HOLD THE PHONE:
is a specialised Android smartphone designed for elderly users. The large handset is waterproof, easy to hold and includes a phsyical shutter button for the camera. On the back is a special tab that can be pulled out in an emergency to activate an alarm and send out text messages. The phone has large buttons and simplified widgets on the touchscreen, designed for those with less dexterity. A single touch selects an option but doesn't launch an app, so it's hard for accidental touches make unexpected things happen. A press and hold is needed to launch the app you want. Slide the phone into a cradle to charge, or use the included microUSB port.
Sometimes making things harder to use is a good idea.
BUTTON SPEECH: After a violent attack almost 3 decades ago one UK man was left unable to speak. Now, thanks to a tablet computer and specialised app he can finally speak again. The tablet displays buttons he can tap for words and phrases then speaks for him. A simple but life-changing app.
A WEEK IN SPACE: The ArduSat from Nanosatisfi is a tiny satellite that's open for anyone in the general public to run experiments, take pictures or design and run games in space, all for a tiny fee. The satellite is 10 cm on each side, weighs 1 Kg, and filled with sensors such as cameras, a Geiger counter, spectrometer, magnetometer, and Arduinos. Set up an experiment, send it in and after some checking it runs for a week before results are returned. Who'd have thought space exploration could be so accessible?
INCOMING!: The Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, ATLAS, being set up by the University of Hawai'i will identify small asteroids that could potentially hit the Earth. Two observatories, around 100 Km apart will each use four 25.4 cm telescopes, with 100 megapixel cameras to scan the visible sky twice each night and flag anything that moves for closer observation. Although the telescopes are fairly small the system is very detailed and can pinpoint threats. ATLAS isn't the only programme hunting for asteroids but it can quickly identify the smaller space rocks, while others are making slower and deeper surveys. Spotting asteroid threats is fantastic, but then what do we do?
WAVING NOT TOUCHING: A flat, flexible, transparent polymer sheet may not sound very exciting, but researchers in Austria have made one do some very interesting things with images. Fluorescent particles that suffuse the sheet capture incoming light and channel some of it to optical sensors around the edges. A computer then combines the signals to construct a greyscale image. The trick is in working out where each bit of light that strikes the edge sensors actually came from.
Because light dims as it travels, brightness is the key. The resolution on the prototype is low, but advanced sampling techniques can enhance it. The film could be used as a transparent overlay on TV images to allow viewers to use gestures rather than touch to interact with the display. That's an interesting step in gesture control.
Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz