Those photos of Mars we've seen? They take about 90 minutes each to make it from Mars to Earth. But NASA want to speed things up so they're sending up a Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. The system will encode digital data and transmit the information via laser light. NASA hope over the next few years to speed up space communications by between 10 and 100 times, supporting data rates of tens of gigabits per second. 90 minutes per image is

really limiting. It's the dial-up of space travel.

has details.


BLUE LIGHT BEAT: Researchers at Stanford University hope to be able to eventually replace the standard electrical pacemaker with a new version that uses light. Heart cells called cardiomyocytes are naturally programmed to pulse. Researchers added a light-sensitive protein to the cells to cause them to pulse in time to a very specific wavelength of blue light. In time such engineered cells and a light source could be used to replace current pacemakers. Uh oh, Uncle Harry's looking blue — an overactive pacemaker or lack of oxygen? Stanford University has more details.

PADD PROBE: The Padd is a handheld infra-red probe that helps diagnose peripheral arterial disease. It has about the same power as a TV remote control. The device is held against the foot for a few minutes to gather data before an internal processor assesses the circulation. The test takes only a quarter as long as other methods of diagnosis and doesn't need a skilled worker to carry it out. Home diagnosis
ahoy. More info at Dialog Devices.

SNAKE ARM: In some places, such as nuclear power plants, it's impossible to send in human beings if there's a problem — for example if they need to collect a sample of hazardous material. A team of engineers in Bristol, UK, has created a robotic arm that's segmented in a snake-like way. An operator drives the arm remotely to move around obstructions and through narrow spaces to retrieve a required object. Cameras at the end of the arm allow the operator to manoeuvre and find the best path to the goal. This arm has the potential to change the way some industrial operations are carried out. Clever, but a bit bizarre. BBC has details.

TAXIS SHOW THE WAY: Beijing's traffic jams are a huge problem. In 2009 and 2010 researchers analysed GPS data from more than 33,000 Beijing taxicabs to see if that would help identify the causes of problem traffic. They found that traffic flowed more easily where city planners fixed the problems the taxicab data highlighted. The researchers say any city that has a high number of taxis could apply their system to locate and fix general traffic problems. There must be areas with lower than average taxi use though. Will their problems not be fixed under this scheme? Technology Review.

- Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz