Tech Universe: Wednesday 21 March

By Miraz Jordan

In future, it may be possible to guide robot planes to land safely using hand gestures. Photo / Thinkstock
In future, it may be possible to guide robot planes to land safely using hand gestures. Photo / Thinkstock

HANDS DOWN: When your passenger plane arrives at the terminal the pilot is guided in by hand signals. But how could hand signals be used to guide a robot plane, for example when landing on the moving deck of an aircraft carrier? The plane has to recognise different body postures such as arms up or arms down even as the person moves with the motion of the ship, and then correctly match the gesture to an instruction. Researchers at MIT have been developing algorithms to do this. One technique uses short bursts of overlapping video that allow the algorithm to calculate the probability of a particular gesture. So far they can manage 76% accuracy. It all turns out to be surprisingly complex really. MIT News for more.

NEXT TOP MOLECULE: Imagine moving individual molecules around to create a new substance. That's what scientists at Stanford University have done. They used a scanning tunnelling microscope to move and place individual carbon monoxide molecules on a clean sheet of copper to create an entirely new substance called molecular graphene.

What they were doing was tuning the fundamental properties of electrons to behave in ways rarely seen in ordinary materials. The researchers hope this marks the beginning of new designer nanoscale materials with useful electronic properties. I sure hope we'll have whole TV programmes dedicated to the next top molecule. Stanford University details. Video here.

NEXT TOP RESOLUTION: Virtual Reality goggles and the like display images only a few millimetres from your eyes, unlike computer screens that are usually centimetres away. So screen resolution really is all-important. Replicating Reality microdisplays cram in the pixels for Near-To-Eye applications that will really immerse the viewer. They're soon to launch microdisplays that use 2048*1536 pixels. Each pixel renders red, green and blue information, helping to create a smooth image, and fooling the brain into believing the image is reality. But what we see on screen is reality, isn't it? Replicating Reality explains.

ROUND AND ROUND: Cardiac pacemakers send electrical signals to the heart to keep it beating in a healthy rhythm. To do that the pacemakers need batteries, or some other source of power. But batteries need replacing from time to time. Researchers at the University of Michigan have a novel idea for powering the devices: harvest energy from the reverberation of heartbeats through the chest and use it to power the pacemaker. The researchers don't yet have a prototype, but they do have a concept. The believe they can use a piezoelectric ceramic material to briefly expand in response to the vibrations. Those expansions can create an electric voltage. Magnets boost the electric signal and help generate 10 microwatts of power — more than enough to power the pacemaker. It sounds too circular to be true. For more info visit EurekAlert!

SCAN SCAN: CT scans are something of a necessary evil. They're an extremely useful tool for doctors, but the radiation dose for a standard chest CT scan is equal to about 70 chest X-rays. That high dose is OK in an emergency, but a real consideration if routine scans are needed. Doctors could use low-dose scans instead but then it takes days of processing to derive useful information from the image. GE's Veo system processes low-dose scans in as little as one hour. First, carefully tuned algorithms reduce the X-ray power by up to 90 percent. Then new computer processors quickly derive meaningful data from the images. That means the people who need regular scans don't need to worry so much about the radiation. Good job, GE! Intel Corporation for more information.

Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz

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