Tech Universe: Monday 12 August 2013
- MAKE IT REAL: The new IKEA catalogue taps in to your smartphone to show how products such as sofas, desks and bookcases would fit in your home. Place the catalogue on the floor as a reference marker and call up the app. The screen overlays products on the image of your room so you can see exactly how they’d fit before buying. Customers can try out 90 products for size, shape, colour and positioning. Then watch the money flow out of your bank account. Dezeen.
- ON THE ROAD: The Online Electric Vehicle is an electric bus that can be charged while stationary or while moving and is now in use in Gumi, South Korea. The bus charges its battery wirelessly from the road itself through a receiver installed on the underbody. Power comes from electrical cables buried under portions of the surface of the road, creating magnetic fields. A battery, smaller than that in a regular electric car, stores the charge and drives the bus. I wonder how the system copes with a fleet of buses, given that some wouldn’t be able to stop above a charging point? Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
- PEDAL TO THE METAL: If you’re dedicated to the sport of cycling you may want to try Garmin’s new Vector pedal-based power meter. The device puts force sensors in each pedal and also records cadence and other power metrics. Vector measures power output at the pedal, where force is applied, by gauging the slight deflection of the pedal spindle through the entire pedal stroke. Data can be sent to a compatible Garmin device or the Garmin Connect website. Power those pedals! Garmin.
- DOWN IN THE AIR: Clear-air turbulence can take pilots and passengers on planes by surprise because it’s hard to spot or predict. Now a European joint project has worked out how to know about it in advance. A Light Detection and Ranging instrument on board an aircraft emits short-wave ultraviolet laser radiation along the direction of flight. Backscatter values then determine the density of the air ahead and alert to any fluctuations. The system is now being tested and eventually an integrated system for avoiding air turbulence may be developed for use in the planes we travel in. That’s good going: making the invisible visible. DLR.
- RESISTANCE IS FUTURE: In the US a company called Crossbar has created Resistive RAM computer memory modules that can retain data for up to 20 years, compared with the standard 1 to 3 years for NAND flash memory popular in phones and other handheld devices. The RRAM memory cells are stacked in 3D, meaning a single chip the size of a postage stamp can hold terabytes of data. RRAM stores bits by creating resistance rather than storing electrical charges. That means less power draw with potentially greater capacity and write life. The company has a working prototype but is not yet producing the chips commercially. Oops, those photos on your cellphone may come back to haunt you decades later. PC Pro.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 13 August 2013
- GO GETTER: A surf lifesaver on a beach may need to paddle furiously on a rescue board to reach the person in trouble. The ASAP rescue craft is designed to speed the lifesaver along l at up to 25 Kph with a solar powered electric motor. The craft resembles a tiny boat that the rescuer lies on top of. The ASAP is lightweight and can easily be launched by one person. A sloping centre platform is designed to make it easy to slide an injured person on board. More speed, more rescues. CNN.
- GOOD AS GOLD: To see if a sample of ore contains gold you may turn to chemical analysis, and wait days for the results. A gold processing plant may only recover between 65% and 85% of gold present in mined rock. CSIRO have developed a new technique using gamma-activation analysis that takes only a few minutes and is much more accurate. When you’re searching out minute traces of gold accurate testing can mean a difference of millions of dollars of revenue. High-energy x-rays activate any gold in the sample, and the activation is then picked up using a sensitive detector. The new technique causes rocks to be processed that may otherwise be discarded. The technique could also be modified for other precious metals. It sounds a lot like squeezing gold from a stone. CSIRO.
- GOOD WITH GOLD: If you think your mobile phone or camera is still too big and clunky then soon you may find them slimmed down. German researchers made tiny and flexible power supplies using vaporised manganese dioxide that precipitates into thin, bendy films. Since manganese dioxide isn’t a terribly good electrical conductor the researchers also added a layer of gold, which is conductive. Tests show that the tiny, bendy power supply can store more energy and provide more power per unit volume than state of the art supercapacitors. And this is one reason why the world needs so much gold. EurekAlert!
