GOODBYE HERSCHEL: We all know the need to maintain equipment we use — adding oil to the car, tightening up the bike chain. But when that equipment is out in space and it runs out of liquid helium coolant it turns out that's just hard luck. The Herschel Space Observatory has been collecting loads of data since 2009, but the other day it ran out of coolant and observations have ceased. Astronomers will continue to analyse all the images and other data the HSO recorded though and may yet make new discoveries. The spacecraft will soon be propelled to a stable orbit around the Sun where it will remain indefinitely. Rescue mission anyone?
A DIFFERENT STRIPE: TV crime shows frequently have a computer quickly sorting through thousands of faces to identify a suspect, but that kind of facial recognition doesn't work well for identifying animals by their patterning. That led researchers at MIT to develop a system called SLOOP that could help conservationists.
The system uses algorithms to recognise patterns such as stripes or spots and produces a short list of likely candidates. The images are then turned over to crowdsourcing, asking online users to pick the most similar pair. Researchers need this kind of system when studying creatures such as whale sharks or skinks, where it's by far easier and quicker to take a photo than to catch the animal and tag it. Turn it into a pattern-matching game and people are sure to play it.
PAPER TRAILS: Laser Enabled Advanced Packaging is a way to create really thin RFID tags — thin enough to be able to embed them in a sheet of paper. That could open up possibilities in stopping counterfeiting in bank notes or for tracking paper documents. It could also reduce the price of RFID tags, meaning they could be more widely used.
SNEAK PEEK: Imagine walking up to a shop window and after a few moments ads related to the object you're looking at start to play. The SideWays eyetracking device uses an ordinary video camera and a special program to assess where you're looking. It first recognises the corners of your eyes and then works out where your pupils are and which direction you're looking in. A prototype device was able to track the gazes of 14 testers, though it can be confused by glasses and can't recognise when people look up or down. The developers want to work next on being able to recognise multiple gazes at once. Before long the watchers will know more about us than we know ourselves.
FIRE LIGHT: Put the Voto in a hot cooking stove and the small fuel cell creates and stores energy for an LED light or to charge cell phones. The device has two parts: a fuel cell box contains fuel cards designed to derive energy from the heat of charcoal burning around the box. The other part is a rechargeable handle that remains outside the stove to collect and store the energy. Disconnect the handle after the fire cools and use it to charge a phone or light the included LED. The Voto is designed for developing nations where cookstoves and kerosene lamps are the norm. It's a superb idea, though the initial cost could be a barrier for those who most need this and similar gadgets.
Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz