May 31 2006 Gryphon Personal Wing System
The Gryphon is a new parachute system designed by ESG, an electronics and logistics house in Germany. The Gryphon lets skydivers glide through the air at high speeds, giving them significant range in comparison to traditional parachutists. Skydivers using the system have the opportunity to glide 25 miles from the plane they exited, although a parachute is still required for the landing portion of the flight. ESG is currently developing small turbo jets for the Gryphon to increase the range of the system and permit lower altitude take-offs. I have to say the #1 Rule of Badness is to add jets to your product. Add a jet to your car? Jet Car. Much cooler. Add a jet to your cat? Future Cat. Way cool. Best Cat in the Neighborhood.
May 31 2006 Ubisense Employee Tracker
Ubisense is a British company that has developed a system for tracking the exact location of people in an office and relaying their coordinates to the computer screens of the employees. The system uses RFID tags to track humans to within 12 inches of their locations and display the data instantaneously on a three dimensional map that can be accessed from any computer in the building. The company proposes that this tracking system can be combined with a video camera network to automatically zoom and record the location of selected individuals. The article claims that this is the equivalent of the telescreens in George Orwell's 1984, but that's not true. This is just way for our bosses make sure we're safe all the time. If you spend 15 minutes at the office vending machine or coffee maker, you're obviously in dire need of medical assistance. Do you know how many deaths result from vending machine-related explosions each year? Millions. That's a fact.
May 31 2006 Autonomous Cars with Brain Technology
University of Southern California researchers have been developing autonomous robotic cars that use navigation systems based on the inner workings of the human brain. The system is based off of cognitive fingerprints, in which the cars take "snapshots" of their settings to use in navigating unknown surroundings. These snapshots are stored in a circular/looped representation that is supposed to mimic the data combinations formed by a human brain, enabling the robotic cars to better explore urban terrain without getting lost. With all this research money being spent on "mimicking" the human brain, why don't scientists just implant an actual human brain into a car? It's not like the car will go crazy and trample pedestrians or cause fatal accidents and mass fires. Even if it does, instant movie deal. Guaranteed instant movie deal.
May 30 2006 Electronic Curtains Change Opacity
Micro Reactor System Co. is a Japanese company that specializes in "electronic curtains" that alternate between translucent and opaque states depending on whether or not they're powered by an electrical current. The curtains are constructed by dispersing liquid crystal molecules between two panels of plastic, which allow the curtains to be relatively thin and flexible. The color of the opaque mode can be chosen from a variety of different colors. and the curtains should be available later this year for between $267 and $445 per square meter. These curtains might not be worthwhile window shades if the police already think that you're flashing the senior citizen center across the street from your apartment, since having a power outage drop the shades when you're in the middle of your naked morning "yoga session" won't help anything whatsoever.
May 30 2006 Space Golf Shot Disallowed
In a story we mentioned previously, a Russian cosmonaut was scheduled to hit a golf ball from the International Space Station (ISS) this week. Unfortunately, changes have been made to the program, and the cosmonaut will no longer be hitting the ball on this week's space walk. According to the Interfax news agency, it is still unknown whether or not the jettisoned ball will threaten various "orbital space machines," which includes the ISS itself. The golf shot has been tentatively rescheduled for the ISS's next spacewalk in November, but NASA is still reviewing the safety of the proposed shot and the swing. I don't know why NASA doesn't see this as an opportunity more than a problem. For a nominal fee, they could "accidentally" hit a golf ball into nearby satellite, and then an entire news channel would be off the air. It'd be just like Caddyshack! Except without that gopher. And it'd be in space. And there'd be cosmonauts. Maybe it wouldn't be like Caddyshack.
May 30 2006 Yamaha's Crotch Safety Bag
Yamaha Motors realizes that we're all completely terrified of getting hit in the groin. In order to help alleviate this fear, they've released information on the ASV-3, a prototype safety scooter equipped with a multi-chambered air bag that provides comfort and protection where you need it most. Not much is revealed from the article, but apparently this airbag opens from under the seat upon impact and provides a cushioned place for your head to strike. If Yamaha could somehow incorporate this technology into a simple pair of pants, we could reduce the devastating and hilarious football-to-groin injuries by over 80%!
May 26 2006 Japan's Robot Guidelines
Japan has finally realized the threat of a future revolt and has attempted to diminish killer robot potential by mandating a set of guidelines for the next robot generation. The guidelines establish basic rules for consumer robots, with requirements like sensors that prevent robots from running into people and emergency shut-off buttons for when robots decide they've had enough of our crap. I applaud Japan for mandating these requirements, but I just don't feel they go far enough. Where are the rules about robots not shooting electricity or balls of fire? What about not giving robots the strength to hurl people into space? The guidelines are a good start, sure, but I'll still be up at night worrying about all those robots with unfeeling electric eyes and saw blades for hands.
May 26 2006 Plan Sends Ice Comets to Moon
Scientists are considering repeatedly bombarding the moon with frozen water "comets" in order to sustain expeditionary crews and missions there. The project, called SLAM, is only in its proposal phase, but it appears to be one of the most efficient and cheapest ways to get usable water to the moon. Although there might already be water ice present on the moon, the SLAM project would send ice that is cleaner and more easily attainable. The ice payloads would not even need to be enclosed by a spacecraft on their journey, as a simple "thermal jacket" for the water would suffice. It will be a sad day for science when we send ice comets to the moon, only to have them fall off course and smash into some small village in Africa. The winter wonderlands that result, though? Magical.
May 26 2006 DARPA Robotic Limb for Amputee Soldiers
DARPA, DARPA, DARPA. According to a press release by the University of Utah, DARPA is funding a program at the university to create a bionic arm. If development proceeds as planned, the artificial arm will have the properties of a biological limb and be used to "revolutionize prosthetic devices for amputee soldiers." The University of Utah is currently developing and testing an implantable device that will rely nerve impulses back and forth between the residual limb the artificial one, permitting the user to control the arm with his/her brain and the artificial arm to send the brain data from touch and location sensors. The researchers may also increase the strength of the arm to super hero-like proportions, so wearers can crush bank vaults and smash armored cars with simple movements. When asked why they would add such a feature, the researchers would only reply with "why not?"
(Image of NASA robot hand)
May 25 2006 Metamaterial: Invisible Cloak Technology
You know that the source article is going to be nerdy when the first sentence references Harry Potter. Scientists in the UK and US are working on a new "metamaterial" that will be the foundation for rendering objects completely invisible. Metamaterial can bend electromagnetic radiation (radio waves, visible light, microwaves, etc.) in any direction, and if tuned right, the material could bend the radiation in such a way that it would simply flow around the material, appearing as if the radiation had never bumped into anything at all. Scientists are currently working on a microwave-bending version of the material that they hope will lead to an implementable version that manipulates the other forms of electromagnetic radiation. The research is being supported by DARPA, which really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. In fact, I find it more surprising that they aren't trying to invent an invisible robot lobster or an invisible tentacle monster. It's like they're not even trying anymore.
May 25 2006 NASA's Inexpensive Infrared Spots Dracula
NASA has developed an inexpensive detector that can see invisible infrared light in a range of "colors" or wavelengths. Previous attempts at creating a low-cost alternative to conventional infrared technology could only detect a narrow range of infrared colors, which was the equivalent of a black and white camera photograph. The increased range of this detector can gather detailed information like chemical composition, speed, direction of motion, and other data that a regular camera could not capture. Some of the potential uses of this new technology include locating forest fires, monitoring food processing for contamination and spoilage, locating power line transformer failures, and aiding in the detection of malignant tumors. I think we can all rest assured that we have finally developed the technology to economically give the T-800 robot the vision it needs to successfully end our tyrannical reign. Our next goal should be to find a way to give robots the power to grow large knives and spikes. One day at a time, I guess.
May 25 2006 Video Games Help Surgeons
A new study has found that surgeons who play video games prior to performing surgery were faster and made fewer mistakes than those who did not. The research was conducted on 303 surgeons who were practicing laparoscopic surgery, a form of internal surgery in which narrow instruments and a tiny video camera are inserted through a small incision in the body. Results from the study showed that surgeons who warmed up on games like "Super Monkey Ball" for at least twenty minutes completed training exercises an average of eleven seconds faster than the regular surgeons. The study also showed that surgeons who played video games were less likely to be busy on Saturday nights, more likely to have personal hygiene issues, and more susceptible to the harsh scorn of the opposite sex.
May 24 2006 Honda's Brain Machine Interface
The Honda and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institutes have developed a new "Brain Machine Interface" that uses brain signals to control robots. This technology is based on research that has shown an MRI-based tracking of responses in the brain can be decoded by a computer in approximate realtime with an 85% accuracy rate. In tests, a human subject would be placed in an MRI scanner and make a "rock," "paper," or "scissors" hand gesture. The specific brain signals generated by the subject during this process would be decoded by a computer program and transferred to a hand-shaped robot that would recreate the original gesture performed by the subject. Let me get this straight, not only do you have to sit in an MRI and be subjected to a powerful magnetic field for this interface to work, but you also give away your rock-paper-scissors strategy to the robot? How will mankind fare when our robot adversaries know our most intimate forms of warfare? Rock, rock, scissors. Rock, rock, scissors. It was practically unbeatable!
May 24 2006 Cell Phone Iris Scanner
Xvista, a UK-based biometrics company, has developed the first portable iris scanner that's small enough to be used in cellular phones. The system offers an accurate and secure method of checking identities by using a mobile phone camera to capture the iris of the user and compare it to a database of over 1,000,000 iris templates. It takes only one second to verify an individual's iris, and the chances of two individual's irises matching is approximately one in seven billion. It's a good feeling to know that in addition to people haphazardly talking on their cell phone while they speed down the highway, they'll also be completely obstructing their view while they scan their irises. That's great. I can only hope that the next cell phone invention somehow requires people to close their eyes for two minutes while they kick their feet about wildly.
May 23 2006 Apple and Nike Partnership
One of the biggest news announcements today was Nike and Apple's partnership with the launch of Nike+iPod products. The product line will be initiated with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, which provides wireless communication between a transmitter placed in special Nike shoes and an iPod nano, transferring exercise information like speed, distance, and calories burned instantly to the nano's screen. The system will also provide audible feedback and updates through the headphones, removing the need to look at a screen during a run. When the nano is synchronized with the computer afterwards, it automatically updates current workout information with previous exercise statistics, producing a detailed and robust workout journal that can be shared with other runners online. Everyone who has an iPod is not a runner, and Apple realizes this. That's why they've also announced the Nike+Sloth product line, which will track how many naps you take in a day, the total weight of donuts consumed, and the number of Oreo Double Stufs that you can fit in your mouth at one time. Which partnership will be more profitable? Only time will tell.
