Tech Universe: Monday 04 November 2013
- IN THE HOUSE: The Camper Bike is one of a kind unfortunately. It starts with a modified 3-wheeler bike frame designed for carrying cargo, with the seat and pedals about half way along. In the cargo area is a tiny camper with space for sleeping and storage. The cab extends above the rider’s head. It’s a bit like a snail really: you carry your house with you, and must be a slow way to travel. Inhabitat.
- DUCK DETACH AND COVER: So, you’re sitting at your desk in a fairly ordinary looking plastic chair when an earthquake strikes. The Mamoris chair has you covered — literally. Flip the chair over, detach the backrest and its attached helmet section and use it to keep your head and shoulders safe from falling debris. Easy. Mamoris.
- BETTER THAN A BOX: Terminal 3 at Shenzhen’s Bao’an airport in China isn’t your normal grey concrete box. The facade is made of metal panels and glass panels of different sizes in a honeycomb motif that can be partially opened. The skin allows natural light to filter in. The interior combines the ideas of movement and pause with arching ceilings and rounded shapes, while the layout of the building slightly resembles a plane. That should all add interest to the long waits. Fuksas.
- WET WELD: If you need to weld something it can be a costly and dangerous business. Gases like acetylene and propane, used in conventional welding, have to be stored, transported and even insured. The high temperatures involved cause their own problems too. A research team in Europe has come up with a safer alternative: water. Their welder adds electricity to water, creating hydrogen and oxygen gases through electrolysis and using a cheaper membrane than other similar processes. The hydrogen and oxygen are then recombined at the very tip of the torch, creating a flame that’s cooler and much easier to handle than commonly-used mixtures of oxygen with propane or acetylene. The flame is gentle and clean and produces only water as a by-product. Safeflame.
- STICK WITH IT: And if welding is all too much FiberFix tape claims to be 100 times stronger than duct tape. Drop the roll of tape into a bucket of water then remove excess water. Wrap the tape tightly over the break and 10 minutes later it’s hardened like steel. The tape contains an epoxy resin that sticks to almost any surface and is very difficult to remove again, but it can be sanded and painted over. In the wrong hands, like superglue, that could be quite a problem. FiberFix.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 05 November 2013
- IN SAIL WE TRUST: You’re driving along in your all-terrain buggy when you give the engine some extra gas and the parasail lifts you up into the sky. The Parajet SkyRunner is an all-terrain buggy with an open chasis and a propeller on the back. The vehicle can accelerate to 100 Kph in 4.3 seconds and has a top speed of 185 Kph. In flight, the buggy has a maximum altitude of around 4,500 metres and a range of about 320 Km. If the engine or wing fails the SkyRunner floats to the ground on its paraglider, or a ballistic reserve chute can be deployed. Mmm hmm, 4.5 Km high in an open vehicle relying on a paraglider wing — that takes some trust. SkyRunner.
- FOOD FIT: The Airo is a wristband that keeps track of what you eat, the intensity of your exercise, your sleep and your stress. A built-in spectrometer detects nutrients released into the bloodstream as they are broken down during and after your meals. That means it automatically tracks how many calories you eat and their nutritional quality. It also tracks stress and can alert you when levels are too high. The wristband uses Bluetooth to communicate with your phone and for charging, and has a vibration motor for alerts. That’s good. Now make one for my dog. Airo.
- BUMP IN THE LIGHT: Blind people generally do still have some sight — they may be able to perceive light and motion. Researchers from Oxford University have taken advantage of that to create a pair of smart glasses to help with navigation. Cameras on the glasses and software detect nearby objects and present them in a simple and intuitive way onto the lenses. This alerts the wearer to obstacles, but better software could perform object recognition and tell the wearer what each object actually is. Moreover signs, menus, bus numbers and the like could perhaps be turned into speech. Nice. The Royal Society.
- GO IT ALONE: In Canada massive trucks the size of a 3-story building haul oil sands away from open-pit mines for processing into bitumen. Each truck costs $4 million Canadian and even changing one tire can cost $50,000. Now Suncor Energy, who run the operation, hope to save money on fuel and maintenance while increasing productivity by using robot trucks. A computer and GPS have replaced the driver in one truck currently being tested. Within 5 years some or all of the current trucks may be replaced by autonomous vehicles. Don’t forget the savings from no longer having to pay drivers. Bloomberg.
- GRIZZLE SIZZLE: One of the things Parks Canada has to worry about is grizzly bears on railway tracks. To deter the bears Parks Canada is testing out electromats. The grizzly smells a tasty carcass but has to step on an electromat to reach it and receives a small shock. In tests so far the shock the bear receives from the mat has been sufficient to both repel it and deter it from trying again. The mats can be placed in areas where the fence alongside the tracks has an opening and where there is a particular risk to bears. What does the mat do to smaller animals who step on it? Small dead mammals on the mats could be quite the drawcard. Calgary Herald.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 06 November 2013
- POD ALERT: Imagine a little driverless electric pod whisking you from the central train station to the city centre. Milton Keynes in the UK is about to give it a go with 100 pods running on specifically marked out lanes. The pods will travel along the wide pavements in the city at up to 20 Kph. Big enough to carry 2 passengers and luggage, they’ll use sensors to avoid colliding with pedestrians and parked cars. 20 Kph is a pretty good speed along the pavement, special lanes or not. Electric Vehicle News.
- PLEASE WALK: Sometimes people with Parkinsons will be walking along and suddenly be unable to take another step. That can lead to falls and serious injuries. At the University of Alabama researchers have an idea that could help: A device embedded in a shoe or worn around the ankle could detect when such freezes occur then send a sound wirelessly to an earpiece to prompt the wearer to move on. They’re currently developing the device and have applied for a patent. Walk this way. Scientific American.
- LISTEN TO THE PULSE: A regular pair of earbuds could be used to take your pulse. As your arteries pulse your eardrums flex slightly. That movement changes the pressure in the ear canal, which can be measured by using the earbuds as microphones. Use some clever software to measure changes, filtering out ambient noise and allowing for poorly fitting earbuds and the result is a measurement of your pulse. The Kaiteki Institute in Japan is working on this technique and say the dedicated signal processing could be incorporated into a music app on a smartphone. Soon my phone may know everything there is to know about me. Tech-On.
- GLOW IN THE DARK: Panasonic’s BG-BL03 solar LED lantern’s Nickel-metal hydride battery recharges in 6 hours and can recharge a cellphone through a USB connection. A built-in handle can be used as a stand or a hanger. The lamp includes a 3.5-watt output solar panel to power the 5 LEDs. Output can be between 6 and 100 lumens, for between 6 and 90 hours, depending on whether you choose Low, Medium or High settings. The lantern is designed for the more than 1 billion people around the world who don’t have electricity, but surely all of us should keep one in the emergency kit. Panasonic.
- BOUNCY DRONE: If you’re a rescuer sending a precious drone into a collapsed building you’ll probably worry about it bumping into unexpected obstacles. The autonomous Gimball drone from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne doesn’t have any problems at all with such bumps: it just keeps flying, as a bee might after bumping into a window. An elastic cage absorbs the shock of each hit, so the spherical drone inside can stabilise itself after each collision. The Gimball is about 33 cm long and weighs around half a kilo. Autonomous drone racing could be a fun sport. Gigaom.
Tech Universe: Thursday 07 November 2013
- INSPECTOCOPTER: The Black Hornet fits in a soldier’s pocket but can silently fly a tiny camera and send video and still images back to the operator. The PD-100 Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System is a tiny drone that weighs around 16 grams. It looks like a toy helicopter but follows GPS waypoints to a target. It can only fly for around 20 minutes though before the battery needs to be recharged. The drone can do tasks like scouting ahead for possible ambushes or grabbing a look over the wall of a guarded compound. MacGyver would have loved it. LiveScience.
- A PLUG FOR THE HURRICANE: Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of damage in New York, including flooding many tunnels. Now a new plug is being tested to stop up subways and the like in a future emergency. A strong inflatable tube deploys from a wall panel to conform to and fill the tunnel where it’s installed. The plug is designed to keep out water, smoke, gas and other threats. Let’s hope they don’t have to put it to use too soon. Gizmodo.
