Tech Universe: Monday 02 September 2013
- YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND: In a lab at the University of Washington a test subject sat in a chair and imagined pressing the spacebar on his computer to fire a rocket in a game on screen. In another lab some distance away another test subject actually did press the spacebar, involuntarily. The two were connected through electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation. One subject wore a cap with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography machine. The signals recorded from his brain were sent via Skype to the other subject who also wore a cap. His cap was different because it placed a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil directly over his left motor cortex to control hand movement. One thought, one motion, two different people. Remarkable. University of Washington.
- WHOLE IN ONE: Panasonic’s new sports camera system has a 160 degree horizontal field of view. The 64:9 Ultra-Wide Camera System can capture an entire sports field in one 720p image. It doesn’t use a single lens though to capture that wide view. Instead it has four cameras mounted together that use visual cues to automatically pan, tilt and zoom to follow the action. Software then stitches all the images together to create a seamless panorama. It’d be interesting to see how it handles a wide view of crowds on a street or in a railway station. GizMag.
- LIGHT WAVES: The German AREA LED lamp fits under the kitchen cupboards. 24 LEDs with a colour temperature of 2900 K, a warm white, make up the lamp. Turn all or only some of the LEDs on or off with a wave of your hand. Drag the light from one end of the lamp to the other with grab and pull gestures below the lamp. Sensors detect the movements and instantly activate the corresponding LEDs. Be careful with it above any work space. DreiPuls.
- HEAT, LIGHT, FLOW: Solar cells rely on sunlight at certain energy levels hitting silicon or a similar material to excite electrons and cause electricity to flow. But solar cells also absorb more energetic sunlight that is simply lost to heat. Researchers combined lead and selenium to create tiny dots 10,000 times thinner than a human hair and added them to solar cells. If an electron absorbs high-energy sunlight, and if the molecules are small enough, that too creates a flow of electricity. In theory at least that could increase a cell’s efficiency by some 10% to around 45%. Fortunately, there’s enough sunlight for everyone. GigaOm.
- HEARTS ON WINGS: We hear a lot about drones in relation to the military, but how about if they could deliver medical equipment too? The Defikopter is being developed by a German non-profit group. After being launched by a specialised smartphone app that sends GPS coordinates, the drone flies a defibrillator to someone suffering a heart attack. The drone can fly at up to 65 Kph which could be a lot faster than an ambulance navigating roads and traffic. Include video camera, speakers and microphone and an operator could help talk the user through the procedure too. Qmed.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 03 September 2013
- READING TOGETHER: The words we read in books are made from letter shapes, commonly printed with ink on paper. In Braille books those letters are formed from raised dots. If you read one, the chances are you can’t read the other. Until now. The Thailand Association of the Blind created The Storybook For All Eyes. The font in the book combines the Braille alphabet with the English alphabet. Character illustrations also have embossed images. Brilliant. Taxi. Video.
- MILK FOR THE ROBOT: Get the cows in the milking shed, into a stall and then attach the milking machine suction cups. Next. The Lely Astronaut A4 doesn’t go into space. Instead it’s a laser guided milking machine developed by the Dutch. The cow moves into the stall and puts its head in the feeding trough which reads a microchip on the collar then dispenses the correct amount of food. Next a laser-guided suction arm swings under the udder, gives it a bit of a massage, then attaches the cups. After milking, the front gate opens releasing the cow and making way for the next. Any cow that doesn’t have at least 10 litres of milk is released without milking. The machine can do around 200 milkings in a 24 hour period and also monitors the milk and separates out any that is contaminated. The system contacts the farmer by phone if there are any problems and responds to codes that can potentially fix them. So where are the robots to get the cows to the milking shed in the first place? Lely.
- A GOOD ANGLE: A third of the world’s population is still affected by tuberculosis. Tests for the disease are tricky though as they involve inserting a needle at a precise angle and depth in the arm. It’s easy to get wrong and is a bit painful. Now engineers have created a patch with tiny biodegradable needles made of chitin, each 750 micrometers long, and coated with the material used for testing for TB. The microneedles penetrate the skin precisely. The patch has worked well on guinea pigs and must next be tested on humans. It’s surprising no-one has made a needle guide before now. University of Washington.
- KNEE IN THE EYE: Recently a surgeon doing a routine knee operation gave colleagues and students a unique view of his work. He wore a Google Glass headset and transmitted audio and video to them. This use opens up possibilities for consultation during a surgery and for training. Maybe family members could watch too? Ohio State University.
- PLASTIC BAG ANYONE?: The Danes love to cycle but have the same problem as the rest of us: what to do with the helmet when it’s not on your head. The HelmMate is a small case that attaches behind the saddle. Park the bike and pull out the raincover from inside its case, using it to cover both helmet and seat. Zip up and use the supplied padlock to secure it. As a bonus, the cover keeps both helmet and saddle dry in a shower. Hmmm, anyone with a pocket knife could walk off with the helmet. It seems a plastic bag would do that job equally well. Gizmag.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 04 September 2013
- CORN FOR CARS: At the University of Michigan researchers are taking corn stalks and leaves then adding fungi and bacteria to create isobutanol. The isobutanol gives off 82% of the heat energy petrol provides when burned, compared to ethanol’s 67%. It also doesn’t mix easily with water. The researchers hope this biofuel could help replace petrol, especially as it uses waste plant materials rather than food crops. That’s definitely better than using edible plants. University of Michigan.
- FULL FOCUS: NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is about to head off to the Moon. One of its missions is to test an alternative to radio frequency transmissions for communication. The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration will use two-way laser communication to carry 6 times more data while using only 75% of the power. Its main mission objective is to transmit hundreds of millions of bits of data per second from the Moon to Earth. That’s enough to send more than 100 HD TV transmissions at the same time. One possible use is to control a robotic mission to an asteroid, providing telepresence to a ground-based controller. Extra data capacity is great but surely speed of transmission is an area needing urgent attention too. NASA.
- SOCK IT TO ME: A new baby is a scary thing as you wonder if it’s doing OK in the other room or while you’re asleep. The Owlet takes care of monitoring oxygen levels and heart rate just with a sock. The system of sensors, embedded in a sock, uses pulse oximetry to check vitals and creates a graphical view of health data that reveals trends and patterns. It also monitors skin temperature, sleep quality and sleep position. Data is sent in real time to your smartphone or computer. The sock can be washed in a washing machine so there are no worries about keeping it clean. That sock could bring a lot of peace of mind to worried parents. Owlet.
- STRIKE A BLOW TO CONCUSSIONS: In American Football and many other sports there’s a risk of concussion as stress waves from an impact reverberate around the brain tearing tissue apart. A shock absorbing polymer created at the University of California could help prevent concussion. The 2 millimetre flexible polymer, correctly added to a helmet, can reduce the force a person feels from a collision by up to 25%. The polymer could also be added inside shoes to reduce knee problems in runners. It probably has uses in other sports where the shock from a blow is a factor too, such as when a tennis racquet hits a ball. University of California.
- ROUGH SHOCKS: Drive over a bump or catch a blast of crosswind and your car loses a bit of energy. The GenShock active suspension system can capture that energy and feed it back into the car’s electrical system. Rough terrain, braking or acceleration cause motion. Active dampers respond to the type of road surface and change the pressure inside the shock absorber. Meanwhile fluid flows through a valve and gear pump on the shocks to smooth out the ride and feed the electric motor. That’s perfect for off-road drivers. Wired.
Tech Universe: Thursday 05 September 2013
- GET A WIGGLE ON: The Kwiggle is no ordinary bike: it weighs less than 8 Kg, uses a belt or chain drive, is designed to be used standing up and folds down to a compact 55x40x25 cm that will fit into a small suitcase or even the overhead locker on a plane. You could even stash it under the desk at work, rather than locking it up to a rack. There is a seat, if you need the support, though the idea is to ride it upright. Avoid the traffic and bike to the airport for your next flight. Kwiggle.
- KEEP IN SHAPE: At night on a country road you may encounter a cow or a horse, or in some countries a moose, boar or camel. Avoiding a collision is a very good idea, but you may spot the animal too late. The Night View Assist Plus from Mercedes-Benz is designed to avoid such collisions. The system identifies people but also picks out cows, moose, horses, deer, camels, and even wild boar. A thermal far-infrared camera in the grille scans for heat signatures, while a near-infrared camera on the windshield watches the road. Then a processor analyses the input and matches the data with known shapes for specific animals and humans. A display on the dash alerts the driver and the car primes the brakes. The system could also shine a spotlight on what it sees. Ah, blinding the person or animal — such a good idea. PopSci.
