World’s first self-powered camera

Camera that can continually power itself, without using a battery
Camera that can continually power itself, without using a battery

Researchers at Columbia University, New York, have built a camera that is capable of producing images using power harvested from surrounding incident light.

The camera is capable of taking one image per second, and a well-lit environment of around 300 lux delivers enough power for the camera to operate indefinitely.

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The team is led by Shree Nayar, a professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering. He has worked with research engineer, Daniel Sims, and used off-the-shelf components to fabricate an image sensor with 30×40 pixels, which is the lowest resolution needed for a human face to be recognised.

The image sensor toggles between image-capture and power-harvesting modes, and during each image-capture cycle, pixels are used first to record and read out the image and then to harvest energy and charge the sensor’s power supply.

Robos to help invest in mutual funds
Did you know that robo advisors can help you plan your mutual fund investments based on certain algorithms, eliminating any bias a financial advisor may have? While most financial advisors earn a commission on investments made by you, these robo advisors take a much smaller cut.

These online services offer automated investment management via software. Some popular names in this category include Wealthfront, Betterment, Vanguard and Charles Schwab, according to a recent report.

In India, ArthaYantra has been offering such services since 2006 under the name of Arthos. Another company, scripbox, has started offering its services from 2012. While scripbox does not charge anything upfront, Artha Yantra charges Rs. 499 to Rs. 9999 for its basic to elite plus services.

Google, Johnson & Johnson to team up for building robot surgeons
Google and Johnson & Johnson are coming together to build robots that can help surgeons in the operating room. The alliance syncs with two of Google’s initiatives beyond its main business of Internet search and advertising.

Google has been investing in medical research aimed at extending lives and in robotic technology that can free up humans to do other things.

The two companies will try to engineer robotic technology that will reduce patient trauma and accelerate post-surgery healing. Google will work with Ethicon, a medical device company owned by Johnson & Johnson.

Tortoise gets a 3D printed shell

Turtle Cleoparta (Image courtesy: www.wired.co.uk)
Turtle Cleoparta (Image courtesy: www.wired.co.uk)

This recent use of 3D printing to alleviate a painful condition suffered by an ailing tortoise named Cleopatra could easily be the most remarkable animal application yet for this technology.

When Nicola Novelli, founder of Canyon Critters, started taking in rescued animals in order to save them from euthanisation, he came across a tortoise named Cleopatra, who was living with a painful condition. Novelli came up with the idea of 3D printing a shell that could be placed over the top of Cleopatra’s own shell for protection, someone from Colorado Technical University offered to help him realise this idea.

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He then worked with the university, along with 3D Printing Store in Denver, the USA, who 3D scanned Cleopatra’s original shell and donated resources to the project. While 3D Printing Store scanned and took measurements, Sr. Roger Henry, Colorado Technical University, took on the task of designing the actual 3D model for the shell, and Dr Lanka Elson, chair IT at the university, managed the whole initiative.

A typical tortoise has an expected lifespan of 80 years, and it will grow in size by 200 per cent to 300 per cent. This means that new shells will eventually have to be printed out as she ages.

Facebook Internet drones to have wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737

Facebook’s solar-powered drone to provide Internet connectivity(Image courtesy: economictimes.indiatimes.com)
Facebook’s solar-powered drone to provide Internet connectivity(Image courtesy: economictimes.indiatimes.com)

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has completed the first test of an unmanned aircraft that could be used to bring Internet connectivity to the most remote parts of the world. The unmanned aerial vehicle has already gone on one test flight in the UK.

It is expected that the final design will produce an airplane with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but lighter than a car. Running on solar power, Zuckerberg has said, it is expected that the plane could fly at altitudes of more than 18,288m (60,000-feet) for months at a time.

DARPA working on technologybetter than GPS
When your location marker on Google Maps is pinging, it is usually due to a temperamental global positioning system (GPS) signal.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the USA is developing a radically new technology that will offer real-time position tracking; something that will work despite blind spots or jamming efforts. The agency expects this will offer a huge boon to the US military, especially. Beyond war, the technology is expected to be far more flexible than GPS.

It is also working on self-calibrating gyroscopes and accelerometers and clocks that will be able to track your position without relying on a wireless signal or other external sources. If your smartwatch of the future knows where you start and if you move 350 metres south, for example, it will know where you are, without having to double-check with the Internet or a satellite.

Aerospace-related technology could improve Parkinson’s therapy
When Rice University chemist Matteo Pasquali set out to create strong and conductive carbon nanotube fibres, he had aerospace applications in mind. But it turned out that microscopic fibres are also great at communicating with the brain, making these an ideal candidate for therapies that deal with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

At the moment, hard metal electrodes are implanted into the brain for Parkinson’s therapy. The electrodes deliver electrical signals to calm tremors, but are not compatible with the organ’s soft tissues. The flexible fibres are more bio-compatible, cheaper and maintain better electrical connection. Also, tests prove these cause little inflammation and are as stable as commercial platinum used on electrodes.

