Tech Universe: Monday 01 July 2013
- HIGH STEPPERS: A new running shoe from Adidas will add a spring to your step — literally. Polymer blades cover the sole of the Springblade shoe, calibrated to suit the average weight of a person wearing it. The rear blades are thicker than those at the front of the foot. The blades compress as your foot strikes the ground and add explosive energy to the liftoff. You probably won’t want to take these near mud. Gizmodo.
- A SENSOR OF SMELL: It seems melanoma cells have a unique odour that can be detected and distinguished from normal cells by carbon nanotubes coated with strands of DNA. Recent studies have proven the concept and could lead to the development of a handheld sensor that may even be able to detect other diseases too. Dogs did it first. Monell Center.
- DRY SHIRTS: If you’re the kind of person who invariably spills their lunch down their shirt then perhaps you should invest in a can or two of NeverWet. Spray on a couple of layers of basecoat and a couple of layers of topcoat then food and drink won’t stick to your shirt again. The superhydrophobic coating completely repels water and heavy oils. The product’s available in some US stores. No word though on how long a coating lasts. NeverWet.
- THE QUICK NET: The O3b project aims to bring the Internet to people in nearly 180 under-connected countries via 12 satellites. The first four satellites were launched recently to help cover a region between the latitudes of 45 degrees North and 45 degrees South. The O3b satellites will orbit at 8,062 Km and weigh only 650 Kg each. Their comparative small size and proximity to Earth will make communications fast and relatively cheap, and allow the “other 3 billion” people with restricted Internet access to join those of us with good connections. With the Internet availability in place it’s then just a question of finding devices and power. PhysOrg.
- FLAT CHANCE: There are times when large numbers of people suddenly need accommodation — refugees are one example. Commonly tents are used but they tend to be hot in summer, cold in winter and not very durable. Refugee families may need to stay in a camp for years while a tent may last only 6 months. IKEA and the UNHCR have developed a flatpack house for refugees. A metal frame of pipes, wires and connectors can be assembled without special tools. Lightweight, durable, insulated panels attach to the frame. Roof sections include solar panels for lights and cooking. For those with nothing this could be a very important something. IKEA Foundation.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 02 July 2013
- COOL TORCH: Looking for something down behind the stereo? You may reach for a torch and hope the batteries haven’t gone flat since the last time you used it. But how about if just holding a torch in your hand could generate enough electricity to power the light? 15 year old Ann Makosinski from Canada has invented just such a thermoelectric torch. The key to her success was to use a hollow tube that allows air to flow freely and cool one side of the Peltier tiles that make the system work. Peltier tiles produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other. Because the flashlight relies on temperature differences it works best when the ambient air is cooler. Which leaves you wondering what other devices could exploit this principle. CBC.ca
- MOVING PICTURES: Wi-Vi isn’t a typo, but rather a new way to see through walls. Researchers at MIT are working on a system that uses WiFi to track moving objects through walls. The system works rather like radar, sending two WiFi signals through a wall and measuring the way they bounce back. The signals are encoded in such a way that they cancel each other out when one signal hits a stationary object. If a person’s moving behind the wall though the signals don’t cancel each other out and the device creates a real-time display of the movements. The researchers suggest such a system could even be built into a smartphone. This could be useful for rescue services and police, but as always, who monitors the monitors? IT World.
- CAP THE SOUND: You may think of hearing aids as devices you stick in your ears, but the Cynaps Enhance is a baseball cap that does the job. Instead of transmitting sound through the eardrum, the cap uses bone conduction to send vibrations directly to the inner ear. Dual microphones in the bill allow the wearer to pinpoint the location of amplified sounds, such as oncoming traffic or voices which aren’t necessarily in their direct line of sight. Meanwhile a Bluetooth connection means phone calls and streaming audio can be transmitted through the cap too. People who can hear just fine may choose to wear the cap with earplugs to keep out environmental noise while receiving specific sounds they want. All that and the cap provides shelter from sun and rain too. Max Virtual.
- BIKE LIGHTS FOREVER: Rydon’s Pixio solar-powered bike light can be permanently mounted to any bike frame. The light is fully sealed, water resistant and a rubber casing makes it impact resistant too. The solar panel stores energy during the summer for cycling at night. After 5 days of sunlight the batteries are charged with 75 hours worth of light — enough for roughly 2 years of use without sunlight. A locking mechanism on the strap can only be released with a special tool, making the light resistant to theft. The big question, of course, is how bright is the light? Rydon.