- FROM FRONT TO SIDE: Is 3D still popular? A team at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences uses mathematical image processing to create a 3D movie of any scene, using just 2 frames from a stationary camera or microscope. The system uses clues from how the light enters the camera to compute how the image would look if it were taken from a different angle. The method infers the angle of the light at each pixel, based on 2 images from the same camera position but focused at different depths. From there the software can compute how the image would appear if the object were moved sideways, creating a stereo 3D effect. Those computers, eh! Harvard.
- THERE IS NO NUMBER 6: If you want to keep a copy for your records of something like an invoice you may turn to a scanner. The problem is that with some scanners what you get out may not be the same as what you put in, especially where numbers are concerned. It’s not a problem with optical character recognition either. Some Xerox scanners / copiers randomly replace digits with different digits. One researcher found the problem appeared to be created by a lossy compression of the image data where patches of image data are reused. The researcher found the number 6 would often be turned into an 8, but other numbers are affected too. We already know not to trust photos. It seems that may need to extend to scans too. David Kriesel.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 14 August 2013
- A GOOD ANGLE: The OmniCam360 is designed to be centrally placed at a concert or sports match so viewers can choose which camera angle they want to see. The 15 Kg device contains 10 cameras and uses a mirror system to shift the entrance pupils of the cameras to a common centre which gives all cameras almost exactly the same perspective. The images overlap slightly but software adjusts the final image to be seamless. Viewers can also choose to see a full panoramic view all around the camera. Watch the play and the audience at all the same time. Fraunhofer Institute.
- THE SKYRMION DRIVE: Sometimes scientists find great names for their discoveries. The skyrmion is a twisted vortex of atoms that may lead to more efficient computer memory. Current hard drives magnetise atoms a certain way so that each digital bit represents an on or off state. When the atoms are packed too closely though the magnetisations can easily become unstable and get scrambled. Skyrmions are very stable and could store 20 times more data per unit surface than current hard disks. Unfortunately, while it’s a breakthrough that researchers can create and use skyrmions at all, their efforts at the moment are not very reliable and require extreme cold. Every good idea has to start somewhere. Nature.
- HOT SPOTS: Electricity without cables is still something of a dream but the Smart Universal Power Antenna may do the job. Fitted beneath a table is a network of coils which generate a magnetic field and induce electricity in a coil fitted in a device. But rather than affect the whole table top small antennas are used to create a magnetic field only directly beneath a receiver. The system could power cellphones, laptops, lamps and other small devices, as well as even medical devices implanted inside people.So, you’d need to lie on a table to charge up your pacemaker? Fraunhofer Institute.
- DOUBLE WINDOWS: A new transparent film could be used on windows, smartphones and other surfaces to harvest energy from the sun. The film has two layers of thin photoactive plastic solar cells, including a cell composed of a new infrared-sensitive polymer. Between them they absorb up to 80% of infrared light along with a small amount of visible light. All up the cells achieve a conversion rate of around 7.3%. There must come a day when that conversion rate is more like 73%. University of California.
- WATER THE WINDOWS: Big windows bring lots of light, and maybe also lots of sunshine. Molecules in glass absorb the sun’s infrared light, heating the windows, which heats the air inside the building. That could lead you to turn on the air conditioning, which in turn means paying more for electricity. When the human body gets hot tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin dilate and help cool us down. A new system from Harvard could add a similar microfluidic circulatory system to windows. Water can be pumped through ultrathin channels in a thin sheet of clear silicone rubber on the window pane. The glass cools, the air cools and the air conditioning can stay off. Now the researchers need to check if such a system could in fact save energy if installed throughout a building. I wonder how easily the windows could spring a leak? Harvard.
Tech Universe: Thursday 15 August 2013
- STEAMLESS HOT: Grabbing a quick cup of tea before you go out? Tiger’s steam-free kettle boils a cup of water in 45 seconds. A redesigned heating element means it takes less power to bring water to the boil. The kettle also traps the steam and turns it back into water droplets. Other features prevent the kettle from spilling if it’s tipped over and from boiling dry. The quick cuppa just became quicker. Tech-On!.
- PAPER PRINTER: Getting a new printer? Don’t throw out the box, as it may in fact be the printer, or at least, the case that holds the printing parts. Samsung’s prototype Origami printer case is made from corrugated cardboard. Fold it up, slide in the printing hardware and it’s good to go. The concept’s aim is to simplify the manufacturing process and reduce costs for customers. Well, reducing plastic is always a good aim, and I imagine the cardboard could be produced from recycled paper. Wired.