May 23 2006 Robot Gecko Climbing Technology
Stanford researchers have been developing a robot that can climb up walls in a similar fashion to that of geckos. Geckos can climb walls and ceilings thanks to tiny hairs on their feet, called setae, that are attracted to surfaces by an "intermolecular force" known as "van der Waals force." The Stickybot has large flexible feet with synthetic setae made from elastomer. This synthetic setae replicate the van der Waals force, and the size and shape of the feet permit the robot to climb vertical surfaces. Check the video to see it in action. Proposed uses for the technology include planetary rover, rescue robot, and "awesome super hero robot that can climb walls and shoot webs and fight crime and also it's like my best friend and it hangs out and plays video games with me."
May 23 2006 Eco-Shell Marathon Results
The European Eco-Shell Marathon that we mentioned a few weeks ago has completed, with an entry from France's Lycee La Joliverie crowned the winner. The vehicle averaged 6,786 miles per gallon, which was slightly less than its trial run of 6,854 miles per gallon. The range of cars and concepts was extremely diverse, with a vehicle that integrated its motor into a wheel, a car with a solar panel, a car that doubles as a coffee table, a dog-like vehicle, a vehicle covered in newspaper clippings, and a vehicle with protection from most sexually-transmitted diseases. Not a bad showing, but the cars all lack the chainsaws and machine gun attachments that would've made this event 1000 times more interesting.
May 22 2006 WMD Computer Case Modification
The WMD is a custom-built computer case crafted to resemble the elaborate nuclear bombs commonly found in action blockbusters and television shows. It features a count-down clock, a lockable numeric keypad, LED displays, and a rugged stainless steel exterior. The keypad is the main controller for the case and the computer, functioning as the power and reset switch for the computer; the start, stop, and setup keys for the timer; and the eject button for the slot-loaded DVD drive. The linked tutorial is extremely detailed, so you should have no problem creating your own WMD computer provided... you... have... enough... time. Once you do build one, make sure you drive around with it tied to the roof of your car. Let everyone see your fine craftsmanship and handiwork.
May 22 2006 Glabenator: Forehead Communication
The Glabenator is Apurv Mishra's award-winning entry in the ISEF-International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest "pre-college scientific research-based competition." The Glabenator provides an alternative way for physically-challenged and quadriplegic individuals to communicate by using the basic movements of two muscles in the forehead. Patients who are unable to move most of their body can use the Glabenator to scroll through a menu of common sayings that, when selected, will be voiced through a nearby speaker. Apurv has suggested that the Glabenator can be applied to other fields of use and expects it to cost no more than $35. Unfortunately, for only $35, I can see the Glabenator becoming popular for the extremely lazy. Soon every conversation with your unemployed roommate will devolve into him saying "can you strap that weird plastic thing to my face? I want to use my forehead to better convey this point."
May 22 2006 Book Radio Concept
The Book Radio is a radio concept designed by students at the Interaction Design Institute Irvea that removes the dials, switches, and buttons of a regular radio. The radio is controlled through simple interactions with the book itself, which provides a complex listening experience for the user. For example, turning the pages of the book will scan through the radio stations, and each page represents a specific radio frequency, so finding a preset station is as simple as turning to a particular page in the book. The electronics for the device are completely contained in the spine of the book, allowing you to easily feign intelligence and sophistication while you rock out to Top 40 Jams®! Oh, I'd do anything for you, Kelly Clarkson.
May 19 2006 Nike Machine Dispenses Soccer Ball
Nike has installed a soccer ball vending machine in New York City as part of its Joga3 campaign. The vending machine is located at Chelsea Piers in the city, and the soccer balls are sold for $20 each. Hopefully other corporations will follow Nike's lead, creating a new age of vending machines that will rival Japan's prosperous industry. If I wake up in the middle of the night and I want to buy myself some cigarettes or a few soccer balls or maybe a new baby, I shouldn't be subjected to the fickle whim of a retailer's "business hours." I should be able to walk to some shady district and purchase those things from a nonjudgmental robot box. That's my God-given right.
May 19 2006 Samsung Announces Fuel Cell Deal
Samsung has signed an exclusive deal with MTI MicroFuel Cells to develop fuel cell power sources for cell phone prototypes. Samsung plans to use MTI's patented Mobion direct fuel cell technology to provide extended runtimes and instant recharging capabilities for the new breed of cell phones. The companies will work together to create prototypes and eventually enter into a "product commercialization agreement." After the product commercialization agreement, the two companies might wed because they love each other so damn much. So fuel cells are making their way into cell phones. That's great because that's exactly where we need them: in cell phones. I know I'm spending hundreds of dollars each week at the cell phone recharging station and I'm bound to pay much more as summer arrives. If only there were a way to convert our gasoline surplus into phone power, then we'd be totally set.
May 19 2006 Space Goggles Reduce Space Sickness
NASA held a luncheon recently to honor technology that has helped ease space travel and reduce space-related problems. One of the technologies honored was a stroboscopic goggle system that helps prevent the nauseating effects of "space sickness." Space sickness symptoms are common to those of motion sickness, and they can affect astronauts for the first few days in space and the first few days back on earth. The goggles help to reduce space sickness symptoms by using LCD "shutters" to produce a strobe effect that quickly alternates between darkness and clear images. The goggles allow the wearer's eyes to better "freeze" visual images, which helps reduce disagreement between the eyes and the ears, a common cause of the sickness. Goggles that block out the vision of an astronaut? What could go wrong? It's not like they're steering billion dollar spacecrafts through an onslaught of lasers and dive bombing alien insects. Wait. I might be thinking of Galaxian, but still.
