Tech Universe: Tuesday 13 November

By Miraz Jordan

Who needs a translator with Microsoft's Deep Neural Networks? Photo / Thinkstock
Who needs a translator with Microsoft's Deep Neural Networks? Photo / Thinkstock

LET'S ALL SPEAK MANDARIN: It's something of a dream to think of speaking in one language and having your words, in your own voice, be heard correctly phrased in another. So it's startling to see a real-life demo. Microsoft used a technique called Deep Neural Networks to train more discriminative and better speech recognisers than previous methods. The system converts spoken English into text, much like dictation apps, but with greater accuracy. Then those words are translated in real-time into Mandarin and spoken aloud using sounds captured from the speaker's own voice. It's still not perfect, of course, but it feels like a step into the future. The Next Web elaborates. Video here.

DON'T WASTE WASTE: There's one resource that isn't in short supply around the world: urine. Three teenage girls in Africa developed a generator that produces 6 hours of power for every litre of urine fed into it.

Most people produce a couple of litres of urine per day. The device uses an electrolytic cell to extract hydrogen from the urine. The hydrogen is then purified with a typical water filter and fed into a cylinder of liquid borax to remove excess humidity. From there the purified hydrogen can power a generator to produce 6 hours of electricity. Couldn't that revolutionise city or even household sewage systems! I wonder what the waste products are. Inhabitat details.

A SPRING IN THE STEP: Artificial leg prostheses often cause wearers to walk unevenly because the prosthesis is lacking a proper ankle. Researchers at The University of Alabama are developing a powered ankle for such prostheses. Powered prostheses are usually quite heavy, but the team are working on an artificial muscle that is lighter. The new ankle also uses a monopropellant to store and release energy generated by walking. In the long term they hope to make prostheses that look and function like human legs. Presumably these developments could be adapted for other body joints too. The University of Alabama explains.

LIKE SANDS THROUGH THE HOURGLASS: Annoyed by a particular character on the latest episode of that TV show? StoryVisualizer software may let you customise TV shows to watch only what you want from them. A team at the Toulouse Institute for Computer Science Research created software that deconstructs storylines by detecting actors faces and backgrounds, and by gathering keywords from the audio. Then it assembles the chunks into separate plotlines reflecting semantically similar items. One idea is that you could quickly catch up if you've missed several episodes of a favourite show. Or perhaps you could remove the annoying characters from the episode, and focus on the ones you like. New Scientist has further info.

SCREEN YOUR CARDS: A new credit card from Mastercard includes an LCD display and built-in keyboard. The card could be used in two-factor authentication, removing the need for a separate gadget, and it may in future display loyalty points, recent transactions or an account balance. Yet another password to learn? BBC has the details.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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