Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Backyard Buck Rogers!

++ Juan Lazano / Backyard Rocketeer
Personal Tech :: From Buck Rogers to 007, the rocket pack has fueled our greatest personal-technology fantasies.

For Juan Lozano, it has inspired a lifelong obsession! The road to a rocket-belt flight is long. Today Lozano, 51, will attempt his 12th tethered flight since he first deemed his rocket belt ready for liftoff. Eight years and more than half a million dollars after he began building his device.

Lozano’s dream began when he was seven years old. It was February 1963, and NASA had brought its American space expo to the Campo Marte polo grounds in Mexico City. The expo’s star feature was the Bell Rocket Belt! Few, if any, of the 620,000 observers at the NASA expo would ever again see the likes of what they saw that February. Despite the great optimism of the early ’60s, in the rocket belt’s brief history, only 12 souls have flown one. More people have walked on the moon. But Juan Manuel Lozano didn’t want to go to the moon. It is the dream of flying that has him hooked!
“I have flown everything—gyrocopters, helicopters and aerobatic planes,” Lozano says. “The rocket belt is the hardest. If you can learn to fly a rocket belt, you can learn to fly anything!”
Lozano’s strategy is simple: Do it yourself, study the results, then do it again. To build his rocket belt, he has turned himself into a one-man team—researcher, designer, test pilot. The hope is that everything he has learned will lead to an untethered flight on a rocket belt of his own design and construction. If all goes as planned, he’ll then be able to sell a complete turnkey package of fuel machine, custom-fit rocket belt, flying instruction and tech support for $350,000. Two sales, and he will have made back his personal investment, with a little spare change for his next project.

The first thing he had to do was learn how to make his own fuel. Hydrogen Peroxide was his ticket to paradise. It was costly, for one thing, so unless he made it himself, training would be prohibitively expensive. Engineers and chemists alike told him that a person couldn’t make his own rocket fuel. And for good reason: Hydrogen peroxide is no joke. The stuff in your medicine cabinet that you use to clean a cut is about 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. The stuff that bleaches your hair is 6 percent. The stuff in a rocket-belt tank is 90 percent.

However, after eight versions of his Hydrogen Peroxide machine and, yes, 19 years later, Lozano was satisfied. It took that long to perfect the distillation, a process of delicately separating water from the peroxide.

Next, it was time to turn his attention to the catalyst pack, one that could react as powerfully as possible with his Hydrogen Peroxide. He found inspiration at his day job. In the back of the jewelry shop, Lozano mixed metals in small glass containers and noticed how different alloys and proportions caused slight changes in reactions and temperature. After two years of testing, he created what he calls the “penta-metallic catalyst pack,” composed of silver, gold, platinum, palladium and rhodium. Certain that he had derived the most reactive catalyst ever tested with Hydrogen Peroxide, he went about building not one or two but three working rocket belts.
Note from Technophile: When Wendell Moore created the first rocket belt, he had a lot of help. His team included advisers from the U.S. space program, as well as physicians, ergonomics experts, exotic-metal welders, machinists, draftsmen and materials-testing technicians. Lozano’s team is considerably leaner. With every test flight, Lozano learns more about his rocket belt and how to control it. When you’re flying a machine with multiple points of control and 800 horsepower coming off your back, any tiny adjustment can make a huge difference in your trip! Each time Lozano flies, he gets a little closer to removing the tether and flying free. If he flies free, he can sell at least one of his belts so he can continue to fund his work. If he flies free, he can line up endorsement deals and get handsomely paid to propel himself or an apprentice over a soccer game. If he flies free, he becomes a member of one of the most exclusive clubs in history!
:: Source: [Popular Science]
:: Innovation: Using a rocket pack to fly free!
:: Available: Soon.
:: Cost: $350,000 USD
:: Image Credits: John B. Carnett

Monday, February 27, 2006

Need A Lift?

++ Tom Nugent / The LiftPort Group
Space Tech :: Take a ride 62,000-miles high in an elevator car the size of a Boeing 747!

The theory behind the Space Elevator is simple. First proposed 111 years ago by a Russian scientist, it was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke in his award-winning 1978 novel, The Fountains of Paradise, and goes like this: Earth is constantly spinning. So if you attach a counterweight to it with a cable, and put it far enough away (62,000 miles), the cable will be held taut by the force of the planet's rotation (just as if you spun around while holding a ball on a string). And if you've got a taut cable, you've got the makings of an Space Elevator!

A working Space Elevator would reduce the cost of launching anything into space by roughly 98 percent. The $500 million it takes to launch the average satellite (insurance not included) would be a thing of the past. Business won't have seen anything like it since the railroad. "All of a sudden," says Brad Edwards, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory astrophysicist who founded Sedco, one of the startups, "space will be open for real activity."
SPACE ELEVATOR PACIFIC OCEAN PLATFORMThe cable, known to Space Elevator scientists as a ribbon (black line next to the red laser beam in the illustration, above), would be dropped in stages from space and hooked up to a floating platform similar to an offshore oil rig. The ribbon would most likely be made of spun carbon-nanotube fibers.

An elevator car roughly the size of a Boeing 747, able to carry hundreds of people or 200 tons of cargo, could climb and descend the ribbon at a speed of 120 mph. That means the first trip to geosynchronous orbit (22,000 miles) would take seven days, but scientists say that could be reduced to four days by the time the first passengers make the journey. (Still, bring a good book for when the view of Earth gets dull.)

Over time, a substantial transfer (way) station would be built at geostationary orbit, 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) up the cable. In addition to deploying satellites into other orbits, handling cargo, and even assembling or refueling spacecraft, the station could also become a tourist destination!
Note from Technophile: Not only would an elevator slash launch costs, but it would increase the amount of cargo capacity for orbital trips. More than 90 percent of the space shuttle's weight is fuel, with cargo making up less than 5 percent. On the elevator, no fuel is necessary, because the car would be electric, with power cells energized by a ground-based laser beam.
:: Source: [LiftPort Group]
:: Innovation: Giant elevator cars replace many rocket-powered flights into space!
:: Available: 2018
:: Image Credits: Alan Chan

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Smart Antibody Bombs!

++Jennie Mather / Raven Biotechnologies

At age 50, Jennie Mather left biotech giant Genentech to develop antibodies. The beauty of antibodies is that they're so much safer than other disease-fighting drugs. Antibodies are more targeted, going after specific disease mechanisms, and tend to have fewer side effects: A "smart antibody bomb".

Raven isn't the only company working with antibodies. One forecast puts the worldwide market in 2010 at $26 billion!
But Raven is turbocharging the way they are discovered and developed: Since 1999, Mather has raised $115 million in venture capital, and now has a colorectal and pancreatic drug in clinical trials.
Note from Technophile: In six years, Mather has gone from "that's impossible" to "that's unbelievable", to "why isn't everybody doing it that way?"
:: Source: [Raven Biotechnologies]
:: Innovation: A very smart female scientest doing things differently!

Disaster Master!

++Steve Adams / Strategic National Stockpile

If the worst-case scenarios are terrible and horrible, and many people would die, then welcome to the world of Steve Adams, deputy director of the Strategic National Stockpile.

Set up back in 1999 as an arm of the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the SNS does two things: 1) Plan the medical response to a bioterror attack or pandemic, and 2) maintain a nationwide network of 12 secret warehouses filled with the supplies we'll need in the event of bioterrorism or a sudden, sweeping outbreak of disease.
The SNS has 30 million full courses of treatment for anthrax infection, for instance; billions of tablets.
Note from Technophile: Each warehouse holds 50 tons of identical supplies, preloaded into containers. The goal is to be able to deliver them anywhere in the country within 12 hours!
:: Source: [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Psychotech Pain Relief!

Put on a $32,000 VR (Virtual Reality) helmet. Feel it fit snugly against your face. Suddenly you are sailing through the air in a deep glacial canyon, a cool blue river lies below, and picturesque snowflakes drift down.

As you look around
, you see snowmen, igloos, an occasional penguin, and a few murderous robots, standing on narrow ice shelves along the sides of the canyon. Press a button and snowballs shoot forward. Arcing tails streak across the sky as your snowballs fly toward their targets, which explode satisfyingly when you score a hit. You are having fun playing in SnowWorld!

Virtual reality headgear has been around for a number of years. To create an illusion of stereoscopic vision and to exclude external visual stimuli, all VR set-ups use a pair of eyepieces mounted as close to the head as possible. The better systems are built with high-resolution monitors for each eye (for true 3-D), and motion sensors to allow the scene to shift as the person moves their head.
When the helmet is off, your every move hurts. Even with opiate pain medications, every touch causes excruciating pain. If you are a burn patient having dressings changed at Seattle, Washington's Harborview Medical Center.

Distraction, according to Harborview staff psychologist David Patterson (an expert on pain management), is known to be an effective way to reduce pain and anxiety, especially in a hospital setting.
Note from Technophile: Patterson and the University of Washington experimental psychologist Hunter Hoffman have been conducting a study in acute pain management in burn patients for a long time. They have tried hypnosis, relaxation therapy, guided imagery, and video games. "Immersive virtual reality" is one of the most effective methods they have seen!
:: Source: [Virtually Better]
:: Innovation: Using immersive virtual reality to reduce patient's suffering!

Yes, They're Real!

Technically speaking, anyone can mine diamonds. But Robert Linares and his son Bryan can GROW them. In a process known as "chemical vapor deposition", the Linareses spray heated carbon gas over diamond chips. Under extreme pressure, the carbon atoms settle on the chips and conform to the structure. Wait a week or two, open the lid, and take out a fistful of diamonds of a size and quality almost impossible to find in nature.

A microwave plasma tool at the Naval Research Lab, used to create diamonds for high-temperature semiconductor experiments.
Put pure carbon under enough heat and pressure - say, 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit and 50,000 atmospheres - and it will crystallize into the hardest material known. Those were the conditions that first forged diamonds deep in Earth's mantle 3.3 billion years ago. Replicating that environment in a lab isn't easy, but that hasn't kept dreamers from trying. Since the mid-19th century, dozens of these modern alchemists have been injured in accidents and explosions while attempting to manufacture diamonds.

To grow single-crystal diamonds using chemical vapor deposition, you must first divine the exact combination of temperature, gas composition, and pressure - a "sweet spot" that results in the formation of a single crystal. Otherwise, innumerable small diamond crystals will rain down. Hitting on the single-crystal sweet spot is like locating a single grain of sand on the beach. There's only one combination among millions. In 1996, Linares found it.

Last June, he finally received a US patent for the process, which already is producing flawless stones. The price per carat: about $5.
Note from Technophile: By the end of 2007, Apollo aims to be producing flawless 1-inch by 1-inch diamond cubes that could drive research in areas such as neurological implants (diamonds are bio-inert), high-density holographic storage (with many times the capacity of Blu-Ray or HD-DVD), and precise, efficient optical switches in Internet routers. Within 10 years, the company plans to be growing diamond wafers the size of DVDs for use as semiconductors!
:: Source: [Apollo Diamond, Inc.]
:: Available: 2016
:: Innovation: Because diamond has a much higher melting point than silicon, Apollo's diamonds could be used to make much smaller, faster processors than are currently available (instead of a "Silicon Valley", we could have a "Diamond Valley").

