Tech Universe: Wednesday 18 July

By Miraz Jordan

LET'S GET ORBITAL: Virgin Galactic's new rocket is called LauncherOne. It'll be carried to high altitude by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. From there the rocket will propel a small satellite load into orbit. The launcher's designed to carry small payloads at a minimal cost, opening up space to private companies. Commercial flights are expected to begin by 2016. Before long someone will have to set up some rules of conduct and behaviour to keep things orderly up there. Virgin Galactic has further info. Check out the video.

GUIDE SHOES: Ducere Technologies in India wants to help blind people find their way around town, with a device embedded in their shoes. The Le Chal system puts a small actuator inside the sole of one shoe and uses Bluetooth so it can talk to a smartphone. The user speaks a destination into the phone which fetches a local map and tracks the person's location in real-time. The phone also sends signals to the actuator in the shoe which vibrates to right or left to indicate a direction. A sensor in the tip of the shoe scans the surroundings with sonar and causes the shoe to vibrate when obstacles are near. Listen to the shoe. The Economist explains.

WALK IN BUILDINGS: Indoor navigation systems seem to be a hot research topic these days. Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland reckon the Earth's magnetic field can be used to create an indoor positioning system. Their IndoorAtlas system is accurate to within 2 metres and uses the magnetometer built in to most smartphones. First floorplans are overlaid on maps, then buildings are mapped to determine the magnetic field strength — their concrete and steel affect the local field. Ultimately a user can open a positioning app to navigate inside. The system would be particularly useful for large buildings such as hospitals and airports. How about extending this with the vibrating shoes? ExtremeTech has more. Video here.

BUILD YOUR OWN CAR: Modi Corp in Japan announced a DIY micro electric vehicle called the Pius. It's a single seater, expected to be used as an educational tool for learning the basic functions and structure of EV. In Japan it can be registered as a motorised bicycle. That could be fun for getting round on private roads between buildings on large campuses. Nikkei Business Publications details.

FULL OF NOTHING: Once upon a time aerogel was the lightest and least dense material ever made. Now that title goes to aerographite. Made from a network of hollow carbon tubes grown at nano and micro scales, its density is less than 0.2 mg per cubic cm, so it's mostly empty space. But what can you do with it? New Scientist elaborates.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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