Apple reportedly has 100-person team working on ‘iWatch’
As the Apple “iWatch” rumor mill gets wound up, a new report holds that Apple already has a team of 100 people working on the rumored smart wristwatch, including some prominent Apple employees.
Following a spate of reports that Apple is developing an iOS-based wristwatch, unnamed sources tell Bloomberg that the team working on just such a device has grown over the past year and includes employees from its marketing, software, and hardware units who had previously worked on the iPhone and iPad.
Key members of the team are said to include James Foster, Apple’s senior director of engineering, and Achim Pantfoerder, a program manager who is credited with 13 Apple patents, including an electronic sighting compass and ambient light sensor.
The Bloomberg report comes on the heels of a New York Times report over the weekend that said Apple was experimenting with wristwatch-like devices that sported curved glass. However, a team of this size and with such prominent membership suggests the company might be farther ahead than the experimental phase.
CNET has contacted Apple for comment and will update this report when we learn more.
Previous reports held that Apple had partnered with Intel to develop an iOS wristwatch that would be Bluetooth-enabled and sport a 1.5-inch OLED screen.
First Bionic Eye For US Market Awaits Approval From FDA
Like a digital camera, the retina does basic optical processing like edge detection and enhancement and color separation. It transmits images through the optical nerve and then your brain returns the inverted image to its correct right side up.
People with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), can’t do that. RP is an inherited eye disease – it causes retinal degeneration which means a gradual decline in vision and eventually blindness. It’s also considered an orphan disease which means not enough people have it to warrant a bevy of researchers, scientists and pharmaceutical lobbyists to devote entire and massive budgets to its cure.
Last week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) was supposed to approve Second Sight’s Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System, for use in the United States. If the approval comes, it will signal more than 20 years of work in the field, two clinical trials, more than $100M in public investment by the National Eye Institute, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation, and an additional $100M in private investments. Not to mention it will be the first bionic eye available in the US Market.
The Argus II was approved with the CE mark for use in Europe in 2011 and the Retinal Prosthesis system is the first prosthesis of its kind in the world.
Think part Six Million Dollar Man where the tech was all in Steve Austin‘s eye and part Geordi La Forge from Star Trek, where the “glasses” helped him see, the Argus II takes us farther down the road of using bio-electronics and understanding how our body works and uses electronic pulses. In the case of the Argus II, the bionic eye or more accurately, the artificial retina, will turn darkness into light through a system comprised of electronics in the eye and wearable technology which wirelessly transmits a signal to the implant in the eye that lets the patient see again.
“No one really thought it would be possible because the tissue around the eye is so soft and delicate,” adds Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, Cornelius Pings Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, Cell and Neurobiology, Keck School of Medicine of USC and USC Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California. “If we continue to develop this type of technology and begin to understand the new electrical language of pulses to the brain, to the eye, we can apply it to other parts of the body and we can change our world and how we relate to it.”
Dr. Humayun has been working on this project for 25 years. It may sound idealistic, but ever since he watched his grandmother go blind from Diabetes, he wanted to do something that would help people see again.
“It’s amazing to see the ability of the human brain to take low resolution images and make so much of it” – Dr. Mark Humayun, Professor of Opthalmology and Biomedical Enginering, USC.
There are two parts to the Argus II Retinal System. First the implant through surgery. The surgery is not unlike many eye surgeries today but in this case, a trained surgeon will implant the electronics underneath the skin of the eye, known as the conjunctiva.
Under anaesthesia, the surgeon will open up the skin of your eye and slide in the electronics of the Argus II and suture that to your eye . He will then remove the gel-like substance around you eye, called the vitirous, and then slide in saran-wrap like electrodes that make contact with the neural tissue of your retina. Once the electrodes are in place or position, a little micro-tac (the size of two human hairs) will be used to attach to the retina in the eye. Recovery time is about a week, with little pain or discomfort.
Then, the technology. Video images captured by a miniature camera inside the patient’s glasses into a series of small electrical pulses transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes on the surface of the retina inside the eye. These pulses are intended to stimulate the retina’s remaining cells resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.
The patient then has to learn to interpret these visual patterns thereby regaining some visual function.
And here is the sci-fi part, they don’t activate the system right away after the surgery. That’s only done when you put on the glasses and a computer system custom fits the patient to set parameters in the wearable tech aka the glasses, each patient is different. Because the glasses have a camera that’s encoded to talk wirelessly to the implant, it can send siganls to the implant and the implant decodes them (like morse code). The battery power is all in the glassses in the wearable tech, not the implant.
Dr. Humayun, who is also the co-inventor and lead clinical advisor for the Argus II, says this is just a jumping off point.
“Software upgrades will allow us to do more for people – because the implants don’t need to change, the glasses can be enhanced with software upgrades,” adds Dr. Humayun. ”Software upgrades that allow you have a digital zoom, think of your iPhone with the zoom feature – now it would be possible to do that with your eye.”
Dr. Humayun adds, “Also color vision — being able to see more colours naturally. Because each color has a frequency, red, green, yellow, we can learn the frequency of each color and write a software program for that and upload to the glasses and enrich the visual experience.”
Although the resulting vision is not the same as when these patients had normal vision, it still provides them a new vision that they did not have before.
“The fact that many patients can use the Argus implant in their activities of daily living such as recognizing large letters, locating the position of objects, and more, the promise to the patients is real and we expect it only to improve over time,” adds Dr. Humayun.
When the Argus II gets approval from the FDA, it will be available later this year in clinical centers across the country.
PICTURED ABOVE: In this Jan. 22, 2011 file photo, people stand on a breakwater, with a Venezuelan flag, left, and a Cuban flag, as a specialized ship rolls out a fiber-optic cable, suspended from buoys, off La Guaira, Venezuelan coast.
Cuba confirms undersea cable carrying data traffic
Cuba’s state telecom monopoly confirmed Thursday that the island’s first hard-wired Internet connection to the outside world has been activated, but said it won’t lead to an immediate increase in access.
In a statement published in Communist Party newspaper Granma and other official media, ETECSA broke its long silence on the ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable, which island officials once boasted would increase capacity 3,000-fold.
Until now Cuba’s Internet has been strictly via ponderous satellite links, and out of reach for the great majority of islanders. ETECSA said the new cable has been operational since August, initially carrying international voice calls, and the company has been conducting data traffic tests on the cable since Jan. 10.
“When the testing process concludes, the submarine cable being put into operation will not mean that possibilities for access will automatically multiply,” ETECSA said. “It will be necessary to invest in internal telecommunications infrastructure,” the company said, adding that even then the goal is “gradual growth of a service that we offer mostly for free and with social aims in mind.”
The $70 million ALBA-1 arrived on the island from Venezuela in February 2011 to great hoopla, but officials soon stopped mentioning the cable amid rumors of mismanagement and corruption involving the project. Its status was unknown until this week, when U.S. Internet analysis firm Renesys documented evidence of faster data traffic to Cuba and concluded that the cable had been switched on.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, an advocate for wider Internet dissemination, questioned whether the government would have said anything about the cable if Renesys and foreign media had not reported about it.
“(Hashtag) Granma says now it’s necessary to build infrastructure for the (hashtag) FiberOpticCable to provide service!” she tweeted. “And what were they doing the past two years?”
Cuba has the second-worst Internet connectivity rate in the world, according to one study.
According to government statistics, about 16 percent of islanders have some online access, usually through their school or workplace and often just to an Intranet that also has email capability.
Just 2.9 percent of Cubans report having full access to the World Wide Web. However outside observers say the true number is more like 5 to 10 percent accounting for underreporting of dial-up minutes resold on the black market.
Brazil: Bar Codes on Sidewalks Give Tourist Info
Rio de Janeiro is mixing technology with tradition to provide tourists information about the city by embedding bar codes into the black and white mosaic sidewalks that are a symbol of the city.
The first two-dimensional bar codes, or QR codes, as they’re known, were installed Friday at Arpoador, a massive boulder that rises at the end of Ipanema beach. The image was built into the sidewalk with the same black and white stones that decorate sidewalks around town with mosaics of waves, fish and abstract images.
The launch attracted onlookers, who downloaded an application to their smartphones or tablets and photographed the icon. The app read the code and they were then taken to a web site that gave them information in Portuguese, Spanish or English, and a map of the area.
The city plans to install 30 of these QR codes at beaches, vistas, and historic sites, so Rio’s approximately 2 million foreign visitors can learn about the city as they walk around.They learned, for example, that Arpoador gets big waves, making it a hot spot for surfing and giving the 500-meter beach nearby the name of “Praia do Diabo,” or Devil’s Beach. They could also find out that the rock is called Arpoador because fishermen once harpooned whales off the shore.
“If you add the number of Brazilian tourists, this tool has a great potential to be useful,” said Marcos Correa Bento, head of the city’s conservation and public works.
Raul Oliveira Neto, a 24-year-old visitor from the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, was one of the first to use the icon and thought the service fit well with the way people live now.
“We use so much technology to pass information, this makes sense,” he said, noting he’d seen QR codes on tourist sites in Portugal, where they were first used for this purpose. “It’s the way we do things nowadays.”
Locals — used to giving visitors directions — also approved the novelty.
“Look, there’s a little map; it even shows you where we are,” said Diego Fortunato, 25, as he pulled up information.
“Rio doesn’t always have information for those who don’t know the city,” he said. “It’s something the city needs, that it’s been lacking.”
People who’ve lost sight in one eye can still see with the other, but they lack binocular depth perception.
Some of them could benefit from a pair of augmented reality glasses being built at the University of Yamanashi in Japan, that artificially introduces a feeling of depth in a person’s healthy eye.
The group, led by Xiaoyang Mao, started out with a pair of commercially available 3D glasses, the daintily named Wrap 920AR, manufactured by Vuzix Corporation. (Vuzix is also building another AR headset called the M100 that on first sight looks like quite the competitor to to Google Glass.)
The Wrap 920AR looks like a pair of regular tinted glasses, but with small cameras poking out of each lens. The lenses are transparent and the device, Vuzix explains on its website, both captures and projects images, giving the wearer of the device front-row seats to a 2D or 3D AR show transmitted from a computer.
The group at Yamanashi have created software that makes use of the twin cameras. When a person puts the glasses on, each camera scopes out the scene that each eye would see. The images are funneled into software on a computer, which combines the perspective of both cameras and creates a “defocus” effect. That is, some objects to stay in focus while others stay out of focus, resulting in a feeling of depth. That version of the scene in front of them is projected to the single healthy eye of the wearer.
The system isn’t quite ready to be taken for spin around town yet. It’s bulky still, the creators write, and needs a computer by its side, creating and projecting images in real time. But the creators admit such computing power is likely to be found on mobile devices soon, and when it is, they’ll be ready.
The Biomechanics Institute of Valencia (IBV) is currently taking part in the European project WALKX with the aim of developing an innovative rehabilitation system to improve the quality of life of people who have suffered brain damage. This system will allow home rehabilitation and improve patient’s autonomy.
WALKX is a two-year research project for the benefit of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), co-funded by the European Commission through the Seventh Framework Programme.
The user friendly walking training device the partners are designing will support the patient in raising from sitting to standing position and enable the patient to perform walking training and improve his/her manoeuvrability. “An upper body stabilizing and controllable supporting vest will be developed. Early in the rehabilitation process it will be used under supervision of a therapist, but with greatly reduced need for physical support from the therapists. This is intended to reduce the need for help from others and increase freedom of movement and personal autonomy of the patient”, said Ignacio Bermejo, Market Innovation Director at IBV.
One of the novelties of this device consists of a vest with attachment points on the patient’s waist in order to regulate the mobility of the trunk. Also, the device will be modular and low cost. The role of IBV in this initiative has been to define the design specifications and preclinical testing to validate the prototype. Preclinical tests are done in collaboration with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe of Valencia.
The project is coordinated by the Norwegian company Made for Movement Group. Besides Biomechanics Institute, other members of the consortium are Innovatsiooni Eesti Instituut (Estonia), INNORA ROBOTICS (Greece), Newtrim and MCT (UK), ENIX (France), Motus (Italy) and MOBILE ROBOTICS SWEDEN (Sweden).
Stroke (cerebrovascular accident) is the most common cause of adult disability in Europe. Roughly 75% of victims survive, but about half of these lose the ability to live independently in their own home. As strokes often result in long term disability rather than death, the rehabilitation and hospitalisation represent a major economic burden for the EU of about €34 Bn annually. Currently, the annual incidence is approximately 2 per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU, and the number is predicted to double over the next 50 years due to the aging of the population.
GE Healthcare has introduced a new data acquisition technology designed to improve patient comfort by largely eliminating the horrible noise generated during an MRI scan. Conventional MRI scanners can generate noise levels in excess of 110 dBA (creating a din that sounds like a cross between a vehicle’s reverse warning horn and a Star Trek phaser) but GE says its new Silent Scan MRI technology can reduce this to just above background noise levels in the exam room.
The noise that MRI scanners produce is related to changes in the magnetic field that allow the slice by slice body scan to be carried out. In recent years, industry efforts to speed up the scanning process have also resulted in louder and louder scans. The designers have attempted to dampen these noises with mufflers and baffles, achieving only limited success.
Silent Scan is achieved through two new developments. First, acoustic noise is essentially eliminated by using a new 3D scanning and reconstruction technique called Silenz. When the Silenz protocol is used in combination with GE’s new high-fidelity MRI gradient and RF system electronics, the MRI scanning noise is largely eliminated at its source.
At the 2012 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, an MRI system compatible with the Silent Scan technology was linked into a soundproof room. When the MRI system used conventional scanning methods, a staccato, stuttering racket with noise peaks up to 110 dBA was heard. However, when Silent Scan was switched on, the noise level dropped to 76 dBA, just above the background noise of the MRI electronics. This is accomplished without substantial trade-offs in scanning time or image quality, according to Richard Hausmann, president and CEO, GE Healthcare MR. The comparison is shown in this video.
Silent Scan technology has not yet obtained 510k Premarketing Notification clearance from the FDA, so it’s not yet available for sale. GE is presumably hoping for a decision that Silent Scan is “substantially equivalent” to existing MRI scanners, a result that would greatly simplify the new technology’s entry into the diagnostic market.
Toyota sneak previews self-drive car ahead of tech show
The car maker revealed a video clip of a Lexus fitted with safety features designed to minimise car crashes.
The technology includes on-board radar and video cameras to monitor the road, the surroundings, and the driver. The car can also communicate with other vehicles, according to a Toyota spokesman.
“We’re looking at a car that would eliminate crashes,” said the spokesman. “Zero-collisions is our ultimate aim.”
The video shows a prototype Lexus LS fitted with what Toyota’s described as an “Intelligent Transport Systems” (ITS) technology. The “advanced active safety research vehicle” prototype uses ITS and existing Toyota technology to monitor whether the driver is awake, to keep the car on the road, and to stop at traffic signals. The technology is designed to be used in conjunction with a driver, but the car can control itself, said the spokesman.
A series of optical beacons on the roadside can detect the positions of pedestrians and obstacles, and relay information to the prototype about whether a traffic light is red or green, as part of ITS. The car can also independently monitor pedestrians’ positions.
“Not the Jetsons yet, but our advanced active safety research car is leading the industry into a new automated era,” Toyota said in a Tweet on Thursday.
Toyota has also developed technology that lets a car communicate with a driver’s smartphone to offer augmented reality features. This would let the car know about places by the road letting it, for example. recommend an upcoming restaurant, said the spokesman.
Toyota is one of several heavy-weight car manufacturers and technology companies researching autonomous vehicles. Audi is due to demonstrate a self-parking car at CES, the Wall Street Journal said on Friday. Google was awarded an autonomous car patent in 2011, and secured a Nevada driving licence for its self-drive car in May 2012. In the same month Volvo tested a self-drive convoy on a Spanish motorway.
Self-driving cars could drastically improve road safety, according to Prof Paul Newman, who heads an Oxford University autonomous car project project.
“Computers will be ever vigilant. They don’t get distracted,” Prof Newman said on Friday.
Car systems can be engineered so that a systems failure will not result in a crash, he added. Prof Newman’s Wildcat project aims to use lasers and radar to make a car “sense” its surroundings.
PICTURED ABOVE: A stretchable material containing squared stiff islands for the protection of brittle electronic devices is pictured in this handout photo.
Scientists in Switzerland have come up with a material mimicking the way tendons connect to bones, which could speed the development of stretchy, wearable electronic devices.
The stretchable electronics industry is in its infancy but devices that are able to flex without breaking could revolutionize devices from smartphones and solar cells to medical implants.
Futurists have long predicted clothes with sensors that monitor the vital signs of the wearer, or smartphones and screens woven into the fabric of shirts or jackets. But while circuits and wiring are quite happy on rigid surfaces like those in a tablet computer, they break easily when combined with materials that stretch.
“You have two materials with very different mechanical properties,” Andre Studart, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told Reuters. “The challenge is to bridge these different properties.”
Studart and his team have overcome the problem with a stretchy material made from polyurethane that contains “islands” stiff enough to house and protect delicate circuits.
While the soft part can stretch by 350 percent, the stiff regions created by impregnating the material with tiny platelets of aluminum oxide and a synthetic clay called laponite, hardly deform and can protect the electronics.
The material, presented in research published in the journal Nature Communications, is made from bonded layers and because the concentration of the platelets is gradually increased, the junction between the stretchy and stiff parts is also durable.
“There are many biological materials that have these properties as well, like the way tendons link muscle to bone,” said Studart. “But there are not so many examples in synthetic materials.”
One of the companies trying to commercialize stretchable electronics is MC10 Inc, a Massachusetts-based start-up born out of research by John Rogers and his team at the University of Illinois. The firm recently announced plans to start selling a sensor-laden, flexible skullcap that monitors impacts to the head during sports. It was developed with Reebok and goes on sale next year.
Amar Kendale, the company’s strategist, said the skullcap gives a level of contact with the head that previous attempts to put sensors in helmets or gum shields have not been able to achieve. MC10 is using a different approach from the Zurich team. The company uses extremely thin silicon chips sandwiched in a stretchable polymer and connected by tiny wires in a concertina configuration that can stretch about 60 percent, about the same as the body’s soft tissues.
MC10 has also developed a balloon catheter with built-in electronic sensors for heart patients, which researchers plan to start testing on people in the next year or so.
“Decorating the surface of the balloon with sensors or a mechanism that delivers energy gives a good way of delivering therapy to soft tissue, like the heart, to correct arrhythmia,” Kendale said.
Market potential is difficult to estimate but Kendale said the technology could be applied to the monitoring and management of chronic diseases from diabetes to hypertension. The Swiss researchers say their technique could also be used to build synthetic cartilage or false teeth with better matches to their natural counterparts.
Currently the ceramics used for dental fillings are so hard they can damage natural teeth if a patient bites too hard. And one treatment for women with crumbling vertebrae from osteoporosis involves injecting a stiff polymer that over time can damage the surrounding healthy vertebrae.
“The problem is that it is equally stiff everywhere,” said Studart. “The vision is that you will be able to make materials that are as heterogeneous as the biological ones.”
PICTURED ABOVE: Toyota’s F ‘Ciel’ Vitz is one of the models using Asahi’s new tempered glass, that offers 99 percent UV protection and IR filtration.
Asahi auto glass blocks UV, filters out IR rays
As prolonged exposure to sunlight increasingly becomes a health hazard, causing skin problems and even cancer, automakers have started to incorporate glass that blocks harmful ultraviolet light. Japan’s Asahi Glass Co (AGC) has added to its portfolio a new line of tempered front window glass called UV Verre Premium Cool on, which it says is the first of its kind to block about 99 percent of ultraviolet radiation, along with infrared (IR) rays.
AGC integrated several of its technologies in glass materials, coatings and chemicals to produce UV Verre Premium Cool. During tests, the tempered glass managed to keep temperatures inside a car 2ºC (35.6ºF) lower than equivalent tempered products, therefore avoiding what the company calls “a frizzling sensation” – which is another way of saying “a scorching sensation.” Skin surface temperature was kept at 39.4ºC (102.9ºF), while with other models the skin surface temperature was 41.4ºC (106.5ºF) and frizzling sensation was not avoided.
The new product builds upon the company’s UV Verre Premium glass launched in 2010, which blocks around 99 percent of UV rays (based on ISO 9050 standards) and has been adopted by 15 car models. For the Premium Cool version, AGC has added another layer that absorbs IR light along with making the glass stronger, so it isn’t scratched when the window is being opened or closed.
Besides human health issues, the sun-blocking glass improves air-conditioning performance, which consequently contributes to fuel efficiency and higher mileage. This means that on top of helping prevent cancer, the UV- and IR-resistant glass can help mitigate the car’s environmental footprint.
UV Verre Premium Cool on is already available on new cars such as Toyota’s Vitz subcompact units the F “Ciel” and F “Smart Stop.”
IBM: Computers Will See, Hear, Taste, Smell and Touch in 5 Years
Today’s PCs and smartphones can do a lot — from telling you the weather in Zimbabwe in milliseconds, to buying your morning coffee. But ask them to show you what a piece of fabric feels like, or to detect the odor of a great-smelling soup, and they’re lost.
That will change in the next five years, says IBM. Computers at that time will be much more aware of the world around them, and be able to understand it. The company’s annual “5 in 5” list, in which IBM predicts the five trends in computing that will arrive in five years’ time, reads exactly like a list of the five human senses — predicting computers with sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
The five senses are really all part of one grand concept: cognitive computing, which involves machines experiencing the world more like a human would. For example, a cognizant computer wouldn’t see a painting as merely a set of data points describing color, pigment and brush stroke; rather, it would truly see the object holistically as a painting, and be able to know what that means.
Revealed: The Brit-built GRAVITY-powered light that costs $5
An ingenious gravity-powered light source has reached its first funding goal in four days. Co-invented by industrial designer Martin Riddiford - who crafted Psion’s hardware - the cheap kit allows an LED to be run for 30 minutes from a three-second pull on a rope. Gravity does the rest.
The GravityLight was devised with developing countries in mind - areas without sophisticated power grids, and where low wages leave batteries and solar panels prohibitively expensive. The kit includes an LED lamp and a sack that is filled with sand, rocks or whatever is to hand. The bag is attached to a rope threaded through a mechanism that generates the electricity: after pulling the sack up, it slowly descends, feeding the cord through the machine and powering the electric dynamo.
Once produced in volume, the unit could cost as little as $5 per unit at wholesale. The first round of public fundraising exceeded a $55,000 target, which is intended to pay for tooling and produce the first units.
Both Riddiford and co-inventor Jim Reeves are directors at London-based Therefore, whose clever industrial designs range from the hand-pulled Rok espresso machine to the TomTom satnav. The company was founded with an equity investment from Psion founder Sir David Potter, and it designed all the celebrated British computer company’s casings, from the MC series laptops through to the Wavefinder DAB radio.
“We’ve done a number of projects, including the Psion products - where the requirements were incredibly efficient in terms of power usage,” Riddiford told The Reg. “The digital age has made products much power hungry but now there’s a reversal of that – everyone’s chasing lower power again.”
The GravityLight is no substitute for the modern power grids developing countries need - but it in the interim it could save people relying on biomass fuels and kerosene, which are bad for one’s health.
The team is investigating using the GravityLight for powering other devices such as water purifiers or even mobiles, and how they can work in serial or parallel.
Solar Impulse team to attempt first ever solar-powered cross-U.S.A flight
Flights across the U.S. have become quite commonplace since Calbraith Perry Rodgers completed the first one ever back in 1911, but now a new group of aviation pioneers wants to attempt the same feat with a decidedly more difficult twist thrown in – they can’t use any fuel except for the power of the sun. The Solar Impulse team, led by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, announced last night that it will be taking its solar-powered plane to the skies this summer on a transcontinental flight from San Francisco to New York. If successful, the trip would be the first solar-powered, cross-America flight in history.
The Solar Impulse has made several other successful sun-powered trips in the past but the one planned for this summer will be its first in the U.S. The logistics of the flight are still a bit fuzzy but the team has chosen San Francisco as a starting point and New York as a final destination for the trip. Washington D.C. will also be a stop but the other few cities are still – forgive the pun – up in the air.
The first-of-its-kind plane has 11,628 solar cells on its wings that are capable of powering its four 10-horsepower engines. It has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 but amazingly weighs only 1600kg – about the same as a typical sedan. It flies much slower than a regular commercial jet at 70 km/h but only uses about the same average power as a scooter. And even though the Solar Impulse gets its energy from the sun, it is capable of flying day and night without fuel.
