Tech Universe: Monday 21 October 2013
- ONE MAN DOWN: You and I might not have the means or the courage to skydive from almost 39,000 metres as Felix Baumgartner did last year. But now we can join him on his nearly 10 minute jump, thanks to the camera he had strapped to his body. The footage includes the spin where he nearly lost control just after he started the jump. Baumgartner reached speeds of more than 1300 Kph in his trip from the edge of space. That’s a long way down. Wired.
- ZIP IT UP: Zips were a great invention, but getting those two ends hooked together in the first place can be a struggle. The Magzip from Under Armour makes it a snap. It uses a strong magnet and a re-engineered clasp to automatically guide the two ends together. Snap. Zip. Ahh. Gizmodo.
- GO PARK YOURSELF: Ford is working on cars that can park themselves, even if you’re not inside the car. The Fully Assisted Parking Aid system controls steering, gear selection and forward and reverse motion so all the driver has to do to park the car is press a button. The system also finds empty spaces to park in. Average car width has increased over the years, but parking spaces have stayed the same size. Being able to get out of the car before it parks itself may save all the contortions when there isn’t enough room to open the door properly. The system works in prototypes, now it needs to reach production models. Parking? No problem. Ford.
- CALL THE BUS: In Helsinki some commuters have to change buses or trains several times. To make things easier a new minibus service called Kutsuplus, or Call Plus, lets travellers call up and pay for a ride from their smartphone and choose their own route. Unlike a taxi though, the minibus can be shared with other up to 8 other travellers, while software handles scheduling, optimal routes, and what the fare should be. The minibus fare is more than a bus but less than a taxi and the service is aimed at making it easier for travellers to continue using public transport. It sounds a lot like a shuttle service. Wired.
- SLEEPS ON A PLANE: If you’re willing to pay extra on one of JetBlue’s transcontinental flights on an Airbus 321 you’ll get a seat that lies flat or a mini-suite with a privacy door that creates a tiny cabin. Air tubes will let you customise the firmness of the seats. Those seats have 2 power outlets in sensible places for charging laptops and phones. You’ll also be able to buy your own soft drinks from an onboard vending machine rather than waiting for the drinks trolley. What, no cheese and crackers? Wired.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 22 October 2013
- STAY COOL: The Wristify is a thermoelectric bracelet designed to keep you warm, or cool, whichever you prefer. The bracelet monitors air and skin temperature, then sends tailored pulses of hot or cold waveforms to the wrist. The result is that you feel warmer or cooler. The idea behind it is to help save energy in buildings by making individuals feel more comfortable. 16.5% of all primary energy consumption in the US goes to heating and cooling buildings. The prototype bracelet can be powered for up to 8 hours by its lithium polymer battery. MIT News.
- PUFFED UP PLANE: The Dynalifter is a long slim aircraft intended to carry freight. It’s a hybrid aircraft — a cross between a blimp and a normal plane — with both wings and with compartments filled with helium. The helium cells lift 48% of gross weight, while the wings handle the rest. Its cargo bay is 3 times larger than that on a Boeing 747 Freighter. The craft can release detachable cargo pods without needing a weight transfer system, so loading and unloading can be very speedy. Isn’t helium becoming rather scarce? Dynalifter.
- BOOK A DRONE: University students in Sydney can buy or rent textbooks from the Zookal service. Soon though, they may take delivery by autonomous hexacopter. An app on the buyer’s smartphone will send GPS coordinates to the drone which will hover at those co-ordinates and lower the books to the customer. Although the drone doesn’t carry a camera it has a collision avoidance system so it can keep out of the way of birds and buildings. There’s so much potential there for pranking. Ars Technica. Video.
- PROTECT THE PROTECTOR: The Paint Defender System from 3M is designed to help protect your car’s paintwork from damage. Prep the car, spray on the formula and let it dry for a few hours. The clear coating protects the paintwork from road chips and dirt and keeps the paint looking newer for about a year. To remove the coating just peel it off. That’s an interesting solution. Now, what was the problem? 3M.
- DEEP WIFI: Researchers from the University at Buffalo are working on creating wireless networks underwater. That could lead to improvements in detecting tsunamis, looking for offshore oil and natural gas, surveillance, monitoring pollution and just generally collecting and analysing data from the oceans. Current WiFi networks rely on radio waves which don’t work well underwater, so sound waves are more often used under the ocean. University at Buffalo.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 October 2013
- OUT OF THE ROAD: Driving behind a big truck is a pain, at least in part because you can’t see what’s ahead of the truck. Mount a camera in that truck though and perhaps you could send a video feed to a car behind. A team at the University of Porto in Portugal developed a See-Through System that does just that. A heads-up display on the trailing vehicle recognises the back of the lead vehicle, and replaces it with a video feed from a webcam mounted on that lead vehicle. Unfortunately, a 200 millisecond delay means oncoming traffic is shown as being further away than it really is — how much further depends on how fast everyone is travelling. That delay could be a killer. New Scientist.
- MUSCLE TRUCK: If you like your vehicles grunty and Romanian then the Rescue may catch your eye. It fords and even swims through rivers, rides through snow and over rough terrain and can handle almost anything. The vehicle can carry water tanks and pumps for firefighting, use tracks on the rear wheels, carry cargo on top or in a trailer, and attach a snow plow on the front. It can also carry up to eleven people. Several configurations are available, including some more sporty versions for activities like firefighting command and control. That’s one truck that’s not messing around. Ghe-O Motors.
- EYES IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD: The Skully P-1 motorcycle helmet includes an integrated heads-up display with GPS maps. It also has a rear-view camera with a 180 degree viewing angle that displays video in one corner of the HUD. After pairing a smartphone with the helmet you can control it by voice: select music, make calls, send texts and change destination. Just make sure you know your front from your back. Skully.
- FEET FIRST: When we walk our ankles handle a lot of motion, allowing the foot to tilt and twist to cope with uneven or rough terrain. Artificial feet currently available though are likely to be controlled by a microprocessor that allows only for an up and down motion. Now researchers have created an artificial ankle that comes close to achieving the innate range of motion of a human ankle. It moves the foot side to side as well as up and down. Pressure sensors on the bottom of the foot detect how the amputee is walking. The microprocessor then signals cables to move the foot as needed: in almost any direction. The improvement should not only make walking easier for those with prosthetic feet but also reduce how often they fall. Bodies really are very clever things that are surprisingly hard to emulate. Michigan Technological University.
- A LITTLE BLUE: Silicon cells are a popular way to capture solar power. Silicon is plentiful, but it takes a lot of energy to process it into solar cells, and silver is needed for conductors. Efficiency is comparatively low and costs fairly high. Researchers at UW-Madison are working on a cheaper, simpler system that uses a dye called copper phthalocyanine. The dye could even be laid down on a paper base, rather than the glass in current cells. Since organic dyes absorb so much light they need only be laid down in a very thin layer. The team say their research may soon lead to cheap, light and efficient solar cells that can be used by consumers for applications such as charging phones and running small household appliances. Solar cell tattoos could be interesting. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Tech Universe: Thursday 24 October 2013
- AVAST YE SCANNERS: Medical imaging equipment like MRI machines and CT scanners can be quite scary, especially for children, who may need to be routinely anaesthetised just to keep them still enough to have a scan. One MRI machine designer found a way to redesign not the mechanics of the machine but the environment to make a scan an adventure. He created a story where the child became the hero, and used artwork to transform the scanner and room into a pirate ship or a spaceship where the child’s role was to lie still in order to later claim treasure. The medical staff led the child through their adventure story as they completed the scan. Kids are now keen to get their scans, rather than being so terrified they have to be knocked out. Sometimes a tech development isn’t so much a matter of better gadgets as a better approach. Slate.