- SUNNY WITH STEW: It looks like a satellite dish, but it’s not. The parabolic solar cooker collects sunshine and focuses it on a central point where a ring supports a saucepan, frypan or kettle. The solar cooker lasts 5 to 10 years and costs as much as around 7 months worth of electricity for cooking for people in its target market of South Africa. It’s that initial cost that will be a big hurdle for those who’d use it. Storyhunter.
- ELECTRIC WINDOWS: An ionic speaker can play back music, but it’s see-through and doesn’t include electronics. A thin sheet of transparent rubber is sandwiched between two layers of a saltwater gel. As a high-voltage signal runs across the surfaces the rubber rapidly contracts and vibrates, producing sounds from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. In this speaker the electrical charges carried by ions are doing the work. Researchers say this could be used on windows to provide active noise cancellation, or perhaps in systems that provide haptic feedback in response to sounds. Or maybe windows that play music? Phys.Org.
- NET WATER: Using nets to harvest fog to collect drinking water isn’t a new idea. Nets of woven polyolefin mesh may extract about 2% of the water available in a mild fog. But researchers at MIT say their finer mesh collects as much as 10%. Part of the gain in efficiency is due to the coating on the mesh which allows small droplets to slide down into the collector before the wind blows them away. The researchers are testing their mesh in Chile, in an area where there’s little rainfall but a lot of fog. The good news is that the collectors are passive: they don’t need any power, though it’s a good idea to brush the grit and bugs off occasionally. MIT News.
Tech Universe: Friday 06 September 2013
- TAKE SECURITY TO HEART: Passwords have got totally out of hand, but the Nymi puts a bit of heart into them. Literally. Strap on the wristband with its integrated accelerometer and gyroscope and you can unlock devices with a flick of the wrist. The Nymi detects your heartbeat and uses it to authenticate you for as long as you’re wearing it. It uses a 3 factor security system, requiring the device, your unique heartbeat and an Authorised Authentication Device such as a smartphone. The wristband also contains a proximity sensor and low energy Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the more factors, the more potential points of failure, though at least the heartbeat should always be with you. Nymi.
- A BIT ON THE TOP: CSR’s new demonstration ultrathin device can be used as a keyboard, or for touch gestures, or with a stylus for handwriting recognition or drawing. The Bluetooth device is less than half a millimetre thick so it can easily sit on top of a tablet. The flexible keyboard is inkjet printed so can easily be produced in various formats. Any shape, any size: sounds useful. CSR.
- FABBING GOOD FUN: The FABtotum is a multipurpose open source low cost personal fabricator. It handles fused filament additive manufacturing as well as cutting and 4-axis machining thanks to the interchangeable heads. It can mill and cut foam, balsa wood and other similar light materials, while its 3D laser scanner helps with design. The FABtotum enclosure is a 36 cm cube that’s small enough to sit on a desk. It’s time to get making. FABtotum.
- BIGS IN SPACE: Up in space we sometimes need very large objects, such as solar panel arrays, that are hard to fit into a standard cargo bay on a spacecraft. At the moment such items are usually packed and then unfolded and deployed once they reach orbit. The SpiderFab offers another approach: manufacturing items in orbit with a giant 3D printer and automated assembly. Components such as antennas, booms, and panels may be suited to this approach. Tethers Unlimited is developing a suite of additive manufacturing and robotic assembly technologies so that large components can be created and put together in orbit. That could mean smaller, lower cost spacecraft would launch the materials and the rest of the work is done on the spot. Are we ready for factories in space? Tethers Unlimited.
- WALKIE TALKIE HOTSPOT: Imagine coming back to your parked car to find parts of it had melted. No, it’s not extreme global warming. In London a 37 story concave skyscraper nicknamed the Walkie Talkie because of its shape concentrated sunlight down onto the street and damaged a Jaguar car The wing mirror, panels and Jaguar badge had all melted. Perhaps that nickname should be Death Ray. BBC.