- IMAGINARY STRANGERS: People have anxieties about all kinds of things, such as using public transport, shopping, talking to strangers in places like museums. The University of East Anglia has tested whether virtual environments and green screen video techniques could help them overcome their anxieties. Participants saw their own life-size image projected into specially scripted real-time video scenes. The virtual environments encouraged participants to practice small-talk, maintain eye contact, test beliefs that they wouldn’t know what to say, and resist safety behaviour such as looking at the floor or being hyper-vigilant. Further research is needed now to see if this is in fact a useful technique. It sounds like a great way to practice things that are normally scary. University of East Anglia. Video:
Tech Universe: Wednesday 03 July 2013
- BETTER THAN BEEPS: In the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador ambulances carry low-power broadcast antennas that override all AM and FM stations within a one kilometre radius of the vehicle. The ambulance can broadcast a message telling drivers to make way. That means that even if drivers have the windows rolled up and the radio turned up loud they still can’t overlook the emergency vehicle nearby. Ambulance response time has risen 40% as a result. That’s a very clever approach. Gizmodo.
- WHAT’S THAT LIGHT FOR?: Brake lights are handy. When they illuminate on the car in front of you it’s clear you need to slow or stop. But what say you can’t see the lights because the car ahead is round a curve? Ford are here to help. Their experimental Electronic Brake Light sends a wireless signal to illuminate a dashboard light on following vehicles. A study found the technology could enable drivers following behind to brake earlier and potentially avoid a collision. Surely that kind of data transmission could be more comprehensive and more useful, including things like speed and direction of travel. Ford.
- IT’S A SHAME TO WASTE WASTE: In Spain Chiclana de la Frontera’s sewage plant will soon combine wastewater, sunlight and algae to produce renewable biofuel. The 200 square metre plant harvested its first crop of algae last month and expects to fuel its first car by December. The project is expected to grow to cover 10 hectares and fuel 200 cars or 10 city garbage trucks per year. One key point is that the sewage plant is cheaper to set up and run than a conventional plant. It may not produce a lot of fuel, but if the plant’s cheaper then it definitely makes sense. Reuters.
- BAGS OF INK: Now you can handle much of the paperwork for a flight electronically, thanks to smartphone apps and etickets. Check a bag though and it still has to have a paper tag printed off and attached by hand. British Airways hope to replace those paper tags with a reusable e-ink luggage tag that connects with your smartphone. An app will send your destination and a barcode to the e-paper screen. The new tag remains compatible with current systems and could speed up checkin and bag drop enormously. Or learn to travel light and avoid the whole problem. Wired.
- KONNICHI WA: Kirobo and Mirata are two new astronauts for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They should head into space in August. These two can recognise faces and voices and communicate in Japanese. That’s not bad for a couple of robots. The two tiny robots, each around 30 cm tall, judging by the video, are part of the Kibo Robot Project which aims to test human-robot interactions and to inspire humans back on Earth by showing how well a robot can converse in difficult circumstances. And who needs giant robots anyway? Discovery News.
Tech Universe: Thursday 04 July 2013
- HARK HARK A BARK: Looking for a project for your Raspberry Pi computer? One Irish inventor wanted his dog to be able to let itself out and in through the door, so he rigged up a bark detector. The dog barks at the door, the Raspberry Pi recognises the bark, releases a latch and allows a counterweight to swing the door open. That’s a nice bit of fun, but it doesn’t seem to close the door again. DavidHunt.com.
- UNDER ONE ROOF: 1.7 million square metres is pretty big for a building. In fact, China’s New Century Global Center could fit in 20 Sydney Opera Houses. That’s what makes it the world’s largest free standing building. The New Century is 500 metres long, 400 metres wide and 100 metres high and houses business offices, movie theatres, shopping malls, a theme park and even a fake Mediterranean village. That’s 170 hectares or 420 acres. You could probably live there and never see the outside world at all. CNN.
