Recently I was offered the chance to review the mPowerpad 2 Ultra with mPowerpack personal solar charger. What I didn’t know when I accepted was that our summer in Wellington was about to be utterly miserable, with sunshine a scarce commodity. Honestly, it seems like maybe only 1 or 2 days of each week brought sunshine, with the rest bringing cloud, rain and even fog. That didn’t get us off to a good start, and may even have coloured this review.
In the package
I received an mPowerpad 2 Ultra solar unit with charging adaptor. The unit includes the mPowerpack 25 removable battery as well as several white lights, an FM radio, an SOS signal capability and a mosquito repellant sound.
Loading up with charge
I started by putting the charger outside over several sunny days to give it a full charge. Those sunny days were spaced out and not consecutive, thanks to the frequent cloudy days. I just couldn’t seem to get the device fully charged though and ended up plugging it in to the wall overnight out of desperation.
That brought its own problems as the plug the review item came with didn’t fit the standard New Zealand wall socket. I had to go in search of a universal travel adapter first.
Specifications of the review unit
mPowerpad 2 Ultra: 3300 mAh + 2500 mAh pocket battery pack, charger, reading light, flashlight SOS, FM radio, ultrasonic insect repellant.
mPowerpack 25: 2500 mAh, flashlight.
Help and support
The device came with two pieces of folded paper that comprise the manual, with some further information available at the website.
Eventually though the panel was fully charged and I set about charging up my iPhone, iPad and Kindle.
The results varied and were a bit puzzling. When the devices charged they did so quickly, without question. But what was going on with my iPad? I’d plug it in, confirm it was charging and set it aside. Later I’d check, see it hadn’t gained much charge and was no longer being charged. I’d pull plugs, jiggle a few things and get it charging again, only to find it would stop after a while before being full. I didn’t find any resolution to this problem.
I was mainly interested in the unit’s ability to charge devices but gave the other functions a quick whirl. We don’t really have mosquitoes in Wellington so I didn’t test that function. The various white lights worked. The SOS feature blinked the lights in the expected short and long pattern.
The radio was able to tune in and play the station. Even at maximum volume though the built-in speaker was only barely audible. There is an audio out port for headphones, and when I tested I found much better volume. Interestingly, after removing the headphones I also found I was able to increase the volume from 4 lights to all lights and it was audible through the built-in speaker. Why couldn’t I achieve that volume before? After all, I was scrolling and pressing and scrolling some more.
Using these functions wasn’t easy and leads to a suggestion to the manufacturers and designers: radically overhaul that aspect of use, please.
To select a function you must scroll the wheel on the side of the device, then depress the wheel. I found this difficult at best as random items seemed to light up and depressing the button is hard on the fingers.
I’d try to select radio but the reading light would go on, or the anti-mosquito sound. It seemed to take a lot of fumbling to eventually select my actual target. I repeatedly found myself saying
No! That’s not what I want!
After removing the mPowerpack I put the mPowerpad 2 Ultra in the sun and tried charging my iPhone. At first that didn’t seem to work, but after fiddling with the On/Off button and scroll wheel and making sure it was set to Battery I finally got the thing working — until I went to check it a few moments later and found charging had stopped. Why?
The mPowerpack is an extremely lightweight removable battery that slots into the mPowerpad. The battery charges from the solar panel or from a power source such as a laptop or a wall outlet, and can be easily slipped out, put in a pocket and used to charge devices on-the-go. It also includes a white light.
I found this part of the whole thing worked nicely and easily. One puzzle is that on the bottom next to the light is something that looks like a button but doesn’t depress, slide or lift up. Its purpose is a mystery.
The manual tells me that with the whole unit charging in the sun the mPowerpack will always get charged first. With no sunlight it seems the unit’s internal batteries charge the mPowerpack if the unit is switched on.
After huge initial excitement I was disappointed. The unit is harder to use than it should be and doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped. When it charges it does charge quickly. I had the constant feeling though that I was doing something right and should refer to the manual. When I did refer to the two small printed sheets of paper I found minimal help and remained uncertain.
The unit just feels really hard to use, and it shouldn’t be. Surely charging a device from a solar panel should be a plug and play kind of activity.
I’d suggest taking the trouble to charge the unit from the wall before relying on the solar panel, and choose carefully the features you actually need before buying. It would probably be worth getting the higher capacity mPowerpack 50 battery as that seemed the most useful part of the whole thing.
As I come to the end of this review I realise that perhaps the best way to approach this device would be to see the removable battery, the mPowerpack, as the central and most important item, with the solar panel, the mPowerpad 2, as a handy charging accessory, rather than the other way round.
Overall, my feeling is one of disappointment. Perhaps Wellington’s rotten summer weather set me up for that, but I don’t think it’s all down to the weather …
Tech Universe: Monday 17 February 2014
- HELMET HEAD: Fancy a bit of underwater touring? The Aqua Star underwater scooter could be the thing. The battery powered vehicle can carry 2 people for up to 2.5 hours at a speed of 5 Kph. Dual engines allow for both vertical and horizontal movement at the same time — it can dive down to 12 metres. The vehicle includes scuba tanks and a built-in helmet, providing up to 70 minutes of oxygen. Would you really want to be the pillion passenger underwater? PhysOrg.
- SLIDING SPEED: Checking biopsy samples for signs of cancer is labour intensive and time consuming, especially if you include the time and effort of preparing slides for study under a microscope. Researchers at University of Washington developed a prototype microfluidic device to make the process easier. The prototype can perform the basic steps for processing a biopsy, using fluid transport to process the tissue and keeping the original tissue biopsy intact to produce a 3D image. The device is only in its early stages, but in future may allow for a cancer diagnosis within minutes. University of Washington.
- ROBOT, WHERE ART THOU?: If you’ve ever queued for hours to get into a museum or art gallery only to spend the next hour pushing through crowds and trying to see over heads you may appreciate the Tate Britain gallery’s new robot viewing programme. After Dark is an online experience that allows people all over the world to explore Tate Britain at night. Robots will travel around the galleries at night, controlled by viewers via a web site. Viewers will be able to chat with others online at the same time, making the visit a shared experience, though they may still have to queue to control the robot. At least you’ll be queuing in the comfort of your own home. BBC.
- CROWDS OF SCIENCE: People with great ideas for gadgets use sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to get the general public to fund them. But what about science? Not to be left out, the Experiment site handles crowdfunding for science. With projects such as Using Genetic Techniques to Protect Fiji’s Fisheries and Are microbes melting the Greenland ice sheet? and fields as diverse as palaeontology, engineering and education there’s probably something to interest most folks. If you’re a scientist and you know it, click the mouse. Experiment.
- BRIGHT LIGHTS: The Czech Republic is soon to be home to the High Repetition-Rate Advanced Petawatt Laser System. The high power laser will deliver peak powers greater than one petawatt (1,000,000,000,000,000 watts) at a repetition rate of 10 Hz, with each pulse lasting less than 30 femtoseconds, or 0.00000000000003 seconds. This will make possible scientific research in areas such as medical imaging, particle acceleration, biophysics, chemistry and quantum physics. Rocket science is so mundane these days. Lawrence Livermore National Labs.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 18 February 2014
- CUTTING EDGE: Surgeons removing cancerous tumours must cut carefully to remove cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Even with high-powered magnifiers it’s hard to spot cancer cells. Special glasses from Washington University will make it easier. The glasses use video, a head-mounted display and a targeted molecular agent that attaches to cancer cells, making them glow when viewed with the glasses. Tumours as small as 1 mm in diameter can be spotted with the aid of the glasses. That’s a great boost to precision and accuracy. Washington University.
- CELL BLOCK C: Some researchers have been printing living cells with what amounts to an inkjet printer. But that technique leaves many of the cells damaged or dead. Scientists at Houston Methodist Research Institute are taking a different approach. Their method of Block-Cell-Printing not only leaves almost 100% of the cells alive but also lets the researchers use many different cell types. BloC-Printing guides living cells into hook-like traps in a silicone mould. Cells flow down a column in the mould, past trapped cells to the next available slot, eventually creating a line of cells. When the mould is lifted away, the living cells remain behind. EurekAlert.
- AT A PINCH: The tubeless bike tire from Schwalbe has two valves instead of the more usual one. One valve allows you to inflate the chamber closest the rim to a high pressure. That keeps the tyre tight to the rim and provides a buffer for hits that could cause punctures. Meanwhile, the other valve is for the outer chamber which can be inflated to a lower pressure to reduce rolling resistance over uneven ground and provide greater traction. No tube, but twice as much pumping. BikeRadar.
- CLOTHES MAKE THE SKATER: At this year’s Winter Olympics the US speed skating team are wearing heavily designed Mach 39 suits. The athletes weren’t just measured in the usual way, but instead wore motion capture sensors while being tracked while skating. The data was used to create fibreglass mannequins in various poses that underwent tests in wind tunnels to discover how different materials and designs affected air flow. The results shaped the design of the suits which used moulded polyurethane, different materials and tiny dimples in the fabric to modify airflow. Meanwhile, in the actual event, it seems vents at the back to allow for airflow may be slowing the athletes down. Where does technology end and athleticism begin? New Scientist.
- DEAD AHEAD: That GPS navigation system in your car can be very helpful, except when the signal drops in dead areas. That’s no longer a problem with the u-blox 3D Dead Reckoning chip. The chip uses accelerometers, gyroscopes, and speed sensors to calculate the exact location reached since the last GPS data was received. It measures direction, speed and distance travelled. That’s a time-honoured method of dead reckoning that could come in very handy. U-blox.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 19 February 2014
- WHEELS UP: So you’re a wheelchair user who drives a car. That involves a lot of messing about transferring to and from the car, folding and unfolding the chair, stowing the chair and so on. Kenguru takes a different approach: you stay in your chair. The car has a single large rear door, operated by remote, that lifts up, and a ramp that drops down to allow the wheelchair to enter. The single-person electric car has a top speed of 40 Kph, a range of 96 Km and takes 8 hours to fully recharge. The steering wheel comes in the form of a handlebar or joystick, while large windows provide great visibility. A simple, clever idea that could transform lives. Kenguru.
- SCOOT SCOOT: The URB-E electric scooter can run 32 Km on a single charge, and has a top speed of 24 Kph, but its biggest feature is that it folds up to about the size of a small wheeled shopping bag. That means you can easily take it on the bus or tain, especially since it weighs only 12 Kg. You can add a small rack to carry a briefcase too. The scooter’s made from machined recyclable aircraft grade aluminium and the Lithium Ion battery takes 3 hours to charge. Bus to office in a jif. URB-E. Video:
- BOOT SCOOT: Colombia is just one of many countries where active landmines are a danger to the general population. But one Colombian designer is working on shoes that can alert the wearer to the presence of a landmine nearby. The idea is to add a metal detector to the shoe, with a sensor that sends a signal to a device on the wearer’s wrist. The device is still being developed, but it sounds like a good idea. VOA News. Video:
- IN HER EAR: A cochlear implant electrically stimulates the auditory nerve, helping many people around the world to hear. The implants require a small transmitter to be attached to the skull, with a wire down to a joint microphone and power source by the ear. Researchers at MIT have developed a low-power signal-processing chip that could wirelessly recharge a cochlear implant. The implant would run for about 8 hours per charge. Instead of using an external microphone the new implant would make use of the ability of the ear to hear sounds and use a low-power chip to convert that sound to an electrical signal. Not needing the external device would mean wearers wouldn’t need to worry about it being damaged by water or getting lost or broken. That the device is even less visible is a bonus too. MIT News.
- THINK UP: Thanks to researchers at the University of Minnesota you can fly a quadcopter just by thinking about it. You need an EEG cap with 64 attached electrodes that pick up signals from the brain’s motor cortex. The signals go to a computer, are decoded, then sent via WiFi to control the quadcopter. Students testing the system need 10 to 20 hours training on a virtual system before working with the real thing. In future a system like this could let people with disabilities more easily perform everyday tasks such as using the Internet. Presumably training for one purpose, such as flying a quadcopter also develops the skills you need for something like operating a cursor. National Science Foundation .
Tech Universe: Thursday 20 February 2014
- WHALE OF A COUNT: One way to survey whales is to circle above them in a small plane and count. That’s a risky business though and finding a way to automate the count would be a good idea. The DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 platform uses extremely high-resolution satellite pictures and image-processing software to detect whales on or near the ocean’s surface. Tests with counting southern right whales off the coast of Argentina showed the automated count captured 89% of the whales spotted in a manual search of the images. Researchers hope that higher resolution satellite images and improved image processing will boost that accuracy and allow researchers to track other species and in more locations. And I bet small planes can’t get very far out to sea either. Discovery News.
- CHIPPING AWAY AT COSTS: When manufacturers make paper they take biomass such as wood chips and separate the material into lignine and cellulose, then use the cellulose to make paper. That separation’s not an easy thing to do though. It’s a costly process that needs high pressures and temperatures. A new biodegradable solvent produces very pure lignine and requires much less energy than traditional methods. The solvent should lead to at least 40% lower energy costs and 20% less CO2 emissions in paper production. That’s a huge energy savings Eindhoven University of Technology.