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Rice University’s assistant professor Caleb Kemere, who studies Parkinson’s disease, believes that these fibres could lead to self-regulating treatment devices for patients. The devices will be able to read signals from the brain, analyse the best amount of electrical stimulation needed to calm tremors on a case-by-case basis and automatically administer jolts of electricity.

NASA to move asteroid into moon’s orbit
NASA is planning to launch a rocket to an asteroid and grab a boulder off of it—a stepping stone and training mission for an eventual trip sending humans to planet Mars.

The space agency has unveiled details of the US$ 1.25 billion plan to launch a solar-powered unmanned spaceship to an asteroid in December 2020. The ship would spend about an year circling the large space rock and pluck out a 3.9m (13-feet) boulder off its surface using robotic arms.

The smaller rock would be hauled near the moon and parked in orbit around the moon. Using a giant rocket ship and Orion crew capsule that are still being developed, two astronauts would fly to the smaller rock in 2025 and start exploring. Astronauts aboard Orion would dock with the robotic ship, make spacewalks, climbing around the mini-asteroid to inspect and document, and even grab a piece to return to Earth.

A cookie jar that lets you grab a cookie only when you achieve set goals
It is widely understood that delayed gratification helps one become successful. Resisting everything but temptation can be difficult, which is why kSafe is stepping in when your resolve weakens.

Essentially, kSafe is an oversized cookie jar, one that will let you get a tasty treat inside it only if you have achieved something that day. kSafe is the brainchild of Kitchen Safe inventors, Ryan Sang and David Krippendorf. kSafe takes the idea of locking your goodies away and takes it one step further, instead of just a time limit.

These goals are controlled by the safe’s companion app and can be set to one of three different categories. Activity goals require you to walk enough steps or burn enough calories, while you could set a location goal that means you will only get your TV remote if you check in at the gym.

Wearable device that turns thumbnail into a track pad

NailO can turn the thumbnail into a trackpad (Image courtesy: MIT Media Lab)
NailO can turn the thumbnail into a trackpad (Image courtesy: MIT Media Lab)

Researchers at MIT are developing a wearable device, NailO, that can turn the user’s thumbnail into a miniature wireless track pad.

This technology could allow users to control wireless devices, along with enabling subtle communication such as sending quick texts.

According to the researchers, the commercial version of this device would have a detachable membrane on its surface, so that users could coordinate surface patterns with their outfits. For this, they are using capacitive sensing (the kind of sensing iPhone’s touchscreen uses) to register touch, since it can tolerate a thin, non-active layer between the user’s finger and the underlying sensors.

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Google’s Project Loon ready for beta phase
Project Loon, Google’s initiative to send helium balloons around the world and deliver the Internet to users in remote areas, is ready for beta phase.

Google will start conducting trials in Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. Mike Cassidy from Google said that the company will use its own manufacturing facility and automated systems to deliver a balloon in hours instead of days. He also said that Google is ready to launch thousands of balloons in the skies.

According to Cassidy, various tests have revealed that helium balloons can stay afloat for six months, far above where planes fly. Also, Google can keep a real-time track of the balloons and retrieve these once these have outlived their life or run out of helium. Google has also developed allied software systems and hardware for the same.

Paper microphone to boost phone’s battery

Project Loon by Google
Project Loon by Google

A team of researchers from Georgia Tech Institute of Technology have developed a 125μm thin, paper based triboelectric nanogenerator that can harvest energy from speech and deliver a maximum power density of 121mW/m2. They have used a laser to punch a grid of microscopic holes in the paper, coated one side in copper and laid it on top of a thin sheet of teflon, thus joining the two sheets at one edge.

Sound waves vibrate the two sheets in different ways, causing these to come in and out of contact. This generates an electric charge, which is capable of charging a phone.

Driverless city being built
The University of Michigan in the USA is setting up a 93,077.7sqm (23-acre) mini ‘city’ to test autonomous cars. Called M City, it will have all the features of a modern city such as gravel roads, traffic lights, a round-about, a bridge as well as a tunnel to test the driverless cars in a controlled environment. The city is expected to be ready by July 20.

Interestingly, there will be robots to represent the actual people walking around or cycling to recreate the chaotic scenario one finds in a real town. At present, the autonomous car models being made by various auto companies are tested either as car racing tracks, where the real traffic is missing, or on city roads or highways, where these pose a danger for others.

The US$ 6.5 million facility is also being equipped with building facades, intersections and blind corners as well as objects obstructing the cars’ view. Robots acting as pedestrians or cyclists will occasionally step out on the roads to help test the cars’ sensors and brakes without hurting anyone. The building facades an be rearranged to present different kind of scenarios.


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