Tech Universe: Monday 19 August 2013
- HUNTING, SHOOTING, BIKING: Off for a spot of hunting or fishing? Leave the four wheel drive at home and go by bike instead — the Cogburn Outdoors CB4 bike, to be specific. The camouflage frame, the black rims and handlebars, the fat tires will all be useful out there in the bush, while the gun and bow rack will carry equipment easily. Packing the game out again may be another matter. Gear Junkie. Video:
- IS THAT BACTERIA IN YOUR SUNSCREEN?: A bacteria in the Norwegian fjords can do something unusual: absorb long-wavelength UV radiation in the range 350-475 nanometres. That’s the kind of radiation that’s linked to malignant melanomas and skin cancer in humans, and current sunscreens can’t filter it out. Now one company is extracting a light-filtering substance called UVAblue from the bacteria for use in future sunscreens. Stay away from the anti-bacterial soaps then. Sintef.
- PLAYING FOR REAL: In the UK and Europe ash trees are dying off because of a fungus. Now researchers have created the Fraxinus game on Facebook where players match sequences of genetic letters represented by coloured leaf shapes. This sorts genetic information into matching sequences and pinpoints genetic variation in the tree or the fungus. Data from the game should help identify the origins of the disease and help researchers work out which trees are best to grow in future. Pattern matching for fun and research. BBC.
- ALL FALL OFF: The pitcher plant’s coating is so slippery that it repels water, honey and oil and resists bacteria and ice formation. Researchers at Harvard took that as inspiration when they created SLIPS, or Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces. The coating makes ordinary glass tough, self-cleaning, and incredibly slippery. A newer version uses a tiny honeycomb pattern of glass coated with a layer of the same liquid lubricant used in SLIPS. The new coating is transparent and incredibly resistant to liquids of all kinds and to ice. It could be used to make scratch-resistant spectacles, self-cleaning windows or medical devices. That slipperiness must be a challenge in manufacturing. Harvard.
- SPIKED OIL: Oil spills are always hard to clean up. If the oil is spilled in water separating the two can be complicated. The Chinese Academy of Sciences looked to cacti needles for inspiration and came up with arrays of copper spikes. Conical spikes with a rough surface were able to catch micro-sized oil droplets in water. The rate of efficiency in separating the two substances is over 99%. Now they need to develop their research into a product. Nature is so inspirational. Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 20 August 2013
- MIRRORS ARE A DRAG: If no-one has messed with your car’s wing mirrors, and they’re not too dirty or covered with rain or frost, then they can help you see what’s going on behind you as you drive. Except for the blind spot, of course. Wing mirrors do something else though: they contribute around 3 to 6% of the drag on a car, adding to fuel consumption. Tesla Motors are aiming to get US legislators to allow them to replace wing mirrors with cameras and electronic displays. It would definitely be useful to add cameras to avoid blind spots, perhaps with a zoom feature for checking more distant vehicles, and maybe even a recording feature. GreenCarReports.
- ARTFUL BACTERIA: Bacteria can be very useful little lifeforms. The latest idea is to use them to power lightbulbs. The Biobulb is an ecosystem in a jar which sustains itself with the addition of just light. It also includes a plasmid that contains the genes for bioluminescence. Hang the jar in the light during the day and it glows at night. The project is more about science and art than creating a functional lightbulb, but there are interesting possibilities there. Biobulb. Video:
- BLOOD SUCKING ROBOT: Bleeding into the brain is not a good thing but operating may cause more harm than good, and it’s a tricky procedure. Around 40% of people who suffer a brain hemorrhage die. But the complex procedure is the kind of thing a robot could do. A robot being developed at Vanderbilt University uses steerable needles to reach otherwise inaccessible clots. The needle has a straight outer tube and a curved inner tube. A CT scan determines the location of the blood clot, then a surgeon decides the best entry point and angle for the needle. The robot uses the CT scan to insert the needle and guide the inner tube to the blood clot, which it then sucks out. A needle in the brain sounds extremely unpleasant however it’s handled. Vanderbilt University.