- THE DIMENSIONS OF CRIME: Police in Queensland will soon use the Zebedee handheld laser scanner to map crime scenes. The 3D scanner has already been used in mining, and in capturing the inside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa but will allow police to make better images of crime scenes. While someone walks through an area the LiDAR scanner moves on a spring that allows an inertial measurement unit to do its work, meaning no GPS is required. Software later takes the data points and prepares a 3D image from the capture. It’s not clear how fine the resolution is: had the vase been moved or not? Computerworld.
- POINT, THEN SHOOT: Shooting something, or someone, on purpose involves correctly lining up the target in the sights before pulling the trigger. TrackingPoint rifles use a laser range finder to lock onto a moving target, add a virtual tag to the target and stop the gun from being fired if the target isn’t correctly lined up. Meanwhile, software in the scope compensates for 16 variables, including temperature, the expected spin drift of the bullet and the direction the wind is blowing. The US Army is testing the weapons for use in places like Afghanistan where military targets may be mixed in with civilians and accuracy is absolutely essential. If it helps reduce unintended shootings that must be a good thing. BBC.
- HOVERING: Flat land, flat water, even choppy water: the Amphibious Trimaran with Aerostatic Discharge can cross them all. The amphibious vehicle is a combination of hovercraft, airboat and pontoon inflatable boat. It’s the kind of thing that would be very useful in the debris-filled streets of a flooded city, on sensitive mudflats and even on the dangerous ice of a Canadian lake in winter. The vehicle shows exceptional stability at speeds of up to 90 Kph over water or 120 Kph over snow and ice. The deck can be arranged for passenger seating, cargo or a mixture of both, and has standing room for up to 9 people, plus the pilot. The vehicle is driven by a single readily available 140 hp 2.0 L Ford Duratec car engine and would be suitable for rescue or military operations, as well as research, hunting, fishing and just having fun. Get ready to ride.
Tech Universe: Friday 21 February 2014
- WARM HANDS COLD SNOW: Snowboarders and others who routinely go out and about in freezing temperatures may be interested in the Chaval Response-XRT heated gloves. Lithium-Polymer batteries provide enough juice for a full day of downhill skiing. The heavy leather gloves include a thin layer of polymer heating film and are programmed to be able to regulate the temperature separately in different parts of the glove as the hands cool or warm. How about some solar panels on there too? GearJunkie.
- SHINE A LITTLE LIGHT: Big stores like to know where their shoppers are in the building because then they can do much more personalised marketing, perhaps offering coupons based on what the shopper is looking at. Philips have a system that uses the store’s lights to determine location. The idea is that connected lights in the store establishes a grid. An app on the phone exchanges data with the lights and so locates the shopper on that grid. The customer’s phone app may then receive coupons, directions to complementary ingredients or other offers. Even the lights are spying on us. GigaOm.
- MOVE THE MOUNTAIN: There’s a lot of work underway to find the best way to deliver drugs to tumours, but US researchers are working on bringing cancer cells to a drug instead. Glioblastoma cells in the brain move around by latching on to nerves and blood vessels. The researchers created a polymer rod 6 millimetres long. Inside is a thin film that mimics nerves and blood vessels. The brain cancer cells in tests worked their way up the rod, then met a blob of gel that killed them. Analysis showed the cancer cells were actually moving rather than just growing in a new spot. The technique could be useful for moving cancerous tumours to locations where they are more easily removed. Little did they know the fate awaiting them at the end of their journey. New Scientist.
- MAPS IN SPACE: Need a good map of Ganymede, Jupiter’s seventh moon? NASA has you covered with the first global geologic map of Ganymede. The surface of the moon is more than half as large as all the land area on Earth. The map combines the best images obtained during various flybys since 1979 and illustrates surface features, such as furrows, grooves and impact craters. That’s sure to be handy if you’re ever driving that way. NASA.
- DONE WITH MAGNETS: To keep your food cold you put it in a fridge. That fridge uses a chemical refrigerant and a compressor to do its work. GE found a way to use a water-based fluid instead, passing it through a series of magnets in order to transfer heat. This magnetocaloric technology was developed more than a century ago but the materials it required to be efficient at room temperature have only recently been created. The team are currently working on making the device small enough to fit in a household fridge and in making a large drop in temperature require only a small amount of power. Let’s hope it’ll stop the fridge from whirring, buzzing, clicking and moaning too. Inhabitat.
Yesterday I watched and enjoyed the movie Wadjda by Haifaa Al Mansour.
[It] tells the story of an 11-year-old girl growing up in traditional society in the suburbs of Riyadh and desperate for a bicycle, which she’s not allowed. …
Al Mansour hopes that Wadjda will help to change attitudes to both women and films in Saudi Arabia. “I hope it will inspire many girls in Saudi to become filmmakers,” she said. “That makes me very proud.
“People have contacted me with death threats, but that doesn’t matter to me. …
While she is in Saudi, Al Mansour only watches movies rented from a DVD shop. She has to send her driver to the shop with a list of the titles she wants, because women are not allowed inside. …
“Casting a woman in Saudi is almost impossible. It’s difficult to find women who are willing to challenge the norms and appear on camera,” she said. …
“Casting the girl took a long time,” said Al Mansour. “We couldn’t advertise for auditions, so it had to be through word of mouth. We looked everywhere around the country and it wasn’t until one week before filming that we found the right girl.”
The key themes of the movie are of movement and autonomy, represented by Wadjda’s dream of owning and riding a bicycle in a context where we see her mother enduring long hot car rides to and from work, being driven by a rude and unpleasant hired male driver.
Many scenes in the movie show us Wadjda at school where girls are taught to speak quietly so the men outside the walls can’t hear them, to stay out of sight of men, and that they cannot have items like cassette tapes or bracelets.
But Wajdja is a rebel, and an entrepreneur, finding ways to raise money so she can buy the bicycle she wants. She makes and sells bracelets, for example, makes bargains and trades, and wears blue sneakers under her plain grey or black dress. Most tellingly, she enters a Koran competition, joining the religious club at school, in order to win the prize money for her bike.
I realised early on that I know virtually nothing about Saudi Arabia. I’m sure there were many things in the movie that just passed me by because I didn’t understand the cultural references. Also the movie was paced differently than many others I’ve seen. The story itself was clear though: that things can change, that movement is possible, that horizons can expand, that there is wiggle room in an oppressive culture.
I have no idea if unrelated male and female children in Saudi Arabia are allowed to talk or play together, and suspect it’s at least discouraged. But Wadjda and a neighbour boy, Abdullah, are friends. They often travel to school together, and Abdullah teaches Wadjda to ride his bike.
One thing I discovered from the movie: the Arabic language fascinates me. It is so fluid. It seems there are two ways of reciting the Koran: one way is to speak the words, but the other way is to almost sing the words:
The proper recitation of the Quran is the subject of a separate discipline named Tajwid which determines in detail how the Quran should be recited, how each individual syllable is to be pronounced, the need to pay attention to the places where there should be a pause, to elisions, where the pronunciation should be long or short, where letters should be sounded together and where they should be kept separate, etc.…
There are two types of recitation: murattal is at a slower pace, used for study and practice. Mujawwad refers to a slow recitation that deploys heightened technical artistry and melodic modulation, as in public performances by trained experts. It is directed to and dependent upon an audience for the mujawwad reciter seeks to involve the listeners.
The sung version was just beautiful. I’m interested now to find out more about the Koran, even though I’m not a religious person. I’m also interested to learn a little Arabic. I did make a start on that a few years ago, though quickly lapsed. Best of all, I guess, would be if somehow the Arabic language just inserted itself into my brain, skipping that awkward and annoying step of actually having to learn it.
Anyway: the movie’s on the US iTunes Store, available for rental or purchase. I recommend it.
This morning I watched 2 brief videos that I thought nicely complemented each other. The first is a fascinating 4 minute video about how reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone has wrought huge change to flora, fauna and even the physical world:
The term “trophic cascade” refers to the top-down alteration of an ecosystem caused when predators change the habits and numbers of their prey, thus reducing predation on the lower trophic level (or intensity of grazing if the intermediate trophic level is an herbivore).
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after a 70 year absence, the trophic cascade was profound, ultimately affecting the very course of rivers.
The wolves affected where deer hung out, numbers of other birds and animals, how they affected the trees and other plants and how that affected other forms of wildlife like beaver, otters and muskrats which in turn changed even river flows.
In short, where we make even small changes to how the natural world is working we spark a chain of events with huge consequences.
A short while later I found myself viewing another 4 minute video, that shows where such chains of unintended consequences could end up. The second video, a showcase of Mars, comes from the European Space Agency:
From the highest volcano to the deepest canyon, from impact craters to ancient river beds and lava flows, this showcase of images from ESA’s Mars Express takes you on an unforgettable journey across the Red Planet.
A stunning sequence of what would be mountains, canyons, rivers, lakes and lush plains, if only Mars weren’t a sphere of dry, arid dust, highlights one potential fate of our own Earth.
The images of Mars are sweeping, gorgeous, impressive. We could easily imagine water in rivers, lakes and oceans, but there is none. It’s a dry, dead planet.
We are so privileged to live on a lush, living world, where every living thing has its role to play.
Tech Universe: Monday 10 February 2014
- STEP BY STEP: When you buy new shoes they usually come with a flimsy little insole designed to suit all feet. Your feet though are unique. Sols insoles are custom designed then 3D printed in nylon and all you need to do is provide a video of your foot. A 10 second video provides a complete set of data points used to generate a highly-accurate model for the 3D printer. The insoles are ultra-thin, washable, and odour-proof orthotics that store and return up to 75% percent of energy output in each footstep. That’s easy. Sols. Video:
- DROP BY DROP: It’s always raining or snowing somewhere on Earth, and soon the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory will know exactly where that is thanks to its observations every 3 hours. The international satellite network carries 2 instruments to measure and observe small particles of rain, ice and snow: the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar and the GPM Microwave Imager. Together, DPR and GMI will observe the size, intensity and distribution of raindrops and snowflakes. The Observatory will fly 407 Km above Earth in an orbit inclined 65 degrees to the equator, and provide data useful for studying climate change, freshwater resources, floods and droughts, and hurricane formation and tracking. Good water information is so essential. NASA.
- UNDERGROUND INTELLIGENCE: Farmers are keen to irrigate crops with just the right amount of water: use too much and it wastes water and money and can damage crops, while too little can stunt growth. How to establish the right amount of water is a challenge that could be helped with sensors ploughed into the fields. The University of Manchester is currently testing low-cost, low-power sensors that will measure soil temperature and moisture content then transmit the data wirelessly to the surface. An RFID reader mounted on a tractor collects the data as it moves over each node and also provides power to the sensor. Data beats guesswork every time. New Scientist.
- MORE ZAP: Electricity often flows through copper wires, but with enough current the wire may heat up and deform. By combining copper with carbon nanotubes Japanese researchers realised a 100 times higher maximum allowable current density yet with an electric conductivity equivalent to that of copper. The composite is not likely to deform very much with a large current either. More current, less heat: it sounds as though electronics could get a boost. Tech-on!
- ROCKETY SPLIT: A rocket launch is one of the loudest noises ever created by humans. It’s so loud that the spacecraft itself could suffer physical damage. That’s why the ESA’s Large European Acoustic Facility exists. It’s a huge sound chamber where engineers test spacecraft to make sure they won’t fall apart during launch. Pieces of rockets are hung inside the 15 metre tall room and wired with sensors. Then enormous speakers recreate the sound of a launch. The engineers say no human could survive inside the room during a test, so the soundproofing of the chamber is pretty important. Gizmodo.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 11 February 2014
- ONE TWO THREE: A 1 litre, 2 seater 3 wheeled car that uses 2.8 litres of petrol per 100 Km and can reach speeds of over 160 Kph — that’s the Elio. The composite body panels and solid body help keep the car quiet. It’s a compact car where the passenger sits behind the driver, and the boot can hold an airline carry-on bag. The low cost car runs on an inline, 3 cylinder, 0.9 litre, 55 HP, fuel-injected, SOHC gas-powered, liquid-cooled, automotive engine. It’s definitely distinctive. Elio Motors.
- A SENSE OF TOUCH: A prosthetic arm and hand can change the life of an amputee. But if the hand can’t sense how firmly or delicately to grasp an object it’s still rather clumsy. European researchers connected touch sensors in an artificial hand to electrodes surgically embedded in the remains of nerves in an amputee’s upper arm. A computer converted the sensor output into a form the nerves could recognise. In tests the wearer was able to control how forcefully he grasped objects, and feel their shape and stiffness, as well as distinguishing between objects by shape and firmness. The system needs further work to make it truly wearable, and a great deal more testing, but it brings more hope for amputees. Live Science.
- THE HUNGER BALLOONS: With a balloon in your stomach you’ll feel full faster, eat less and lose weight. The Obalon gastric balloon system comes in the form of a capsule you swallow. It has a tiny tube attached that’s used to inflate the balloon, but then detaches and is removed. The balloon stays in the stomach for a month, then up to 2 more balloons can be added if necessary. Eventually though a doctor uses an endoscope to remove the balloons. The Obalon system aims to help obese people avoid gastric bypass surgery. That balloon would need to be pretty tough. Obalon. Video:
- COLD, COLDER, COLDEST: While space is extremely cold — around 3 degrees Kelvin — NASA plans to make an even colder spot, aboard the International Space Station. The Cold Atom Lab aims to reach a low temperature of 100 pico-Kelvin. That’s one ten-billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, possible because of the low gravity on the ISS. At that temperature, in theory at least, all the thermal activity of atoms stops, making the concepts of solid, liquid and gas irrelevant and creating new forms of energy. The team will be working with Bose-Einstein Condensates which show quantum effects. That’s definitely cool research. Geek.
