space with an accuracy of around 5 Km, even beyond the solar system. Ahh, the optimism. Technology Review.
Tech Universe: Friday 31 May 2013
- WATCHING ME WATCHING YOU: Most big telescopes are on Earth or in space looking outward. But the International Lunar Observatory precursor by Moon Express will be on the Moon looking at Earth. And not just that, but the public will be able to go online, manouevre the telescope and view the Earth from the lunar surface. The software has already been tested with the telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. The developers aim to have the telescope in place by the end of 2015. And the ‘precursor’ in the name? It signals a more permanent lunar telescope to be installed on the moon’s south pole in the future. It seems an odd viewing target for a telescope that’s off-planet. CBC.
- ANY BIKE YOU LIKE: If you need to get around in New York you might consider joining up with Citi Bike. Thousands of bikes are available for hire at hundreds of stations around New York. Each station has a touchscreen kiosk, a map of the area, and a docking system that releases bikes for rental with a card or key. Buy a 24-hour or 7-day pass, or sign up for an annual membership. Then use your code to release any bike, adjust the seat and ride to your destination. At the other end dock the bike again at any station. What a great way to see a new city. Citi Bike.
- SEEING EYE TRUCK: It’s a bad thing to nod off when you’re driving any vehicle, but in a huge truck with a massive load it’s particularly perilous. Caterpillar has a system to spot when a truck driver is about to fall asleep. A camera detects a driver’s pupil size, how frequently they blink, and how long they keep their eyes shut. It also tracks where the user’s mouth is, to work out when the driver isn’t looking at the road. An accelerometer and GPS confirm the truck is actually in motion and a computer analyses all the data. If the system decides the driver has nodded off an alarm sounds and the seat vibrates. Video is also streamed back to base so the driver can be monitored. It wouldn’t hurt to flash the lights too so others know to get out of the way. BBC.
- ROLL YOUR OWN DISPLAY: The Monkey Light Pro is a set of 256 ultra-bright, full color LEDs that clip on a bike’s spokes as a set of strips. They’re not just static lights though, rather you can send them images and animations via Bluetooth. The images are already loaded into the lights or you can create and use your own. A lithium-ion battery keeps the lights running for up to 8 hours before you need to recharge them via USB cable. Just watch out for the distracted drivers looking at your bike wheels. Monkeylectric.
- A LIGHT CURL: A graphene-based hydrogel created by scientists at the University of California curls up when you shine a laser on it. The process is similar to plants bending towards a light source because cells on the side farthest from the light elongate. The laser light causes proteins in the hydrogel to release water and dry out, creating a curl. When the laser’s turned off the gel uncurls again. The curl can be repeated more than 100 times. That just has to be useful. Wired.