Tech Universe: Tuesday 19 February

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

KEY MESSAGES: When parents lend teenagers their car it tends to provoke anxious moments. Ford's MyKey system allows for differing levels of access to a car's systems by different users, recognised by the key they use. One key may allow a driver to travel at top speed, while another may limit the top speed to or below the maximum speed allowed on the roads. Ahhh, a hacker's delight.

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PENGUIN?: One way to film penguins for a nature documentary is for camera operators to hang out for months in freezing hides. Another is to add robot penguins to a colony, as John Downer Productions did for the BBC documentary called Penguins — Spy in the Huddle. The company deployed 50 fullsize robot penguins that concealed cameras. The penguincams walked, got back up when knocked over, and even laid their own eggcams. They sent their data back via a satellite uplink and operated in temperatures as low as -60C. Spy robot penguins: brilliant!

WHERE ARE YOU REALLY?: Smartphones these days may include apps to monitor the location of another smartphone user. If you've ever used such apps you may have noticed that a city location can be quite inaccurate — it may show a bus journey including a dip in the harbour, for example. Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid almost doubled the acuracy of GPS signals in a city with a system designed for use in cars. The system includes GPS, but also an Inertial Measurement Unit. That unit has 3 accelerometers and 3 gyroscopes measure changes in speed and maneouvres performed by the vehicle. Then a computer takes all the data and corrects errors in the geographic coordinates. The researchers hope to do away with the specialised device though and use the hardware already in smartphones to handle the measurements. It'd be good to know my partner's not actually plunging into the harbour on the bus home from work.

TRACKING SHIPS: As ships move along trade routes they leave long tracks of elevated nitrogen dioxide levels behind them. Measured from space by the Aura satellite, those tracks are clearly visible in some areas where ships follow a narrow range of routes. Ships aren't the only creators of NO2 though — offshore drilling and agricultural burning can also create the pollutant. NO2 can harm cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard the Aura satellite and other instruments are helping scientists study NO2 levels in the atmosphere. It's scary to realise those tracks are being formed.

SNOW DOWN: It's Day One for you taking up snowboarding and before you know it you're rocketing down a slope out of control. The Boarder Kontrol is a snowboard for beginners. The board includes a blade that can be lowered into the snow to work as a brake. The rider pulls on a leash to slow down and releases it to raise the blade and speed up again. The boards aren't designed for individual purchase but to be used in snow schools and at resorts. That's not a bad starting point.

Miraz Jordan,

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