Tech Universe: Monday 29 July 2013
- LET THE SUNSHINE IN: The town of Rjukan in Norway is surrounded by mountains. For 5 months of the year the sun doesn’t reach the floor of the valley. Never mind, though, 3 heliostats 450 metres above the city will bring light and happiness. The locals are installing 100 square metres of mirror on top of one of the hills to reflect sunlight down into the town square. 200 square metres of the square will be illuminated in an ellipse. The mirrors will derive their energy from sun and wind, while a preset computer programme will move them through 2 axes of motion to follow the sun’s path throughout the year. We tend to take walking in sunshine so much for granted. Visit Rjukan.
- FLY US TO THE MOON: The International Lunar Observatory Association and Moon Express are working together to put a couple of telescopes on a mountain at the South Pole of the Moon. The 2-meter radio antenna, and a smaller optical telescope, could perhaps be placed on the 5 Km high rim of Malapert crater where they would have a clear view of the centre of the Milky Way, unimpeded by atmosphere or all the radio and electromagnetic noise we create. Oh, and they hope to land the telescopes on the Moon in 2016. Ambitious, much? Wired.
- TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE EYE: Astronomers are used to detecting faint traces of light in the darkness of the universe. That’s why they’re the ones who helped develop a Retinal Densitometer for eye doctors. Age-Related Macular Degeneration affects a small part of the retina on the back of the eye and leads to loss of vision when looking at something directly ahead. The Densitometer measures how well the eye adapts to dark after exposure to bright light, an indicator that there may be a problem with vision. The software, light sensors and cameras in the Densitometer were developed by astronomers for star-gazing, but now will be gazing deep into eyes instead. Cardiff University.
- EVERY BREATH WE TAKE: Mosquitoes are more than just annoying. In the places where they carry malaria, especially in Africa, South-East Asia and South America, they cause thousands of deaths each year. They find humans to bite by the CO2 we exhale. The Kite Patch is a small colourful square, roughly 4 cm on a side, that you can stick on your clothing to keep mosquitoes away for 48 hours. The patch uses non-toxic compounds that disrupt the mosquito’s ability to detect our CO2, making it harder for them to track us. We need to watch this. Kite. Video:
- WATCHING US WATCHING YOU: Take a good-looking cylinder and pack it full of sensors. Add a smartphone app and you may have a Canary home security system. The Canary contains an HD video camera with night vision and a wide angle lens, and multiple sensors that track everything from motion, temperature and air quality to vibration, sound, and activity. Use your smartphone to control the Canary, receive alerts when something seems wrong or just to check on how things are going at home. The makers claim the only setup needed is to plug in the device, though there must be settings for alerts and so on. At the moment the product is at prototype stage, but it sounds like a great way to keep an eye on dogs, family members and possessions while you’re out and about. Canary.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 30 July 2013
- IN YOU GO: When I’m struggling with arms and hands full of groceries, dog leads and wallet I really wish the front door would just magically open when I approach. With the NFC Ring that could happen, or at least with a touch of the ring against an NFC-enabled lock. The titanium and steel ring uses passive components and never needs charging. An intermediate layer between metal and RFID layer prevents interference, while the RFID layer has two separated inlays: public and private. The ring can also be used to share information, start smartphone apps with custom settings, and save the universe. Or maybe not the last thing. It could be very handy though. NFC Ring.
- TALK ON THE GO: Sign is a language in its own right and differs from one country to another. Even sentence structure and grammar can be quite different from the language it’s derived from. That means that deaf people communicating through text, such as in emails, are using a language foreign to them. Many hearing people are also unfamiliar with sign language. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences used a Microsoft Kinect to live-translate Chinese sign language into text. The Kinect can track hand and body actions accurately and quickly. An algorithm matches the 3-D trajectory of the hands to its database to produce text. While Translation Mode allows for individual words and phrases to be translated, Communications Mode allows a hearing person to type input that an avatar displays in sign, and interprets sign back to text. Currently a research project, this could develop into a real-world tool. Microsoft Research Asia.
- GOING THROUGH: In Chene-Bourg in Switzerland the new railway track just had to go through. Unfortunately the historic 19th century railway station was in the way. As the lone historic building left in the area it wasn’t going without a fight though. So the Swiss moved the 700 ton building 33 metres to one side. Preparations took months, but the deed itself was done within 5 hours. The building was moved on rails, at a cost of 1.3 million Euros. The rails are very appropriate. BBC.
- GOOD FOR ANOTHER GO: The disposable paper cup your takeaway coffee comes in contains around 5% plastic that makes it not suitable for recycling. British paper company James Cropper is changing that with their new recycling technology. Their process softens the cup waste in a warmed solution, separating the plastic coating from the fibre. The plastic can be skimmed off and sent for recycling, while impurities are removed from the paper pulp so it can be used in high quality papers. One question remains: can the impurities be made useful too? The Guardian.
- GOOD TO GO: At the Zouk club in Singapore you have to hand over your car keys when you arrive in exchange for an RFID parking card. Meanwhile in the bathrooms the toilets include a small device that instantly detects alcohol in urine and sends the result to the parking card. If the alcohol content is above the limit for driving the card is tagged and a message displays above the urinal. When the club goer tries to get their car back the card is read and those too drunk to drive are offered a ride home or asked to call a cab. More than half of drivers in a 2-week test opted not to drive themselves home. Now the system is spreading, in an attempt to put an end to the drunk driving that so often ends with fatalities. There are so many obvious ways around the system, but if it works at all then that’s a positive. PSFK.
I’ve been having problems with my vision, so these were the only columns this week.