- DRIVE BY GAS: HGST’s 6 terabyte hard drives hold 50% more data and use about 20% less power than conventional hard drives. Their drives are full of helium which reduces friction and vibration, allows the drives to hold data more densely and reduces the power draw. While using helium in drives isn’t new, in the past the helium has slowly leaked out. The company says it’s solved that problem and guarantees its hermetically sealed drives for 5 years. But after 5 years, then what? Technology Review.
- CUTTING EDGE PHOTOGRAPHY: When surgeons are cutting out tumours they have to rely on sharp eyesight to distinguish tumour tissue from healthy tissue. A multispectral fluorescence camera system could make that a bit easier in future. Patients are injected beforehand with various fluorescent molecules that attach to the tumour and to sensitive items such as arteries or nerves. Then the area of the tumour is illuminated with a specific wavelength of light, causing different dyes to glow in different colours. The camera can then display to the surgeon exactly which is tumour tissue, which is healthy and which tissue must remain untouched. One camera can display up to 4 different dyes at a time. Clinical tests on humans should begin in 2014. Being able to find every last tumour cell could make a dramatic difference. Fraunhofer Institute.
- SEE IT, SAVE IT: Put on a special headband, clip your phone into it, equipped with a tiny prism lens, and then start looking at the world around you. When you show interest in something the phone detects your interest and records the scene. An app on the phone watches brainwaves and analyses them, assigning a score between 1 and 100. If the score exceeds 60 the neurocam starts recording. The developers think this could record information that’s useful for lifelogging, shop owners or urban designers. And for on-the-spot news reporters, of course. Diginfo.tv.
Tech Universe: Friday 08 November 2013
- MORE FOR MARS: India’s Mangalyaan is a Mars Orbiter that has headed out on a mission to carry out experiments. The craft will travel for almost a year across 780 million kilometres to reach Mars. One of its jobs will be to search for the signature of methane in the Martian atmosphere using its Methane Sensor for Mars instrument. It will also examine the rate of loss of atmospheric gases to outer space. Mars is starting to get a bit crowded. BBC.
- PHONE SPOTTING: Smartphone cameras are pretty good these days — a feature that Holomic is making use of with its attachment to detect viruses and bacteria less than one-thousandth of the width of a human hair. The lightweight device is 3D printed and snaps on to the back of a smartphone. It contains a colour filter, an external lens and a laser diode, and includes a slot for a rapid diagnostic test strip. An app allows you to make a picture of the strip which the app analyses in real time. Results can be uploaded and used by health planners. Smartphones are really a great thing for health care. Holomic. Video:
- LET THE HELMET DO THE THINKING: Protective sports wear such as helmets may contain a layer of foam. But what say that layer of foam could report back on impacts? Many football players suffer a concussion during a game, but concussions are tricky to diagnose. Xonano smart foam creates a voltage when it’s compressed. That creates a signal that is sent to an app on the coach’s computer or tablet and can indicate when the player was hit too hard. The smart foam fits easily inside a helmet and could be used in other sports gear or for applications such as sleep-sensing mattresses. That’s a smart idea. Brigham Young University.
- OVER, UNDER, ACROSS: Meixi Lake in China is a purpose-built city. It also has a river running through it, and where you have a river you need a bridge. A new pedestrian bridge designed by Next Architects is based on the Möbius strip. The bridge spans 150 metres, is 24 metres high and gives pedestrians the choice of different walkways at different heights. The bridge includes numerous downward and upward interwoven curves. That could make for a fun bike ride. Next Architects.
- WAVING NOT DROWNING: As waves move in and out of the concrete base of the Oceanlinx GreenWave generator they create high-pressure air currents that drive an electrical turbine. The 1 MW prototype generator is made of flat-pack reinforced concrete and sits on the seabed in some 10 to 20 metres of water in South Australia. If the prototype works out the company hopes to create a full size 10 MW unit that can be used in deeper waters. Let’s keep those wave energy ideas rolling in. Gizmodo.