- UV BURNS: The silicon chips that drive your computer are etched using a deep ultraviolet wavelength of 193 nm. That’s fine, but to pack in more processing power the etching needs to be even smaller. That’s where Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography comes in, though it’s not easy to make a strong enough light source. A low-powered light source means longer etching times and slower production. The new NXE:3300 EUL machine from ASML should be ready to produce 125 wafers per hour by 2015, if they can boost its power sufficiently. 125 wafers per hours seems very few for such a thriving market in computer chips. Hot Hardware.
- IT’S A GAS: Solar cells are still comparatively expensive but a specialised type of ink developed at the University of Minnesota could bring costs down. Creating the ink requires an ionised gas, called nonthermal plasma to produce highly conductive but stable silicon inks with a long shelf life. The electronic ink, based on silicon nanocrystals, could be printed on to inexpensive plastics to create electronic devices. Always, smaller and cheaper is the rule. University of Minnesota.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 21 August 2013
- SOMETHING IN THE AIR: Every day there are more devices and gadgets available to us that do interesting or useful things. Every device needs a source of power though, so battery technology is also continuously developing. Now engineers at the University of Washington have created a wireless communication system that enables devices to interact with each other without needing batteries or cables for power. The ambient backscatter technique reflects existing cellular and TV signals already in the air. Antennas detect, harness and reflect a TV signal, which is then picked up by other similar devices. That means a whole a network of devices and sensors could communicate without a battery in sight. One application could be sensors monitoring a bridge or other structure that could send an alert back to base. I bet someone’s going to claim they own those ambient RF signals and start charging for their use. University of Washington.
- DIY ARM: A prosthetic arm can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but one Colorado teenager built a fully functional arm for a mere $500. The arm can throw balls, shake hands or do almost anything, given the correct programming. The arm, which reaches all the way to the shoulder, is controlled with an electroencephalographic headband connected via Bluetooth. The extremely low cost is thanks to 3D printing. It’s exciting to think that hobbyists can create such useful devices that could make a real difference in the world. International Business Times.
- ELECTRIC CUBES: The Cube is a new fuel cell from the University of Maryland that can power a small shopping mall. It’s around one tenth the size and cost of current commercial fuel cell systems. Attach the Cube to a natural gas line then it electrochemically converts methane to electricity. Alternative fuel sources include propane, gasoline, biofuel and hydrogen. Solid oxide cells inside the Cube convert the source fuel chemically into electricity at a comparatively low temperature of 650 C. Nearly every layer of the cell has been optimised to generate more power at lower cost. The machine is highly efficient and puts out few pollutants. A smaller version of the Cube could power a single house. But is it cheaper than a conventional source of electricity? University of Maryland.
- ON THEIR OWN: In Singapore those travelling the 2 Km between Nanyang Technological University and the CleanTech Park may step into a driverless shuttle vehicle. The autonomous electric shuttle can carry 8 passengers and has a maximum speed of around 20 Kph. The shuttle is a test of not only autonomous vehicles but also battery, charging and other tech. Autonomous cars still seem like something that belongs in the future. Nanyang Technological University.
- PHONES IN SIGHT: Peek turns a smartphone into a portable eye testing machine. Around the world millions of people are blind who needn’t be: their blindness is easily avoidable. But costly equipment and trained personnel are hard to come by in many places. With PEEK a healthcare worker can walk or ride a bike to even remote locations with all the gear in a solar powered backpack. The eye exam is recorded on the phone, including photos of the retina. That data can be sent to experts anywhere in the world, while a map shows locations of all those needing treatment, so a co-ordinated plan can be developed. The phone can then guide workers to individual patients to take them to a clinic for treatment. Vision is a great gift. PEEK.
Tech Universe: Thursday 22 August 2013
- STEADY NOW: People whose hands shake, perhaps because of Parkinson’s, may have trouble keeping food on a spoon. The Liftware Spoon uses active cancellation smarts to stabilise things. Sensors embedded in the spoon detect motion and distinguish between unintended tremors and intentional movements such as lifting the spoon to the mouth. Motors in the handle move the spoon and cancel tremor both horizontally and vertically. No more cornflakes on the floor. Liftware. Video:
- HISTORICAL BITS: 4,000 years of British history is quite a lot to cover. James Pegrum has done it with Lego, starting with Stonehenge and including notables such as the codebreakers on the Colossus computer, the Great Fire of London, Charles Darwin landing on Galapagos and Brunel’s iron steam ship. Brick by brick we build our history. The Telegraph.