- ARE YOU THERE?: After an avalanche rescuers have around 15 minutes to recover alive anyone who’s trapped. Avalanche transceivers help locate victims, but are very expensive so many skiers and walkers don’t carry one. What most people do carry though is a smartphone so the Galileo-LawinenFon system from the Fraunhofer Institute hooks in to that. The system processes magnetic field signals in 3D for pinpoint accuracy, and also uses the combined signals of the USA’s GPS, Europe’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS satellite systems. The Galileo-SmartLVS is a dongle connected to the mobile phone via USB. It includes a 3D magnetic field antenna for picking up signals, an analog-digital converter, a satellite navigation receiver, acceleration sensors and a reserve battery. An app takes all the data and makes it useful for searchers. The system has been successfully tested and should be available in a couple of years, though researchers hope to increase its range from the current 30 metres. That 30 metre range could severely hamper its usefulness. Fraunhofer Institute.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 12 February 2014
- HIGH ON SNORING: Snoring can be very disruptive, but the Snore Activated Nudging Pillow with included microphone could be helpful. If it detects snoring it automatically inflates an internal air bladder which increases the pillow’s height by nearly 8 cm. That’s enough to wake you so you turn over and stop snoring. No 40 winks with that nudging. Gizmodo.
- RIGHT LIGHT: Wear a headlamp and it shines a light in the direction you turn your head. That may be fine for following a path, but doesn’t work so well for something like reading. The Mola Headlamp by Snow Peak does things a little differently. It uses gravity and a counterweight to compensate for the difference between head movements and eye movements. That means the light shines on where you’re looking, rather than where your head is pointing. The feature can be easily turned off if you don’t need it though. Heady stuff. Wired.
- BRAIN GAMES: If you’re a professional skier you probably have your fair share of collisions and crashes, and a helmet will protect your brain. The Skull Orbic H.I. MIPS helmet by POC is made from Expanded Polypropylene and can withstand numerous impacts before you have to replace it. The helmet includes a system of stress-strain sensors in the liner that record, collect and memorise any deformation. Once one or a combination of impacts exceed a predefined level an indicator light turns from green to red. Then it’s time for a new helmet. Go for green. Gear Junkie.
- BREATH OF LIFE: Australian researchers developed an optical fibre laser that emits 25 times more light than other lasers operating in the mid-infrared frequency range. At that wavelength many important hydrocarbon gases absorb light, meaning this could lead to more sensitive analysis, perhaps to use breath as a diagnostic tool for diseases, or to detect dangerous gases. For example, if someone has diabetes their breath will contain traces of acetone. Maybe a routine breath test will one day be something that happens at the doctor’s office rather than in a car. The University of Adelaide.
- ALL FALL DOWN: Falls can be a problem for older people who may not be able to get up again. If they live alone it may be hours or even days before help arrives. Some people carry an emergency alarm, but if they don’t have it on them or if they’re unconscious that doesn’t help much. The safe@home system takes another approach. Sensor boxes are installed on the ceiling like smoke detectors. If a box detects an emergency, it notifies an alarm unit in the home which immediately phones or uses the Internet to call for help. The system uses highly sensitive optical and acoustic sensors that determine the location and condition of a person as well as their movements within a room. It can detect a fall and a motionless state and also responds to cries for help. Tests have gone well and the system may be on the market late in 2014. Can it distinguish between a fall and a nap on the couch though? Fraunhofer Institute.
Tech Universe: Thursday 13 February 2014
- CHIPS WITH THAT?: The early bird may just look at the worm, leaving the catching side of things till later in the day. Researchers at the University of Oxford know this because they attached microchips to more than 2,000 songbirds to help them discover how the birds found their meals. They also fitted an array of feeding stations with microchip detectors and then moved some of the feeders every day. The problem the birds have is that over winter they must feed enough to survive, but not so much they slow down and become food for predators. The researchers found the birds scout out food locations in the morning, then feed later in the day before night falls. That means the birds can be nimble early in the day, escaping predators, and digest their meal in peace at night. So, an early bird that catches a worm may become the worm itself. Scientific American.
- GUMMING UP THE WORKS: Lithium ion batteries store a lot of energy so are widely used in computers, handhelds and even planes. But the liquid or gel electrolyte can leak and create a fire or chemical burn hazard. Now researchers at Washington State University have developed a gum-like lithium battery electrolyte which works just as well but adheres to the other battery components, reducing the risk of leakage. Many people will be glad to hear that. Washington State University.
- LESS ZAP, MORE TRAP: Mammograms are an important screening tool for detecting breast cancer, but they aren’t 100% accurate. German researchers have found a technique that counts photons allows a reduced dosage of harmful X-rays while improving the accuracy of detection. Radiological Society of North America.
- SPONGE GUN: RevMedx have a new product that could save lives on the battlefield. Their pocket-sized syringe injects small specially coated sponges into wounds. Each sponge is coated with antimicrobial, blood-clotting substance and expands from its original 1 cm size to fill a wound’s cavity and stop bleeding in 15 seconds. Compared to packing a wound with gauze it’s much quicker and more efficient. Markers on the sponge can be detected by an X-ray machine to help make sure all sponges are removed once the patient reaches the hospital. That sounds like essential equipment for any first aid kit. Discovery News.
- PILL POST: Some people have to take numerous prescriptions at specific times. Managing all the pills can be a difficult chore. The PillPack service in the US takes most of the work out of it. Send the prescriptions to the online pharmacy and they return labelled sealed packets of combinations of pills, dated and timestamped. All you have to do then is open a packet at the time it shows and take the contents. The service manages refills and ships out the packages every 2 weeks. That’s good thinking. PillPack.
Tech Universe: Friday 14 February 2014
- MAGNETIC SOUNDS: Nanomotors are rocket-shaped metal particles, perhaps made from gold-ruthenium. Get them inside a living human cell, make them active and they could homogenise the cell’s contents or act as battering rams to puncture the cell membrane. Either way, the cell could be destroyed, which could be a handy way to deal with cancer cells. One problem till now has been that until now the motors required toxic fuels and would not move in biological fluid. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University seem to have solved that problem with powerful ultrasonic waves that make the motors extremely active. The researchers are also able to steer the motors with magnetism. This finding could mean that in future such motors could perform various kinds of diagnoses and therapy. Yup, those are nanobots all right.
- STRAIGHTEN UP: Graphene can conduct electricity 200 times faster than silicon, which makes it extremely interesting for those who make computer chips. The problem is that when it’s chopped up to fit on a chip it loses those conductive properties because of uneven edges. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found a way to grow graphene, rather than chopping up larger sheets. That led to smooth edges that channel electrons and better conductivity. Let’s get those electrons flying right. GigaOm.
- BLOWING IN THE WIND: The autonomous Tumbleweed robot is designed to help researchers gather data on the spread of deserts. The robot uses light sails inside a flexible steel frame to catch the wind to drive it across the terrain. The Tumbleweed’s motion provides kinetic energy to power an onboard computer, sensors and motor. No data desert here then. Wired.
- FLY MY PRETTIES, FLY: The UK’s top secret Taranis drone has successfully flown, possibly in Australia. The flights each lasted up to an hour. The Taranis is the prototype for Britain’s first stealth combat drone. Its low profile and acute angles are designed both for speed and to avoid detection by radar. The craft, about the size of a small fighter jet and capable of carrying weapons, can fly without a pilot, but is usually controlled from the ground. Warfare becomes more remote every day. BBC. Video:
- INSIDE THE RAIL: You have trams whose wheels run inside rails, and trains whose wheels run on top of rails, but the new hybrid tram-train in Sheffield, England, has both. In 2016 the vehicle will arrive at the edge of Sheffield from Rotherham Parkgate via rail tracks and then switch seamlessly to run on tram tracks to the city centre. Passengers won’t have to switch services, making for an easier journey. One problem is that trams often make tighter turns than trains so the hybrid vehicle has to have specially designed wheels to avoid derailing at junctions and corners. Similar systems have been used in Germany, New Jersey and Ottawa, but this will be the first in the UK. Simplifying travel for the passengers will definitely be a winner. Wired.
Tech Universe: Monday 03 February 2014
- THE SPORES DID IT: Wind power we know, solar power we know, but evaporation power is a new one. A researcher at Harvard coated a sheet of rubber on one side with spores. The sheet bends when the spores dry out and then straightens when humidity rises because the spores take the water back and almost immediately restore themselves to their original shape. That bending creates the kind of movement that can be harvested to generate electricity. The researchers found that moistening a pound of dry spores would generate enough force to lift a car one metre off the ground. The prototype captures only a small percentage of the energy released by evaporation, but genetically engineering the spores to be stiffer and more elastic could improve the results. Maybe on a small scale even breathing could be used to power devices perhaps for people who use sip and puff devices to control their environment. Harvard. Video:
- BOOM BIDDI BOOM: A doctor’s regular stethoscope is really just a tube to funnel sound to the doctor’s ears. The ViScope MD though makes the stethoscope digital, meaning doctors can tune in, look at data and even record the sounds of the heart. The device is a compact stethoscope with an integrated high resolution phonocardiogram visual display, including a heart murmur indicator. The ViScope digitises the sound and has a tuneable filter that lets the doctor select specific parts of the heart sound to listen to. It can also store up to four 10 second patient waveforms for documentation. Keep an eye on that heart murmur. HD Medical.
- A LITTLE SLIP: Hard water rich in dissolved salts and minerals leaves a scaly deposit on the kettle, the water pipes and any other surfaces it stays in contact with. That can be simply annoying in the kitchen, but in pipelines and valves that deliver oil and gas or that carry cooling water in power plants it can reduce efficiency, increase downtime, and cause maintenance issues, sometimes even shutting down wells. Researchers at MIT may have a little something to help, reducing the rate of scale formation at least tenfold. Their approach involves roughing up the surfaces, but at the nanoscale level, and then coating it with a carefully selected lubricating liquid to create a really smooth surface that doesn’t offer points where scale can attach. The tiny nanogrooves capture the lubricant, holding it firmly in place through capillary action that allows the liquid to flow to fill any gaps, spread on the surface textures, and be replenished continually if some is washed away. Only a tiny amount of lubricant could protect a surface for decades as it’s only a few hundred nanometers thick. Researchers say the system could be ready for commercial applications in as little as 3 years. That’s a small scale operation. MIT News.
- WINNING BY A WHISKER: Our skin helps us sense temperature, air pressure, touch and other things. That’s a sensitivity that many robots need too, for example, if they are to pick up delicate objects. Meanwhile animals, such as cats use their whiskers to locate objects, navigate through water and more. US researchers created tactile sensors, or whiskers, from high-aspect-ratio elastic fibres coated with conductive composite films of nanotubes and nanoparticles. The whiskers respond to a single Pascal of pressure — about the pressure exerted on a horizontal surface by a dollar bill. In a proof-of-concept test the whiskers demonstrated highly accurate 2D and 3D mapping of wind flow. They could also be used to detect objects nearby or be used in wearable sensors for measuring heartbeat and pulse rate. Will whisker sensors one day be trendy on humans? Berkeley Lab.
- DINNER AT THE BEEP: The Petnet Smartfeeder aims to help you control the weight of your cat or dog by monitoring and controlling their feeding. A plastic canister holds dry food in the top part and dispenses it on schedule in a bottom tray. The feeder connects to a smartphone so you can control portion size and feeding times and track your pet’s calorie intake. Reminders to the phone inform you about feeding times, meals, food inventory and battery life. Wait till the cat gets hold of that smartphone though. Petnet. Video:
Tech Universe: Tuesday 04 February 2014
- SPOT FISHING: Like to head out in the boat for a spot of fishing? All you have to do is first find the fish. The Fish Hunter sonar connects to your smartphone so you can find the fish faster. It features GPS, a catch logbook, and lets you track weather and lunar cycles. The small device is shock resistant and watertight. Attach it to a line, toss it in the water and check the app for the data it’s sending back. The sonar reports via Bluetooth up to 25 metres away on water depth and temperature, the contours of the bottom and at what depth the fish are swimming. The internal 3.6 VDC 600 mAh battery powers around 6 to 9 hours of continuous use on the water surface. Now all they need is guided fishing lines. Fish Hunter.
- ON THE GRID: Electricity is fundamental in our modern society so we need to keep a careful watch on the power grid and infrastructure. Existing sensors to monitor these things have needed power supplies and signal conditioners. A passive smart sensor from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University can produce large and clear output voltage signals 2,000 times higher than current sensors. The chip is around 1 mm thick and can be placed on any sensing point of interest such as electrical cables, conductors and junctions. It detects magnetic fields generated by electricity and recognises telltale changes of currents within electrical equipment. The smart wireless sensors can be used in otherwise inaccessible locations to notify potential and actual failures. That’s smart to get rid of the need for power. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
- PRINT FUN: 3D printing can be particularly useful for designers and manufacturers, but combining different materials and achieving different colours can be hard work. The Objet500 Connex3 Color Mutli-material 3D Printer combines droplets of three base materials, reducing the need for separate print runs and painting. It incorporates traditional 2D printer colour mixing, using cyan, magenta and yellow to be able to create hundreds of colour combinations in base materials of rubber and plastic. That means end products of widely varying flexibility and rigidity, transparency and opacity. The printer should help industrial designers halve the time it takes to bring prototypes to market. You know you’ll always be out of cyan when you need it. BBC.
- WALL SCREEN: Sony’s 4K Ultra Short Throw Projector looks like a piece of furniture but uses laser technology to project a 373 cm image at 4K resolution onto a nearby wall. It includes built-in speakers and cabinets too. A 1.6x power zoom lens means you can size the image to suit the wall and the room. Make the projector look like another piece of furniture: that’s a winner. Sony.
- BLUE SCREEN: If you try to project an image onto a glass window the light will just pass straight through. Project onto a wall though and you should see the image just fine, though of course you can’t see through the wall. Researchers at MIT found a way to inexpensively and easily create transparent sheets of plastic which include nanoparticles tuned to scatter only certain colours of light, while letting all the other colours pass through. The sheet of plastic could then be attached to a window and used as a projection surface. This could be useful for a heads-up system on a car windscreen for example, or for information on a shop window. The researchers used silver nanoparticles that produced a blue image, but they say it should be possible to create full-colour displays using the same technique. It’s not clear what happens if a blue object is placed behind the transparent plastic. MIT News.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 05 February 2014
- DOWN WITH A BANG: With one ton of explosives packed into 1,500 drilled holes, the AfE Tower in Frankfurt turned into a 50,000 ton pile of rubble in only 10 seconds the other day. To stop too much dust being produced canisters of water, each containing 1,000 litres, were blown up along with the building. The University building was put up in 1972 and was briefly the tallest building in Frankfurt. It’s like dinner: takes ages to make and is gone in a flash. Deutsche Welle.
- DOWN WITH A RUSH: When the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project struck molten rock at a depth of only around 2 Km a while ago engineers decided to experiment with using the 1000 C magma to generate power. For 2 years they flowed superheated steam through the drill hole with a high degree of success until some surface equipment needed to be replaced. The experiment has shown that using magma to create electricity is a possibility and engineers plan on further tests. It’s always handy to have a nearby source of magma. io9.
- RUSHING WITH THE LIGHTWEIGHTS: Nissan’s turbocharged DIG-T R engine has a displacement of 1.5 litres and is small enough to fit in the overhead locker of a plane. What’s more it weighs only 40 Kg. But that doesn’t mean it’s a toy, as its 3 cylinders put out 400 horsepower. That means it has a better power-to-weight ratio than the V6 engines powering many Formula 1 racers. The engine will be used in a car in the experimental vehicles slot at Le Mans later this year. Small but strong. Wired.
- BOIL DRY: Cooking a meal while tramping or camping isn’t always easy or safe. The Baro Cook system could be a handy addition to a camping kit. A stainless steel bowl nests inside a plastic outer container. Put a little water in the outer container and add a single use heating pad. The water begins to boil in a few moments. Now put food in the stainless bowl inside the outer bowl. The boiling water heats the food, cooking pasta in around 20 minutes. The makers say the heating pad consists of 18 natural and environmentally friendly materials. It seems it would avoid the dangerous flames and potentially poisonous gases of other cooking methods. Just don’t let those heating pads get wet in your pack. Baro Cook.
- ROBOTS BRANCH OUT: After studying a number of birds Vishwa Robotics came up with the idea of adding legs to a drone so it could perch on a wire or branch. The legs could also let it land and walk on flat surfaces. The drone perches in an upright position with a powerful gripping action from an electric motor. An operator uses images from a camera on the drone to help position it correctly for landing. Perching on a convenient vantage point could allow a drone to be less conspicuous while using a lot less energy than is required for circling. Is that bird watching me? New Scientist.
There was no Tech Universe on Waitangi Day, 06 February 2014.
Tech Universe: Friday 07 February 2014
- A NEW ANGLE: Crushing ice at sea is the job of an icebreaker. The Baltika has a different angle on it though: instead of ploughing bow-first into the ice it has an angled hull that lets it roll over onto the ice to crush it. Water and fuel are pumped between tanks below decks so the ship doesn’t capsize. The oblique angle of attack lets the small ship create a wider path than a standard icebreaker — wide enough for a commercial vessel to follow it. The Baltika can break ice up to 60 cm thick. Rolling sideways would also let almost the full weight of the ship bear on the ice. Wired.
- JUST ADD CARBON: 3D printers can print with various materials, but the Mark One by Mark Forged adds carbon fibre to the mix, along with fibreglass, nylon and PLA. The desktop printer automatically levels the printing bed and could be used for prosthetics, custom bones, tools, and fixtures. Imagine one of these in your doctor’s office. Popular Mechanics.
- JUST ADD HOLES: Glass is brittle which leads it to shatter, but scientists at McGill University found they can increase its strength by etching lines into it. Bones, teeth and seashells use a similar technique for strength. The researchers laser cut a wavy pattern of tiny holes into glass microscope slides and then filled the pattern with polyurethane. While the curvy patterns lock the glass together they also channel and absorb energy when the glass is stressed, meaning it doesn’t shatter so easily. It’s like perforated paper really: strongest where the holes are. Science News.
- HOLE VIEW: When doctors use endoscopes they’re aiming to get a good look inside the body, so the higher the resolution and definition the better. 8K video is extremely high resolution, but 8K video cameras tend to be large. In 2002 such a camera would weigh 80 Kg, ruling it out for many uses. By 2013 such cameras weighed only 2.5 Kg and they’re expected to be only a third that size within a year or two. The Medical Imaging Consortium recently experimented with removing the gall bladder of a pig with the help of an 8K video endoscope. The extremely high resolution, stereoscopic effect and realism of the operative field makes it possible to see the boundaries of internal organs, tissue surfaces and fine sutures that are difficult to see otherwise. The endoscope can also be kept further away from what’s being studied, reducing the risk of collision and damage. A better view should lead to more precise medical procedures. improve. Tech-on!
- WATER COLOURS: While paper is comparatively cheap the ink for inkjet printers isn’t. If you’re printing things off just to read them once that gets to be an expensive business. Chinese researchers have turned things around by developing a specially coated paper and then printing on it with water. So far, they’ve printed in blue, magenta, gold and purple colours, using water as a key that activates a dye molecule. After a day though the printing disappears and the paper can be repeatedly used again, perhaps as many as 10 times. The researchers are now aiming to be able to print in black. Take a good look at those bank notes. Discovery News.
There was no Tech Universe on Monday 27 January 2014.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 28 January 2014
- HOUSE IN PRINT: Imagine you’re having a new house built. Workers prepare the building site then a 6 metre tall crane-like gantry is brought in and installed on rails either side of the house. The machine rolls back and forth extruding fast-drying concrete and building up your house layer by layer. In 24 hours it’s done, including conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning and the gantry is removed. The machine can create a 230 square metre house over a couple of working days. This 3D printer is being developed at the University of Southern California and uses contour crafting, a method of building by layering. The technology could be used for many purposes, including emergency housing and building habitats on other planets or the Moon. Just how much concrete is there on the Moon? NDTV.
- BOUNCING BALLS OF LIGHT: It takes a lot to put a mirror in space, so they’re necessarily smaller than some astronomers would like. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are exploring an idea that could create a huge mirror in space using lasers. They used a single laser to trap polystyrene beads 150 micrometres across against a sheet of glass. Because the beads were grouped together the light didn’t bounce off in all directions but instead created a flat reflective surface that acted exactly like a mirror. The researchers hope that in future a mirror 35 metres across yet weighing only 100 grams could be possible, but acknowledge there are quite a few problems to solve first. And as for the notion of releasing polystyrene bedas in space … New Scientist.
- FIRE THE MICROPARTICLES: After a heart attack inflammatory cells may turn up and damage the muscle tissue. Researchers at the University of Sydney found they could prevent major damage with an injection of microparticles less than 24 hours after the heart attack. What they injected were balls of a biodegradable compound, poly lactic-co-glycolic acid, 200 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. The microparticles are picked up by the inflammatory cells and diverted to waste disposal systems and to the spleen. The microparticles could also help reduce inflammatory damage with problems like multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, peritonitis, viral inflammation of the brain and kidney transplant. Clinical trials should begin within a couple of years. That’s clever: distracting the inflammatory cells on their way to create mayhem. University of Sydney.
- SWEET EYES: Using miniature electronics embedded in a contact lens researchers at Google[x] hope to change how people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar. They’ve developed a lens that has a tiny wireless chip and a miniaturised glucose sensor embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. Prototypes may be able to generate a reading once per second. The developers hope others will join them to take the prototype and develop apps and working lenses to change lives. OK, but somehow it will need to be charged up. Google Blog.
- POWER STRIP: Researchers at the University of Illinois created piezoelectric strips that generate 0.2 microwatts per square centimetre of electricity when attached to a beating heart in animals roughly the same size as humans. That’s enough energy to power a pacemaker. The lead zirconate titanate on a flexible silicone base conforms to the changing shape of a moving organ. Having demonstrated that the strips can successfully generate power the researchers now need to test what happens when the strips stay inside the body for a long time, perhaps years. There’s a start to a wired body. New Scientist.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 29 January 2014
- NOT THE EDIBLE KIND OF SPAM: You might not be too surprised if a friend’s computer were compromised and used to send out spam, but what if you heard it was their smart TV or fridge that did it? Earlier this year a spam attack sent out around 750,000 messages, of which 25% didn’t pass through laptops, desktops or smartphones. Instead, kitchen appliances, home media systems and web-connected TVs were infected by malware and used to send out spam. Many such devices have poor security, are poorly configured or use default passwords so can be compromised by smart spammers. Oh great: now we’ll have to set up, remember and use passwords for all our appliances too? BBC.
- HEAT TO LIGHT: Conventional photovoltaic cells collect energy directly from some wavelengths of sunshine. Researchers at MIT though believe photovoltaic cells could be much more efficient and are working on solar thermophotovoltaic cells. An outer array of multiwalled carbon nanotubes very efficiently absorbs a broad spectrum of sunlight and turns it to heat. Bonded to that array is a layer of photonic crystal which collects the heat and glows with infrared light that can be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell. That whole process allows the solar panel to collect energy from wavelengths of light that ordinarily go to waste, improving performance. Hey, if the sun’s shining it’s only fair to make the most of it. MIT News.
- WALK SOFTLY: Some people with neuromuscular disorders of the foot and ankle must wear a brace to help them walk, but over time their muscles can atrophy rather than being simply supported. A rigid exoskeleton may help but also restricts the motion of the foot. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon are working on a soft orthotic device with artificial tendons and pneumatic artificial muscles. Because it’s soft it’s harder to control, so it uses a touch-sensitive artificial skin made of rubber sheets whose microchannels are filled with a liquid metal alloy. Stretching or pressing the sheet causes changes in the electrical resistance of the alloy. The device needs more development before it can be tested on patients though. For one thing its artificial muscles are very bulky. Carnegie Mellon University.
- AT A STRETCH: Sensors to measure strain, pressure, human touch and bioelectronic signals such as electrocardiograms are often somewhat fragile: try bending or stretching them and they’ll break. That limits their usefulness. Scientists at North Carolina State University took an insulating material and screen printed silver nanowires on to it to create highly conductive and elastic sensors. The sensors respond in only 40 milliseconds so can be used to monitor strain, pressure and finger touch in real time. As the sensors can be stretched to 150% or more of their original length without losing functionality, they could be useful in controlling robotic or prosthetic devices. No word on how often the sensors can be stretched. North Carolina State University.
- PARTIAL PRINTS: It can be annoying to print an entire page when all you want is an address or coupon. The tiny 220 gram Cocodori prints only what you’ve selected on screen onto 75mm wide roll paper. Two types of paper are available: a memo roll suitable for printing coupons and a Fusen type that is slightly sticky like a Post-it. But does it connect to a smartphone or tablet or only a PC? Akihabara News.
Tech Universe: Thursday 30 January 2014
- BREATHE NORMALLY: To use a standard snorkel mask you need to breathe only through your mouth which may not come easy to nose-breathers. The Easybreath mask is a full-face snorkel mask that offers the wearer an unobstructed 180 degree field of vision, and uses a double air-flow system to prevent fogging. The wearer can breathe normally inside the mask, while a special mechanism plugs the top of the snorkel tube if it goes under water. It sounds like the new standard to meet. Tribord.
- FROZEN RABBIT: China’s Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover landed in mid-December 2013 for a 3 month mission of geological surveys and astronomical observations. Unfortunately it has now suffered a mechanical control abnormality that may prevent it from closing its solar panels for the upcoming 2 week lunar night. The lunar daytime temperature can reach 100 degrees Celsius, while at night it plunges to minus 180C. If the rover can’t close the panels vital internal electrical components may freeze and stop working even after the rover wakes up again. It sure is a harsh environment up there. South China Morning Post.
- A CLEAR BENEFIT: SolTech roof panels collect heat from the sun, but they aren’t standard solar panels. Instead they’re tiles made of clear glass laid over a black nylon canvas that absorbs the sun’s rays. Below that layer of canvas are columns of air that absorb the heat and in turn warm water that is connected to the house’s heating system via an accumulator. The system generates about 350 kWh heat per square metre. A glass roof to catch the sun: a simple but clever idea. InHabitat.
- IF THE SUIT FITS: Buying clothes online can be a risky business: should you choose the Small or Medium size, or perhaps the Large, and would you like a tight or loose fit? Fits.me is a virtual fitting room that aims to help online shoppers try on clothes before they buy. Customers take a photo of themselves then upload it to the site. They tell the computer where their hands and feet are and provide information about their height, weight, age and gender. A server cleans up the photo to remove the background and works out the buyer’s body shape. Using data provided by the retailer, the software then recommends the correct size for the shopper and shows the garment on a mannequin. That could boost online sales of clothing enormously. BBC.
- SMART PHONE, CLEAN PHONE: The Gorilla Glass in your smartphone already resists cracks and scratches but in future it will kill bacteria too. Corning announced they will add silver ions to the mix that creates Gorilla Glass. Since silver has natural antimicrobial properties that should help keep the nasties that might accumulate on your phone at bay. Washing your hands could help too. A New Domain.
Tech Universe: Friday 31 January 2014
- GAME, SET, DATA MATCH: The Babolat Play Pure Drive is a flash name for a tennis racquet, but it does a few interesting things apart from allowing you to hit the ball. The handle of the racquet includes sensors that detect string vibration and movement and analyse your game. The racquet connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth or a computer via USB. The racquet counts swings such as forehand and backhand, the spin you put on the ball and other features of your game. The rules of the International Tennis Federation allow for the use of Player Analysis Technology like this racquet in games, but players may only access the data once the match is over. The next problem of course is sporting espionage where a competitor is able to spy on a player’s data and use it to their advantage. How about using this to create virtual tennis matches where players don’t even need to be in the same country? BBC.
- FIT FOR WORK: Data shows that in the US adults may spend up to 11 hours per day sitting while they work on a computer or watch TV. They are also likely to add around 1 Kg of weight each year. More exercise would help stop that weight gain. Researchers at Penn State University had test subjects use a compact elliptical device to increase physical activity while sitting in a standard office chair. The device is low cost, quiet and takes only a small amount of space. They found that the majority of the participants could expend enough energy in one hour a day to prevent weight gain. Add a little generator and perhaps you could pedal to charge your phone too. Penn State.
- SOMETHING IN THE AIR: Firefighters have a challenging job that could be helped with an accurate view of a fire, and that’s where drones come in. Dubai Civil Defence aim to use 15 quadcopters to patrol high-risk areas, such as industrial zones, to monitor and record fires. The drones can be deployed from patrol bikes, and start imaging a fire while the firefighters are still on their way. Flying in smoke and heat will be challenging for the little robots. The National.
- SOMETHING’S AFOOT: Swedish researchers have developed a system to help track firefighters as they move around a burning building. Sensors inside the boot include an accelerometer and gyroscope, along with a processor. Data goes to a wireless module on the shoulder and then on to operational command. In practice the system worked even when firefighters were 25 metres below ground. Precise information about locations and movements helps emergency coordinators ensure that firefighters remain effective and safe in extremely dangerous conditions. The current system puts sensors in the heel of a boot but further development aims to use them in an insole that would allow more flexibility and more uses. That wireless module on the shoulder seems to be a point of weakness though. KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
- LIFT THE GAME: What does the lift in your building know about you? In the Microsoft Research Centre a smart lift can figure out where you’re going without prior programming or facial recognition. Instead the lift studies the motions of people in hallways and learns that certain types of people go to certain places at certain times of the day. After 3 months of training the lift correctly intuited the destinations of its passengers in a trial. The developers say the system could be made even more accurate with the addition of more sensors. And when it gets it wrong? Would you like to start your work day fighting with the lift? io9.
The iTunes app store bursts around the edges from the large number of apps, but this does not mean all of them are useful. In fact, it is questionable whether some of them should even exist. Who needs a Pocket Whip (apart from Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory”, apparently)? And what do you think about a Pimple Pooper? These are just a couple of examples of iPad apps that anyone could do without. Here are some of the worst iPad apps that hit the iTunes store in 2013.
This app is designed to show users the heat given by their fingers when they use the touch screen of their iPad. You can choose from a number of different colours and you can draw patterns with your fingers. This is definitely one of the most useless apps around.
You may not expect a company such as Coca Cola to come up with such a useless app, butthey did, and all you can do with it is take the top off a bottle of coke, add some ice and…that’s it. You’re more than welcome to stare at the drink you made for yourself for as long as you want.
This is one of the worst apps around, even though if you are lazy enough to do anything to get out of doing work you may find it useful, or at least funny. The idea behind the app is to make it sound like you work, even when you don’t. There are several types of pre-set sounds to choose from, including typing, crumbling paper, and clicking. The iNap@Work app should come with a disclosure, as it will not actually save you from the angry glares of your peers or boss while sleeping on the job.
This app is not only completely useless, but many people may find it gross, too. The idea is that you should use the app to test your kissing skills. Making out with the iPad in order to determine your smooching skills is probably one of the worst things you could do with your time.
This app displays a cartoon monkey on the screen of the iPad and all you need to do is stare back at it. On top of this, you get to pay for the privilege. The big-eye monkey never takes its gaze off you, according to the description of the app. Not that you would care much. After all, who would like to play a game that involves blankly staring at a primate?
This completely useless app allows you to make use of the touch screen capabilities of the iPad and the high-end retina display to…shave a virtual beard. Simply take the razor and shave it in any form you would like. You have to be careful, though, as rushed or careless shaving may result in a very painful razor burn. The pointlessness of the app is taken to extreme with options such as Blood Toggle, intended for those who are too squeamish to deal with blood, even though it is a merely virtual one.
These are just some of the worst iPad apps you can download from the iTunes app store. Most of them are compatible with the iPhone as well. If you are truly bored and want to literally kill some time, they may be worth a look.
Richard McMunn is a writer for How2become.com; a leading career and recruitment specialist for public sector careers. For the last 8 years How2become has helped numerous people prepare for and pass tough recruitment processes and assessment centres in order to secure their dream job. You can also connect with How2become on Google Plus
The post Worst iPad Apps of 2013 appeared first on MacTips - Top Tips and Tricks for Mac, IOS, Ipad, IOS, Iphone and Everything Apple.
There was no Tech Universe on Monday 20 January 2014.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 21 January 2014
- TALKING INTO THE WIND: How about putting a wind farm in your phone? Researchers at the University of Texas have designed and tested micro-windmills each about 1.8 mm at its widest point. 10 tiny windmills could fit on a grain of rice, while hundreds could be embedded into a sleeve for a smartphone. Wave the phone in the air or hold it by the window on a breezy day to recharge it. Hundreds or thousands of the windmills could be manufactured on a single wafer at low cost. The question is, how long would it take to charge the phone? University of Texas.
- HEAD START: If you hit your head hard the brain keeps going inside your skull and starts to crumple. The result can be concussion or brain damage. If you fall off a bike at 24 Kph your brain may be subjected to a force of around 220G. After around 300G you’re sure to suffer serious brain damage. Conventional polystyrene helmets are designed to absorb some of the energy and give your skull and brain more time to slow down, reducing the force of impact. One British designer has found that cardboard, formed into a dual offset honeycomb design, crumples and absorbs more of the impact so you experience around 70G rather than 220G. That gives your brain longer to slow down and can reduce the risk of serious injury even further. The helmets are already on sale in the UK. Those are some seriously high impact forces. BBC.
- OPEN SPACES: It’s so frustrating when you can’t find a space to park your vehicle near your destination. But equip parking spaces with sensors that detect when they’re occupied and Audi’s Urban Intelligent Assist can sort that out for you. A smartphone app connects with the car’s on-board navigation system which can then display which streets have spots and when they may open up, based on historical data and nearby events. The app can also work out how long it’ll take for you to reach your destination, even taking into account your driving style which the app learns as you drive. Which could all just increase your frustration when the driver ahead of you steals the space. Wired.
- A DUSTY JOB: Astronomers want to study the dust grains that form around dying stars and then go on to create planets and stars. That’s impossible to do on site so they’re planning to create the atmosphere of a star in the lab. Project Nanocosmos will build 3 five metre long machines working with hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, titanium, iron and other metals at 1500 C. The simulation chambers in Spain and France will allow them to study physical and chemical processes that create interstellar dust. So, no travel perks with that job. Gizmodo.
- BOOST THE BUS: In Milton Keynes in the UK 8 new electric buses will take to the roads soon. After charging overnight via cable the bus travels 25 Km along its assigned Number 7 route between Bletchley and Wolverton. At each end of the route a wireless induction charger is embedded in the road and the driver lowers a charging plate beneath the bus. During a 10 minute rest stop the bus receives a booster charge ready for another run. The booster charges mean the buses can use smaller, lighter batteries that in turn reduce the power required to run the bus. That seems so much better than ugly overhead trolley wires. BBC.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 22 January 2014
- BUZZ FOR BIZ: A bee with a backpack! Bee populations are in decline around the world and that’s bad news for pollinating plants of all kinds, but especially our food supplies. Australian researchers are attaching 2.5mm x 2.5mm chips to 5,000 honey bees around Hobart. As the bees approach known food sources or hives recorders capture the data from the chips and build up a picture of bee behaviour and the way the insects move through the landscape. The data will be used to help farmers and others increase productivity. That’s a lot of buzz for business. CSIRO News.
- WHEEL ON BOARD: A skateboard has so many wheels, and you have to push it to get it going. Future Motion’s Onewheel is an electric vehicle that puts a single self-balancing large wheel in the middle of a board and drives it with a direct drive electric hub motor. To ride the board you put one foot on each side of the wheel: one in front and one behind, and lean to steer it. The LiFePO4 battery has a range of 6 to 9 Km and carries you at up to 20 Kph. The fast charger takes 20 minutes for a full charge. The whole board weighs 11 Kg. That’s a bit of weight to carry if the battery dies or once you reach your destination. Future Motion.
- JUMPING JACKS: Plug your phone in to charge over night and once it’s fully charged the rest of the time is just wasted. The JUMP charging cable from Native Union puts that wasted time to good use. The cable includes a small lithium polymer battery pack. Once the device detects that the phone is fully charged it starts charging itself. When you grab your phone in the morning, grab the cable too. If you run out of juice the small battery pack in the charging cable can charge the phone to about one third. That’s a very clever idea. Native Union. Video:
- OFF-ROAD NAVIGATION: The CycleNav Smart Bike Navigator from Schwinn connects with an app on your Bluetooth smartphone, attaches to the handlebars and helps you navigate within the USA with flashing lights and spoken directions. An Instant Replay button lets you hear any directions you just missed. The device includes a headlight and a rechargeable battery that lasts 10 hours while the phone app handles stats for the ride. Directions specific for cyclists rather than just driving directions meant for cars is a handy feature. Schwinn Bikes.
- CHANGE IN CHARGE: It’s possible to charge devices wirelessly, but the distances involved have to be very small. Researchers at Duke University can extend that range with a superlens using low-frequency magnetic fields. The lens is an array of hollow blocks etched with spirals of copper wire. The coils transmit and confine magnetic fields into a narrow cone of focused high intensity power. More development could perhaps mean that in future devices can be wirelessly charged wherever they are in a suitably equipped room. That could work wonders for electric vehicles too. Duke University.
Tech Universe: Thursday 23 January 2014
- HIGH SPEED WINE: As you pour that next glass of wine think about how many grapes went into making it and how the grapes were selected. Pickers get the grapes from the vine but only the ripe ones must go on through for processing. Traditionally this has been done manually, but an optical grape sorter machine can do it faster. Each morning the vintner selects 200 perfect grapes and feeds them into the sorter which takes photos and creates a composite image of an ideal grape. Then bulk grapes are fed in and the machine snaps a picture of each at 10,000 frames per second. Each grape is compared to the ideal and selected for wine or ejected with a blast of air. Where 15 people can sort 2 tons of grapes per hour the machine takes only 12 minutes. That kind of repetitive work is exactly what computers should be doing. Modern Farmer.
- ROGUE CURTAINS: A lot of heat can come into a building when the sun shines through windows. In large office blocks air conditioning may compensate for that, at the cost of some electricity. Researchers at the University of California have developed a smart curtain fabric that doesn’t need batteries, processors or electricity to work. The fabric expands when lit up and contracts when the light goes off. Take a plastic polycarbonate membrane and layer on carbon nanotubes to create the smart fabric. As the nanotubes absorb light they produce heat which causes the plastic but not the nanotubes to expand. The process is very quick — it takes only a fraction of a second. It seems the smart curtains at the moment are tiny, but perhaps one day they could be big enough to cover an office window. With no way to control smart curtains like these, just watch out for those days where patchy fast-moving clouds keep covering the sun. UC Berkeley.
- BRACED FOR ACTION: Many children around the world are born with a club foot. If it’s not treated they will be unable to walk properly and may lose access and opportunity for education and employment. In developing countries the braces that can help correct the problem are somewhat makeshift and may be expensive, poorly designed and difficult to use. Students from Stanford University have designed a colourful injection moulded plastic brace featuring removable shoes that looks like a toy the kids would want to play with. It’s easy for parents to use and best of all costs only $20. The plastic braces could mean many more children around the world have their club foot problem successfully corrected. You’d think 3D printing could be useful with a project like this too. Wired.
