Tech Universe: Thursday 31 January

By Miraz Jordan

Japan has put two cutting edge information gathering satellites into polar orbit. Photo / Thinkstock
Japan has put two cutting edge information gathering satellites into polar orbit. Photo / Thinkstock

ANOTHER PAIR OF EYES: Add two to the number of satellites orbiting Earth. The other day Japan put two cutting edge information gathering satellites into polar orbit flying from south to north. Radar satellite #4 identifies objects as small as 1 metre across, even in bad weather and at night. The other is a demonstration satellite with a high-resolution optical system that can identify objects on Earth up to about 40 cm in diameter during clear weather. Those are just two of many satellites watching me and watching you.

SWEET SLEEP: The Lullaby sleep tracker from the University of Washington uses an IR camera to take a photo of a sleeping subject every 15 seconds. It also picks up room temperature, ambient light intensity and background noise and matches them up with data from a Fitbit sleep tracker worn on the wrist. A tablet app lets the user study their data, and also delete portions they may not want to remain on record, such as private conversations before falling asleep.

Just in case you weren't feeling sufficiently surveilled.

BEEP: There's always someone who drives on the wrong side of the road, or the wrong way down a one-way street. In future if they're driving a Mercedes-Benz in Germany an assistance system may flash lights and sound an alarm to wake them up. A camera on the inside of the windscreen identifies no-entry signs and sends the data to an onboard computer. If the driver seems to be defying a no-entry sign, speed limit sign or restriction on overtaking the system beeps and displays a red light on the dash. The warnings seem very modest and muted for such a dangerous possibility.

GPS ON THE WING: Pigeons are big business in the UK and sell for hundreds of dollars. But interest in pigeon racing has declined in recent years. Now pigeons fitted with GPS trackers may get things flying again. Live tracking via the Internet could turn pigeon racing into a spectator sport, and, of course, allow for betting. Pigeons don't just race between nearby towns either: a longhaul flight may be more than 700 Km and take a bird 36 hours or more. At least if a bird is lost they'll know where it went down.

THERMAL IMAGING PHONE: Many cameras these days use CMOS sensors to convert light to electrical signals and so capture images. Now a spray of ultra-thin film made of organic compounds can improve the performance of those CMOS sensors. The low-cost coating is only a few hundred nanometers thick but is up to 3 times more sensitive to light than conventional sensors. By varying the materials used in the coating the sensor can capture different wavelengths of light too, such as the near-infrared. Care for an infrared camera on your next smartphone?

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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