Tech Universe: Monday 05 August 2013
- ON YOUR BIKE: Ambulances save lives, unless they’re stuck in city traffic unable to get through. But that’s where the Ambucycle plays its part. In Israel the United Hatzalah and its thousands of local volunteer emergency medical technicians can deploy instantly on their motorcycles to help stabilise patients until the ambulance can arrive. The bikes are equipped with an on-board trauma kit, oxygen canister, defibrillator, and other supplies. The medics themselves have a smartphone equipped with GPS so they receive notifications of emergencies and can respond quickly. Their average response time is 3 minutes. That’s an all round smart response. Wired. Video:
- CAR ALARM: US police officers need to be alert even if they’re sitting in a parked car. A new Surveillance Mode in their cars may help them relax. When the car’s parked it automatically sounds a chime, locks the doors and puts up the windows if it detects someone approaching the car from behind. The rearview mirror displays an image from the backup camera, so the officers don’t even need to turn around to see who’s approaching. The system can be turned off though if the car’s parked in an area with a lot of pedestrians. Behind you! AP.
- MAGNETIC HEALING: Certain types of stem cells could be useful for treating conditions such as cardiovascular disease or autoimmune disorders. One problem though is how to get them to where they’re needed. The answer could be to make them magnetic. First the cells are treated with tiny particles of magnetised iron oxide. Then the cells can be injected and guided into position with magnets. A coating of polyethylene glycol protects the cells themselves from damage. Tests so far suggest this could be a useful way to make the stem cells congregate where they can be of most use, rather than just in the lungs or liver. And people scoff at using magnets for healing. Emory.
- THE BIG SQUEEZE: Sometimes what we know to be true isn’t. One example is that when you squeeze something it becomes smaller. Not a new material called zinc dicyanoaurate though. When you compress that it grows in one dimension — a feature that could make it useful for pressure sensors or artificial muscles. Negative linear compression causes this material to rearrange its atoms in space without collapsing, thanks to a spring-like helical chain of gold atoms embedded in a honeycomb-like framework made of gold, cyanide, and zinc. When the chain is compressed, the honeycomb flexes outward by as much as 10%, just like a fold-up wine rack that grows in one direction when collapsed in the other. Eurekalert.
- WORK SUIT: What are robots made of? Well, that depends. The latest robot from Kawasaki Heavy Industries is made from stainless steel, which makes it possible to sterilise it with Hydrogen Peroxide gas, for work in environments such as manufacturing pharmaceuticals. The robot enjoys 7 degrees of freedom, allowing it the wide range of movements to easily work with bottles of dangerous chemicals. Repetitive dangerous work and being sprayed with poisonous gas doesn’t sound too much like freedom. DigInfo.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 06 August 2013
- MORE SHIP THAN MOST CAN HANDLE: Icebreaker ships do their work by forcing a necessarily narrow passage through icebound waters. The channels they create are generally about 25 metres wide — too narrow for large container vessels. The Baltika is a new kind of ship with an asymmetric hull that will create a path up to 50 metres wide. The new icebreaker is 76 metres long by 20 metres wide and can swing around to a 30 degree angle to break up ice. Engine pods around the hull can deliver thrust in any direction, while fuel and bilge water can be pumped around to shift the vessel’s centre of gravity for optimal ice-breaking. The asymmetric hull will cause problems for the pilot as it will pitch and roll irregularly at sea, but training on a simulator should sort that out. The first to benefit will be the icebound ports in Finland and Russia. It’s brute force at its best. New Scientist.
- THE TEETH ARE TELLING: Researchers in Taiwan have developed a sensor that fits inside a tooth. This isn’t a gadget for spies though. Rather its accelerometer and smartphone app together work out how much of the time the wearer is chewing, drinking, speaking, coughing or smoking. The device can be fitted into dentures or a dental brace and after further development, and the addition of a battery, may even fit inside a cavity or crown. The purpose is to help doctors and dentists work with patients to improve their health. You may also like to investigate tin foil hats. New Scientist.
- TURNING RED: Those confined to bed need to turn regularly to avoid ulcers caused by pressure. The MAP System is a monitor that uses a special electronic sheet with thousands of sensors. The sheet is placed over the mattress to detect the pressure distribution of the patient’s body over the bed. Monitoring takes place in real time and sends a coloured image to caregivers that shows the pressure points. A timer helps caregivers turn patients when they need it. Beep, you’re done. The MAP System.
- RIDE DRIVE: Imagine being able to mount an electric drive on your bicycle in less than a minute. That’s what the Rubbee friction drive claims. It’s a handheld unit that clips on to the seat post where a carrier might normally attach. Turn it on and a small polyurethane compound roller rubs against the tire like a dynamo, except instead of deriving power it provides it to push the wheel. A throttle on the handlebars allows the rider to control the power output. The drive claims 25 Kph for its top speed and a 25 Km range. It adds 6.5 Kg to the weight and can be recharged in 2 hours. Ingenious. Rubbee. Video:
- SOUNDS OF PROTEINS: Feeling depressed, anxious or in pain? Instead of using pharmaceuticals you may in future be able to change your mood or relieve the pain with sounds, or more precisely ultrasounds. Inside brain neurons are protein structures linked to mood and consciousness that resonate in megahertz frequencies — about the same frequencies as ultrasound in fact. In a double blind study people treated with ultrasound to the brain showed improvements in mood for up to 40 minutes following treatment. The researchers are helping develop a wearable unit that could target specific regions of the brain with ultrasound bursts. That seems almost too easy. University of Arizona.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 07 August 2013
- TOP HEAVY: Take a skyscraper and add an earthquake: there will be a lot of swaying going on. The Japanese have developed a seismic control device to suppress slow and large vibrations on the upper floors during major earthquakes. The device hangs 6 giant steel pendulums that weigh 300 tons each on the rooftop level. Their purpose is to halve the amplitude of vibrations by swinging in the direction opposite to long-period seismic motions, acting as a counterweight. That’s a lot of extra weight on the rooftop. If the earthquake lifts rather than sways the building, what then? The Asahi Shimbun.
- TINY ADVANCES: The earlier cancer can be diagnosed the better the chances for recovery. But symptoms may be slow to appear. On the other hand biomarkers circulate in the blood before other symptoms show up. That means that a small diagnostic device from the Chinese Academy of Sciences could make speedy medical intervention possible. The inexpensive and easy-to-use device works with microfluidics to manipulate tiny amounts of blood for analysis through micro- and nano-scale channels. The device displays results so they can be read by the naked eye or a digital camera. It can be taken anywhere to diagnose patients, making it specially useful for rural and remote places. American Institute of Physics.
- HITTING THE WALL: In the UK house sparrows are losing their habitat and numbers are declining far enough to add them to the list of endangered species. Even improved insulation in houses means fewer spots for the birds to nest. Keen house owners can help though, with the Bird Brick, a fire-clamped cavity brick that can be built into walls and to provide a sustainable nesting site for the birds. Five hand-made bricks assemble to create a small, round opening plugged with a brick stopper that includes a hole large enough for sparrows and similar small birds. The stopper is there to allow humans to open up the cavity if it needs cleaning out. If new buildings were to include a few of the bricks perhaps the sparrow population would increase. An approach to consider for New Zealand endangered birds perhaps? Wired.
- OFF-COURSE: If you happen to own an $80 million superyacht you might think the navigation system could reliably get you where you want to go. In a recent test though a team of university students broadcast faint GPS signals to a superyacht’s systems. The spoofed signals gradually overpowered authentic signals and gave the students stealthy control. They were then able to send the yacht off on a new course, even fooling electronic charts and the crew on board. While this test was carried out with the permission of the ship’s owners and crew it demonstrates a possible vulnerability for all ships. It’s alarming how absolutely everything needs to be secured these days. SC Magazine.
- UNFOLD A BOAT: The Quickboat is a fold-up boat that assembles in less than 5 minutes, much less if you have a helper, and doesn’t require any tools. When assembled, the 4 metre long boat can carry 4 people. The folded up boat can be carried in two bags with a total weight of 35 Kg. Kevlar and fibreglass hinges are strong, flexible and durable, while the panels of the hull are made from advanced composite materials. That’s easier than messing around with a trailer. Quickboat.
Tech Universe: Thursday 08 August 2013
- UP IN THE AIR: In Tel Aviv they’re going with a magnetically levitating skytran mass transit system. Use a website or mobile app to request a ride and a personal two-seater pod quickly turns up to collect you. You board and the lightweight pod whisks you off to your destination.The skytran pods move on a guideway suspended 7 metres above ground. Stations are simply a staircase and platform and are placed at frequent intervals. The electric pods could be powered via solar energy, while the magnetic levitation reduces friction and makes it possible to travel at up to 240 Kph. That kind of speed would need a very large city to actually make it viable. DesignBoom.
- SLING THE HOOK: It’s a challenge to boost objects into space. Sending things up on a rocket uses huge amounts of fuel and requires enormous thrust. The Slingatron from HyperV Technologies aims to use the power of a slingshot to do the job at much lower cost. While it couldn’t transport fragile cargo such as humans or delicate equipment, it could be useful for water, fuel, and building materials. The ideas is that a spiral track 300 metres in diameter will accelerate and sling a payload into space at up to 7 Km per second. A small on-board kick motor would make final adjustments to put the payload into orbit. I wonder how those liquid payloads would respond to being swung round and round and round? HyperV Technologies.
- REUSE, REUSE, REUSE: Your old phone is worth something after all. In the UK one recycling company sifts through millions of old phones and sends on those that are still working for use in other countries. They use special software to wipe details from any memory residing in the phone — they say even bank details may remain in the phone itself. The company removes functioning parts such as camera or ringer modules from other phones and sells them on to be used in repairing broken phones. Metals such as gold, copper and palladium are recovered — there may be as much as 0.2 grams in an average phone. And you thought that old phone was worthless. BBC.
- IN FULL VIEW: Selling your house? You might want your real estate agent to capture images with a MatterPort camera. The camera takes numerous images then an online service stitches them together to create a seamless 3D walkthrough. A 140 square metre furnished house could be captured within a couple of hours. It also creates an aerial view and a floorplan view, and even measures spaces. Images can be viewed with a web browser and special plugin, though you can also create a video flythrough.Plain old photos will soon be totally inadequate. MatterPort.
- SMILE, YOU LIKE IT: Researchers from the University of Tokyo have been using software tweaks to make people look happier or sadder when they see themselves in a mirror. Their Emotion Evoking System takes a webcam image of a face then turns the mouth slightly up or down, and changes the area around the eyes. The changes make the person appear to smile or frown. When their faces on screen appeared to smile, people reported that they felt happier. They felt sadder when the faces frowned. When objects such as scarves were associated, the test subjects transferred those feelings to the object, liking or disliking it. The researchers say shops could use a system like this to subtly encourage shoppers to buy items such as clothing. So suddenly the most expensive line is the most popular. New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Friday 09 August 2013
- SQUISH THE ROBOT: The Sub-Ice Rover is a 1,000 Kg submersible craft that carries 27 sensors and tools. One of its most remarkable features though is that it can fit through a 76 cm wide hole and then expand to full size once it’s in place. The problem is that researchers in the Antarctic sometimes want to explore what’s beneath that 2.5 Km thick shelf of ice. To do that they hot drill a hole, but the hole is only 76 cm wide, which limits the kinds of instruments they can deploy. A submersible would normally be out of the question. This submersible folds up into a pencil shape to fit through the hole. In the water, joints bend outward along the tube’s sides, unfolding it into its normal configuration. That’s a nice way to solve the problem. Wired.
- PHONEPRINTS ARE UNIQUE: You may think your cellphone is identical to any other of the same model, but apparently it’s actually unique. German engineers discovered that the radio signal from every cellphone handset has an unalterable digital fingerprint, thanks to tiny variations in the quality of its various electronic components. Power amplifiers, oscillators, signal mixers and the like can all introduce radio signal inaccuracies. That means each phone produces unique error patterns in its signal. Mind you, the method of detecting these error patterns is technically very demanding, so you may be safe for a while from this problem metadata. New Scientist.
- SCRATCHLESS: Touchscreens may be the domain of the smartphone and tablet, but Corning’s new Gorilla Glass NBT brings them to laptops. Although some laptops already include soda-lime glass touchscreens the new version of GorillaGlass is tougher and more resistant to scratching and breaking. Anything that makes a laptop more robust without adding weight must be a good thing. Corning.
- THE EYES HAVE IT: Some paralysed people can’t move any part of their body, so communication is almost impossible. They are said to have locked-in syndrome. However the size of the pupil of our eyes changes according to emotional arousal and also thought processes such as making decisions. Scientists have created a system to measure that pupil size, with a camera connected to a laptop. Patients are told to concentrate on solving a maths problem they see while being asked a question. In tests, results were promising for basic communication with locked-in people, based on changes in pupil size. It must need an environment with a really steady light level. International Business Times.
- STABBY ROBOT: Drug trials may involve frequently drawing blood from a lot of people. Veebot aim to automate that with a robot that can both find veins and insert needles. The robot examines the patient’s arm with a camera while an infrared light illuminates the inner elbow. Software matches what the robot sees with vein anatomy to detect a good candidate. The vein is then examined with ultrasound to confirm that it’s large enough and has sufficient blood flow. Then the robot aligns and inserts the needle. The robot can currently match human experts by identifying the correct vein 83% of the time, but the developer aims to bring that up to 90% before starting clinical trials. Interesting that with all the sophisticated imaging equipment the robot can still only match a skilled human. IEEE Spectrum.