- CAR CARES: Your car may include various logging devices that you probably have no access to, even if there’s a data port. Truvolo is a small device that plugs into that port and links with smartphone and cloud apps. The device allows for sophisticated tracking, including monitoring speed, detecting engine problems, tracking travel by purpose and giving information about nearby mechanics or petrol stations. It aims to help you manage all the cars in your household, save petrol and improve your driving safety. That would mean all the cars would have to be new enough to include the necessary computer tech. Truvolo.
- SPARKLING DOG: Would you like to make your dog a bit more visible at night? The NightDawg Dog Collar from Nite Ize will let you see your dog wherever she is even on the darkest night. The nylon collar embeds both a reflective stripe and a light-transmitting flexible polymer core with 2 modes: glow and flash. The red LED light from the collar shines for 100,000 hours from a replaceable lithium button battery and is visible from up to 300 metres. The battery supplies around 75 to 100 hours of power. Unfortunately the collar is available only for medium sized dogs, so your Chihuahua is out of luck. Curiosite.
Tech Universe: Friday 24 January 2014
- EYES ON THE APP: In the West End of London drivers with a smartphone may have more chance of finding a park. Smart parking sensors will detect whether a bay is vacant or not. An app allows drivers to see on a real-time map which bays are vacant and even pay for the parking. The scheme hopes to reduce pollution and congestion in an area where a driver will typically spend 15 minutes looking for a parking spot. Shouldn’t drivers be watching the road rather than looking at their phones? BBC.
- GLASSY: Sugoi’s RPM Zap jacket should help cyclists be seen at night. It includes a layer of highly reflective ground glass pixels, screen-printed onto its exterior. In daylight the jacket looks like any other colourful coat, but at night the ground glass picks up any nearby light, for example, from car headlights, and reflects it evenly across the whole surface of the clothing. That means the whole jacket lights up without batteries or LEDs, making the wearer shine out. Now you can go clubbing in your bike jacket. Gizmodo. Video:
- CATCH A COLD COMET: The Rosetta spacecraft from the European Space Agency has been sleeping while it travels far from the sun. Its true mission has now begun though: it’s chasing after a 4.6 billion year old comet heading towards the sun. Once it catches up, Rosetta will orbit comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko studying how sunlight melts it to create a tail. In November Rosetta will release a small craft to land on and sample the surface of the comet. The data it gathers should help us understand how Earth’s oceans were formed. Landing on a comet will be a huge challenge. New Scientist.
- SOUNDS IN SIGHT: Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid have developed a pair of glasses for blind people that can help them navigate, along with a cane or guide dog. The glasses include two tiny cameras that send images to a stereo vision processor that turns the images into sounds that indicate position and distance. The sound is amplified and sent to bone conduction headphones. The system is cheaper and less bulky than similar systems on the market. A prototype exists and has been tested with considerable success with blind people in real environments. That could be a very useful adjunct to a cane. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
- GLUE A BROKEN HEART: If surgeons perform open heart surgery they have to choose how to close things up again. Sutures and staples can be slow to apply and can cause further damage. Surgeons might prefer glue, but currently available substances don’t work in the presence of liquid, or can’t stand up to the heartbeat, or are even toxic. Now researchers have created a special glue that only becomes active when exposed to UV light. That gives surgeons more scope in using the glue. The substance is flexible, strong and biodegradable too. The glue has worked well on pig hearts and now needs to be tested on people. Presumably the glue would work well on other body parts too and could save a lot of time and injury. Scientific American.
Freshly back from 4 weeks of offline holiday I have a few things to say about what I’ve been reading.
I think I rediscovered the escapist nature of reading fiction. The weather was a bit sad with quite a lot of strong winds, cool temperatures and rain rather than the stunning hot sunny days I was expecting for my holiday. That meant I spent more time than I expected indoors with a book.
I’d read for a while and then look up, realising I’d become totally engaged with the characters, the setting and plot. I felt a bit torn about that as apart from the weather I was myself in a setting that was itself escapist: countryside only a few hundred metres from a long quiet beach, and with birds of all kinds, butterflies and occasionally a few cows across the fence.
The book topics
I prefer to read lightweight murder mysteries and also sci-fi, preferably space opera. I generally choose only books with strong women as lead characters, and prefer books written by women. While I don’t care too much for
literature these days, I do enjoy well-written books and commonly don’t even make it through the sample of very poorly written books.
Oh, and I really only read ebooks, mainly from Amazon and on my Kindle Paperwhite.
There are several authors whose series I’ve been reading over the last few years. I don’t think my latest bout included any of their works, but I want to mention them here anyway. [Links in this post are mainly affiliate links.]
- Marcia Muller — her private detective, Sharon McCone has grown and developed over the last few decades. These books are always a good read, interesting and intelligent. What amazes me when I re-read the earlier books is how much society has changed with cellphones and the Internet. No more waiting till some office opens to search for information, or desperately running to find a pay phone.
- Dana Stabenow — her investigator Kate Shugak lives in the heart of Alaska. These books are engaging on many levels and I’m eagerly awaiting the next chapter in Shugak’s adventures. I’ve also read Stabenow’s Liam Campbell series and really enjoyed her brief foray into sci-fi with the character Star Svensdotter. Alaska seems endlessly fascinating and I never tire of Stabenow’s descriptions.
- Nevada Barr — Anna Pigeon is a Park Ranger who has adventures in various National Parks in the US. These books have their dark moments, but I must say I’ve felt inspired to want to visit many of the Parks that serve as settings. In particular, Blind Descent is set almost entirely underground in the Carlsbad Caverns, a place I now very much want to visit (not as a caver though, but as a tourist who goes on the easy guided afternoon visit). It’s a remarkable feat to get away with setting a book entirely in a cave.
- Melissa Good first came to my attention way back when Xena was on TV and I found her fan fiction from the series. She later went on to write a couple of episodes of the show. Her Dar and Kerry series of books are a spin-off from that and are a darn good read. In writing this post I find she’s launched into sci-fi too. Sample downloaded.
- Betty Webb‘s Lena Jones series takes us to the deserts of Arizona. It has its dark moments, but I really enjoyed the series.
- Kathy Brandt — her Underwater Investigations series set in the British Virgin Islands are a good read. The
boxed setof Kindle books is a great price.
- Lori L. Lake — it seems I’ve bought some of each of the Gun and Public Eye series, but not all. As I recall, I enjoyed reading them, so maybe I just got distracted before buying and reading the rest.
Don’t read these — the warning signs
If I’ve found an author new to me I always download a free sample of their book before buying. Over the summer I was looking for lightweight reading and discovered what seemed to be a whole genre of cosy murder mysteries set in quirky local places, such as the fictitious Sinful, Louisiana or small town Georgia. While I found some books very enjoyable, such as Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune series mentioned below, others were unbearable, poorly written efforts or plain boring.
I soon learned to beware of any books whose description included
hilarious or some synonym, such as these partial quotes from reviews of an author I don’t choose to name:
This book is hysterical and
I haven’t read a book this funny since ….
Maybe it’s because I’m not an American, but the
hilarious books generally weren’t. The writing tended to be forced and just generally trying too hard for humour. Sometimes they were just too derivative of other, better authors, such as the early Janet Evanovich books.
Hmmm, I wanted to refer back to some of the specific books I sampled and deleted, but it seems no record remains. I suggest always downloading a free sample before buying work from an author you don’t already know.
Side note on Janet Evanovich: I really enjoyed the early books from this author: the first was extremely funny. I no longer bother with the new books though as after the first few each book simply seemed to be a repeat of all the previous books. The plots became cliche, the characters didn’t seem to learn or grow or change. The formula is set.
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch: in July 2013 I hit the trifecta: murder mystery, sci-fi and strong women all in one glorious package, with the Retrieval Artist series. Intelligent, smart ideas about tech and society in the future, well-written. I’m a definite fan who has gone on to read numerous other works by this prolific author. And I’m still reading. Her work is compelling.
- I subscribed to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s website too and read most of the freebee short stories she sends out on Mondays. They end with a very wonderful
Send to Kindlebutton which means I can more easily choose how to read them. Also a superb read for anyone interested in writing is her Thursday series of blog posts: Rusch has incredibly useful and practical things to say about the business of writing.
- Jana DeLeon — her Miss Fortune series set in the bayous of Louisiana is fun. She uses gentle and understated humour and has not just one strong female character but a whole bunch of them. I’m pacing myself on the third book so it’s not over too quickly.
- Tony Healey is an English author, as you can easily tell from some turns of phrase in his Far From Home series. His series is fairly derivative from Star Trek (Voyager, in particular), with obvious references in characters, character names, plot devices and so on. I happen to really like Star Trek: Voyager though so soon got over any annoyance around that. The big surprise for me though was that while reading I kept thinking the book sorely needed a good editor, only to find Healey thanking his editor at the end. While the writing was overall pretty good Healey sometimes uses entirely the wrong word and that can be jarring. I don’t have any examples to hand but clearly he sometimes has one word in mind while using a similar word with an entirely different meaning. I’ve gone on to buy the sequels though. Lots of good strong women, including the captain of the starship.
I start back at work on Monday. Reading fiction may well fall by the wayside again, though I still have a few books in the queue. I’m torn between digging in and escaping, and stretching them out so it will be longer before I have to find more authors I enjoy.
I’m also definitely avoiding looking too closely at my Amazon purchase history. I haven’t spent this much money on books for decades… It’s all thanks to ebooks and the Kindle.
Let me know how you find the authors I’ve listed above.
Tech Universe: Monday 16 December 2013
- ANY CYCLISTS LEFT?: Cyclists and buses aren’t a great mix, so researchers at Bristol University have created a device called a Cycle Eye. The idea is to mount depth-sensing radar and camera sensors on a bus to detect when cyclists are alongside. The system then alerts the bus driver to the cyclist’s presence. The smart system’s detection algorithm differentiates between a cyclist and other objects on the side of the road such as lampposts and railings even in poor visibility and bad conditions. In one trial the system had a 98.5% success rate at identifying cyclists. That sounds good, but on busy streets how long till the bus driver turns off the spoken alert or just tunes it out? BBC.
- FOGGY VISION: Wink Glasses 2013 spectacles blink for you, in case you forget. Some computer users forget to blink enough and their eyes get dry or they get headaches as a result. Wink Glasses become opaque for 0.1 or 0.2 second every 10 seconds, forcing the wearer to blink. The lenses are covered with liquid crystal sheets, and there’s a small battery in the left arm. In fog mode the battery’s current cuts off momentarily causing the liquid crystal sheets to become opaque. Don’t get caught out with a flat battery though. CNET.
- EYE DRIPS: Sometimes people need to use eyedrops regularly to treat a condition such as glaucoma. US researchers created a special contact lens by encapsulating latanoprost-polymer films in commonly used contact lens hydrogel. The lens then releases the latanoprost drug steadily over a period of a month or more. Lenses can be shaped to a corrective prescription or can simply be neutral and have a clear central aperture. Testing in animals has suggested the lenses are safe, so presumably human studies may come soon. That would definitely be better than constantly stopping to administer eyedrops. Massachusetts Eye and Ear.
- SQUARING THE LIGHT: Fibre optic cables carry pulses of light. But to keep those packets of light from interfering with one another the pulses must be carefully timed, which means leaving a bit of empty space between each pulse. Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne found a way to make a cable carry 10 times as much data: by making each pulse more pointy so they fit together more closely. The technique actually relies on making laser light of a broader spectrum of colours, all with the correct intensity. I’m happy to believe that. EurekAlert.
- SHAKE NO FAKE: With a different, difficult password for every website your brain’s probably full already. Verayo’s Opal authentication key is a piece of hardware that its makers claim can’t be cloned or hacked and that authenticates your smartphone or tablet. Shake the Opal to turn it on and pair it with your device then keep it nearby. The gadget’s microchip has tiny imperfections that arise during manufacturing and are unique, which means it provides a unique authentication key. Your phone or tablet reads the Bluetooth signal bouncing off the Opal and, if it matches a predetermined pattern, accepts you as a trusted user. Isn’t a fingerprint easier? New Scientist.
Tech Universe is taking a break over the summer. The final week included Favourites from the year — all items that have been published here during 2013. They may be published here together in the new year.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read Tech Universe in 2013. I really appreciate your support and interest.
If you are considering selling your iPhone or iPad, then you have to make sure that you securely erased all your personal data from it following very simple rules that we will explain here. Make sure you turn off “Find my iPhone” if you have it activated. You can do that easily through Settings>iCloud>Turn off the Find My iPhone option. Before you think about erasing your data you have to make sure that you have backed everything on iCloud or iTunes. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get your stuff back. Once you’re sure you have a backup for your own use, proceed on.
Once you complete the backup, go to General > Reset, then tap Erase All Content and Settings. This will completely erase your device and turn off iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime, Game Center, and other services. You will see an Apple logo and a progress bar during the data removal process. Once completed, all the data on your iPhone are erased.
Your iPhone or iPad will reboot after a few minutes and all your personal data should be gone and again look like the day you pulled it out of the box. When the device is turned on for the first time by the new owner, Setup Assistant will guide them through the setup process.
