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Colin Jeffrey

Colin Jeffrey

Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.

Follow Colin:

— Collectibles

Bonhams scientific instruments sale preview includes rare Enigma machine

An auction of scientific, technological, and musical instruments, soon to be held at 1onhams Auction House in the UK, will headline with a 1941 M4 Enigma machine used by the German military during World War II to send encrypted messages. Unlike the 3-rotor machines whose cipher codes were famously broken by those working at Britain’s Bletchley Park during the war, the 4-rotor model heading to auction is among the rarest of the rare, and is sure to command a high price. Besides cipher machines, however, the sale also offers a range of unusual and sought after examples of scientific instruments and musical automata that should also attract a great deal of interest. We take a look at a few prime examples.

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— Automotive

Peugeot Citroën's self-driving car makes Paris to Bordeaux run

A PSA Peugeot Citroën driverless vehicle has journeyed 580 km (360 miles) on the motorway from Paris to Bordeaux entirely in autonomous mode. Automatically maintaining its speed to the road conditions and traffic, as well as independently changing lanes to pass slower traffic, the Peugeot Citroën completed the journey without incident and demonstrated the increasing viability of driverless motor vehicles.

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— Robotics

Robots with "eyes" in their hands may prove more dextrous than others

When we think of robots, we all too often anthropomorphize them by giving them eyes in their heads, fingers on their hands, and toes on their feet. But just because this is the way humans evolved doesn’t make it ideal. Robots with eyes where they need them most, for example, could be much more efficient than just having them restricted to one place. In this vein, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) recently developed a tri-fingered robotic hand with numerous inbuilt optical detectors to act as adjunct sensors. At the same time, they also fashioned a new type of stretchable optical sensor to accompany such devices.

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— Electronics

Breakthrough rectenna converts light into DC current

Rectifying antennas – "rectennas" – are used as parasitic power capture devices that absorb radio frequency (RF) energy and convert it into usable electrical power. Constructing such devices to absorb and rectify at optical wavelengths has proved impractical in the past, but the advent of carbon nanotubes and advances in microscopic manufacturing technology have allowed engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to create rectennas that capture and convert light to direct electrical current. The researchers believe that their creation may eventually help double the efficiency of solar energy harvesting.

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— Computers

All-optical permanent on-chip memory paves the way for faster, more efficient computers

A new non-volatile optical memory has been created by researchers working at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the universities of Münster, Oxford, and Exeter. Utilizing innovative phase-change materials to store information, the new device promises to significantly improve processing speeds by effectively eliminating the existing bottleneck of having to convert optical signals into electrical signals for storage and then back again for transmission.

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— Collectibles

Rare Harley-Davidson barn find breaks auction record in Australia

Early 20th Century Harley Davidson motorcycles are rare enough items in themselves. But when one surfaces that was uncommon even when new, and from a line of racing models largely destroyed over the years in the pursuit of speed, you know that you probably have an exceptionally scarce item on your hands. So when a barn-find Harley-Davidson racing machine and sidecar is found after 50-plus years in storage in Australia and then sent to auction, the bidding is sure to be fierce. With a final winning bid of AUD$600,000 – and a new Australian auction record – that was certainly the case.

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— Urban Transport

High-speed rail from LA to Las Vegas gets on track

The trip from LA to Las Vegas may only take an hour by air, but the hassles associated with air travel have seen numerous proposals for a high-speed rail link between the two cities floated over the years. Lack of cash has usually proven the insurmountable hurdle, but after failing to secure a US$5.5 billion federal loan, XpressWest has found another way forward by teaming up with China Railway International USA in a joint venture that could see the link begin construction in late 2016.

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— Medical

3D-printed guide aids in complex nerve regeneration

Complex nerve injuries are a challenging problem for the medical fraternity, as their reattachment and regrowth is a fraught and delicate process that is very rarely successful. Overcoming these difficulties, however, would mean that a cure for debilitating conditions like paraplegia, quadriplegia and other forms of paralysis may one day be found. In this vein, US researchers have created the first-ever 3D printed guide specifically designed to assist in the regrowth of the sensory and motor functions of complex nerves.

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— Good Thinking

SmartDrive MX2 gives wheelchairs an electric boost

Even though fully-electric wheelchairs can do amazing things these days, like go off-road or climb stairs, they are still often too large and cumbersome for the average wheelchair user. The Smart-Drive MX2 provides a versatile alternative – it's an electric drive designed to attach to an ordinary wheelchair and give a boost up hills, over difficult surfaces, or whenever it's needed. Read More
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