Tech Universe: Tuesday 29 October 2013
- BY THE LIGHT TO THE MOON: The Moon is rather a long way away. It takes time for signals to travel between the two and that affects the nature and amount of data that can be transmitted. As part of its work to speed up communications NASA recently sent a test signal by laser from a ground station in New Mexico to a spacecraft orbiting the Moon some 385,000 Km from Earth. That transmission sped along at a mighty 622 megabits per second. Being able to send data at high speed opens up the way for high resolution images and even 3D video. Everyone wants high speed broadband. NASA.
- THE HORNS OF AFRICA: Kenya’s trying to stop poachers from killing rhinos and trading the horns. One approach is to track the animals closely and monitor their movements. To help track rhinos they’re using 1,000 donated microchips and 5 scanners. The plan is to insert a microchip in the horn of every rhino in Kenya. That could allow them to take other measures to keep poachers away and protect the animals, or just to track horns that have been taken. What an enormous undertaking. Kenya Wildlife Service.
- BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP: Regular sonar can’t distinguish between a fish and a cloud of bubbles. Send out a carefully timed large pulse followed by a small one though and you can tell the two apart. Now try something similar with radio waves and a radar can find hidden electronic devices amongst piles of rubble. Tiny radar devices created in the UK could use this technique to locate survivors — or at least their smartphones — in the rubble of an earthquake or improvised explosive devices hidden amongst piles of trash. Very cunning. New Scientist.
- DRAW THE HOT STRAW: A house built of straw may only need a huff and a puff to be blown down, but perhaps German houses could be heated and lit by straw instead, as some Danish houses already are? Researchers say around a quarter of the cereal straw produced each year from agriculture in Germany could provide millions of households with heating and electricity. Now they need to work out how to use it in an environmentally friendly way. Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research.
- GLOW LITTLE PATHWAY: The gravel glows gently in the night lighting your way. Or it will if it’s coated with Pro-Teq’s Starpath product. The sprayed on elastomeric coating looks like a normal path during the day, but at night it glows thanks to the UV energy it absorbed during the day. The path also includes anti-slip materials and is non-reflective, and can be any of half a dozen colours. Paths are quick and easy to lay so installing them doesn’t much disrupt the normal flow of traffic. That would make for a driveway with a difference. Pro-Teq.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 30 October 2013
- TRAVEL, AIM, FIRE: What better to do with an asteroid than to blow a hole in it? The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have successfully tested a cannon that will ride on the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft in 2014 to the asteroid known as 1999 JU3. JAXA aims to create a small artificial crater on the 920 metre diameter asteroid so they can gather samples that haven’t been weathered by exposure to space. Hayabusa 2 should reach the asteroid in 2018 and begin its return to Earth in 2019. If anyone ever starts mining asteroids it could be a long slow process. RT.
- THEY LED THE WAY: New York is going LED: over the next few years all 250,000 street lights will be switched over to LED bulbs. Their long life and low energy usage will save the city some $14 million per year. The current high-pressure sodium street lights last around 6 years, but the LEDs are expected to last for up to 20 years before they need to be replaced. Then imagine adding solar panels to at least some of the lights. CBS.
- STREET SMARTS: In Copenhagen they plan to network 20,000 LED street lights in 2014. The idea is to create a smart network that can improve energy efficiency and lower operational costs, and also allow the lights to be controlled remotely. Bring on the light shows. Business Wire.
- LIGHT RELIEF: Just imagine: you’re sick enough to be in an intensive care ward but alert enough to be oppressed by the uniformly bleak ceiling and walls. Philips has developed a luminous ceiling that uses coloured LED lights to simulate dynamic daylight and play comforting visual content. The system’s being used by the Charité Campus Virchow Clinic in Berlin to help reduce stress. Staff can customise lighting designs with 15,400 LEDs to help each patient feel more relaxed. Warm and cold white lights also help make the room feel as though it’s lit by the light from a clear sky in summer, and day and night lighting ties in with our natural rhythms. Pilot studies suggest the system works well. Perhaps they could try that in prisons too. Philips.
- WHILL TO RIDE: The Whill Type-A electric 4-wheel drive wheelchair features specially engineered wheels and rollers that can freely move forwards, backwards and sideways. That means the chair can turn on the spot, yet the wheels are big enough to not get stuck in cracks even 7.5 cm wide. The wheelchair can handle grass, dirt or gravel roads and snow. The arms slide and fold out of the way when not needed and the seat slides forward so you can easily get in and out. After 5 hours of charging the battery you can travel up to 24 Km. It’s starting to sound like a sports vehicle. Whill.
Tech Universe: Thursday 31 October 2013
- READ THIS: US company Vicarious says it has developed technology, based on the human brain, that can solve text-based Captcha tests 90% of the time. Meanwhile one of the developers of Captcha says they could be made stronger by increasing the distortion of text and images. Captchas are already frustrating millions of Internet users every day, so, perhaps in future failing a captcha will be the way to prove you’re not a spammer. BBC.
- LOCK IT UP: The BitLock looks like a standard U bike lock, but it hooks up to your smartphone. Not only does it unlock when it senses you’re near, but you can use the app to allow others to share your bike. The app also provides stats about where and how far you’ve travelled, calories burned and the like. That’s a step up on a dumb lock. BitLock.
- LOCK IT DOWN: U-locks are great when there’s a suitable post nearby to attach the bike to, but if not then thieves may just throw the bike in a van and take off with it. The Lock8 has a siren and an integrated GPS chip. The lock is attached to the frame and can be opened via smartphone, with a key as backup. An optional cable and the lock itself can detect any attempt at tampering, sound the alarm and notify your phone. The app can help locate a stolen bike, and allows you to share access to the bike with friends. Spoke reflectors with built-in magnets help keep the battery charged. Uh oh, a proliferation of bike lock networks. Lock8.
- NO LOCK, NO WORRY: The Cricket is a bike alarm, but it doesn’t make a sound. Instead it makes your phone vibrate and sound an alarm if the bike or motorbike is moved. It uses Bluetooth and has a range of about 50 metres. If the bike is stolen an alert pops up on the phone of any other Cricket user who comes within range. The device is about the size of a bottle cap and can be fitted under the seat. That’s handy for when you want to grab an ice cream or just sit on a bench and look at the view but don’t want to actually lock up the bike. The Cricket.
- HOME ON THE UTE: The Taxa FireFly is a miniature camper designed to fit in the back of a ute or on a trailer. It weighs 272 Kg and comes with lander legs so it can stand alone. It has windows on 4 sides and a rear door, with a bed down the middle. At least it’s functional, though compact. FireFly.
Tech Universe: Friday 01 November 2013
- ANGLES OF DECEPTION: It’s 186 metres long and 24 metres wide and it can destroy targets from almost 100 Km away: the USS Zumwalt is the US Navy’s latest warship. Rounds are powered by rockets and guided by computers, and don’t need sailors to load them or remove spent shells. But enemies will have a hard time spotting the ship to fire back: the canopy and the rest of the ship is built on angles that help make it 50 times harder to spot on radar than an ordinary destroyer. On radar it looks like a fishing boat. All actual fishing boats should clear the area. CNN.
- SMOOTH SAILING: The Jet Capsule is a small boat that perhaps most closely resembles an iron. It’s 7 metres long and up to 3.5 metres wide. The living space inside is covered by a cowl that has large windows. At the back is a small platform that gives easy access. The boat can be configured when you buy it for different purposes such as to live aboard or to carry passengers, or even with camouflage, weapons and armour. Help flatten out those waves. Jet Capsule.
- AT YOUR SERVICE STATION: Car out of petrol? Horizontal rain? The Fuelmatics robot may be able to take care of filling up your car. Pull the car up to the pump, then the robot identifies and opens the fuel cap. Provided your car uses a capless insert the robot then puts a specially designed nozzle into the tank and fills the car. Presumably it also withdraws the nozzle and closes the cap. There’s no word on how to initiate this process or handle payment, but the idea is that you don’t have to step out of the car. That could be very nice indeed in these spring gales and rain showers. Autoblog.
- TAG, THEY’RE IT: TV shows and movies are full of high-speed car chases, and they’re fun to watch. In real life though such chases are very dangerous and very costly. The Starchase tag may help. It’s a miniature GPS module encased in a tracking projectile that can be fired from a launcher mounted on a police vehicle and targeted by laser. The tag sticks to the target then police cars can drop back while a dispatcher watches the vehicle on a map updated in real-time. Starchase.
- ON THE FOOT FRONT: Each year billions of pairs of shoes are produced. Eventually most end up in the landfill, but recycling would be a better option. Researchers at Loughborough University took on that tough challenge, and have come up with useful end products. The shoes are chopped up and the various materials are then sifted and sorted out, using some ingenious techniques. The end products could be used in insulation, carpet underlay, playgrounds, and even in new shoes. One outcome though was suggestions for how shoe manufacturers could produce shoes that are easier to recycle in the first place. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.