If you are using iCloud and Find My iPhone on the device, you can erase the device remotely and remove it from your account by signing in to icloud.com/find, selecting the device, and clicking Erase. When the device has been erased, click Remove from Account.
We can’t help writing this Mac tips though its less to do with the Apple Mac than McDonalds McMuffin!!! However, we think it is one great tip for Mac fans (not the Apple Mac type) who wants to get a free McDonalds meal. Not only am I a BIG Apple Mac fan – I own 2 iMacs, 1 Powerbook, 4 generations of iPad and 3 generations of iPhone, I am also a big McDonalds fan and specifically the Big Mac and its Egg McMuffin. So, I can’t help sharing this Mac tips with the fans.
For a limited time only, you can get a free meal at McDonalds by filling up a survey. To get to this survey, you do need to make one purchase first from McDonalds and get a receipt for it. With the receipt, you can visit www.MCDVoice.com and you will need to fill in 6 different information at the MCDVoice.com website. This includes the store number, KS #, Date of visit, Time of visit, order and amount spent – all of which can be found on your receipt from McDonalds.
It takes only about 15 minutes or less to fill in the survey. At the end of the survey, you should receive a validation code. Write the validation code on the receipt and the next time you buy either a Quarter Pounder with cheese or a Egg McMuffin, you can present the receipt and you will basically get another one for free.
It may also be possible that this code follows a patterns and if you fill in enough of this survey, you may see a pattern on how the code is generated in relation to some of the input necessary to start the survey. Also, we are not sure if the cashier really check against the validity of the code or they are just looking for some patterns to determine the eligibility. Now, if someone comes up with a MCDVoice code generator, that would be a real tip! You will still need the original receipt but at least you wont have to spend time filling up the survey at www.mcdvoice.com to get the validation code at the end.
Tech Universe: Monday 09 December 2013
- LEAN ON THIS: A carved wooden cane to help you walk, or at least keep you from falling, can be a thing of beauty. But the Isowalk has brains in its favour. It’s shaped to make it move with you as you walk, and it conforms itself to each individual user. The intelligent walking aid is made of carbon fibre and urethanes, has a shaped and tilted handle and a moving foot-shaped foot that mean it automatically positions itself for each next step. The hand grip is designed to be comfortable to hold and can be reversed to fit either hand. The developers are also creating a connection kit to interact with a smartphone to track distance, recovery and location, and biometric data such as cardiovascular levels. It seems that even just in the shape of it the walking aid beats out a wooden cane. Isowalk. Video:
- PUSH LESS RIDE MORE: The Copenhagen Wheel was developed at MIT to turn an ordinary pedal-powered bike into an electric bike. The wheel replaces the rear wheel from your bike and connects with a smartphone app. The smart wheel learns how you pedal, captures energy when you brake or go downhill and can provide a boost when you need some extra push. The technology is contained within a casing that sits around the hub and inside the spokes of the wheel. If it just replaces a regular wheel you may need to watch out for thieves nipping off with it, though the app provides a lock feature. Superpedestrian.
- RUN FOR THE PHONE: If you’re the kind of person who goes for a morning jog then add a myPower device to give your phone a day’s charge while you run. The device clips to your hip and stores the kinetic energy from your run so you can later charge your phone. 45 minutes of running with myPower can give your iPhone an extra 7 to 8 hours of battery life. Nice idea, once it comes to market. myPower.
- GO FOR A SPIN: The PAL-V ONE is a 2 seater hybrid car and gyroplane: a personal air and land vehicle. On the ground it’s a 3-wheeled motorcycle, so just drive from home to the airport. At the airport spend a few minutes unfolding the single rotor and propeller. Then take off and fly below 1,200 metres to your destination. The vehicle can reach speeds of up to 180 Kph both on land and in the air. Getting the pilot’s licence may be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the vehicle. PAL-V.
- DRONE ALONE: Online retailer Amazon want to speed up shipping to customers who live within 16 Km of one of their distribution centres. They plan to introduce drones to ship smaller packages. The drone would pick the package off a line in the warehouse and drop it at its destination, then return for the next package. First though Amazon need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and to sort out safety issues. How the drone chooses the drop site is an interesting question. Prime Air.
Tech Universe: Tuesday 10 December 2013
- RECURSIVE WASTE: Jet engines are notoriously noisy. Using piezoelectric material, engineers built an extremely sensitive and thin aluminium membrane to capture vibrations caused by the sound and turn them into electricity. The sensors don’t produce a lot of electricity: it’s just enough to power a noise-cancelling device to quieten the jets. The same technique could be used to reduce the noise of industrial machinery. That’s a nice touch: capture a waste product and use it to reduce the waste. Discovery News.
- SHOW PHONE: The Russian YotaPhone features 2 screens: one normal capacitive touch screen on the front and an extra e-ink screen on the back. The e-ink screen’s always on and can display information without waking the phone. That should translate to longer battery life. The Android phone features a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and a 12 megapixel rear camera. That could be handy for displaying things like addresses or maps while you find your way to a destination. BBC.
- GIANT AT SEA: The Prelude FLNG is a ship, a very big ship in fact. The Floating Liquefied Natural Gas facility will be the biggest floating production facility in the world. It’s 488 metres long and 74 metres wide, and will displace around 600,000 tonnes of water — the same amount of water as 6 of the largest aircraft carriers. It will draw 50 million litres of cold water from the ocean every hour to help cool the 5.3 million tonnes per annum of liquids it will produce. The massive vessel is headed for the Browse Basin off Australia. So presumably it will add an equal amount of warm or hot water back into the ocean. I wonder how the fish and other creatures will respond to that. Shell.
- A STEP CHANGE: A Mexican entrepreneur has developed a low-cost system to capture energy from cars driving along the road, or even from pedestrians. The idea is to use a polymer ramp step around 5 cm high. As the vehicle passes over the ramp it compresses a bellows which compresses air. The air passes through a hose and eventually to a turbine that produces electricity. Constantly squeezing steps would make walking a bit of an adventure, and I suspect drivers wouldn’t enjoy the ride. Alpha Galileo.
- PARTICLE PILLS: Nanoparticles that carry drugs right to where they’re needed in the body may be the key to sorting out what ails you. One limiting factor though is that they need to be injected. US researchers have developed a type of nanoparticle that can be delivered in pill form. These nanoparticles are coated with antibodies that interact with the walls of the intestine, allowing the nanoparticles to enter the bloodstream. Tests in mice have had success, so it still may be a few years before you’ll be swallowing a nanoparticle pill before breakfast. MIT News.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 11 December 2013
- THE AI OF CROWDS: Crowds can lead to people being crushed or trampled, but researchers in Saudi Arabia are developing an artificial intelligence system to spot the dangers. First black and white images are reduced to pixelated outlines where more pixels suggest more people, though clothing can confuse the readings. Then infrared cameras read body heat. Data goes to a neural network that learns the characteristic features of crowd movement. When the team tested the system on footage of a hajj pilgrimage it produced results like those from human spotters. Although a hajj can bring a million or more people together, a system like this could be useful in places like railway stations and for watching crowds that form spontaneously, such as at marches and rallies. That could have interesting applications for traffic flow too. New Scientist.
- MAKE MANY BONES: The neurosurgeon in Alabama needed to do a very tricky surgery attaching metal plates to neck bones without damaging the spinal cord. After making some CT scans, he turned to a desktop 3D printer and printed out the bones he’d be working on at actual size. With an actual model in hand he could order screws and plates that fit the 3D printed spine model, and work out how to direct the screws. Ultimately the surgery on Sophi the tiny Yorkshire Terrier took much less time than usual for such operations and has given Sophi back her freedom to play. Medical specialists of all kinds must find the possibilities of 3D printing very powerful. Makerbot.
- FAST AND FAR: The 200 HP Voxan Wattman motorbike can reach 100 Kph in 3.4 seconds and has a top speed of over 160 Kph. That’s not bad for an electric bike whose 12.8 kWh battery takes only 30 minutes to charge to 80% from a household socket. A full charge will take the bike almost 200 Km. This isn’t a little shopping bike then. Voxan.
- SPRAY AND BREATHE: One way to kill pathogens, for example in commercial kitchens, is to use heat or dangerous chemicals such as chlorine. Another way is to use ozone which can kill things like like e-coli, salmonella, staph aureus and pseudomonas a. The Eco3Spray is a handheld spray bottle that converts tap water into ozone on demand using a diamond electrolytic process. Workers can spray ozone onto surfaces, leaving no residue, rather than handling hazardous chemicals. It sounds too easy. Eco3Spray.
- TREASURE THE TECH: The technology we use today relies heavily on all kinds of metals. Researchers at Yale University studied how easy it would be to substitute other metals if one suddenly became unavailable, and the news was bad. For some widely used metals such as copper, chromium, manganese and lead, no good substitutes exist for their major uses. Rare earth elements, including the dysprosium needed for computers and wind turbines, europium and yttrium, used in flat panel displays, and thulium and ytterbium, used in laser technologies would also be extremely hard to replace. Their conclusion? We’d better make sure we recycle the metals we rely on — which makes good sense anyway. Yale News.
Tech Universe: Thursday 12 December 2013
- UPHILL’S A BREEZE: Skiers and snowboarders like to slide down mountains, and often aren’t excited by the need to use a chairlift or rope tow to be hauled up again. The UpSki is designed to make going up much more fun. It’s effectively a round 4.5 Kg kite or parachute that the skier attaches to a harness on their body and that pulls them along. The kite is controlled by the attached short lines. The biggest problems seem to be that the sail can block the skier’s view of what’s ahead and there may be a risk of tangling skis in the lines. UpSki.
- A VIEW UNFOLDS: Optical telescopes need huge chunks of heavy glass to do their work. For telescopes that go into space the glass is fragile, bulky and very costly to deal with. DARPA’s Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation program aims to use lightweight polymer membrane optics instead of glass. Membrane optics diffract light rather than reflecting or refracting it. In the past such membranes have been to inefficient to use but DARPA has been able to increase the efficiency to 55%. The membrane is etched with circular concentric grooves that focus the light onto a sensore which converts it into an image. The light weight of the membrans, which are about as thick as kitchen plastic wrap, could allow for giant space telescopes perhaps 20 metres across that unfold when they reach their destination. Etching grooves on plastic that thin will be a challenge. DARPA.
- LEND AN ARM: When you exercise your muscles after an injury it would help to be able to see exactly the effect of each particular movement. The R-cloud support robot does just that for arm rehabilitation. Sensors measure the force of each muscle and the angle of the arm then send the data to a screen that overlays the information graphically on an image of the arm. The robot also has pneumatic muscles that assist the user with required movements. Measurements are also added to a database to help with rehabilitation training in future. That would surely also be useful for athletes to help them train for sports such as archery where correct arm movements are fundamental. DigInfo.tv.
- INKED TO THE BONE: If you’re unlucky an accident may damage your bones. In future a surgeon may turn to the BioPen to reconstruct the bone. The BioPen, from the University of Wollongong, is a handheld device that works like a 3D printer. In the pen head it combines cell material inside a biopolymer with a gel material then the surgeon draws with the ink mixture to fill in a damaged section of bone. A low powered ultra-violet light source attached to the pen solidifies the material while the surgeon works. Once the material has been applied the cells multiply and rebuild the damaged area. That’s a new way for surgeons to sign their work. University of Wollongong.
- YOUR SHOE IS CALLING: As with all sports and exercise you need to take some care when running so you don’t sprain something or tear a ligament. That’s why researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute are developing a smart running shoe. Sensors and microelectronics integrated into the sole of the shoe collect data about the runner and warn them about incorrect foot position, asymmetric loading, exhaustion or overload. The system includes accelerometers and GPS sensors, a microcontroller, RF module, and batteries. Data goes via Bluetooth to a smartphone app and on to a website that can sort out a customised training programme. Recharge the shoes by placing them on the charger. It’s not quite a shoephone, but may be better. Fraunhofer.
Tech Universe: Friday 13 December 2013
- WHERE THE WIND BLOWS: Skyscrapers are very exposed to the wind, and at 530 metres tall the Pertamina Energy Tower to be built in Jakarta will be well placed to harvest wind energy. The tower features an integrated wind funnel at the top to generate electricity from prevailing air currents. Interestingly the tower will be the headquarters for state-owned oil and gas corporation. A curved facade and exterior sun shades will also help save energy by reducing the need for artificial lighting and providing shade from the hot equatorial sun. The building should be complete by 2020. It’s good to see big oil exploring alternatives. Dezeen.
- FAST FOOD: The European Splendid project aims to help kids eat better and adopt healthier lifestyles. Kids in Sweden and The Netherlands will use various sensors to track how they eat. One sensor functions like a scale, measuring how quickly food leaves the plate placed on it. Another is a wearable microphone that records how the wearer chews their food. Study participants will also provide information about how full they feel after a meal, how much they’ve eaten and exercised. Medical experts will analyse the data and give the kids advice about diet and exercise. BBC.
- MOVING DATA: Garments from Athos in Canada are designed to help you work out. As you move the apparel records and analyses movements of up to 14 muscles, breath and heartbeat, while a 3-axis accelerometer tracks motion. The sensors in the clothing send data via Bluetooth to your smartphone where an app translates it into meaningful information. Remove the sensors before washing the clothes though. That’s some serious motion tracking. Athos.