May 18 2006 StrideLite Flashing Jackets
Bright Night is a company that provides specially-designed "electroluminescent" jackets for nighttime runners and bicyclists. In addition to the standard reflective fabric common to cycling and running clothes, their jackets incorporate flexible strobe lights that can be visible from up to a quarter mile away. The jacket lighting system is constructed from blue electroluminescent lamps that can be powered for over 300 hours using two AAA batteries. In addition to jackets, the company offers belts and umbrellas that also use this system. Even if you're not a runner or a cyclist, combine this jacket with a handful of glitter and an oversized "Cat in the Hat" hat and you're bound to be the coolest person at your family's next rave. Just be sure to stuff those jacket pockets with lollipops; they'll keep your grandmother from grinding her teeth again.
Peter Bethune, a 41 year old New Zealander, is planning to break the record for circumnavigating the globe in a speedboat. The catch? His 78-foot speedboat is powered only by renewable fuels. Still not satisfied? The boat will also be powered by fat drained from his ass. That's right. Ass fat. His fat will only power the boat for a miniscule fraction of his 27,600 mile journey; for the rest of the voyage, the boat will be fueled by vegetable oil and animal fat. Doesn't America have a dramatic obesity problem? How can we let a New Zealander beat us at our own game? I guess there's still a chance to circumnavigate the globe in a boat powered solely by the fat from one person's ass. If we succeed, we'll finally restore the world's confidence in the U.S. Sponsored by McDonald's.
May 18 2006 Intelligent Robot Scarecrow
Students at the University of South Florida have created a computer-powered scarecrow to protect fish farms from predatory birds. The scarecrow uses an internet-enabled camera and imaging software to scan for the presence of birds, and if any are found, it will sound alarms or fire bursts of water in their direction. If the camera picks up a bright orange color, the alarms are deactivated, so farmers can simply don an orange hunting vest when they to want to safely access the scarecrow. The scarecrow can even send text messages or emails to the farmer to alert him/her of various bird-related happenings. The scarecrow technology is still in its juvenile phase, and it won't be feasible for large farms until the "scarecrow can move around regularly." It will be a sad day when farmers are trapped in their houses because they can't escape the harassment of a roaming mechanical bird watcher. Then, when the farmhouse "accidentally" catches on fire with the farmer inside, it definitely won't be the robot's fault. How can you blame a scarecrow for a fire?
May 17 2006 Million Dollar Cell Phone
Goldvish is selling an extravagantly designed and jeweled cell phone for the everyday low price of one million dollars. The phone is covered in over half a pound (120 carats) of diamonds, and it features most of the amenities of a regular, non-jeweled "high end" phone. If you'd rather spend your million dollars on something more useful, like an army, Goldvish sells a variety of slightly less ostentatious cell phones for a mere $25 thousand. The only million dollar jeweled purchase I'd make would be for a new grill, and for that much money, it better include a life-size golden statue of George Foreman that sits comfortably on my shoulder.
May 17 2006 Haile Robot Drummer Mimic
Haile is a robot drummer designed to accompany regular drummers as they lay down rhythm. Designed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the robot sits across a "Native American powow" drum from a human drummer and begins detecting the rhythm, loudness, and pitch of its human counterpart's drumming. Haile follows the human's drumming by mimicking the pattern, and then improvises by dividing, multiplying, or skipping beats. Future plans include using genetic algorithms to help Haile modify and improvise beats more creatively. The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to use several Haile robots to completely replace the dreadlocked college students who just hang around playing drums in the grass. A future robot to replace guys who always play their acoustic guitars at parties is "definitely in planning."
May 17 2006 NASA Space Crash Explained
NASA finally has an explanation for a crash that took place between a robotic NASA spacecraft and an orbiting satellite. The DART spacecraft was attempting to demonstrate the simplicity and accuracy of "Autonomous Rendezvous Technology" when it crashed into a defunct Pentagon satellite last year. NASA previously concluded that DART had depleted its fuel reserves and was unable to avoid the collision, but they now know that DART's main navigation sensor assumed it was flying away from the satellite rather than violently into it. The $110 million failure has left DART and the satellite in orbit, although they will eventually burn up when they reenter the atmosphere. $110 million lost because a sensor got confused. I think it's finally time to reinstate monkey and dog astronauts, not only because they could easily solve a basic problem like this, but also because the idea that our skies could be littered with the carcasses of dead monkeys is one that I find extremely comforting. No wait, not comforting. Horrifying.
May 16 2006 Hit-Air Airbag Safety Vest
The Hit-Air is an airbag vest and jacket line that's designed to protect horseback, motorcycle, ATV, and camel riders when they are thrown from their animal or vehicle. The vest is tethered to the vehicle or animal by a coiled wire, and when the rider and vehicle/animal are separated, a pin is pulled and the vest inflates in less than a second. The inflated vests provides impact protection for the rider's spine, rib cage, and vital organs, and it is guaranteed to completely freak out the horse in the process. The vest is helpful for rider safety, but it's obvious that the main use will be to provide instant muscles when it's time to impress the ladies. I don't know why they aren't marketing it as such. "Pull the pin and the muscles grow in." The advertising campaign practically writes itself.
May 16 2006 Idrolux Shower and Tanning Chamber
What do you get when you combine electricity and water? A radical suntan! The IDROLUX is a deluxe shower system that incorporates panels of tanning lamps into the shower walls. Laboratory tests have confirmed that the combination of water and the UVA light emitted from the panels increases the tanning effect over that of a tanning bed by 30%! You just can't argue with science. The tanning lamps also come in a variety of colors, to... give you a variety of colored tans? I'm not sure. Price is unknown, but the sheer enjoyment of your tan is sure to be worth it, provided you don't first die of electrocution. Even if you do, you'll still be one handsomely tanned corpse.
May 16 2006 DARPA's Person Launcher
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) continues to wow and amaze with some of the most ludicrous technology announcements out there. Today's discovery is a "controllable launcher" that can propel a human payload dozens of feet into the air. The launcher is a simple combination of a seat, guide rails, and a compressed air cylinder. When the launcher is activated, the compressed air shoots the seat up the launcher's guide rails, and when it reaches the top, the chair is halted, and the seat's rider is thrown. According to the patent, a computer can be used to calculate the correct angle and force required to safely and accurately launch each rider. DARPA claims that the launcher could place a man safely on the roof of a five story building in less than 2 seconds. DARPA's next announcement is predicted to be a friendly lobster robot that can quickly and accurately clean up the remains of people who have tragically fallen from great heights.
May 16 2006 Gold-Plated LG Television
LG has released the 71PY10, a 71 inch plasma television that is coated with four pounds of 24-karat gold. The 71PY10 includes a 600W home cinema system, and the entire setup goes for approximately $132,000. If that price is slightly out of your range, LG is releasing a sleek black version for only $94,000. A gold-plated television is a good start, but I won't be happy until I can purchase a television that's coated in gold-plated televisions. Either that or a taffy-coated television. Who doesn't love taffy?
May 15 2006 Micro Thermoelectric Generators
Scientists who are desperately trying to put electronics into your body have developed a power source that works off of body heat. Thermoelectric generators create electricity when a temperature difference exists between the two ends of a circuit that are made from two types of metal, and they have been around for decades. The heat to electricity ratio they produce is usually too small for most electronics, but California-based Thermo Life Energy has developed a smaller, more powerful version that could make thermoelectric generator use worthwhile for charging batteries in microelectronics. The generators are only 9.3 millimeters in diameter, which is an ideal size for use in wireless sensors and electronic body implants. Energy from body heat? That's what we're doing now? Just when I start focusing on creating energy from urine, I have to throw everything out the window and focus on body heat. Great. What am I supposed to do with all those gatorade bottles in my basement?
May 15 2006 BAAL Off-Road Treaded Concept
This year's "Michelin Challenge Design" asked designers to create vehicle concepts targeted at the "California market." The treaded off-road racer Baal and its accompanying two-seater Hyanide top the list as two of the most interesting entries. The Baal's flexible rubber track gives the vehicle tank-like traction and speed, and the track's position on the vehicle allows for various types and sizes of engines. The vehicle is steered by both the hands and the feet, which was a specific attempt by the designers to make the Baal's handling "more interesting." Keep in mind that it's only a concept, so until the day comes when you can actually crush your rib cage while hopping your Baal through a creek bed, you'll just have to stick to repeatedly riding your neighbor's Segway off your roof.
May 15 2006 OFRO Robot to Patrol World Cup
OFRO is a new mobile robot that will be patrolling and monitoring the grounds of this summer's World Cup. Using a 360° rotating "thermo camera" and two ultrasound distance sensors, the robot will record any suspicious activity and transmit the footage back to a security control room. The OFRO can follow several predefined routes for up to 12 hours at a time, and it was designed to withstand many different environmental conditions, including inclement weather and low temperatures. "Withstanding environmental conditions" is not quite the same as "withstanding thousands of angry soccer fans' unforgiving fists," so the next time you see OFRO, it will probably be as one overzealous soccer fan attempts to have sex with its broken and hollow shell.
May 12 2006 Fuel Efficient Vehicle Achieves 800 MPG
Andy Green, a British inventor, has created an ultra fuel-efficient vehicle that is capable of traveling 8,000 miles on a single gallon of gasoline. Andy designed the vehicle around a one cylinder four-stroke engine, and the entire vehicle weighs less than 70 pounds, which, the article is quick to note, is the average weight of a nine-year-old boy in the UK. The vehicle will be entered in Shell's Eco-Marathon, a marathon whose winner will be crowned the world's most fuel-economic "car," later this month. Andy's vehicle represents the sole British entry for the marathon, and it is expected to be quite the contender, provided it isn't accidentally crushed by the American entry: a Hummer H2 with a picture of a solar panel taped to its side.
May 12 2006 Wine Glass Doorbell
Designer Peter Van Der Jagt has created an elegant design for the common doorbell. The 'Bottoms Up' replaces the tone bars of a regular doorbell with two crystal wine glasses. When the bell is rung, the hammer lightly strikes the glasses, creating a sound that will announce guests with a "musical toast." It should be released in June, but at a price of $235, I might have to hold out for an economical Miller Light bottle and can version. Also, I'll have to hold out until I move into my own place, since the public library that I sleep in doesn't usually like it when I make "household repairs."
May 12 2006 Computer-Automated Dorm Room System
Two students at MIT have spent the past school year transforming their dorm room into an extremely automated living area. The Multifunction In-Dorm Automation System (MIDAS) controls various aspects of the room, including the lights, electric window blinds, text displays, security cameras, alarms, and music system. The MIDAS is controlled by various computer interfaces and buttons, one of the most prominent being the "party button," which cuts out the lights, shuts the blinds and starts pumping intense techno with random laser lights. Unfortunately, if you spend your entire first year of college working on your computer-controlled dorm room, you might lack the friends required to host an actual party. Oh, wait. They have a fog machine. Well then, the parties will come to them.
May 11 2006 Transforming Car Braces for Accidents
German researchers are working on a car that can anticipate a side-on impact and slightly transform its body to better absorb the impact. Side impact accidents occur at the same frequency as front and rear accidents, but cause the most injuries out the three. In an attempt to address this problem, the experimental system uses cameras and radar to track oncoming cars to determine if an impact is imminent. If the system calculates that a crash is inevitable, it will activate a "shape-shifting metal" in the door to reinforce the area that will be struck. After the accident, the car will continue the transformation process until it becomes a fire-breathing robot scorpion, because, hey, if you're going to make your car transform into something, it might as well be a giant scorpion.
May 11 2006 Kowon Video LCD Glasses
Korean electronics manufacturer Kowon has announced a product that will let you enjoy a nice television show while you attempt to drastically increase your risk of getting hit by a bus. These video glasses let viewers watch television and movies in an experience that's touted to be similar to watching a 32" LCD TV from a distance of 2 meters. The glasses use connection cables that can link to a variety of appliances, including televisions, DVD players, and apparently cell phones. It's easy to see that video glasses lend well to cell phone use, since most text messages only make sense when LOLs and OMGs appear larger than giant pumpkins. Release date is unknown, but we'll keep our eyes open for one. Get it? Eyes? Ha hah! Oh laughter.
May 10 2006 Insbots Robots Change Roach Behaviors
Researchers have recently succeeded in controlling groups of cockroaches with insect-like robots known as "insbots." The insbots are mobile cubic robots around the size of a thumbnail, and they use infrared and light sensors to guide their way. Before they enter the presence of cockroaches, they are coated with roach pheromones to ease their transition into the group. In testing, the roaches interacted with the insbots and eventually followed the insbots' movements, even if the movements were contrary to the group's common behavior. It's obvious that the researchers are planning to use this technology to create an off-broadway production of 1996's Joe's Apartment. Although, training roaches to sing and dance won't be as hard as convincing Jerry O'Connell to star; I know for a fact that he's a busy man.
May 10 2006 Digital Mirror Displays Future You
The Persuasive Mirror, a project being developed by Accenture, displays an age and behavior-progressed representation of the viewer. The image presented by the mirror will be adjusted based on a "series of sensors and data analysis tools" that monitor the viewer's activity throughout the house. For example, the mirror could be combined with "health-tracking personal sensors," and if the user eats poorly and neglects exercise, the mirror could project an image of the user as overweight. The idea is to persuade people to live better lives by scaring them into submission with grotesque images of their future selves. This technology is still in its planning phase, so even if it could evaluate your life based on your significant other, it'd still be too late... too late.
May 10 2006 Internet XBOX Controller Controller
The Xbox Controller Controller project is an attempt to access and command an Xbox controller over the internet. The buttons on the controller are physically pressed by stiff wire "arms" that are attached to individual servos. The collection of servos is controlled by a Basic microcontroller which accepts processed directions from a small circuit board computer with a wireless internet card. This controller hack has been operated wirelessly through a Nintendo DS and a Sony PSP. I too have created an Xbox controller controller, but my controller just consists of giving my unemployed older brother a bag of peanut M&M's and telling him to sit by the Xbox and a phone for a few hours. Although, I bet this guy doesn't come home to find his controller passed out in front of a Family Ties rerun with chocolate all over its face.
May 9 2006 Pressure-Sensitive Robot Patient
Researchers at Gifu University's Graduate School of Medicine have developed a robot patient that will provide helpful support for students who are learning to diagnose medical conditions. The humanoid robot is programmed to suffer from one of eight different medical conditions, and it uses sensors to determine the pressure placed on its skin. When students press on a localized area of the robot, the robot will verbally tell the student whether or not it feels pain in that area. The robot has a total of 24 sensors embedded under a layer of soft, warm synthetic skin, creating numerous points for medical students to place their sweaty hands on those lonely Friday nights. Studying with this robot will familiarize students with the physical symptoms of particular human medical conditions and finally give them the experience they need to drop out of medical school and open their own robot massage parlor and escort service.
May 9 2006 Micro.Spheres Social Robot Ball Project
The Micro.Spheres project invites human visitors into a room filled with 16 autonomous robot balls. The presence of the visitor sets off the sensors in the balls, which move around the room to achieve a new state of equilibrium. If the person in the room is continuously moving, the balls are too. If the person stands still or leaves the room, the balls will find a state of balance and stop moving. The project is supposed to address changing social structures, but if they added a few spikes to the balls and swapped out the word "micro" with "death" or "danger," they could have a successful movie franchise on their hands. Did I say successful? I meant terrible.
May 9 2006 DARPA Robot Tentacle Project
Leave it up to those whacky scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to invent another animal robot that has absolutely no use for anyone anywhere ever. The OCTOR (sOft robotiC manipulaTORs) project is focused on both creating tentacle-like robots and completely destroying the foundation upon which acronyms are based. DARPA is researching robot tentacles in an attempt to create a robot appendage that can navigate narrow spaces and manipulate oddly-shaped objects. The "Octarms" that have been developed so far are powered by compressed air and fitted with pressure sensors on its surface and a camera at its tip. It is unclear about the eventual use of these Octarms, but researchers may use them for "bomb disposal tasks," since slapping a bomb around with a pool noodle is probably the safest way to deactivate it.
May 8 2006 RevoPower In-Wheel Bicycle Engine
If there's one thing to look for in a peaceful bicycling experience, it's the relaxing sound and exhaust of a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine! The RevoPower "Wheel" is a hub-based bicycle motor that can easily be swapped with the front wheel of almost any adult bicycle. The Wheel contains a balanced 23cc, two stroke internal combustion engine and gear train that can achieve speeds of up to 20 mph. A simple throttle device on the handlebars controls the speed of the engine, and a fuel tank in the water bottle holder powers it. The Wheel should be released in late 2006 to early 2007; shortly after which the product will be taken off the market when the Wheels begin disconnecting from their bicycles en masse and slamming into congregations of old ladies, kittens, and newborn babies.
May 8 2006 Folding Screen Portable DVD Player
The Origami DVD Player is a new concept being developed by Israel-based MagInk. When not playing a DVD, the Origami can be folded down, compressing the screen so it is approximately the size of a portable CD player. This concept relies on a flexible screen, which MagInk plans to manufacture with full-color e-paper technology. I like the idea of giant, newspaper-sized screens on portable electronics, but folding up a screen might create some problems. What happens when a crease in the screen blocks out some important plot information? Where would I be if I didn't know Willy made it over those rocks? I wouldn't have "Willy is free" tattooed on my neck, that's for damn sure.
May 8 2006 Shocknife Shocking Training Knife
If back alley knife fights get in the way of juggling your job and family, you might want to consider picking up the Shocknife. The Shocknife is a training knife that delivers a localized shock of up to 7,500 volts. The blade itself is incapable of cutting, and the shock will deliver only temporary pain, not serious injury or incapacitation. The blade is mainly targeted at police training exercises, offering a drastic improvement over the commonly used wooden and rubber training knives. A case of two goes for $900, and let's face it, nightly knife fights provide an easy and quick way to settle those pesky dinner table arguments.
May 5 2006 Stroke Recovery Brain and Chest Implants
The NorthStar Stroke Recovery System is a new form of stroke treatment that implants electronics in the various nooks of your body. A three-fold design, the system places an electric stimulator in the chest which connects to an electrode implanted in the brain, which are both controlled by a handheld programming system. The system stimulates the healthy brain tissue adjacent to the stroke, working to enhance and speed recovery. It's still classified as an "investigational device," so they're exactly sure of the side effects. I'm sure it's totally safe. You know who else has electronics in his brain and chest? Robocop. I don't think you see him complaining about stroke recovery problems.
May 5 2006 Urine-Powered Battery
Singaporean researchers have developed a credit card-sized battery that is powered by urine. Made of copper chloride paper sandwiched between strips of copper and magnesium, that battery only requires a simple drop of urine to create a chemical reaction that produces the charge. The battery can generate power equivalent to that of one AA battery, and it's targeted to become a power source for electronic urine testers or as an emergency power source for mobile phones. Although the potential is large, in its current condition it should only be able to power a "digital watch" or "calculator." That's what "physicists" say. I say that it won't be long before you're powering your television with these batteries, so you might as well start preparing now. Take a cue from that coworker who lives in his car and start making the most of your empty Ziploc bags.
May 5 2006 Philip's Future Product Show
Philips recently held a show displaying prototypes and potential future products. Some of the featured products included ambient MRI lighting, lamps that change color depending on the color placed near a sensor, garden lights that change color as the wind blows, remote control wands for television mirrors, touch-based mirror message boards, "albino cactus" air purifiers, and a self-watering and self-lighting herb garden. Pictured is a prototype for a futuristic memento that displays random video clips after it's lightly shaken. When asked about the inspiration for this last product, a spokesperson said the design came from the enchantment and randomness of a snow glove and the satisfaction one gets from furiously shaking puppies.
Read on for more pictures...
May 4 2006 Virtual Horseback Riding Exercise Program
With summer fast approaching, it's probably time to shed that extra weight with some standard virtual horseback riding exercises. Panasonic has released the "JOBA horse riding fitness equipment," which uses "3-D virtual reality technology" to imitate horseback riding and increase physical strength. This fitness program will tone those flabby abdominal, side, thigh and back muscles all from the comfort of an included electronic saddle. For the competitive virtual horse riders, you'll be comforted to know that the bridle bar and stirrups are indeed included. My guess is that this idea developed when a designer's mom stumbled upon her son's hidden saddle collection. It's safe to say that an exercise system based around a leather mask with a ton of zippers is not that far off.
May 4 2006 Riot Slimer Non-Lethal Weapon
Researchers in San Antonio have developed a new non-lethal weapon to help break up mobs, riots, and those bothersome peaceful demonstrations. The weapon dispenses a "super-slimy" substance that causes rioters and vehicles to lose traction and slip wildly about. The weapon uses an airbrush-like dispensing nozzle and a backpack with cylinders that contain compressed air, water, and a finely ground polyacrylamide powder. The dispensing nozzle fires individual streams of water and powder at the crowd, which mix in the air and douse the crowd in the slimy substance. Unfortunately, this device will only add to the effectiveness of the far too common oil wrestling sit-ins and Slip 'N Slide-based protests.
May 4 2006 First Korean Android Revealed
South Korean scientists have unleashed their first android upon an unsuspecting populace. EverR-1 is a humanoid robot that can understand speech, speak responses that are synchronized with the movement of her lips, blink with her eyes, and move her arms and hands. Ever-1 can also make detailed facial expressions ranging from joy to sorrow and happiness to anger, an emotion Korean robot manufacturers seem to enjoy. The lower half of her body is currently immobile, but her creators are planning to give her the ability to sit and stand by the end of the year. Other improvements will be to continue to up her creepiness level until not even innocent kids care to caress her lifeless face.
May 3 2006 SmartShirt Remote Monitoring System
Sensatex, a leading electronic textile company, has initiated a Beta launch of its flagship SmartShirt System. The SmartShirt measures and transmits a wearer's heart rate, movement, and respiration rate using a conductive fiber grid that is knit into the material of the shirt. The shirt could eventually be used to remotely monitor the health of senior citizens, outpatients, training athletes, truck drivers, and soldiers. An additional idea would be to make a little SmartShirt sweater for your cat. That way, when you leave your cat alone for a few weeks, you can remotely check on him to make sure he's still doing okay. Swap out the word 'cat' with 'neglected toddler,' and the concept still applies.