Note from Dan Lelevier, ET (Extreme Technology) Consumer Product Advisor: Jewelry Television offers fine jewelry, watches, loose gemstones, castings, jewelry-making tools and related books. Jewelry Television is one of the largest retailers of loose gemstones in the world and their online store is incredible. You will be very pleased with their wide selection of "gotta have" items, and you will LOVE their amazing prices! This site is a true "gem" of the Internet.

:: FOLLOW UP from Technophile:

These diamonds are being called "immitation", "cultured", "synthetic", "real synthetic", and just plain "fake". Folks, these are real diamonds. These are not
Cubic Zirconia or Moissanite, which are made to pass as diamonds. Lab-grown stones are the real thing. It's just that instead of the millions of years it takes to create natural diamonds, they're grown by man in a matter of days.

Even the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the foremost diamond research and grading body, acknowledges that these are diamonds. "To say it's not diamond is really false," says William Boyajian, gemologist and GIA president. "It's just man-made diamond."

I also prefer to call them "man-made", or "manufactured" diamonds, as opposed to "natural" or "mined" diamonds. Of course, right now, I would only refer to the diamonds coming from either Apollo or Gemesis as being the real thing.

Gemesis uses
High Pressure, High Temperature presses (HPHT) to create colored stones such as "fancy yellows". He uses Russian designed presses.

Apollo uses Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) to create colorless diamonds. The process came out of research at MIT into developing diamonds for computer chips.

What is not generally know is that Apollo diamonds are thin, and they are brown to grey. After production, they need expensive HPHT processing to remove the color.
Beyond Gemesis and Apollo, one company is convinced theses diamonds are real: De Beers Diamond Trading Company. The London-based cartel has monopolized the diamond business for 115 years, forcing out rivals by ruthlessly controlling supply. But the sudden appearance of multicarat, gem-quality synthetics has sent De Beers scrambling.

Several years ago, it set up what it calls the Gem Defensive Programme - a none too subtle campaign to warn jewelers and the public about the arrival of "manufactured" diamonds. At no charge, the company is supplying gem labs with sophisticated machines designed to help distinguish "man-made" from "mined" stones.

In its long history, De Beers has survived African insurrection, shrugged off American antitrust litigation, sidestepped criticism that it exploits third world workers, and contended with Australian, Siberian, and Canadian diamond discoveries. The firm has a huge advertising budget and a stranglehold on diamond distribution channels.

But there's one thing De Beers doesn't have: retired brigadier General Carter Clarke. Clarke, 72, has been retired from the Army for nearly 30 years, but he never lost the air of command. When he walks into Gemesis - the company he founded in 1996 to make diamonds - the staff stands at attention to greet him.

His lieutenants have 27 diamond-making machines up and running -- with 250 planned -- at this factory outside Sarasota, Florida. Looks like De Beers is in for a war!

MAN-MADEYou can order the above design printed on a black t-shirt (for a special friend, or yourself), by clicking here.

A similar design is also available on Baby Doll Tees, Spaghetti Tanks, Cap Sleeve Tees, Camisoles, Thongs, Women's Tanks, Raglans, and other Tees. And you can have it printed on Framed Art Prints, Hats, Teddy Bears, Aprons, Mugs, Pillows, and Mousepads.

It features a man-made diamond inside of a 3d heart shaped box (very cool)!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Eco Imagination!

The Earth's surface is 70 percent water, yet less than 1 percent of it is usable – and even that is not always located where it's needed most. Currently, more than one billion people do not have access to safe water to meet their daily needs. The World's water supply will continue to dry up in the next decade, but a growing number of forward looking companies see opportunity in that "half-empty" glass.

Forty percent of
the world's population currently lives in areas with moderate-to-high water stress. By 2025, it is estimated that about two thirds of the world's population – about 5.5 billion people – will live in areas facing such water stress.

Last year, GE (General Electric) dropped $1.1 billion to buy Ionics, a global desalination and water-recycling operation, and made it the centerpiece of its new "Ecomagination" program. GE's new $390 million Sulibiya plant (above photo) in Kuwait purifies 100 million gallons of water per day!
GE recently won a $300 million contract to build a deslination plant in Algeria, where the taps are now open only every third day (by 2007, it will produce 53 million gallons daily).

GE's membranes are used in a wide range of applications, from purifying water for soft drinks to removing harmful chemicals from wastewater.
GE is the world's leader in Reverse Osmosis, Nanofiltration and Ultrafiltration technologies, with membranes that can operate at high temperatures and throughout wide pH ranges.
Note from Technophile: The private sector manages water for just 7% of the world's population, a number predicted to double by 2016. Privatized water is estimated to be a $200 billion-a-year business. The World Bank believes it could hit $1 trillion by 2021.
:: Source: [Ecomagination]
:: Fast Fact: In 2004, Israel closed a 20-year deal with Turkey to swap guns for water!

Drug Delivery Man!

The idea for a "pharmacy on a chip" came to Robert Langer one evening about 10 years ago. What if you implanted an electronic device to control the distribution of drugs in the body? This simple question triggered mountains of research that should change how medications are administered.

Langer, 57, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, is so creative, and so astonishingly prolific, that it is hard to imagine another scientist so poised to have a major impact in so many ways, over the next decade!
He has generated more than 300 patents (with another 250 pending), authored or coauthored more than 800 articles in scientific journals, cofounded more than a dozen biotech companies, and licensed his lab's discoveries to more than 150 others. His work encompasses biomedical plastics, drug development, gene therapy, and tissue engineering.

But Langer's specialty is drug delivery. His challenge: The body instinctivley resists foreign objects, so it dilutes or alters many drugs before they get to their destination. So Langer created unconventional ways of safely getting medicine where it belongs.

