Tech Universe: Friday 07 June

By Miraz Jordan

Do you have a couch potato pup? Photo / Thinkstock
Do you have a couch potato pup? Photo / Thinkstock

TRACKING DOG: Is your dog a laid-back couch potato dog or the hyperactive, always active kind? The Whistle Activity Monitor fits on your dog's collar to collect data on its activities all day. The data then displays in an app on your phone and you can send it on to the vet if you need to. The 16 gram device contains a 3-axis accelerometer, a rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery, and has Bluetooth 4.0 Dual Mode and Wi-Fi capability. Of course you can also share events and photos with others too. But fair's fair, you should wear a fitness tracker too.

HANDY ROBOT: Sally the robot has 4 wheels, a torso, 2 arms with hands and a couple of cameras to help her deal with potential explosives. A remote operator wears telepresence gloves to control Sally's arms and hands. The operator's hand movements are carried out by Sally's hands.

A motion tracking headset provides stereoscopic vision too, moving Sally's cameras in response. Sally's work roster could include IED disposal, vehicle searches, and checking out vehicles and people at checkpoints. Her movements are surprisingly human.

BOOMING FLIGHT: The Concorde supersonic jet had its day, but now the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are working on a supersonic plane that can travel quietly faster than the speed of sound.

So far they have an 8 metre long model they plan to test later this year in Sweden. Continuing the great global tradition of testing potentially dangerous things outside one's own country.

PHONE TREES: It's really hard to stop illegal logging of huge tracts of remote forest. Usually it's only satellite images after the fact that reveal the crime. But what could happen if you took some cellphones, gave them solar panels, and left them listening full time?

If they detected a sound an app could decide if it was a chainsaw and contact base to alert the rangers. In western Sumatra the organisation Rainforest Connection are testing this idea with 15 phone rigs in the 25,000 hectare Air Tarusan reserve. Each phone should have a listening radius of half a kilometre. Which could work nicely until the loggers either start using jamming devices or checking trees for phones before they start up their chainsaws.

SMALL STEPS: That robots can walk at all is a huge triumph of science and engineering, but they don't actually walk very fluidly. So researchers at Waseda University are giving their WABIAN-2R robot a better pair of legs and feet. Rather than being flat, this robot's feet have a curving arch and flexible toes, land heel-first and lift off at the toes. The lower leg has been made shorter and includes an ankle joint to allow for yaw. Trials with the robot walking in place were a success; next comes forward walking. Then maybe backwards, sideways, and dance competitions.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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