May 3 2006 Toronto Subway Electronic Vandalism
LED Signs on Toronto's subway cars were flashing messages implying that Canada's prime minister "eats babies." The electronic advertising system, which usually displays transit updates and advertisements, started flashing the phrase "Stephen Harper Eats Babies" every three seconds late last week. The transit commuter system was forced to shut down the screens on Monday in order to repair the problem. Stephanie Sorensen, spokesperson for the transit system, announced that they "assume" it was the work of a hacker, and it "appears" to be a case of electronic vandalism. She followed that announcement by saying "We'll probably never find out who did this, and we should probably stop looking. Also, we'll never figure out who spray painted 'Stephanie hates Harper' all over the train cars, so let's all just move on with our lives."
May 3 2006 Full Color Blimp Video Screens
I'm sure you were excited when you found that you could customize your car's wheels with LED pictures, but what about people people whose only mode of transportation is by dirigible? The Lightships Group has them covered with the A-170 Video Lightsign Airship. Measuring 30 feet by 70 feet, the color screen can broadcast "live TV, internet sites, stock tickers, slide shows" and marriage proposals from guys just too lazy to actually ask their fiances. This blimp ushers in a new age of advertising where "flying electronic billboards" crowd the sky and giant videos of Paris Hilton eating a cheeseburger eclipse the sun. I think we can all agree that the night sky will be much more beautiful when it's filled with videos of monkeys talking on cell phones.
May 2 2006 Kaya "See-Through" Filters
Kaya Special Optics specializes in optics and lenses that enable regular cameras to see through various types of materials. Placing Kaya's Infrared filters on certain consumer cameras and camcorders instantly creates images that "visually penetrate an object's surface to see what lies below." According to their website, their filters can capture images through fog, haze, tinted car windows and sunglasses, inks, dyes, pigments, make up, and, of course, certain types of clothes. If these lenses gain popularity, there might just be a resurgence in the lead underwear market, finally paying off for those of us who bought into the "solar radiation makes your testicles explode" rumor of 1997.
May 2 2006 VeinViewer Technology Launched
The Medical Technology company Luminetx has begun shipping the VeinViewer, an instrument that uses infrared light to clearly project the location of veins onto the surface of skin. Although the VeinViewer can be used to find veins for drawing blood and inserting IV's, its main purpose is to assist with difficult procedures that require a great deal of precision, like inserting catheters and removing varicose and spider veins. It has also been suggested that VeinViewer could be used to find the fragile, elusive veins of children, the eldery, and unconscious fans. The VeinViewer is currently priced at $25,000, so it may take a while before you see one in your neighborhood doctor's office.
May 2 2006 DARPA Urban Challenge
When you have enough money to fund robotic lobsters, you might as well create a simulated city for robots to destroy. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced that its next Grand Challenge competition will take place in a simulated urban environment. Previous DARPA Grand Challenges required participants to create autonomous ground vehicles that would navigate difficult desert routes. This next competition, scheduled to take place on November 3, 2007, moves the challenge into a "mock urban area" where vehicles must obey strict traffic laws while "merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles." How many simulated pedestrians must perish before greedy DARPA has its fill? Only time will tell.
May 1 2006 AA Battery Powered Ultralight
Students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have successfully constructed and flown a ultralight plane that is powered solely by AA batteries. On Saturday, the manned ultralight managed to fly a "couple hundred meters" using 160 Panasonic Oxyride AA batteries. The glider's length is just over 30 feet and it is constructed out of carbon fiber and styrofoam. In other news, several local community college students managed to create a AA battery-powered beer bong by cramming a handful of batteries down a traditional beer bong.
May 1 2006 Levi Shipping RFID-Tagged Jeans
Levi Strauss & Co. has announced that they are now shipping jeans and pants that are individually tagged with radio frequency identification tags. The company is in a testing phase with the RFID tags, sending the shipment to only one unnamed retail location in the United States. This announcement has generated concern from privacy activists about the implications of item-level RFID tagging. A spokesperson for Levi Strauss claimed that the tags will only contain stock information for the product, such as style, size, and color. As long as pants don't start calling my grandmother whenever I'm at the discount strip club alley, I'll continue to wear them.
May 1 2006 Fish-Based Relaxation System
The goal of the ENKI project is to induce a state of "extreme relaxation" through communication signals from electric fish. The project is based around "Brainwave Entrainment" in which the senses are presented with rhythmic stimuli that cause the brain to synchronize its electric cycles with the stimuli's rhythm. Instead of using pre-programmed chips like other Brainwave Entrainment systems, the ENKI project uses the electric organ discharge of Electric Fish, creating the "possibility of becoming one with the mind of nature." After the experience, subjects described a deep sense of relaxation and an extreme fondness for "those delicious colorful food flakes."
May 1 2006 Eye-Fi Wifi SD Cards
Eye-Fi is a new product that will add wifi connectivity to most digital cameras. Eye-Fi is a specially designed SD-card that contains both storage and a wifi module built in. The basic idea of wifi in cameras is to create an easier way to transfer pictures from the camera to the computer, eliminating the need for a USB cable or card adapter. The Eye-Fi carries this idea further by enabling the user to upload pictures to a web-base photo website (like Flikr) from any wireless hotspot. This benefits users because they can free up space on their memory card by dumping their pictures to the web anytime the find a hotspot. It should be available by the end of the year for around $100, and greatly increase the chance that one of your friends will "accidentally" upload more personal pictures of himself dressed in his "teddy bear bondage" costume to the Internet.