With the help of John Santini, one of the 60 or so "brainiacs" in his MIT lab, he is making the new electronic drug chip a reality. Residing under the skin, it consists of thousands of tiny, individual sealed reservoirs containing one or more drugs. These reservoirs can be programmed to open at a specific time or operated by a wireless remote control; an electrical impulse melts a gold seal, releasing the well's contents.
Note from Technophile: Testing in humans should begin in a couple of years. It's an elegant solution, one Langer believes will improve millions of lives. Langer says that he would "rather do revolutionary than evolutionary work". I like this guy!
:: Source: [Langer Lab]

Vision Ary!

When David Green is asked how many people benefit from his work to make cataract surgery affordable in the developing world, he guesses "about 6 million". His approach is startingly simple: Enlist leading scientists to reduce the cost of technology, then price the results on a sliding scale.

The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates 55 million people are functionally bilaterally blind worldwide, and an additional 110 million have low vision and are at risk of becoming blind.
The largest portion of these patients are blind due to cataracts—a condition where the natural lens of the eye becomes cloudy and must be removed and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL) to restore vision.

Although premium quality sight-restoring IOLs are readily available for around $100-$150 each, this price is well outside the grasp of the 4 billion people who make under $2 per day. Project Impact has addressed this problem through the development and deployment of a premium quality intraocular lens which can be produced for under $3 using a Project Impact designed production line in India at Aurolab.

Five or ten years from now, the world will recognize David's work as one of the leading examples of melding business models and social good!
Note from Technophile: Four billion people have a per capita income of less than $1,500, the minimum considered necessary to sustain a decent life. A billion people make less than $1 per day. Globally, the income gap between rich and poor is growing: the richest 20% account for 85% of income. The extreme inequity of wealth distribution reinforces the view that the poor cannot participate in global economy, even though they are majority of population. The work of Project Impact and its partners has been seminal in demonstrating viable business models for making medical technology and services affordable to the poorer two-thirds of humanity. Instead of dealing with the growing income disparity, this work focuses on the ‘pricing’ disparity’ where goods and services that provide basic human needs, like sight or hearing or life itself, are receding further from the reach of the poor. The success of Aravind, Aurolab and other eye care programs has proven that the poor can be a profitable market, provided there is not the traditional pursuit of high margins; in their model, profits are driven by volume and capital efficiency. As Green expands his model to other applications, his efforts may overhaul a system that stubbornly values money over basic human needs.
:: Source: [Project Impact]
:: Image Credit: Emin Ozkan, Turkey
:: Innovation: Making basic human needs - vision, hearing, health, even life itself available to the World's poor humans by combining technology, volume, and capital efficiency.

Desert Ballet!

By the Spring of 2010, each dawn will see a startling robotic ballet performance in the Mojave Desert. Just before sunrise, thousands of mirrored dishes will "wake" in unison, and face to the east. Each will be as wide as a school bus is long; arrayed in perfect lines for miles, they will track the sun all day, feeding the power hungry city of Los Angeles.

This is beyond cool, it is revolutionary! For the first time, solar collectors will generate electricity on a scale only coal, gas, or nuclear plants have managed. Not kilowatts or megawatts, but city-sized gulps of power, hundreds of megawatts. With zero emmissions!
The technology is deceptively simple: Each dish is nearly 1,000 square feet and is designed to collect and concentrate energy from the sun into a focused beam that is 1,350 degrees Fahrenheit (talk about very hot, cool technology)! This heats the gas in the four cyclinders of the "Stirling" engine. As the gas expands, it drives pistons connected to electrical generators.
The "Stirling" engine: On September 27, 1816, Robert Stirling applied for a patent for his "Economiser" at the Chancery in Edinburgh, Scotland. By trade, Robert Stirling was actually a minister in the Church of Scotland and he continued to give services until he was eighty-six years old. But, in his spare time, he built heat engines in his home workshop. Lord Kelvin used one of the working models during some of his university classes.

Today, Stirling engines are used in some very specialized applications, like in submarines or auxiliary power generators, where quiet operation is important. Stirling engines are unique heat engines because their theoretical efficiency is nearly equal to their theoretical maximum efficiency, known as the "Carnot Cycle efficiency".
Note from Technophile: The SES (Stirling Energy Systems) Solar Dish technology is well beyond the research and development stage, with more than 20 years of recorded operating history. The equipment is well characterized with over 25,000 hours of on-sun time. Since 1984, the Company's solar dish equipment has held the world's efficiency record for converting solar energy into grid-quality electricity. Their Mojave Desert facility will be capable of producing more electricity from solar energy than all U.S. solar projects (currently in existence) combined!
:: Source: [Sterling Energy Systems]
:: Image Credit: Randy J. Montoya, Sandia National Laboratories
:: Country: United States
:: Available: 2010
:: Innovation: Reliable and efficient energy from the sun!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Broadband PerHAPs?

The CAPANINA project will develop wireless and optical broadband technologies for use on High Altitude Platforms (HAPs).

Typically a HAP is an airship that cruises at an altitude of around 20 kilometers, well above any normal aircraft (but being in the stratosphere, substantially below any orbiting satellites).
CAPANINA will deliver low cost broadband communications services to small office and home users at data rates up to 120 Megabits per second. A staggering 2,000 times faster than today's dial-up modems and more than 200 times faster than a typical "wired" broadband facility.

Users in rural and other "hard to reach" areas will benefit thanks to the unique wide-area, high-capacity wireless coverage provided by HAPs.

Additionally, use of "smart" roof-top antennas on trains will provide the moving user with high speed internet connectivity.
Note from Technophile: Stratospheric broadband fills the gap between satellite and terrestrial wireless technologies. Furthermore, without the need to dig up roads to lay new cables, it is of particular relevance to rural, suburban and moving users. Is Wi-Fi in the sky a dream? Perhaps. However, in August of 2005, Capanina successfully tested the concept in Sweden, sending data 37 miles!
:: Source: [CAPANINA]
:: Innovation: Can deliver wireless broadband access anywhere in the world!
:: Available: 2011
:: Cost: 1/10 as much as satellites and could support a thousand times as many users!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Negative Ion Clothes Cleaner!