Since the Solar Impulse cannot, as of yet, fly from Switzerland to California in one straight shot (or to be more specific, it cannot accommodate a human being comfortably for such a long trip), the plane will be taken apart and shipped to the States in many small pieces. Gregory Blatt, Solar Impulse’s head of marketing and communication explained to us that the plane will be deconstructed in Zurich in March and packed very, very carefully (as you might imagine) into containers to be loaded into a 747 for transport to California. When it arrives, it will then be reconstructed over the course of three weeks before it takes to the skies in May.
Piccard and Borschberg, both experienced pilots, will take turns flying the Solar Impulse on different legs of the cross-country trip. Each leg will span approximately 20 hours, which is considerably shorter than the Solar Impulse’s successful 26-hour straight flight, which proved it could be flown both when the sun is shining and when it’s not.
Although, if successful, the transcontinental flight will be a recordmaker, the Solar Impulse team has made it clear that they don’t intend to race across the country. They plan to take it slow and even make stops at schools to raise awareness about solar power along the way. “Our goal is to do a coast to coast flight,” Borschberg explained to us. “The goal is not to set records. The goal is to show what you can do with exploration.”
Several corporate partners have already signed on with Solar Impulse, and some of them have seemingly nothing to do with the aviation industry but could nonetheless utilize some of the cutting-edge materials and technologies used to make the plane. One example is elevator company Schindler, which has expressed interested in the lightweight carbon fiber that the Solar Impulse is made of as a way to make their product lighter as well.
This summer’s cross-U.S. trip will be a lead-up to the Solar Impulse’s 2015 attempt to fly around the world in a new, improved version of the plane that is being worked on currently.
Gadget lovers rejoice: Introducing the Node - an amazing device that can measure just about anything, all via your iPhone
It can take your temperature from two feet away, scan your house for leaky insulation, and determine the dampness of your basement. George Yu, a 30-year-old engineer living in Houston, has invented a multifaceted gadget called the Node, which he describes as ‘a little Swiss Army knife of sensors’.
The three-inch tube records the world around it and beams the data to an iPhone via Bluetooth.The Node has so far caught the attention of hobbyists, who’ve bought 450 of them. Now, Yu is marketing the device to industries ranging from home improvement to health care.
The body of the Node consists of a tiny circuit board with three attached motion sensors inside a small plastic cylinder. A range of sensors that measure moisture, temperature, light, and colour can be attached to each end.Though NASA killed that project, he thought phone-linked sensors could have broad applications. The basic motion-sensing device costs just over £90, with the screw-on sensors ranging from £16 to £47. It has already been put to some curious uses. One customer who raises parrots uses Node to measure temperature and humidity in his incubator.Marcus Ekeroos, who flies hot air balloons in Gothenburg, Sweden, measures his altitude and velocity with the device. He says he wants to use the Node’s readings to create ‘an advanced flight computer for [the] iPad made for hot air balloon pilots.’ Finding a mass market for the Node will be a challenge, says Jonathan Collins, a home automation analyst with tech industry researcher ABI Research.
‘When you’re looking at business and corporations and critical infrastructure, it’s not always their key focus to have something available for a cell phone,’ he says.
Yu plans to build more sensor attachments (a gas sensor is in the works) and thinks Node’s flexibility will appeal to businesses. Behr, a paint company, is evaluating Node’s colour sensor for a paint-matching app, and Yu says the thermal sensor can help building contractors find heat and moisture leaks. He has also made tools that allow developers to plug Node into their own apps. ‘We know we cannot build all the software,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of brilliant minds out there who have their own ideas.’
‘Video Goggles’ to help Blind see through sound
Researchers have developed new ‘video goggles’ that can allow the blind to ‘see’ through sound and even teach them to read. A new study has found that blind people can learn to ‘see’ through sound as areas of the brain, even in those born blind, can be trained to recognise objects and ‘read’ through visual input. The sounds are used as substitutes for light to activate the visual cortex of the brain, the ‘Daily Mail’ reported. The findings challenge the common belief that if the visual cortex of the brain is deprived of information in early life it may never develop functional specialisation.
“The adult brain is more flexible than we thought,” senior author Professor Amir Amedi of the Hebrew University Medical School, Jerusalem, said. Researchers taught congenitally blind adults, those who were born blind, to use sensory substitution devices (SSDs), which are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For instance, when a person uses a visual-to-auditory SSD, images from a video camera are converted into ‘soundscapes’ that represent the images. This allows the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera, in that way ‘seeing’ with sounds.