- TURN THE WIND: There’s wind energy and tidal current energy, so how about combining the two? The world’s first hybrid wind-current power generation system will be installed off the coast of Japan later this year. The wind turbine will be 47 metres above sea level. The tidal turbine will have a diameter of 15 metres. The two sections will be connected by a power generator that should produce enough electricity for 300 households. Testing begins soon. It seems logical to combine the two forms of energy generation. CBS.
- AN EYE ON THE SUN: NASA’s IRIS spacecraft is on a mission to understand the area between the photosphere and corona of the sun. Most of the sun’s ultraviolet emissions come from the region IRIS is studying , and those emissions affect Earth’s climate. IRIS will use spectrometry and imaging to explore the area, sending back data that can be used to create a 3D model. Its rocket placed IRIS into a sun-synchronous polar orbit that will allow it to make almost continuous solar observations during its two-year mission. Presumably that’s one eye that can look directly at the sun. IRIS.
- GOODBYE SALT: Chemists in Germany and the US have found a new way to take the salt out of seawater. Their technique is simple and takes less energy than conventional desalination. The discovery could make a lifesaving difference to the millions of people who live near the coast but have little clean drinking water. The trick is to apply a small voltage to the junction of a microchannel with two branches on a plastic chip filled with seawater. The voltage neutralises some of the chloride ions in the seawater, changing the electric field so it redirect salts into one branch and desalinated water into the other. At the moment their desalination device is tiny and inefficient, but the chemists are confident it can be scaled up to create a commercial device. Add a solar panel for the power supply and millions of people could benefit. University of Texas.
Tech Universe: Friday 05 July 2013
- WASH AND GO: If you have a washing machine it’s a fair bet it’s large, heavy and plumbed in to the laundry. That’s no help if you need to wash clothes on the go. Pu Qingliang, a student in China, created a folding, portable washing machine that weighs only 3 Kg. The machine has a base on which is a foldable tube that expands to become a washing barrel with a wave wheel and rotating shaft connected to a small electric motor. The motor spins an impeller that spins the water to wash the clothes. The whole thing can handle up to 5 items of clothing at a time, so don’t expect to be doing a family wash. It’d be great on a caravan trip though. Daily Mail.
- ACRONYMS WITHOUT BORDERS: GPS is actually an American thing, while Glonass belongs to Russia, and some countries would prefer to control their own version. India has launched their first dedicated navigation satellite, the IRNSS-1A. By 2015 the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System should have 7 satellites in orbit and the system will be fully operational. It’s a regional service that will provide an all-weather absolute position over the Indian landmass and 1,500 Km beyond its geo-political boundary. At least the redundancy could be helpful. Forbes India.
- RE CYCLING: So you just disposed of your old broken cellphone for a shiny new one, but where did that old one go? It may have ended up on the streets of a developing nation where residents burned it to extract the precious metals. While doing that they would have inhaled toxic smoke and released heavy metals into their environment. One Harvard undergrad wanted to do something about that problem so she created Bicyclean, a pedal-powered grindstone that pulverises entire circuit boards inside a polycarbonate enclosure, capturing the dust. Bicycles are very common in developing countries where hazardous electronic waste is a problem and the bicycle powered grinder is something the locals could make for themselves. It’s a clever idea, but even low cost could be a significant barrier. Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
- NO PRESSURE: Turning nitrogen into ammonia so it can be used as fertiliser takes massive amounts of energy under high pressure. Some estimates say 2% of the world’s energy goes to transforming nitrogen into fertiliser. Or, you could use tiny industrial diamonds, hydrogen and light. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin coated synthetic industrial diamonds with hydrogen and exposed them to deep ultraviolet light creating a stream of electrons into water. That reactant liquid then reduced nitrogen to ammonia. The technique could prove useful, and save energy, though the deep ultraviolet light could be a problem. It’s definitely the seed of an idea. University of Wisconsin.
- GOING UP: Steel cables are often used for high stress jobs such as lifting lifts or loads on cranes or holding up bridges. Because of the stress they have to be inspected regularly, and how better to do that than by robot? The FluxCrawler crawls along cables scanning the steel surface and detecting defects by means of a magnetic flux leakage test. The test exposes the cable to a magnetic field that is disrupted by any defect. The 70 cm robot scans cylinder-shaped surfaces by revolving around the cable.The robot can check cables between 4 and 20 cm in diameter and reports exact details of any crack or fissure. Think about those possible cable defects next time you’re in a lift. Fraunhofer Institute.