A waterless clothes cleaner that cleans and refreshes garments in a few minutes has been developed at the National University of Singapore. The appliance uses negative ions, compressed air and deodorants to clean clothes.

The AirWash won the ElectroLux Design Lab 2005 Award. The jury selected AirWash as the winner because of its intuitive, ecological and beautiful design.

Industrial design students
Wendy Chua, 21, and Gabriel Tan, 23, beat entries from 3,000 other students from over 88 countries. They said they were inspired by the technology in air purifiers, which uses negative ions to clump dirt and bacteria, making it easier for the dirt and bacteria particles to be removed. The negative ions are a natural cleaning agent.

The sleek and compact design is modelled after a waterfall, a natural negative ion generator.

With water prices going up everywhere (especialy in Malaysia) and humans becoming impatient, it was only reasonable to find someone designing a clothes cleaner that does not need water.
Note from Technophile: AirWash also does away with the expensive, time consuming task of going to the dry cleaners. They should also expect NASA to be knocking on their door, as this looks like something that might fit into the future of space travel!
:: Source: [Fast Company Magazine, March, 2006]
:: Country: Singapore
:: Innovation: Waterless, Detergentless Clothes Cleaner
:: Available: 2008 [Maybe]
:: Cost: Unknown

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Video From Mars!

Nanotechnology traps photons to create a super-sensitive sensor that could allow interplanetary broadband access, such as streaming video from Mars!

Manned missions to Mars would benefit from high-speed communications, even streaming video, rather than the clunky, hours-long image downloads from the likes of the Cassini-Huygens Saturn probe, or the Mars Rovers [Image credit: "Distant Shores", painting by Pat Rawlings].
Conventional optical communication can carry such video data, but the lasers needed to transmit a readable signal for interplanetary distances would require far more power than is generally available on power-starved space missions.

This has some researchers looking to single-photon detectors, the ultimate low-light sensors, to make it possible to detect relatively low-power laser signals. So far, however, such detectors have been either inefficient (missing most of the photons sent to them), or too slow for high-bandwidth data transmission.

"The detection of extraordinarily low levels of light with high bandwidth has been a challenge for many years," says Karl Berggren, an electrical engineering professor at MIT who helped develop the new device. "This demonstration illustrates what nanotechnology, and in particular nanofabrication, can do when applied to a problem like this."

Now a nanotechnology-based device called a "photon trap", reported this week in the journal Optics Express, combines efficiency and speed, promising to make such interplanetary communication more practical.

Photon detectors have been around for a couple of years, at the heart is a wire 100 nanometers wide that meanders like coils on a refrigerator to increase the area of detection. The wire is cooled to just above absolute zero, at which temperature it becomes a superconductor. When a photon hits the wire and is absorbed, the wire heats up just enough to stop superconducting, creating a detectable jump in resistance [Image of a 1550 nanometer single-photon detector by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology].
In the new design, the photons that slip past or reflect off the wire bounce around in the photon trap, giving them more chances to be absorbed by the wire. The trap, with a little help from an antireflective coating, approximately tripled the efficiency of previous detection efforts.

The efficiency is "a huge jump forward," says Jeffrey Stern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Indeed, he says this efficiency is enough for optical communication in space.
Note from Technophile: One engineering hurdle remains before the sensors are ready for such applications, however. Although devices have already been built and tested, because they are so small, focusing the photons on them is a challenge. This problem is expected to be solved within two years.
Source: [Technology Review]

Saturday, February 18, 2006

If I Only Had A Heart!

One of the coolest and most recent breakthroughs in Biotechnology is the concept of "Organ Printing". Also known as "Tissue Engineering Technology", it has the potential to solve the organ transplantation crisis.

Graphic artists have modified ink jet printers to increase their ink capacity. This however, would be the ultimate mod: Using modified ink jet printers to make human skin and other organs. The printers are modified by filling the ink resevoirs with suspensions of cells instead of ink.
Several labs can now print arrays of DNA, or proteins, but for tissue engineers, the big challenge is creating three-dimensional structures.
Note from Technophile: This process also may eliminate the need for cloning (recreating entirely new bodies to be used for spare parts) and the moral and ethical issues that go along with it. If one of your organs is failing, scrape a sample of your tissue and print out a new one!
Source: [PC Magazine, February 7, 2006, "Future Watch"]

Project Ultraviolet!

Thanks to advances in the speed of supercomputer simulations, complex phenomena such as weather systems, protein folding, and nuclear explosions are becoming easier to model and understand. But only a small part of this speedup is due to faster processors. Instead, the most common way to reach supercomputing capacities is to assemble hundreds or thousands of separate machines in clusters. When yoked together, such a cluster will shares a single memory and can perform massive simulations in parallel by breaking up the work into many small parts.

Mountain View, CA-based Silicon Graphics, also known as SGI, builds some of the world's largest supercomputing clusters. The fourth-fastest one in the world, for instance, is Columbia, a system that SGI built for NASA Ames Research Center in 2004. Columbia includes 20 SGI Altix "superclusters," each with 512 processors, for a total of 10,240 processors that share a 20-terabyte memory.
Cooling this behemoth (which NASA uses to model problems involving large amounts of data, such as climate change, magnetic storms, and designs for hypersonic aircraft) is currently a very low-tech affair: it's accomplished mainly by blowing air past the processors at high speed.

