Tech Universe: Wednesday 31 October

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found a way to track firefighters by attaching sensors to the heels of boots. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found a way to track firefighters by attaching sensors to the heels of boots. Photo / Thinkstock

IMUS ON THE SOLES OF YOUR SHOES: GPS works pretty well in the open above ground, but firefighters in flaming buildings and miners underground are out of luck if they or their supervisors want to know exactly where they are. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have an answer that uses dead reckoning to keep track: a wearable suite of sensors measures footsteps to analyse a person's location. The Micro-Inertial Navigation Technology system embeds a computer and three sensor units in a pair of boots. An Inertial Measurement Unit in the heel of each boot is paired with a tiny radar device in the ball area of one boot. The radar measures how far the IMU travels and the position data can be sent back to a supervisor. Researchers see interesting possibilities for making the system smarter by sharing data, perhaps mapping an exit route or creating a detailed picture of environmental factors such as temperature. Your team member has travelled 20 paces due North, what do you do now? Txchnologist elaborates.

RESCUE PONG: Bounce Imaging in the US have created a camera that could help firefighters, rescuers, police and the military. A responder throws a small ball into an area they need to assess before entering. Inside the ball are 6 near-infrared cameras and infrared LEDs. The device snaps photos and sends them back to a smartphone or laptop where they're assembled into a panoramic image. The device is cheap enough that responders don't need to worry too much about possible damage when they throw it into the unknown. Crews may need to add pitching practice into their training routines. New Scientist explains.

BLUE SKIES FLYING: The Sunseeker Duo is a 2-seater solar-powered plane from Solar Flight. The plane has a 24 metre wingspan and weighs less than 275 Kg. One battery charge lets the plane climb for 20 minutes, then the solar panels on the wings and body power the plane. Once the creators have raised enough fund for the specialised electronics and hardware the plane needs they intend to fly around the world to raise awareness. Why on Earth is it so hard for projects like this to raise the funding they need? Tourism organisations could step up for this
one. Inhabitat has more.

DESCRIBING DATA: That web page or email you download is sent as multiple separate packets of data, and the network constantly checks to see if any have gone missing. If any are lost the network makes sure they're sent again. But that constant error checking slows down the overall transmission speed. Researchers have found a way to speed things up enormously using algebra. Instead of sending packets, the new method sends algebraic equations that describe series of packets. If a packet is lost the equation can figure out what should have been in it. The new method has showed huge improvements in speed where packets of data were previously being dropped. That's a very cunning way to solve the problem. Technology Review has further info.

PASTRY PRACTICE: At the Donq bakery in Japan customers load up a tray with the food they want to eat and then take the tray to a checkout. There a scanner recognises each item by its shape and other characteristics. If an item isn't recognised a staff member confirms what it is and the system learns that item. The idea is to speed up checkout times and take some of the load off new staff who don't always know what all the items in the store are. For food items that don't come in packaging with barcodes this is a good idea. I guess the system could help train those new staff too. BBC details.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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