- SWALLOW THE TAN: Batteries that contain lithium can be dangerous in devices used inside the human body. So a team from Carnegie Mellon University are developing a battery that relies on melanin, a pigment that occurs naturally in our skin when we tan, and sodium ions in a steel mesh structure. The power output is low compared with standard batteries, but it could run a device for up to 5 hours. The researchers found that natural melanin is better at holding charge than synthetic versions. New Scientist.
- DEATH AND THE ROBOT: The Virtobot is a robot designed for forensic autopsies. The robot can collect the imaging equipment it needs, including still and 3D images, and then scan the body with various sensors and in predetermined patterns. It can also place markers and carry out a CT scan. The robot can also analyse the images it receives. That sounds like a robot that will be specially useful during natural and other disasters with high death rates. MedGadget.
Whether you backed up your files on iTunes or iCloud there is always an easy and simple way to restore and download those files into your new iPhone. We will help you here in this article to get all your data to your brand new iPhone, just make sure that you are using the most recent version of iTunes before you start.
After turning on your new iPhone and follow the setup steps we explained earlier in our articles, In the Setup Assistant, once you reach “Setup your device”, then just tap “Restore from iTunes Backup”. To begin to restore your iPhone data from the backup, connect your iPhone to the computer that you normally sync it to that contains the backup file. If you aren’t already connected to your computer containing your iTunes backups, your iPhone will prompt you to do so. In the center of the iPhone management screen, you’ll see a “Restore” button. Click that.
Now you just have to follow the prompts in iTunes in order to select your most recent backup. After a restore, your iPhone will restart. You should then see “Slide to set up”. Follow the steps in the iOS Setup Assistant. One more thing, if your iPhone keeps on restarting without any response or without showing the Apple logo, then all you have to do is to place it into recovery mode and then try restoring again.
That’s all there is to it. Your iPhone will begin restoring from your iTunes backup. Keep in mind that the more data you have, the longer it will take. Just be patient and make sure you don’t disconnect your iPhone until iTunes tells you that your restore is complete.
Siri helps you to use your voice to write messages, schedule meetings, search the web, and so much more. Ask Siri to do things just by talking, and she will totally understand what you mean. Siri is so easy to use and does so much; you’ll keep finding more and more ways to use this great service from Apple. All you have to do is to say what you want to do and instead of typing, tap the microphone icon on the keyboard, then say what you want to say and when you finish just tap Done, and your words are converted automatically to text.
Inpite of the fact that Apple still uses Google as the default search engine for web browser, Safari, still things have changed a little with iOS7 for Siri. Siri now uses Bing as its default search engine instead of Google, which might be annoying to lots of people, but there is always a way to edit that and get back to Google. Maybe you won’t get to change that in your settings on iPhone, however you can ask Siri to search Google, tricky right!
Like you normally hold down the Home button in order to start talking to Siri, instead this time you will just ask her to search Google for whatever you want to search, so if you want to search “Top 10 Horror Movies” you should say “Google the top 10 horror movies” simple as that! This way Siri will get you the results from Google and not Bing, all you have to do is to say “Google”.
If you are a fitness or health fanatic, then you will definitely crazy about the new M7 motion co-processor in iPhone 5s. It tracks your activities and movements in an easy and precise way that you will make the best use of. There are a small, but growing number of fitness apps that use the M7 to track your daily steps, but we’re sure lots of apps will take advantage of the possibilities over time. Here we will explain what exactly it is and how it works.
M7 motion co-processor runs constantly in the background, even when the iPhone is not in use and the chip gathers motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass and translates that information into body motion. It tracks this data in the background every second of every day (that your iPhone is physically powered on anyway). It stores this motion data on the chip itself for a period of seven days. Once the data hits seven days old it is deleted unless saved as data in a third party app.
The M7 makes it easier than ever for the iPhone to be a tool to track your fitness. Since our phone is almost always with us, we can now get a more realistic impression of how much we are moving and it will definitely help you monitor your fitness and, ultimately, improving your health.
Tech Universe: Monday 02 December 2013
- AN EVEN TAN: NASA’s Kepler space telescope was doing useful work when it lost its ability to point steadily in a desired direction. The problem is that sunlight pushes the craft around just enough so it loses track of its target, and with two of its four stabilising wheels offline it can’t get images of a high enough quality. Now engineers have worked out that if they keep the craft in a careful orbit where the sun shines with equal pressure on the whole of one side they can get away with only two stabilisers. Testing’s underway, ready for a mission review. Presumably that could then lead to heating and cooling problems. NASA.
- AN IDEA WITH WHEELS: Aircraft need massive engines to fly through the air, but make a lot of noise and waste a lot of fuel using them to taxi on the ground. That’s where the WheelTug comes in. It’s a system of small electric motors powerful enough to move a huge aircraft around on the tarmac, using only the plane’s auxiliary power unit. The system could save each plane around $700 per flight. The WheelTug also means pilots don’t have to wait for the plane to be pushed back from the gate. Very efficient. Gizmodo.
- BUY A LITTLE LIGHT: Families in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to rely on dangerous and expensive diesel or kerosene for fuel, but while solar power would be a good alternative the upfront costs are often just impossible to meet. Indigo is a way to get around that problem, with a pay-as-you-go system. Local kiosks that sell prepay phone cards also sell scratch cards that allow users to buy a week’s worth of electricity for about half the cost of the kerosene they’d usually buy. The user enters a code into the Indigo controller and the system works until the credit expires. After about 18 months users can pay a bit extra to unlock the controller or to upgrade to a bigger system. The solar controllers can charge cellphones and provide lighting for two lamps for 8 hours each night. Timely help: a brilliant system. Azuri Technologies.
- TIME A LITTLE LIGHT: Time of Flight cameras send light towards an object and measure how long it takes to bounce back. That reveals how far away the object is. In real life though things like fog, motion, transparency and other factors create multiple reflections, making it difficult to determine which is the correct measurement. A team at MIT though has come up with some sophisticated calculations to work out which is the true object. Their nano-camera probes a scene with a continuous-wave signal that oscillates at nanosecond periods, all using low cost off-the-shelf LEDs. Then an algorithm untangles the signals. Their nanophotography model could be used in medical imaging, collision-avoidance detectors for cars, and interactive gaming. It’s all in the algorithm. MIT.
- FLIPPING ROBOTS: Underwater shipwrecks can be very dangerous places, but the U-CAT underwater robot, designed to work inside shipwrecks, has flippers that allow it to swim through them. The robot can swim forward and backward, up and down and turn on the spot in all directions, making it totally manoeuvrable. An onboard camera allows its controllers to observe the whole journey. The robot will help archaeologists and others to explore shipwrecks without putting divers in dangerous positions. Tallinn University of Technology. —
Tech Universe: Tuesday 03 December 2013
- SKIN JOB: It’s very hard to make synthetic skin look realistic, as skin’s not a single uniform shade and it looks different in different lights. A team from the University of Liverpool aim to use a 3D printer to create more natural looking skin. They’re first researching ways to take 3D images of the actual skin of a person, and also to build up a library of skin images. Once they have satisfactory images they’ll be able to work on then reproducing realistic skin. How long till people get custom skin patches as they do tattoos now? University of Liverpool .
- CUTTING THE CUTS: In crime shows the medical examiner slices into the body of the murder victim to get the post mortem underway. Now pathologists in the UK won’t need to wield a scalpel at all. A digital post-mortem examination facility in Sheffield will help those families whose religions and customs require a quick burial and no violation of the body. The body goes through an MRI or CT scan, both of which see beneath layers of clothes and tissue. Then a pathologist uses 3D digital imaging to zoom in to areas they want to study in greater detail. I presume victims of crime will still need to be cut open to observe damage from weapons in detail. BBC.
- TWIN SHOTS: Vaccines often require two injections, spaced some time apart. If the doctor’s clinic is only a short bus or car ride away then it’s just a matter of remembering to get the booster. In developing countries though distance and lack of transport may make such boosters extremely hard to deliver. Now German researchers think they may be able to find a way around that. Tests in mice have shown that it’s possible to receive the booster shot in the form of a water-based hydrogel implant that stores the booster dose. When the mouse swallows a pill containing an activating compound the booster dose is released. If this technique works for people it could mean a patient would receive two injections at once, and be sent home with a pill to take later. Then the trick will be to get them to take the capsule at the right time. Gizmodo.
- TIP OF THE TONGUE: Some wheelchair users may have to use a straw to drive their chair. The user sips or puffs air into a straw to be able to deliver basic navigation commands. Researchers at Georgia Tech have been developing a Tongue Drive System that seems to be just as accurate but faster to use. A tiny magnet is attached to the tongue. Sensors in a headset can read changes in the magnetic field as the tongue moves and send data via WiFi to a smartphone that then controls the chair or other objects such as a computer. Although the magnet can be glued to the tongue it falls off relatively quickly and could be inhaled. Piercing the tongue may be a better solution for those going beyond mere testing. Who would have thought of a tongue piercing as being an assistive aid? Georgia Tech.
- WAVING WITH LIGHTING: Wave your hand at the Goldee light controller and the lights will come on or go off. But the controller can also turn lights on or off by itself if it senses you’re not home or you’re getting up in the middle of the night. Team it with smart bulbs like those from Hue and the controller will create scenes to help you wake up or go to sleep. You can also operate Goldee with your smartphone. The controller is a slim black box that attaches to the wall and plugs in to the power, one per room. The device includes a proximity sensor, an ambient sensor, a gesture control chip and uses an AMOLED display behind Gorilla Glass. Goldee.
Tech Universe: Wednesday 04 December 2013
- POP GOES THE SPACE JUNK: There’s a lot of junk up in space that’s a danger to spacecraft and space missions. That’s why most of it is being carefully tracked by the sensitive Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope in Australia. The telescope array of 2,048 dual-polarization dipole antennas arranged in 128 formations of four-by-four tiles can detect objects smaller than 1 metre. One technique it’s using is to pick up pop music from FM stations reflected back by objects up to 1,000 Km away. Way to make pop useful. CNet.
- WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK: Chernobyl is famous for its massive radiation leak nearly 30 years ago. At the time the site was covered in concrete and metal to help contain the radioactivity, but that cap is deteriorating. Now work is underway to cover the whole lot with a massive 29,000 ton metal arch whose ends will be sealed. The site is still so radioactive the arch is being built 300 metres away and will slide into place along rails. But that’s only after the old reactor chimney has been dismantled. Workers on that job can receive a year’s worth of maximum radiation exposure in just a few hours. The project is due to be completed in 2015. With any luck no-one will make any mistakes that release vast amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. BBC.
- LET THE SUN SHINE ON: Solar panels are a wonderful thing, but like ordinary windows on a house they accumulate dirt over time, reducing their efficiency. Sinfonia’s robot cleaner moves from panel to panel, eradicating dirt and debris with a spinning scrub brush and squeegee combination, along with a reservoir of detergent. It can clean more than 93 square metres every hour and can crawl across a gap from one panel to another to finish the job. The cleaner runs on a battery that must be recharged from time to time. One of the panels at the end of a row should be its home base and able to recharge the device. Gizmodo.
- LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE: The Freedom Ship is a concept of a place to live, work, retire, vacation, or visit. The idea is to create a mobile community, circling the globe once every 3 years. Commuter aircraft would ferry residents and visitors to and from shore, making use of the top deck as an airport. The concept has the ship at 4,152 metres long, 228 metres wide, and 106 metres high. Imagine the building consent process for making structural changes to your living or working quarters. Freedom Ship.
- CAST A LITTLE LIGHT: A camera generally works by recording photons reflected from objects. The more light reflected, the brighter the object. A team at MIT are working on recording only a single reflected photon from positions on a grid. It keeps firing until a photon is reflected and then moves on. A light surface should require fewer bursts of photons than a dark surface. Apply a clever algorithm and you can use this to record images in very low light, perhaps producing images from only one nine-hundredth the light. The technique could be useful for studying biological systems where too much light could be damaging, or for stealth imaging. Timing matters. MIT News.
There was no Tech Universe on Thursday or Friday.
iOS7 came with the new Activation Lock feature as an extra layer of protection that will pretty much prevent turning off Find my phone, resetting, erasing or reactivating the device meaning preventing theft, however if not set properly, you could lock your own device!
One of the new security features of iOS7 is the antitheft Activation Lock which basically makes it difficult for anyone else to use or sell your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch if you ever lose it. Of course this could prevent or lessen theft rats as there would be no use of the stolen device if he can’t reformat it. The police have been encouraging people to upgrade their iPhones because of it.
If you have Find My Phone turned on, you must have the password associated with its Apple ID in order to turn off Find my Phone, erase or reactivate the device. This is great in theory, but in practice the strategy relies on some advance planning by device owners to prevent a disaster.
The feature is automatically activated once you upgrade to iOS7 and turn on your Find My Phone, so don’t spend hours searching for its button. In order to setup Activation Lock you have to upgrade to iOS 7 on your iPhone or iPad and then go into Settings > iCloud and then make sure Find My Phone is turned on.
The feature looks so good so far, but it is going to be your worst nightmare if you forgot or lost your Apple ID. In a nutshell if you forget your password and cannot reset it, you will lose access to your Apple ID and may be unable to use or reactivate your device. So, you should write down your password and keep it somewhere safe where you can get it anytime.
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.