Eng Lim Goh, a computer scientist and chief technical officer at SGI, says one NASA administrator told him, "'I spent millions of dollars on your supercomputer just so we could run simulations that replace our wind tunnel -- and you gave us a new wind tunnel.'"

Goh is now the leader of Project Ultraviolet, SGI's effort to develop its next generation of superclusters. The chips that SGI is designing for Ultraviolet will run applications faster - yet use less electricity and produce less heat.
Note from Technophile: So how did SGI make applications run cooler? They broke problems down into pieces and the way they allocate those to the processors. They did an analysis of about 50 customer applications to see what was going wrong with these applications when they were running in parallel. They were able to identify five major problem areas. This allowed them to develop the Ultraviolet design which incorporates the following improvements: 1) More reliable memory, 2) less communications latency, 3) more communications bandwidth, 4) better load balancing, and 5) less memory latency.
:: Source: [Technology Review].
:: Image credit: Silicon Graphics.
:: Keywords: [next generation hec architecture], [multi-paradigm computing], [petaflops], [high-end computing], [supercomputer], [petabytes], [climate modeling], [weather systems], [cluster], [supercluster], [supercomputer simulations], [project ultraviolet], [sgi], and [silicon grahics].

Friday, February 17, 2006

Next Generation Spacecraft!

Before the end of the next decade, NASA astronauts will again explore the surface of the moon. And this time, we're going to stay, building outposts and paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond. There are echoes of the iconic images of the past, but it won't be your grandfather's moon shot.

This journey begins soon, with development of a new spaceship. Building on the best of Apollo and shuttle technology, NASA's creating a 21st century exploration system that will be affordable, reliable, versatile, and safe.

The centerpiece of this system is a new spacecraft designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six crewmembers on future missions to Mars, and deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station. The new crew vehicle will be shaped like an Apollo capsule, but it will be three times larger, allowing four astronauts to travel to the moon at a time.
Coupled with the new lunar lander, the system sends twice as many astronauts to the surface as Apollo, and they can stay longer, with the initial missions lasting four to seven days. And while Apollo was limited to landings along the moon's equator, the new ship carries enough propellant to land anywhere on the moon's surface.
Once a lunar outpost is established, crews could remain on the lunar surface for up to six months. The spacecraft can also operate without a crew in lunar orbit, eliminating the need for one astronaut to stay behind while others explore the surface.

With a minimum of two lunar missions per year, momentum will build quickly toward a permanent outpost. Crews will stay longer and learn to exploit the moon's resources, while landers make one way trips to deliver cargo. Eventually, the new system could rotate crews to and from a lunar outpost every six months.

Planners are already looking at the lunar south pole as a candidate for an outpost because of concentrations of hydrogen thought to be in the form of water ice, and an abundance of sunlight to provide power.
Note from Technophile: These plans give NASA a huge head start in getting to Mars. We will already have the heavy-lift system needed to get there, as well as a versatile crew capsule and propulsion systems that can make use of Martian resources. A lunar outpost just three days away from Earth will give us needed practice of "living off the land" away from our home planet, before making the longer trek to Mars. As President Bush said when he announced the Vision for Space Exploration, "Humans are headed into the cosmos." Now we know how we'll get there.
Source: [NASA]. Image credits: Artist's concept by John Frassanito and Associates. Keywords: [moon], [nasa], [mars], [astronauts], [spacecraft]

Brain Fingerprinting!

Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, Inc. has developed and patented EEG/P300 based testing systems that determine with extremely high accuracy whether or not specific information is stored in a person's memory. The test measures individual brain-wave responses to relevant words, pictures or sounds presented by a computer.

The measurements are recorded in fractions of a second after the stimulus is presented, before the subject is able to formulate or control a response.
In a major milestone for the company, the results of this patented testing methodology have been ruled admissible in court as scientific evidence.
Note from Technophile: The technology has many exciting applications in several very large markets: national security, medical diagnostics, advertising, insurance fraud, counterterrorism, and in the criminal justice system!
Source: [Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, Inc.] Image credits: Fingerprint image by Davide Guglielmo. Brain image by Rodrigo Galindo. Keywords: [brain fingerprinting], [counterterrorism], [criminal justice], [medical], [security testing], [advertising], [medical research], [national security], [medical diagnostics], [insurance fraud], and [criminal justice system].

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hot Dry Rocks, Oh Yeah!

Keywords: [resources], [energy], [geothermal energy], [alternate energy], [renewable energy], [green energy].

Not much has changed since the age of steam. If you live in Australia or North America, the computer screen on which you are reading this text is most likely to be powered by coal. Think about it. State of the art technology, powered by coal!

Electricity demand continues to expand worldwide, with consumption projected to grow by nearly 100% by 2020 (International Energy Outlook 2001). Electricity generation generally relies on burning fossil fuel which produces carbon dioxide (CO2) as one of its waste products. Concern has developed over the last decade about the effects of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) on the atmosphere, particularly with respect to global warming.

Fossil Fuel Alternatives: The expansion of the nuclear power industry appears to be socially unacceptable. Solar and wind power cannot replace fossil fuels, just augment them and they are limited in scope, intermittent, and unreliable. Large-scale hydroelectric projects are now rejected on environmental grounds.
Hot dry rocks (HDR) has the potential, worldwide, to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

HDR geothermal energy relies on existing technologies and engineering processes, and is the only known source of renewable energy with a capacity to carry large base loads.

The concept behind HDR geothermal energy is relatively simple. Heat is generated by special high heat producing granites located 3km or more below the Earth's surface. The heat inside these granites is trapped by overlying rocks which act as an insulating blanket. The heat is extracted from these granites by circulating water through them in an engineered, artificial reservoir or underground heat exchanger.
Note from Technophile: One cubic kilometre of hot granite at 250 degrees centigrade has the stored energy equivalent of 40 million barrels of oil. Australia has large volumes of identified high heat production granites within 3 to 5km from the surface. This represents a vast resource of clean energy that can potentially be tapped by hot dry rock geothermal technology.
Source: [Geodynamics]

Sunday, February 12, 2006

PEBBLES For The Remote Child!