- LET’S ALL MEET AT MARS: India’s Mars Orbiter Mission will launch in October or November this year. The Mangalyaan orbiter weighs 1350 Kg and includes 5 science instruments to study the atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy and surface features of Mars. NASA will be helping with communications and navigation support through its Deep Space Network. After initially orbiting the Earth the craft will head off to Mars later in November, to arrive in September 2014. It should be able to collect data from Mars for 6 to 10 months. Mars is becoming very popular. Universe Today.
- GET BACK THE WATER: Every day millions of girls and women walk a long way to collect water for their families. They often end up carrying barrels or buckets on their backs or heads, which can cause health problems. The water itself is often not clean either. The PackH20 is a backpack carefully designed for carrying 20 litres of water. It uses a liner that can be sterilised after each use by exposing it to sunlight. It also has a spout for dispensing water and a puncture-resistant outer shell. The backpack itself is 7 times lighter and smaller than the average plastic jerry can. Some advances that in retrospect are obvious can be slow to arrive. PackH20.
- SPREAD THE WINGS: The prototype Aeromobil Version 2.5 parks on the city streets like any other car, although it does look a little unusual. But after a drive to the airport this car turns into a plane. The wings unfold from the body, the propeller at the rear spins and you’re off into the air. The vehicle can travel at up to 160 Kph on land or 200 Kph in the air and has a range of 500 and 700 Km respectively, though flying uses twice the fuel. The vehicle carries 2 passengers. Getting from road to runway is bound to be the next big barrier. Aeromobil.
- LIGHT DELIGHT: Nokero’s new N222 lightbulbs do something a bit clever: rather than plugging into a standard electric lightbulb socket they’re powered by the sun and can charge up a cellphone as well. If electricity is available the LiFePO4 battery can be charged up from a wall socket, otherwise the solar panel does the job. The bulb can be used on a stand or hung from a hook and its LED produces 50 lumens for 6 hours. The bulbs are designed to be used in countries where kerosene lamps are the only source of light at night. Those kerosene lamps have to go. Nokero.
Tech Universe: Friday 25 October 2013
- SMOG BEGONE: In places such as China smog is a serious problem, often causing health problems and even death. A Dutch designer thinks he can vacuum the smog from the air. The idea is to use buried coils of copper to create an electrostatic field that attracts smog particles, creating a void of clean air. Beijing, where some vulnerable residents have recently been warned to stay indoors, will showcase the technology in a public park. The designer has already tested the concept in a 5×5 metre smog-filled room. Sysiphus would be proud. Dezeen. Video.
- COLOUR CODES: Thin-film solar cells are around 20% efficient, but a material like perovskite is nearly as efficient and much cheaper. Singaporean researchers hope to be able to use the material to make inexpensive light flexible solar cells on plastic, and are working on prototypes. Perovskite also comes in translucent colours such as red, yellow or brown so solar cells may soon be a bit brighter and more cheerful. Aha, there’s an advertising possibility, designing branding into solar panels via coloured cells. Nanyang Technological University.
- PARKOMATIC: Honda are working on a system to park your car for you in places like shopping malls. Drop the car off at a designated spot and get out. The driverless car then locates an empty parking space and moves into it, avoiding unexpected obstacles. The system combines a car’s own backing camera with overhead surveillance cameras to complete the task. Soon one won’t need a chauffeur at all. DigInfo TV.
- A TRIP OF THE WRIST: The miCoach Smart Run from Adidas wraps around your wrist and gives you GPS mapping, music, real-time coaching and the ability to monitor your heart rate. The smart watch also has Bluetooth so you can use headphones, WiFi and an accelerometer. The battery is good for 8 hours of use. How about making anklets instead? Medgadget.
- POSERS: A program from the University of Washington uses a Kinect to help people with their yoga poses. Eyes-Free Yoga tracks body movements and gives users verbal instructions in real time for 6 yoga poses. As a person does yoga in front of the Kinect it measures the angles of their body and then offers instructions about how to move to better achieve the perfect pose. The program provides positive feedback too, telling users when they have their legs, arms or body in the correct position. The program should be specially useful for people who are blind or have low-vision. That’s a nice replacement for an actual trainer. University of Washington.