- NOW HEAR THIS: Researchers at Princeton University used 3D printing to build a bionic ear capable of detecting frequencies a million times higher than the normal range of hearing. The printed ear combines bovine cartilage-forming cells with silicone and silver nanoparticles. Once printed the ear is bathed in nutrients to allow the cells to grow and create cartilage. The silver nanoparticles mean the ear can detect and transmit radio signals, but not receive sound waves, though future models may incorporate that feature. Augmented body parts on demand are definitely in our future. Technology Review.
- TAKE BACK THE NET: The hardware and software of the Internet is owned, operated and spied on by various organisations around the world. Meshnet projects are being set up by citizens around the world to take back control of networked communications. Meshnets are user-owned wireless and other networks that will permit secure communication without surveillance or any centralised organisation. Each node in the mesh relays messages from other parts of the network via radio transceivers, computers or other technology as required. Meshnets are already operating in Spain and in parts of the US. The fundamental element is that traffic is encrypted by default along every part of its journey. Information wants to be private. New Scientist.
- GOING SWIMMINGLY: Wheelchairs and sand don’t mix well, making it hard for wheelchair users to swim in the sea. In Greece though, where there’s plenty of warm sea and sunshine, some locales have installed special wheelchair launching ramps. The person moves from their own chair at the top of the ramp into a special chair that then takes them down to and into the water on a fixed track. From there they can go for a swim. The system uses solar power and the chair user has a remote to operate the equipment. The Seatrac device can be taken down at the end of each season. Ramps for buildings are pretty much a given; it makes sense to have ramps for beaches as well. Reuters.
Tech Universe: Friday 16 August 2013
- EYES FORWARD: If your boss requires you to do an online training course you could set it to play and then do something else instead. One training company has a way to monitor how you interact with their courses though: it watches you and pauses if you look away for more than 5 seconds. The eye tracking app is still in beta but the company say it could give insight into the quality of the content. Focus better with your eyes closed or averted? That training’s not for you. GigaOM.
- SUN, SURF AND LAPTOP: Plenty of people would find a solar powered laptop useful, especially those in developing countries, in education or in the military. The rugged Sol laptop runs Ubuntu and derives up to 10 hours of power from solar panels built into an extra lid. An internal battery lets you use the laptop at night. The additional lid opens and then folds out to expose the panels to the sun, though they can be detached and connected with an extension cord so you can work inside while the panels gather sunlight outside. 2 hours of sun fully charge the battery, but a regular power adapter is included if you need it. An anti-glare film increases screen readability in the sun. Some models are also waterproof. In spite of all the extra hardware it still weighs less than 2.5 Kg. I imagine plenty of sports enthusiasts would be keen on this too. Sol laptop.
- BUILD YOUR OWN CAMERA: The Bigshot camera is specially designed as a learning experience for kids. The 3 megapixel camera arrives as parts that must be correctly assembled for it to work. Accompanying materials help the kids learn about what’s going on, for example, how LEDs work. A hand crank lets the camera be used even if the battery has gone flat and a rotating lens wheel allows for regular, panoramic and 3D shots. The world needs more toys like this. BBC.
- DRONING ON: A drone from AeroVironment uses lightweight gallium arsenide solar panels and batteries from Alta Devices to achieve 9 hours of flying time. That’s about 3 times as long as most drones. This one can even run for more than 3 hours on batteries alone. So it sounds as though it could start flying at dawn and finish maybe after dark on shorter days. GigaOm.
- HACK YOUR HEALTH: You may have heard of Arduino, but have you heard of BITalino? A BITalino board has multiple sensors, such as electrocardiography (ECG), electromyography (EMG), electrodermal activity (EDA), accelerometer and ambient light. The parts are designed to be easy to snap together and the board connects to computers, phones and other Bluetooth devices. BITalino has software for visualisation and recording, a set of programming APIs, a biosignal processing toolbox, and a framework for real time data acquisition. The hardware includes a modular wireless biosignal acquisition system, multiple inputs and outputs and can interface with other devices. Is there a plug for easy Government monitoring too? MedGadget.