Two child-sized robots transmit real time, audio and documents between classroom and child. The classroom-based robot features a microphone and speakers, a swivelling monitor and camera competition, and a robotic hand. Together, these mimic the movement and interaction of an actual student. All functions are controlled by the remote child, who communicates with the classroom via a game pad-style controller and personal robot complete with microphone, touch screen video monitor, microphone and speakers.

PEBBLES FOR KIDSPEBBLES is the world's first fully functional 'telepresence' application - social and technology solution that virtually places a child within the classroom.

PEBBLES creates a presence so strong in fact, that teachers, students and remote children all react as if the remote student is physically present in the regular classroom.
Note From Technophile: The PEBBLES robot series T360 is designed to operate using Internet Protocol (IP H.323) communications protocols, with ISDN support available as an optional feature. The PEBBLES T360 codec provides a higher quality picture at lower bandwidth. Standing at 60", each PEBBLES robot is a gateway to learning and communication that exists beyond traditional videoconferencing. The remote child can interact with the home classroom with PEBBLES' built-in camera, speakers, microphone and touch screen LCD. An integrated printer/scanner sends homework assignments and receives in class work. Remote students control the in-class PEBBLES robot via a gamepad-style controller. With the controller, the remote student can initiate contact with the in-class robot, raise its hand and turn its head to reposition the on-board camera.
Source: [Telbotics]

The Flying Dutch Car!

PALV IN GYROCOPTER MODEA Dutch entrepreneur, working with a design engineering firm, has developed a three-wheeled vehicle that travels both on the ground and in the air, via a set of unfolding helicopter blades. The PALV (Personal Air and Land Vehicle), powered by a rotary engine, has a top ground speed of 125 mph (120 mph in the air) and can get between 60 and 70 miles per gallon of conventional gasoline. It can take off at close range, and can land vertically.

PALV IN CAR MODEOn the ground, the slimline, aerodynamic 3-wheel vehicle is as comfortable as a luxury car, yet has the agility of a motorbike, thanks to its patented cutting-edge 'tilting' system. The single rotor and propeller are folded away until the PALV is ready to fly. Once airborne, the PALV flies under the 4,000 feet (1,500 meters) floor of commercial air space.
Note from Technophile: Its straightforward autogyro flying technology means that the PALV is economically and technically feasible in comparison to other forms of air travel. Like a helicopter, it has a Very Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (VSTOVL) capability making it possible to land practically anywhere. It can be driven to the nearest airfield or helipad and, because it flies below 4,000 feet, can take off without filing a flight plan. The autogyro technology means that it can be steered and landed safely even if the engine fails as it descends vertically rather than nose-diving. Lift is generated by the forward speed produced by the foldable push propeller on the back. What makes the PALV attractive is the convenience of fully integrated door to door transportation. Providing smooth transition from road to air without having to change vehicle. The versatility to allow the driver to change their mind!
Source: [Spark Design]

Friday, February 10, 2006

World's Most Sensuous Car!

RINSPEED SENSO: WORLD'S MOST SENUAL CAR!The "Senso", which runs on environmentally friendly natural gas, has, not without reason, been labeled the most sensuous car in the world. The "Senso" actually "senses" the driver by measuring his (or her) biometric data, and then exerts a positive effect on him with the help of patterns, colors, music and fragrances. A person who is relaxed and wide-awake simply drives better and more safely.

On the basis of the measured data, the driver now receives various impulses to his senses that put him in a state of relaxed attentiveness. The idea of "communicating surfaces" stems from Andreas Fischer, a designer who developed the "zenMotion concept" at the Institute for Computer Sciences at the University of Zurich in close cooperation with the Institute for Psychology at the University of Innsbruck. The inspiration for the development came from studies by scientists dealing with the emotional effect of moving patterns on people. In the "Senso" – depending on the condition of the driver - four small Sharp LCD monitors emit stimulating (orange/yellow), relaxing (blue/violet) or neutral (green) color patterns into the driver's line of vision. They are integrated into the futuristically designed interior paneling, which lights up over the entire area and bathes the cockpit in dazzle-free ambient light.

The whole project is based on an elaborate sensory system that forms the heart of the vehicle. It consists of a number of sensors that have the job of gathering data about the driver's condition. Firstly, there is a biometric Polar watch to measure the driver's pulse. A "Mobile Eye" camera records his driving behavior, in other words how well and how often he changes lane, and how close and at what speed he approaches the cars in front. Then - this, at any rate, is the vision - a HP board computer evaluates the data and establishes, with the aid of special algorithms, the driver's current state of mind.

It is all made possible by an innovative electroluminescent film technology developed by Bayer MaterialScience and the Swiss electronics specialist, Lumitec. This "smart surface technology" is celebrating its world premiere in the automotive industry. Johannes Seesing: "In the "Senso", we are showing what breathtaking possibilities this new technology can open up for car designers. The glowing material can be made into any shape and does not need electric bulbs or LEDs." The high-tech surface is computer-controlled and, depending on the applied voltage, shines green, blue or orange.
The optical stimuli are reinforced by especially composed sounds stored digitally on a computer. In addition to the eyes and ears, the nose is stimulated, too – by scents developed by the fragrances specialist, Voitino CWS, which flow into the car through the ventilators. Vanilla-mandarin has a calming effect, while citrus-grapefruit is more stimulating. Even the tactile senses are included: should the central computer establish any symptoms of tiredness in the driver, electric motors integrated in the seat will shake him awake by vibrating.
Note from Technophile: "Senso", the name of the Swiss concept car says it all. The vehicle "senses" the driver and adapts itself to him. After all, the accident risk is reduced considerably if the person behind the wheel is relaxed and wide awake. This is made possible by a sophisticated sensory idea which has been developed by the Universities of Zurich and Innsbruck. Smart Surface Technology, a new ductile 3D electro-luminescent foil from Bayer Material Science and the Swiss electronics specialist Lumitec, ensures a lighting in the driver's surroundings, among others which have a positive effect on him thanks to biometric readouts.
Source: [Rinspeed]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

GongGong is no Kong!

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, used its microscopic imager to capture the image below. This spectacular, jagged mini-landscape is on a rock called "GongGong." Measuring only 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) across, this surface records two of the most important and violent forces in the history of Mars: Volcanoes and wind. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS.)

GongGong formed billions of years ago in a seething, stirring mass of molten rock. It captured bubbles of gases that were trapped at great depth but had separated from the main body of lava as it rose to the surface. Like taffy being stretched and tumbled, the molten rock was deformed as it moved across an ancient Martian landscape. The tiny bubbles of gas were deformed as well, becoming elongated. When the molten lava solidified, the rock looked like a frozen sponge.

Far from finished with its life, the rock then withstood billions of years of pelting by small sand grains carried by Martian dust storms that sometimes blanketed the planet. The sand wore away the surface until, little by little, the delicate strands that enclosed the bubbles of gas were breached and the spiny texture we see today emerged.
Note from Technophile: GongGong is one of a group of rocks studied, up close and personal, by Spirit and informally named by the Athena Science Team to honor the Chinese New Year (the Year of the Dog). In Chinese mythology, GongGong was the god-king of water in the North Land. When he sacrificed his life to knock down Mount BuZhou, he defeated the bad Emperor in Heaven, freed the sun, moon and stars to go from east to west, and caused all the rivers in China to flow from west to east. Spirit's microscopic imager took this image during the rover's 736th day, or sol, of exploring Mars (Jan. 28, 2006). The rock lies in the "Inner Basin" between "Husband Hill" and "McCool Hill" in Gusev Crater. Spirit acquired the image while the rock was fully shadowed, with diffuse illumination mostly from the top in this view.
Source: [NASA]

Beam Me Up, JIMO!

JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) is Proposed for Flight in 2015. JIMO is an ambitious mission to fly a spacecraft out to Jupiter, orbit three of its planet-sized moons, and study the vast saltwater oceans locked under their icy surfaces. JIMO will visit Callisto first, then Ganymede, and then Europa.

The Electric Ion Propulsion System (Image credit: NASA)
JIMO designers will use the electric drive system known as ion propulsion to power it to Jupiter. That kind of drive previously was used successfully by NASA's Deep Space 1 mission, which demonstrated it for interplanetary travel. (Deep Space 1 was launched in 1998. It flew by Asteroid 9969 Braille in 1999 and then by Comet Borrelly in 2001.)

Deep Space 1 drew electricity for its thrusters from solar panels. JIMO would draw its electricity from a nuclear fission reactor. Heat from JIMO's nuclear fission reactor is converted to electricity, giving the probe more than 100 times as much power as a non-fission system of comparable weight.

JIMO will increase dramatically NASA's capability for space exploration. That technology will make it possible to consider such a large-scale mission as orbiting the moons of Jupiter one after the other. It also will open all of the vast unexplored regions of the outer Solar System for exploration.
Note from Technophile: Such a mission as JIMO poses extreme technical challenges, the main one being: It takes an enormous amount of propulsive ability (in other words rocket fuel) to reach Jupiter, then descend into its gravity well and enter orbit around Europa and the other moons. NASA will spend $2 billion over the next few years to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered spacecraft. No one knows what the program will eventually cost (certainly several billions). But NASA and the US administration is solidly behind the project, dubbed Prometheus (after the thief of fire from the gods, who gave it to man). Already three contracts, each worth $6 million, have been awarded to industrial contractors for early studies. JIMO will be the first of these spacecraft.
Source: [AerospaceGuide.net]

Spy On Your Neighbor!

Most radio-controlled planes just fly around, but this one functions as a real spy plane!

The Estes Remote-Control Digital Camera Plane has a camera pod on top of it that can snap up to 26 digital pictures upon command. The 360-degree camera mount will let you capture color images from any angle, so you can take shots from the side, behind or in front of the plane as you fly it using the included controller. (Rechargeable batteries and a charger are included to power the plane.)

"All radio electronics are pre-installed, and the plane is factory painted and decorated to resemble a real AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft flown by the U.S. Air Force."
This remote-controlled plane may sound complicated, but it's actually designed to be flown by everyone from beginners to pros, ages 12 and up. It can perform climbs, dives and turns with two simple knobs. It has a giant, 55-inch wingspan, and using its twin ducted fan jet engines, it can reach heights of 1000 feet. (For smooth takeoffs, you can use the E-Z Launch Takeoff system.)

Once you've landed the plane, you can detach the camera pod for easy downloads of your aerial photos to your laptop or PC using the included USB cable and software.

Engineered to resist breakage, the Estes Remote-Control Digital Camera Plane's wings and tail surfaces simply plug into place, as do the engines and camera pod. This assembly protects each part from major damage due to rough landings and use (almost quaranteed to happen, according to the reviews).

The good news? You can buy this plane, with lots of accessories, at Wal-Mart for only $148.32! (Unbelievable deal!)
Note from Technophile: Put a high-resolution camera on this baby and you've got me! Yes, I know this may not be a good example of "Extreme Technology", but you have to admit it is cool, and a lot more fun than a 65-nanometer processor!
Source: [MacAddict Magazine, March, 2006]