- JUNIOR TABLETS: When the littlest kids in the house want to play with your laptop you may not be thrilled at how they’ll handle your expensive device. Perhaps instead you could get them their own low cost Lexibook Laptab. It’s a lime green Android based touchscreen display and keyboard, designed for kids, that can be used as a tablet or a notebook. It features a 7″ display at 800 x 480 pixels, 4 GB hard drive, WiFi, ethernet and a microSD card slot, and weighs less than a kilo. There, bash that. Lexibook.
- LIFESAVING SEATS: Thousands of children drown each year in rural Bangladesh, even while swimming with other kids around. The low cost JalaPira is designed to help kids rescue one another. It’s a hollow recycled PET plastic seat with 6.5 litres of air inside that easily keeps a child afloat in the water. 3 large handles make it easy to pick up, carry, and throw up to a couple of metres. Inside are a retrieval line in a housing, and a whistle. In tests even 4 year olds could easily and safely use the device. The idea is for NGOs to buy and distribute the JalaPiras. So easy a four year old can use it: that’s the story. Inhabitots.
- IMPEDING MALARIA: Cells infected with malaria have slightly different electrical properties from their healthy counterparts. Researchers at MIT are using that difference to detect malaria sooner than can usually be done — at least in the lab. Their prototype microfluidic device takes a drop of blood and streams it across an electrode, measuring the magnitude and phase of the electrical impedance of individual cells. Then some maths allows them to detect cells with early signs of malaria. Eventually the device may be developed into a low cost portable version that could diagnose malaria in its earliest stages. That’s another in the trend of medical devices and techniques becoming smaller, cheaper and more portable. MIT News.
Tech Universe: Friday 23 August 2013
- HOLD THE PHONE: Wish you could prop your phone up to take a photo or watch a movie? Joby’s MPod Mini is here for support. The tiny tripod holds most phones snugly in its rubberised jaws, while its flexible legs bend and rotate to sit on almost any surface. An elastic band means the jaws fit most phones snugly and easily. The gadget weighs 30 grams and is small enough to fit in a pocket or bag. That should help keep movies in the correct orientation. Joby. Video:
- PUSH PULL OR BREAK: When satellites run out of propellant they can no longer change course. Researchers at the University of Maryland believe their Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System could replace propellant and keep satellites operating for longer. RINGS is a renewable onboard power source that uses locally generated electromagnetic forces to move the craft. Two units contain coils of wire that support an oscillating current. Changing the phase of the oscillations produces attracting, repelling and even shearing forces. The system is currently being tested aboard the International Space Station. Presumably solar panels or the like would produce the initial power for the electromagnetic device. University of Maryland.
- ALL IN ONE: Suppose you have a good reason to scan the entire Internet, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation did back in 2010. Their scan took them several months. Now computer scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a tool that does the same job in less than an hour. With a gigabit network connection their ZMap tool can run the scan in 44 minutes. In tests, the scan enabled researchers to discover how quickly web sites are switching to a secure connection, how many computers were driven offline by Hurricane Sandy, and even how many hosts are using encryption tools that have a specific vulnerability. We can assume the governments are already giving this one a whirl. Washington Post.
- BEND THAT CAMERA: Would you like to grab a panoramic shot of the scene in front of you? The prototype FlexCam from Queen’s University in Canada combines 3 cameras, flex sensors and a flexible OLED viewfinder. Software detects the amount of flexing in the device then combines images from the cameras to create a dynamic panorama. As the users flexes the device the panorama in the viewfinder changes to match the view. The device isn’t intended to be developed for the market, but it’s an interesting look at what can be done. Gizmodo.
- WHITE SILENCE: Noise carries across snow and ice. But one of the best vehicles for travelling in those conditions is a noisy petrol-driven snowmobile. The Canadian military are testing a stealthy hybrid-electric snowmobile prototype for clandestine operations in the Arctic. The cold must be a real killer of the batteries though. CBC News.