Tech Universe: Thursday 14 November

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

LISTEN TO THE VOICES: Put some headphones on and hear a male voice saying No in one ear and a female voice saying Yes in the other. Now focus on just one voice. Your brain produces a distinct electrical brainwave pattern when you pay attention like that. US scientists hope they can use that distinctive pattern to allow locked-in people to communicate with the outside world. Tests with both healthy volunteers and people with advanced Lou Gehrig's disease suggested an accuracy of around 76%. A system like this could be used in conjunction with eye movements to help communication. Any additional techniques must be so helpful.

MUSCLE PLANE: It's short, squat and wide. It can take off and land on extremely short runways. In the centre it's filled with helium to make it light, but a horizontal rotor on the underside spins to either provide lift or to pull it down to land or hover above ground. But that's not all with this plane, blimp, helicopter, hovercraft hybrid: propellers on the tail supply forward motion.

The Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface project comes out of the EU and is designed to carry cargo or passengers into places where runways and airport facilities are in short supply. At the moment, the aircraft, which looks like it was designed by a committee, is still a concept, in feasibility and wind tunnel testing and awaiting tests with radio controlled models. With this one it's the muscles that matter.

QUICK DROP: It may be small, but it's no toy, the Hirobo HX-1 electric helicopter. Instead it's an autonomous medical emergency and rescue vehicle. It can carry out aerial photography and surveying, or transport lifesaving medical supplies, organs or blood. It can fly for half an hour at up to 100 Kph and has a range of about 48 Km. Such autonomous vehicles have enormous potential for changing lives and could be so useful in the Philippines right about now.

A NEW CYCLE: The Rotterdam railway station handles 110,000 commuters per day and has just been rebuilt. One outstanding feature, apart from parking for more than 5,000 bikes, is its huge solar array on the roof. 130,000 solar cells cover almost a third of the 28,000 square metre roof. That's inspiring: solar cells and bike storage.

SECURE THE CHIT CHAT: Phone your bank's call centre and chances are high you won't be able to correctly answer the security questions intended to prove who you are. Or maybe you chose such obvious answers that fraudsters and identity thieves have no problem fooling call centre staff. Social engineering can also be used to circumvent such security safeguards. One solution may be for banks and similar institutions to use voiceprints and match them to a few seconds of natural speech. Digital voiceprints contain over 100 identifiable elements and are almost impossible to forge. And unlike in TV shows where the bad guys simply record a voice and then use elements from the recording to fool a system, such recordings include compression errors that are impossible to overcome. Many banks in the UK already have huge collections of recorded phone calls, so have a wealth of data to draw on. A quick chat about the weather would be so much more relaxing than trying to answer the usual questions.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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