Tech Universe: Monday 25 November 2013
- THE HEAT: The London Underground produces a lot of heat, though at the moment that heat is wasted through vents. Now the plan is to capture that heat and use it for warming local homes. Capturing and using the heat will also reduce carbon emissions. The sad thing is that this is a new idea. Sustainable Review.
- EYES DOWN: There are large buildings like airports and hospitals where you need good signage to figure out which way to go. Philips want to make things easier by installing LED lights right into carpets. This idea takes advantage of our natural tendency to look down when we walk. Now power the lights with footsteps and it’s a win all round. Inhabitat.
- 4 HOUR TEST: In the US people may be able to go to their local pharmacy for a quick and accurate blood test, rather than visiting a specialist testing lab. Walgreen’s Pharmacy is to offer automated lab tests that use a small amount of blood drawn with a finger stick rather than a needle in the arm. The small capsule of blood is then run through an on-site automated testing machine where each test requires only a single drop of blood. Accurate testing can be completed within 4 hours. I guess the machine will make you answer those questions about having eaten and so on before the finger prick. Singularity Hub.
- CAR ONLINE: An experimental car at Ohio State University weighs only 800 Kg, thanks to having no engine, no transmission, and no differential. Instead each wheel has a 7.5 kW electric motor connected by a cable to a central computer. A 15 kW lithium-ion battery pack keeps the vehicle running. The computer can control each wheel independently, meaning one could brake while the others accelerate, for example. In fact, because each wheel is independent it’s extremely hard for a person to control the car without the computer’s help. Software updates will have to be carefully timed. Ohio State University.
- SUN FOR SOME: In 2022 the FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar where they’re about to build stadiums to host the games. Designs are out for the first stadium, a 40,000 seat structure that will use passive design to keep the venue cool. The design’s based on the form of a traditional fishing boat, with a curved partial roof to shade spectators from the intense desert heat. Mechanical air conditioning will also be required though. It may shade the spectators but it looks as though the playing field is open to the full glare of the day. Dezeen.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 26 November 2013
- BIKE TRIKE CAR: It’s a bike with 3 wheels, an electric motor and a roof, though it doesn’t have doors. The E-Fox velomobile carries up to 125 Kg of cargo, including the rider and can run for almost 50 Km on a single charge. It’ll carry you and your cargo at up to 32 Kph — faster if you pedal too — and it can tow a small trailer. That could be a fun way to handle shopping. E-Fox.
- BOUNCY LITTLE DROPS: It may not be enough to make a surface hydrophobic so water simply bounces off. How fast droplets of water bounce off a surface can also make a difference, for example, in stopping a plane’s wings from icing up. Researchers at MIT filmed water droplets bouncing off a silicone wafer sprayed with a highly water-repellent coating. A textured rough surface with small ridges made drops break up and spend less time spreading out on the surface before bouncing off. The upshot was a drier surface. In the case of a plane’s wings that could mean less opportunity for frost to form and build up on the surface. Will it work the same in an airflow though? LiveScience.
- VEIN HOPE: If you need an intravenous drip a nurse must find a vein to insert it into, and that’s not always simple. The Eyes-On Glasses System makes veins easy to see. The smart glasses use near-infrared light to highlight deoxygenated hemoglobin in a patient’s veins. Stereoscopic cameras project images of the veins onto the see-through glass screens, can record videos and stills, and send data via Bluetooth, WiFi or 3G. The glasses include dual built-in speakers for video conferencing, and run off a belt-mounted power supply and computer. That sounds like a must-have for any hospital. Computerworld.
- OFFICE ON THE GO: La Fonction’s No. 1 leather laptop bag doesn’t just carry your computer, but unfolds to create a mobile workstation with privacy screens too. The laptop itself sits in an inside pocket. Unfold the case so the wings screen each side, keeping reflections off the screen but also stopping anyone beside you from looking at your work. The wings also handily store stuff you may need, such as pens and notebooks. A detachable pocket on the outside holds bulkier items such as a power cord. Add speakers for an interesting if tiny home theatre. La Fonction. Video:
- WHAT’S THAT YOU SAY?: Background noise makes it hard for anyone to hear clearly, but the hearing impaired have a particular problem with it. Researchers at Ohio State University can help people recognise more spoken words in a noisy environment. A computer algorithm handles the task by classifying the noisy speech and retaining only the parts where speech dominates the noise. In tests the algorithm increased recognition from a low of 10% to as high as 90%. It was most successful when it removed a background of a babble of other voices, though it also performed well against a background of a stationary noise such as air conditioning. At the moment the algorithm works with recorded sound, but more powerful processors should be able to work in real time. Imagine how useful that could be for bar tenders and wait staff. Ohio State University.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 27 November 2013
- ON THE WINGS OF A JELLY: It flies in the air as a jellyfish flies in water: by pumping air downwards with a sweep of its 4 wings. The four-winged robot from New York University has a carbon-fibre frame surrounded by two pairs of thin plastic wings that open and close when driven by a motor. The robot weighs only 2 grams and could easily drift on air currents. For now it’s tethered to a power source, but if the shape and flexibility of the wings could be refined it may become powerful enough to carry a battery. A robot like this could be used for monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. That seems more useful than a balloon. New Scientist.
- KEEP AN EYE ON THE PLANET: UrtheCast’s cameras have been launched and will soon be streaming live satellite images of the Earth into any computer that asks for them. The cameras are being installed onto the International Space Station and will provide a continuous almost-live view of the surface of the Earth. That Space Station circles the Earth 16 times per day and provides coverage between 51 degrees North and 51 degrees South, which includes New Zealand. One camera has a resolution of 5 metres, while a 4K video camera can create videos up to around 90 seconds long at a resolution of 1 metre. No more waiting for Google Maps to be updated.
- STEALTH COPTER: E-volo’s VC200 Volocopter seats two people. Instead of a helicopter’s usual blades though it uses 18 small rotors arranged in a ring above the cabin. The rotors are driven by electric motors, making the volocopter very quiet. Test flights have shown it to be stable and smooth. The aim is for a cruising speed of at least 100 Kph with a flight duration of more than an hour. So that’s 18 motors that could fail? E-volo.
- SUNLIGHT ON THE SHIRT: Korean researchers think they could turn a shirt into a battery charger by using a flexible, inexpensive material. They found they could coat polyester yarn with nickel and then carbon, and use polyurethane as a binder and separator. The result was a flexible battery that kept working, even after being folded and unfolded many times. They were also able to integrate lightweight solar cells into the fabric to recharge the battery. I can’t see that shirt being able to go through a standard wash cycle. American Chemical Society.
- FULL-ON 3D: 3D printers generally use a single material that is uniform across the object being printed. A research team at the University of Southern California is working on being able to print objects using various materials with various qualities, all at the same time. For example, a pair of tweezers may need a hard portion for the grip, but softer portions for the hinge and tips. The team are using a pool of resin hardened by laser. But instead of using a single laser working point by point they’re projecting a 2D laser image of the entirety of each layer, and changing the duration of parts of the projection to vary hardness. The result is also a quicker print. That makes a lot of sense. GigaOm.
Tech Universe: Thursday 28 November 2013
- TURN WATER INTO ROOFING: A disaster happens. Relief comes, including shipping pallets loaded with plastic bottles full of drinking water. But rather than throw those bottles and pallets away, creating waste and pollution, the Home2O Roof project turns them into shelter. Their specialised plastic pallet can be deconstructed into 5 perforated layers that can be snapped apart to make beams. Empty water bottles are crushed into a concave shape so they nest and interlock. Screw on the cap to attach the bottles to the beams. Assembled, the bottles and pallet layers create a lightweight roof that sheds water and ventilates heat. The roof can be easily lifted onto a shelter by one person. That’s a very creative way to repurpose what would otherwise be waste. Home2O.
- NOW HEAR THIS: Hearing assistance devices have a microphone, a way to process sound and then some kind of speakers. Interestingly, a smartphone offers the same functions, which led US hearing researchers to develop a smartphone app called The EarMachine. The free app allows a user to control how sound is processed and is smart enough to learn what the user prefers. Clever. EarMachine.
- SWEET PAIN RELIEF: Some diabetics must inject themselves with insulin several times each day. US researchers may have developed an easier way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels: biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticles injected into the skin. The nanoparticles are made out of polylactic-co-glycolic acid and are filled with insulin. Charged coatings cause the particles to create a network instead of dispersing throughout the body thus creating a reservoir of insulin. A small handheld device can then apply focused ultrasound waves to the site of the nano-network and release a dose of insulin as required. After a few weeks another injection of nanoparticles is required to boost the insulin supply again. The concept has been tested and found to work on mice. An injection once every few weeks rather than several times per day: what a relief! North Carolina State University.
- TINNY THINKING: Just when we’re getting used to the idea of how useful graphene is researchers have come up with an alternative: Stanene, a single layer of tin atoms. A team of theoretical physicists claims the material could conduct electricity with 100% efficiency at the temperatures that computer chips operate at. That could make for faster computers that use less power. If it works as predicted and if manufacturers can actually integrate it. Kurzweil.
- TOWERING POWER: Off the shore of Belgium is the 6-MW Haliade 150 wind turbine that can power approximately 5,000 households. The turbine’s nacelle stands 100 metres above the waves, its blades are over 73 metres long, and it’s supported on pillars sunk more than 60 metres into the seabed. The turbine uses a permanent-magnet generator which reduces the number of mechanical parts requiring maintenance. I wonder what the damage is like when one of those things has a spill. Clean Technica.
Tech Universe: Friday 29 November 2013
- BARK TO START: So your service dog can load your dirty laundry in the washing machine. But now what? You have to turn the machine on for yourself? JTM Service say No: their Woof to Wash washing machine allows the dog to do everything, including turning it on. The washing machine has a special button activated by a dog’s paw and a rope to open the door, while the wash cycle starts with a bark. What happens when the dog barks at other times? JTM Service.
- NEW SQUEEZE: Researchers at the UCLA have taken to squeezing cells to diagnose cancer with a high degree of accuracy. Conventional tests can involve complicated and time-consuming dyeing or molecular labeling yet still not be very accurate. The squeezing technique runs pleural fluid through microscale fluid conduits. The conduits squeeze cells on the way through and measure their response. Cancer cells have a different architecture and are softer than healthy cells so they distinguish themselves by deforming differently. The technique is fast and accurate and could increase diagnostic accuracy for the detection of cancer cells in body fluid samples. A quicker diagnosis should please everyone. UCLA.
- WASTED WASTE: Pilus Energy say that sewage is full of potential energy but we’re just wasting it. Their microbial fuel cell aims to harness that energy instead with genetically modified bacteria. Bacteria anaerobically metabolise materials in sewage and waste water, producing both hydrogen gas and direct current electricity. The hydrogen can be used locally or compressed and sent elsewhere. Remaining waste water can then go on to the sewage treatment plant. The company say their bacteria are non-pathogenic, avirulent and don’t produce CO2. That’s a whole new class of worker. Pilus Energy.
- INSPECTOR GADGET: Where roads or railways run through tunnels regular inspections are needed to watch for cracks and other problems. To do those inspections the tunnels must usually be shut down. Robinspect is a robot to do the job. An autonomous vehicle with a robotic arm uses various sensors and lasers to make highly accurate measurements of the inside of the tunnel during a single pass. The robot knows when to stop and examine a crack, joint or discolouration more closely and make detailed measurements. It can also report on features such as missing, loose or discoloured bolts. The robot should mean potential problems are identified and fixed earlier, reducing costs and making tunnels safer and allowing traffic to flow more freely with fewer disruptions. So that’s why the tunnels are closed so often. Robinspect.
- HOT SPOTS: Carbon nanotubes could be really useful in electronic devices, but since they’re only 1 atom thick junctions are impossible to solder together. A team at the University of Illinois have found a useful way to get around that. The ends of the nanotubes heat up when a current passes through them thanks to resistance. If nanotubes are placed in a chamber of gas molecules and then have current passed through, a process called chemical vapor deposition deposits metal at the hotspots, effectively soldering them together. The team say this is a quick, easy and low-cost way to make the connections. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.