Wednesday, November 30, 2005

3D Printer

Imagine a machine which accepts CAD drawings, then produces a three dimensional prototype within a few hours for $100! Believe it or not, it now exists. The successful implementation of the technology points the way to this technology eventually finding its way into local service bureaus which will produce while-you-wait samples as a service, and eventually to the home where designs could be downloaded from the internet and manifested at whim.

American Z Corporation now has several models of 3D printers that produce physical prototypes quickly, easily, and inexpensively from computer-aided design (CAD) and other digital data.

In the same way that conventional desktop printers provide computer users with a paper output of their documents, Z Corp.'s 3D printers provide 3D CAD users a physical prototype of real world objects such as a mobile phone, an engine manifold, or a camera.

The process operates in a remarkably similar fashion to the ink-jet printer, building layer upon layer of powder and a bonding agent which creates the object, and it can even be done in full colour.

Though only available for a short time, the machines have already found their way into the world's best known R&D studios: Sony, Fisher-Price, Adidas, Canon, Kodak, NASA, Harley Davidson, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BMW, Porsche, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Harvard, MIT and Yale. At the bottom end of the market, the most recent entry-level rapid prototyping system from Zcorp sells for around US$25,000 providing customers with an all-purpose solution for their modeling needs.

The ZPrinter System completes the Z Corp. 3D Printer product line, which includes the Z406 Full Color 3D Printer and the Z810 Large Format 3D Printer. Z Corporation offers a range of materials to support its 3D Printers, including the new ZCast powder, used to create molds for metal casting on the Z Corp. 3D Printing Systems.

Z Corp.'s revolutionary ZCast technology addresses the needs of the metal casting industry and end users who seek to rapidly produce metal prototype parts. The ZCast technology involves printing metal casting molds directly from digital data. The process drastically reduces the time it takes to produce a casting from weeks to days. In addition to the ZCast process, the Z Corp. technology can be used to create patterns for the sand casting or investment casting of metal parts.

Source: []

Self-Chilling Beer Can

It is the stuff of science fiction, but soon you'll be reaching in to the pantry for that ice cold drink. It's a paradox that's still a few summers away from supermarket shelves, but the I.C. Can is very real. Created by Tempra Technology and Crown Cork & Seal, the I.C. Can works through simple evaporation, not compressed gas.

The I.C. Can is about the size of a normal 500ml can, and holds just over 300ml of drink. The can consists of two compartments, and cooling is activated by turning the base of the can which breaks the seal between both compartments.

The top part contains an evaporator that has a layer of water gel sealed inside a vacuum on its inner surface. The bottom compartment is an absorber containing a clay drying agent and a heatable sink chamber. Upon activation the natural desiccant within the vacuum draws the heat from the beverage through the evaporator and is absorbed into the insulated heat-sink container.

Tempra Technology says that it is this patented vacuum-power which lowers the temperature so quickly. They claim the I.C. Can reduces its contents by a minimum of 16.7 degrees Celsius in three minutes.

Far from replacing refrigerators the intention is to use the I.C. Can where cooling devices can't be found. Indeed, the prohibitive costs of the can will ensure this (at least in the near future). Chief executive, Barney Guarino, of Tempra Technology said, "it is going to be a premium cost but we think it is sustainable . . . you only have to look at the widget in cans to see people are willing to pay more for what they want and that just foams the beer".

The product is still being run through tests, but the manufacturers believe it could be on shelves by mid 2006.

Note from Technophile: In a time of instant gratification, 3 minutes still seems like a long time to have to wait in order to satisfy that hard earned thirst.

Source: [Tempra Technology]

For unique gift ideas, including the design below (which is printed on a BBQ apron and other great stuff), visit my shop at Café Xpress.

Personal Mobility

The “i-unit” is a form of “personal mobility” that seeks to attain a greater balance of meeting individuals’ wishes to enjoy freedom of movement, harmony with society, and harmony with the Earth’s natural environment.

“Expanding Human Abilities”
This union of driver and vehicle is intended to expand human abilities and possibilities.

“Inspire the Individual”
Making a better world with mobility leading the way to a greater bond between people and the planet.
Movement expands our world by creating possibilities and encounters among nature, society, people and culture. Movement brings us new sensations, discoveries and acquaintances, enabling individuals to lead fuller lives and cultivating a sense of belonging with the planet.

Design Theme:
“The Leaf”
The design, inspired by the leaf that converts sunlight into life energy, seeks to express the power of the unknown, the logic of living things and the simple beauty of waste-free functionality.

Clean Car

General Motors' AUTOnomy concept vehicle is powered by fuel cells instead of an engine. All that comes out of the tailpipe is non-polluting water vapor.

Guard Duty!

Tmsuk's security robot patrols a set route. When it detects suspicious objects, it picks them up and transports them to a designated area.

Auto Pilot

Toyota's driverless NGV bus runs on compressed natural gas and uses magnetic markers embedded in the road to find its way.

Roll & Rock!

Traveling musicians, rejoice! With keys just an eighth of an inch thick, the 2-lb., 61-key Hand Roll Piano rolls up like a blanket and spreads out to about 3 ft. in length. Incorporating technology used in remote-control buttons and touch panels, the silicone-rubber keyboard, which has a built-in speaker, can be played for up to 15 hours on four AA batteries. But it's no lightweight. The Hand Roll comes with a set of 128 tones (from acoustic piano to bird tweet), 100 rhythms, 20 prerecorded demo songs and a speaker jack, and it connects to a computer.

Inventor: Yamano Music
Availability: Soon, about $160

To Learn More: [Yamano]

Can You Hear Me Now?

This device makes it easier for hearing-aid users to go cellular. The tiny ELI plugs into the bottom of most behind-the-ear hearing aids, essentially turning them into wireless cell-phone headsets and eliminating the static that often occurs when hearing aids and mobile phones interact. A miniature microphone transmits the wearer's voice back to the phone. And for people who use in-the-ear hearing aids, there's another version of ELI that hangs on a cord around the neck.

Inventor: Randall Roberts
Availability: Now, at audiologists' offices; up to $299

To Learn More: []

Sensitive Touch

The key to making artificially intelligent robots lies in giving them plenty of ways to gather information about their environment. Takao Someya, a researcher at the University of Tokyo, has created an electronic film—made up of bendable, shock-resistant transistors embedded in plastic—that can detect pressure and temperature. The sheet, known as a "large-area sensor array," is flexible enough to cover small objects and could give robots a sense of touch.

Another potential use: smart carpet or furniture upholstery that can automatically adjust its temperature.

Inventor: Takao Someya
Availability: Prototype only

To Learn More: [Takao Someya Group]

Formfitting Door

A door that fits like a glove? This one does. Fukuda's Automatic Door, designed in Japan, opens just enough to match the shape of the person or object passing through. The nifty motion-detecting portal saves energy by keeping a door from having to repeatedly open all the way. That helps maintain a stable temperature in a room and can prevent dirt and other materials from being swept inside. In addition to people, the new system can be used for small objects, like packages dropped off at a post office, or for larger things, like a car coming through a garage door.

Inventor: Rikiya Fukuda
Availability: Prototype only

To Learn More: [Tanaka (Japanese Only)]

Life Straw

For about the price of a caffe latte (around $3), you really can save a life! The LifeStraw, a beefed-up drinking straw designed by the Swiss-based company Vestergaard Frandsen, uses seven types of filters, including mesh, active carbon and iodine, to make 185 gal. of water clean enough to drink. It can prevent waterborne illnesses, such as typhoid and diarrhea, that kill at least 2 million people every year in the developing world. It can also create safe drinking water for victims of hurricanes, earthquakes or other disasters. And finally, it makes a handy accoutrement for the weekend warrior's back-country hike.

Inventor: Vestergaard Frandsen Group
Availability: Early 2006; $3 and up

Learn more: []

Walk Like An Egyptian

Enter ... Mecha-Grandma! Japanese researchers have developed a robotic exoskeleton to help the elderly and disabled walk and even lift heavy objects like the jug of water above. It’s called the Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL. (The inventor has obviously never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Its brain is a computer (housed in a backpack) that learns to mimic the wearer’s gait and posture; bioelectric sensors pick up signals transmitted from the brain to the muscles, so it can anticipate movements the moment the wearer thinks of them. A commercial version is in the works. Just don’t let it near the pod-bay doors.

Inventor: Yoshiyuki Sankai, University of Tsukuba
Availability: Near future, $14,000–$19,000

Source: [TIME]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

MobiBLU: World's Smallest MP3 Player

MobiBlu DAH-1500 has a cube shape with only 24mm side length making it the world's smallest mp3 player!

World's Smallest MP3 PlayerThe MobiBlu DAH-1500 available at Wal-mart claims to have USB 2.0. Wal-mart is also listing it as MobiBlu DAH-1500i. USB 2.0 and WMA-DRM support definitely making the Wal-Mart MobiBlu a much better player.
"The sound quality is very good actually. There is also a sound boost option in the music menu to enhance the output. Not really necessary to switch that one on. Additionally 6 equalizer settings are available to choose from, plus a user definable equalizer setting. I got several emails already asking questions about the quality of the sound and the overall quality of a device that small. To give a quick answer: the quality is surprisingly good. The manufacturing, the features, the user interface all make a great impression. The world's smallest mp3 player is at the same time also one of the best flash memory music players out there. Just as a nice little feature example, the MobiBlu warns on the display that the headset is not plugged in (see sceen shot). Although this is a little feature it shows how complete the design is."
Source: [I4U News]

Saturday, November 19, 2005

CAT Got Your Car?

You could say that Guy Negre, a French automotive engineer and former race car designer, is full of hot air.

Negre's Luxembourg-based company, Moteur Development International (MDI), is developing a line of cars, vans and pickups powered exclusively by compressed air. There's no gasoline, no costly service schedules and no polluting exhaust.

The prototype vehicles are so clean, the company says, that the air coming out of them is often cleaner than when it goes in.

"This represents something truly revolutionary in the automobile industry," said Shiva Vencat, the company's representative in the United States. "We are talking about changing the way we make cars, how we buy cars, and, more importantly, we are talking about a clean car."
MDI claims that its air-powered automobiles will eventually render the internal combustion engine "as obsolete as the black-and-white television."
The company plans to produce vans, family sedans, taxis, small trucks and three-passenger runabouts called the MiniCat.

All are prototypes. Their bodies are made of aluminum tubing, fiberglass and injected foam. Prices are expected to range from less than $10,000 for the MiniCat to $16,000 for a six-seat sedan called the CitiCat.

These are no ordinary cars. Power comes from fresh air stored in reinforced carbon-fiber tanks beneath the chassis. Air is compressed to 4,500 pounds per square inch (about 150 times the pressure of the typical car tire). The air is fed into four cylinders where it expands, driving specially designed pistons. About 25 horsepower is generated.

Though technical problems are being worked out, company officials say the car is capable of 70 mph and a 120-mile range under normal city conditions, performance that is comparable to electric cars.
Note from Technophile: The idea of using compressed air isn't new. Writer Jules Verne predicted in the 1860s that the technology would be used to power cars in Paris by the late 20th century. Some primitive engines date to the early 1900s, and compressed air has been used for years to start race cars. This car was featured in last night's Science Channel broadcast of "Beyond Tomorrow".
Source: [MDI]

Friday, November 18, 2005

Satisfy Your EV (Electric Vehicle) Fetish

One of the stars of the 21st International Electric Vehicles Symposium (EVS21) to be held in Monte Carlo next week will be the world’s most exclusive electric car – the Venturi Fetish. Assembled by hand in Monaco and made to order, the Fetish has an asking price of $583,000 USD - not bad for a vehicle which can legitimately claim the title of being the first production electric sports car in history!
Under the technical direction of Gerard Ducarouge, chief engineer of the project, Venturi has taken a different approach to most other companies in the electric car business in designing the Fetish. Most such vehicles use an electric motor to drive each wheel, whereas Ducarouge has opted for a single centrally-positioned engine and a monocoque carbon chassis, to keep weight to 1100 Kg.

Note from Technophile: Ducarouge has placed the 350 kg Lithium-Ion battery unit at the epicentre of the automobile and Venturi, renowned for the superb handling of its cars, has apparently achieved precision, sports car handling with the vehicle.

10,705 Miles Per Gallon

Who says Gas Companies are not into saving fuel? The Shell Eco-Marathon is an annual fuel economy competition held in the UK with competitors ranging from 11 year-old students through to senior university academics and semi professional independent teams.

The rules are simple - build a machine which uses the least fuel possible while averaging averaging more than 15mph around a circuit. Beyond engine efficiency, there are many related design considerations which influence the final fuel economy returned, such as aerodynamics, rolling resistance and driving techniques.

A new world economy record was set during the event when Team MicroJoule achieved an average fuel consumption of 10,705 mpg!

Note from Technophile: To put that in perspective, that's the distance from London to Melbourne, Australia on less than one gallon of fuel!

Aerodynamic Recumbent Tricycle

Forget romantic visions of cycling with wind in your hair! Get your tangled locks inside a sleek shaped monocoque shell, made of carbon fibre.

Designed by Michael Goretzky (one of the guys behind Daimler Chrysler's SMART car), this is a true HPV (Human Powered Vehicle). It comes with front, rear and indicator lights. This speed bullet weighs just 32kg (with batteries).
Luggage compartments are under development as is a battery powered electric motor. Truly desperate for some fresh air? Leave the rear 'turret' off: Instant cabriolet! And girls, it even has has a side view mirror so you could, at a pinch, adjust your make-up while waiting at the traffic lights.
Note from Technophile: This is truly a next-generation vehicle that you can own and enjoy today and not worry about where you are going to need to go to refuel it, or how long it will take, or how far you can go. OK, so you might need to stop for the occasional veggie burger and cleansing ale.
Source: [Go-One]

Three Dimensional Mobility

Moller International has developed the first and only feasible, personally affordable, personal vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle the world has ever seen.

"Paul Moller has spent 40 years and $50 million building the L.A. commuter's dream car." -Los Angeles Times Magazine
No matter how you look at it the automobile is only an interim step on our evolutionary path to independence from gravity. That's all it will ever be.

Take the most technologically advanced automobile, the Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati, Lamborgini, or the more affordable Acura, Accord, or the like. Manufacturers of these cars tout the new and greatly improved "aerodynamics" of their cars. Those in the aerospace industry have been dealing with aerodynamics from the beginning. The auto industry boasts about "advanced engineering" like aerodynamics, performance tuned wide track suspensions, electronic ignition and fuel injection systems, computer controllers, etc.

Advanced engineering in automobiles is like "War": What is it good for? What good does all of this "advanced engineering" do for you when the speed limit is around 60 MPH and you are stuck on "parking lots" called freeways anyway?

The modern world is demanding some kind of flying machine that will replace the automobile. Of course, this machine would have to be capable of VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing), be easy to maintain, cost effective and reliable. Well, the good people at Moller International may have come up with the solution. That solution is the "volantor" named M400 Skycar.
Volantor Definition: Vo - lan - tor (vo-lan'ter) n. A vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that is capable of flying in a quick, nimble, and agile manner. --intr. & tr.v. -tored, -toring, tors. To go or carry by volantor. [Lat. volare, to fly. Fr. volant, to move in a nimble and agile manner ]
Just imagine this scenario: From your garage to your destination, the M400 Skycar can cruise comfortably at 275 MPH (maximum speed of 375 MPH) and achieve up to 20 miles per gallon on clean burning, ethanol fuel. No traffic, no red lights, no speeding tickets. Just quiet direct transportation from point A to point B in a fraction of the time.

Note from Technophile: We're talking three dimensional mobility in place of two dimensional immobility! The price for such mobility: $500,000 (though it is expected to drop as production increases "substantially" to $60,000 to $80,000).

Saturday, November 12, 2005


ABO™ stands for "Adaptive Binary Optimization". ABO™ is a new and revolutionary approach to Digital Content Management.

It uses a non-traditional way of transforming data unlike JPEG (Discrete Cosine Transform), JPEG2000 (Discrete Wavelet Transform), JPEGLS, GIF, TIFF, PNG, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4 or MP3. Traditional systems depend on the elimination of data to achieve compression. ABO™ does not.

Instead, ABO™ uses the high correlation found in digital content signals and efficiently codes these correlations using their patent pending algorithm. The correlation is efficiently encoded in appropriate bit-planes to achieve significant compression of data. Further compression is achieved by means of standard entropy source coding techniques like Huffman Coding.

If downloading digital photos stalls your PC, just think what it does for the data networks in hospitals. A midsize hospital typically gets 60 requests every day for MRIs and echocardiograms. At 10 megabtes each, these enormous images can easily cripple a network.
ABO™ does not require any complex transforms (like FFT, DCT & Wavelet Transforms). It is based on a simple but powerful logical formula. Implementation is carried out with basic mathematical operations. Unlike existing approaches that generate floating points (decimal values), ABO™ 's data is completely binary (integers).

Thus, ABO™ delivers unprecedented quality , clarity , speed and compression at lower complexities and power consumption to digital data (images, sound & text).

ABO™ is unlike existing schemes which are based on frequency or calculus transformations. Its unique, less complex algorithm enables much faster speed of encoding (compression) and decoding (decompression). Retrieval speeds will be faster as ABO™ checks only 1 bit per pixel as compared to 8 bits for grayscale currently or 24 bits per pixel for color.

Breakthrough compression ratios: MatrixView has tested successfully the ability to compress certain images and videos upwards of 300x compression ratio at mathematically lossless quality.
Note from Technophile: The ability to scale the compression ratios is limitless and potentially to hundreds and thousands of times!

Growing For The Gold

Forget California! The next gold rush could have prospectors running for the cornfields. At least that's the hope of Chris Anderson, founder of the world's first gold-farming company, Tiaki International, based in New Zealand.

As a member of the earth sciences faculty at Massey University, the 31-year-old Anderson spent eight years refining a chemical process that causes plants to "hyperaccumulate" gold particles from soil. When canola, corn, or mustard is planted on old mining land with high concentrations of gold particles, the crops soak up gold and store it in their roots and leaves.

In 2003 trials at former mines in Brazil, Anderson's crops not only harvested gold but also accumulated mercury, the toxic metal long used by miners to extract gold. Though Tiaki's process requires the use of chemical sprays, it still leaves the soil in better shape than before, so the company hopes to eventually sell its services as a way to "re-green" mining sites.

"The value of the crop should provide a cash incentive for miners to clean their land", says David Kryl, scientific director at SciTrax, which follows and commercializes emerging technologies.
The trials prompted several investors to fund the startup earlier this year, and Tiaki is now prospecting for sites in China and Brazil to harvest gold, refine it into bullion, and sell it on the open market.

Note From Technophile: Tiaki's payoff may be years away, but the opportunity is golden!


What it is: Generic forms of the patented drug proteins sold by big biotech firms.

Why it's hot: Companies like Amgen and Genentech rely heavily on expensive but effective protein-based therapies for diseases ranging from chronic renal failure to diabetes. These patented therapies, also known as biodrugs, accounted for $18 billion in sales last year. Now many of the best-selling biodrugs are going off patent - which means that if others can copy them, they can sell them.

But cloning a protein, with its complex molecular structure, is far more difficult than copying an aspirin. And unless it's a perfect clone, under today's rules, regulators will not approve it. Biogenerics are a major focus for pharmaceutical companies in China and India, and they are also likely to be sold in the European Union soon. The FDA is considering rules for the United States, however, and the industry is split on how to handle the new drugs. Biogenerics have the potential to capture roughly 11 percent of the total biodrug market, which could send prices plummeting.
Note from Technophile: That would be bad news for the likes of Genentech, but potentially great news for millions of patients!

Friday, November 11, 2005

This Car Will Move You!

August 29, 2005 The Peugeot Design Contest was the first major design contest to be held on the internet and it fuelled the imagination of designers all over the globe. Here was an opportunity for a young designer with vision to bypass everything on the way to global acclaim – the winner received significant prizes and the ultimate reward was to have their concept produced as a working vehicle and featured on the Peugeot stand at the world’s premier motor show – this year the Frankfurt Show.

This year the third Peugeot Design Contest saw André Costa carry off the first prize for his outrageous two-seater electric concept car, the Moovie. With the Frankfurt Show just weeks away, Peugeot has now released images of the actual working model that was built from Costa’s original concept. It’s one concept worth examining, particularly now that the small electric-powered two-seater city car has gone from drawing board to reality!
André Costa’s words that described the car went as follows: “What shaped the visual look on the vehicle was the two big electric wheels with hollow rim, these wheels are hollow in the middle, this is where the doors of the car are located, the vehicle has like this big doors allowing the users to have enough space to enter and exit the vehicle.

“The big wheels have a reason behind it, the bigger the wheel less turns it has to make to travel, less turns less energy expended. The front of the vehicle is supported by two spheres, these are purely for support, the car turns by a system that makes one electric wheel go faster then the other, this system allows the vehicle in some cases to make 360º turns which is great for parking and moving in small city streets.

“Also and to enhance the stability of the vehicle, the wheels make an angle of about 10º closing on the top.

“The two big round doors slide along the side-front of the car to waste less space in small parking spaces, allowing a better exit at all times. The rearview mirrors fold up to avoid touching the doors during the side slide.

Airstream DudeMobile

The Airstream BaseCamp trailer, created by Nissan Design America at its La Jolla, California facility, is an ultra-lightweight, fiberglass-based trailer that "blends the convenience of RV travel with the versatility of car camping" and offers "a whole new level of versatility, durability and comfort for today's adventurer."
Note from Technophile: How could you go wrong with something that looks like Robocop? (Or, put a moving red light in the window and you have a Cylon helmet!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Maid To Order (iJanitor)

The first time you meet a robot can be pretty disappointing. Hollywood has taught us what to expect: a trusty sidekick like R2-D2, a gleaming robo-maid like The Jetsons' Rosey or a cyberassassin like the Terminator. The reality is very different: most robots are either mindless factory drones or blue-sky academic projects that cost a fortune, break down a lot and don't do very much. Most of them don't even have death rays.

Meet Roomba, a new housecleaning robot spawned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab and built by a Somerville, Mass., company called iRobot. Roomba's function is a humble one: it's designed to vacuum your living room while you're otherwise engaged. But Roomba also represents a technological watershed: it's the first robot ever built that is designed to live in your home, serve a useful purpose and be priced for the mass market — at $199, it costs about the same as a mid-range vacuum cleaner. Roomba isn't quite Rosey the Robot, but it just might be Rosey's great-great-grandparent.
Roomba had three parents: Rodney Brooks, director of M.I.T.'s AI Lab, and two of his former graduate students, Colin Angle and Helen Greiner. Brooks, who was featured in the 1997 documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, is arguably the world's greatest living roboticist. A voluble Australian, he's famous for finding radical, counterintuitive approaches to intractable problems; the nasa rover that went to Mars aboard Pathfinder was designed using techniques he pioneered.

With his two collaborators, Brooks spent the 1980s building experimental robots such as Genghis and Attila, six-legged insectoidal creatures with multiple onboard computers and dozens of sensors. These robots looked cool and cost a lot but on a practical level accomplished almost nothing. "You go into robotics thinking you're going to change the world," says Angle, who looks like a younger, nerdier Quaid brother. "You're not going to change the world with a million-dollar robot." In 1990 Angle, Greiner and Brooks founded iRobot hoping to build practical, affordable robots for everyday life.

But first they had to learn some hard lessons about those difficult creatures known as human beings. A robot is essentially a computer with a body, but iRobot wanted to market its robots as household appliances. And it turns out people have higher standards for appliances than they have for computers. Appliances have to be cheap, simple and reliable; nobody is going to buy a $2,000 vacuum cleaner that requires a Ph.D. in engineering and has to be rebooted twice a day. Leaving the ivory tower for the iRobot team was a culture shock. "We had to learn about plastics," Angle sighs. "We had to learn about Far East manufacturing. We learned that if you haven't had a sit-down, drag-out, pound-on-the-table argument over a nickel, you don't understand consumer products."

The iRoboters also had to learn about a subject that most scientists never really study: cleaning floors. They got down on their knees and worked out the physics of how dust collects and circulates. Vacuum cleaners consume large amounts of electricity, so they had to invent a new kind of low-power vacuum that would allow Roomba to run on rechargeable batteries. They ran their baby bot over "torture tracks" to test its mobility. They spent a night in a Target store to watch industrial cleaners at work.

Twelve years and 30 prototypes later, Roomba was born: a 5-lb. 10-oz., 13.5-in.-wide household robot that looks more like a horseshoe crab than a human being. Turn it on, and it springs to life with a surprising sense of alertness--almost as if it had a personality. Roomba's vision is limited, so it ranges around the room partly at random, covering open areas in widening spirals, then carefully following walls when it finds them, lightly bouncing off the occasional lamp or chair leg. It navigates using a set of simple rules called "heuristics"; iRobot originally developed Roomba's pathfinding program for a military robot designed to clear minefields. When Roomba determines — based on those heuristics, the size of the room and the number of obstacles it encounters on its travels — that it has covered every part of the room several times over, it stops, beeps cheerfully and shuts itself down.

As maids go, Roomba isn't perfect. Because of its shape, it leaves a little fluff in the corners where it can't quite reach. And if a couch is just the wrong height, Roomba can get wedged underneath. It helps to make the room Roomba-friendly by clearing up clutter and closing doors before you let it loose.
"It's a robot, it's not Einstein."
But Roomba gets the job done — as long as the job isn't too big — and it sure beats doing it yourself. One day Roomba will do for vacuuming what dishwashers did for dishwashing.

That day isn't here quite yet, but it's coming, and perhaps soon. Don't believe it? The big players are already moving in; companies like Hoover, Electrolux and Dyson are working on their own vacuum-cleaner robots, though they have yet to bring one to market in the U.S. Think of what personal computers were like in the late '70s. Nobody believed then that anybody would want a PC in their home, but then companies like Apple and Radio Shack made PCs affordable, and a killer app — word processing — made them indispensable. Now we can't imagine life without them.

The first shot in the robot revolution has been fired, and the race to build the first successful PR (personal robot) is on. Is vacuuming the killer app robots have been waiting for? Is iRobot the first of the (gulp!) botcoms? If it is, one thing is clear: Roomba won't be the only one that cleans up.
Note from Technophile: Coming up next is iRobot's "Scooba" floor-washing robot.
If you love robots like I love robots, why not let the world know? Just click on the image below and you can order a t-shirt (and/or other stuff) with this robotic image printed on them:

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFC)

Innovation is power! Some technologies have the power to change the world. Here's one to watch:

What it is: A proven technology, DMFC has been heralded as the power source of the future! Fuel cells produce electricity from potential chemical energy without combustion, through an electrochemical process that combines oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity, heat, and water. Unlike other types of fuel cells (like generic Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells) which require pure hydrogen as a fuel, Direct Methanol Fuel Cells enable this electrochemical process without the need to reform complex hydrocarbon fuel molecules (including methanol) into pure hydrogen.

The "flasher" Fuel Cell array unit is powered by four fuel cells. The array and the diffusion fuel ampoule (12 ml) is shown in the center of the box with the fuel cells arrayed around it. The last operational date of the Fuel Cell Array was March 7, 2005, after 1179 days or 28,300 hours of continuous operation!
Why It's Hot: The more power hungry digital devices have become, the less plain old lithium-ion batteries have been able to keep up. Fuel cells are the leading candidate to replace them. Hitachi has developed a methanol-based laptop fuel cell that will go on the market in 2007. Japanese cell-phone giant NTT DoCoMo has teamed up with Fujitsu to build tiny fuel cells for mobile phones. Toshiba seems to be leading the pack.

At a compact 22 x 56 x 4.5 mm (maximum of 9.1 mm, for the fuel tank), the Toshiba DMFC fuel cell is the world's smallest! It is as long and wide as a woman's thumb, a size advantage that will give greater design freedom for developers of handheld electronic devices. The latest prototype, with its total weight only 8.5 grams, is small enough for integration into a wireless headset for mobile phones, but still efficient enough to power an MP3 music player for as long as 20 hours on a single 2cc charge of highly concentrated methanol. The new fuel cell outputs 100 milliwatts of power, and can continue to do so, non-stop, for as long as users top up its integrated fuel tank — a process that is as simple as it is safe.
Note from Technophile: It is not time to throw out your old batteries yet, as the transition will take some time. Research & Markets, a research group, forecasts that micro fuel cell sales will grow to $510 million by 2008 and $11 billion by 2013.