Technology News (June 2015)

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New LED tech boosts Wi-Fi bandwidth
A new technology has been developed that can increase the bandwidth of Wi-Fi systems by ten times, using LED lights to transmit information. This technology can be integrated with existing Wi-Fi systems to reduce bandwidth problems in crowded locations such as airports, where there are multiple users in play.

Recent advances in LED technology have made it possible to modulate LED light more rapidly, opening up the possibility of using light for wireless transmission in a free-space optical communication system.

Thinh Nguyen, associate professor at Oregon State University of electrical and computer engineering, has worked with Alan Wang, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, to build the first prototype.

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The prototype, called WiFO, uses LEDs that are beyond the visual spectrum for humans and creates an invisible cone of light about 1sqm, in which data can be received.

To address the issue of a small area of usability, researchers have created a hybrid system that can switch between multiple LED transmitters installed on a ceiling and the existing Wi-Fi system.

ISS to test laser cannon to vaporise hazardous space junk
The International Space Station (ISS) is continually pelted by small pieces of space junk, and it often needs to shift its orbit to avoid collisions.

Japanese researchers have come up with a laser system that could vaporise bits of space debris before these makes contact with the floating laboratory.

There is a huge amount of space debris orbiting Earth, which is made up of bits of old satellites, rockets and other man-made items that have been left behind. And even a tiny screw can cause damage to ISS because of the speed at which these items are travelling.

The team at Japan’s Riken Computational Astrophysics Laboratory will be installing an Extreme Universe Space Observatory in its ISS module in 2017. The equipment is designed to monitor the atmosphere for ultraviolet (UV) emissions from cosmic rays but could also double as a precision space-junk-tracking system.

Also, this can be added a laser that can focus an intense beam of energy onto a piece of space junk. This would vaporise at least part of the item, creating a burst of plasma that could push the projectile off course, ideally towards the Earth’s atmosphere, where it would burn up.

Tiny robots that can carry up to 2000 times their weight

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A selective laser

Miniature robots, called MicroTugs, have power equivalent to a human being dragging a blue whale, and can be used in factories or on building sites.

Scientists behind MicroTugs found inspiration in nature, borrowing techniques used by geckos and ants, which are some of nature’s most adept climbers, in their design.

The team at Stanford, including PhD students David Christensen and Elliot Hawkes, demonstrated a 9gm robot that can carry more than 1kg vertically up glass, which is equivalent to a human being climbing a skyscraper while carrying an elephant.

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Another robot, which weighs just 20mg and can carry 500mg, is so tiny it had to be built under a microscope, using tweezers to put the parts together.

A car safety system that spots driver errors
Indian-American researchers have developed a new car-safety system that anticipates what the driver is about to do a few seconds before it happens, to prevent those behind the wheel from committing mistakes.

By observing the driver’s body language and considering that in the context of what is happening on the road, a computer algorithm can determine the probability that the driver will turn or change lanes.

Based on street maps and GPS information, the system could also give an Illegal Turn message if the driver is about to turn the wrong way on a one-way street.

To develop the system, Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science at Cornell University, and colleagues recorded videos of ten drivers, along with videos of the road ahead, for 1899km of expressway and city-driving over a period of two months.

A computer using face-detection and tracking-software identified head movements and learnt to associate these with turns and lane changes, so that the final system can anticipate possible actions the driver may take.

Acoustruments use sound waves to control smartphones
Researchers have developed an inexpensive alternative to smartphone touchscreens—a toolbox of physical knobs, sliders and other mechanisms that can be readily added to control any device.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research drew inspiration from wind instruments in devising these mechanisms, which they call acoustruments.

Their idea is to use pluggable plastic tubes and other structures to connect a smartphone’s speaker with its microphone. The device can then be controlled by acoustically altering sounds as these pass through this system. Just as a simple slide whistle or flute can produce expressive music, these acoustruments can add a wide range of functionality to a smartphone including proximity and pressure sensors.

The plastic acoustruments can be made rapidly and inexpensively as no electrical circuitry is involved.

Engineers create world’s smallest beamsplitter
As computer technology is forging ahead, demand for processing information at ultra-fast speed is also increasing. Scientists believe that silicon photonics has the potential of improving performance and speed of machines such as supercomputers. Instead of using electrons for transferring and manipulating information, this technology uses photons of laser light. Engineers from University of Utah have taken a step in the direction of developing computers and mobile devices that could compute information at the speed of light, that is, millions of times faster than present-day machines.

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They have designed an integrated-nanophotonics polarisation beamsplitter on top of a silicon chip that can divide incoming light waves in two. As a result, two distinct channels of separately polarised information are generated. The extremely-small beamsplitter is the world’s smallest polarisation beamsplitter, and is just 2.4 microns by 2.4 microns (approx. one-fiftieth the width of a human hair). By applying the new nonlinear optimisation algorithm, researchers were able to scale down the size of the device from 100 microns by 100 microns. This will help them in devising silicon photonic chips to direct light waves in different ways and to pack millions of beamsplitters on an individual chip.

Smartglasses that can read emotions
Microsoft has been awarded a patent for smartglasses that would allow users to detect and interpret emotions of people within their field-of-vision. Users would be able to determine whom to analyse, whether an individual or a group, without their knowing.

Sensors, including depth cameras and a microphone mounted on the nose bridge, will pick up visual and audio information from a subject. This would be processed for things like subtle variations in speech rhythm and amplitude, choice of words, type and speed of gestures, eye focus and body posture.

This information will then be beamed to Microsoft’s databases and an emotional determination will be relayed back to the user through the smartglasses.

NASA 3D prints copper rocket engine part

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NASA 3D prints copper rocket engine part

Engineers at NASA have developed the first full-scale, 3D-printed copper rocket engine part, a combustion chamber liner that operates at extreme temperatures and pressures.

Numerous complex parts made of many different materials are assembled to make engines that provide the thrust that powers the rockets.

Additive manufacturing has the potential to reduce the time and cost of making rocket parts like the copper liner found in rocket combustion chambers where super-cold propellants are mixed and heated to extreme temperatures needed to send rockets to space.

A selective laser melting machine in Marshall Space Flight Centre’s Materials and Processing Laboratory fused 8255 layers of copper powder to make the chamber in ten days and 18 hours.
Before making the liner, materials engineers built several other test parts, characterised the material and created a process for additive manufacturing with copper.

Disney’s 3D printer uses fabric to create soft objects
A new type of 3D printer, created by Disney Research, allows layers of soft fabric to be used instead of plastic or metal. The printer works by laying down a sheet of fabric, felt, cotton or synthetic, and using a laser to cut the shape of the bottom-most layer.

The sheet is then treated with a heat-sensitive adhesive and another layer of fabric placed on top, which is then laser-cut again in the shape of the next layer, and so on. At the end, the fabric surrounding the object being built, layer by layer, can be removed, leaving behind the object itself.

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Tesla introduces batteries to power homes

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Powerwall batteries by Tesla

American electric carmaker, Tesla Motors, has launched batteries that can power homes and businesses in an attempt to expand beyond its automobile business. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery unit would be built using the same batteries Tesla produces for its electric vehicles.

CEO Elon Musk has said that these batteries would store solar energy and serve as a backup system during blackouts. The system, called Powerwall, would allow users to get off a power grid or bring energy to remote areas that are not on a grid.

Dlodlo to bring to market world’s lightest VR glasses
Dlodlo is in works to bring to market what the company claims to be the world’s lightest portable immersive virtual reality (VR) glasses. Stylish, wireless and ultra-lightweight at just 120gm, Dlodlo VR glasses look and fit like regular sunglasses. These offer full-HD resolution with 16:9 aspect ratio and a fast 120Hz refresh rate.

Dlodlo glasses support 2D/3D switch video, 4K video display and provide a 110° field-of-view (FOV). The glasses make users feel like warriors battling in a video game for an exciting VR experience. These do not require a PC or specific type of smartphone to use. These work on Android 4.4 OS with built-in Bluetooth and functions with any Bluetooth device, including gaming devices, smartphones, tablets and laptops. These adjust from 58mm to 70mm to help with vision problems, so there is no need to wear corrective glasses under the device.

Manipal Institute and Tata Power Solar unveil solar car

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Prototype of the solar car, SERVe, developed by teams from Manipal Institute of Technology and Tata Power Solar

A team from Manipal Institute of Technology and Tata Power Solar has unveiled SERVe (solar electric road vehicle), the university’s first prototype solar car. This four-wheeler runs entirely on solar energy, weighs 590kg and can reach up to 60kmph with a cruising speed of 30kmph.

Designed by the students of SolarMobil team, the car is custom-fitted with solar panels, which are designed by Tata Power Solar.

SERVe was designed keeping in mind the mobility and commercial viability, and the solar panels have been custom-made to fit the car’s curved surface, enhancing the aerodynamics and performance of the vehicle. These panels weigh 35kg, which is less than half the weight of conventional panels, and provide up to 960W power. The car also houses a Direct Solar Drive, powered by solar panels, to maintain the cruising speed and is supplemented by extra power from its high-end energy storage system.


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