Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Good Thinking

Handheld T-ray Device promises new capabilities

February 19, 2007 “T-rays” have been touted as the next breakthrough in sensing and imaging, but the need for bulky equipment has been an obstacle to reaching the field’s potential. Enter Brian Schulkin, winner of the first-ever $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize. Schulkin has invented an ultralight, handheld terahertz spectrometer — an advance that could help catapult T-ray technology from the lab bench to the marketplace. Schulkin’s “Mini-Z” is dramatically smaller and lighter than any previous terahertz device, and it already has proven its ability to detect cracks in space shuttle foam, image tumors in breast tissue, and spot counterfeit watermarks on paper currency. The system, which weighs less than five pounds and fits snugly in a briefcase, could open the door to a wide range of applications in homeland security, biomedical imaging, and nondestructive testing of industrial components.  Read More

Vale Robert Adler, 1913-2007 - TV Remote Control Co-Inventor

February 17, 2007 The man who invented the remote control for the television, Dr. Robert Adler, died this week, giving us a timely reminder of just how fast technology is progressing. Dr. Adler's "Space Command" ultrasonic remote control for TV sets was introduced by Zenith in 1956 and two years later saw him win the 1958 Outstanding Technical Achievement Award of the Institute of Radio Engineers (now the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or IEEE) for his "original work on ultrasonic remote controls" for television. Though he was best known as co-inventor of the wireless remote control for television , along with fellow Zenith engineer Eugene Polley), Adler was responsible for a large number of significant scientific contributions to the electronics industry, including landmark inventions in sophisticated specialized communications equipment.  Read More

Easy Sankey Diagram creation tool helps visualize complex issues

February 16, 2007 e!Sankey is a new, US$100 windows-based software for engineers, environmental consultants and scientists that creates good-looking, pain-free process diagrams and flow charts for presentations, scientific papers and internal communications. Sankey diagrams are graphic representations of technical or economical interrelationships. They help viewers visualize and understand the connections between individual processes, for example, material, cost or energy flows. The relative value of each material flow is represented by the width of the connecting arrows within the Sankey diagram. Putting the tools into the hands of the people who have the knowledge rather than having a graphic artist in the process allows users the opportunity to visualize a wide range of processes, such as production costs, energy losses of a particular machine or material flows within specific economic sectors.  Read More

The 2007 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

February 15, 2007 If there’s an absolutely golden imprimatur for the person-most-likely-to-succeed, it’s the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program funded via his own private philanthropic Lemelson Foundation, the Student Prize recognizes outstanding inventors, encourages sustainable new solutions to real-world problems, and enables and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. Given that MIT attracts the very brightest students to begin with, the winner is usually a stellar high achiever and this year’s winner is already that. 2007 winner Nathan Ball's inventions include the Atlas Rope Ascender (see separate story) and a needle-free injection technology that will enable greater efficiencies in mass inoculations, both capable of saving many lives and both with many commercial applications. Last year’s winner Carl Dietrich is the CEO and CTO of his own flying car company Terrafugia. We’ve also written about Saul Griffith, the 2004 winner. All the winners and their exploits in this article.  Read More

The economic benefits of obtaining a degree

February 14, 2007 We all intuitively know that having a degree offers many advantages but just how much difference it makes has now been quantified in a new report from Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ umbrella body. The report highlights the economic benefits associated with higher education qualification attainment and shows that the gross additional lifetime earnings is now approximately UKP160,000 or between 20 and 25% more for individuals with a higher education qualification than for those with two or more A-levels (UK Secondary qualifications). The study showed the financial benefit of a degree is greatest for men from lower socio-economic groups or from families from lower levels of income, and the benefits associated with HE qualifications increase as graduates get older.  Read More

In terms of setting the global scientific agenda and stimulating innovation, nothing seems...

February 13, 2007 Two heads are better than one. Six billion are even better. In solving big problems, you need a lot of brain power and the opportunity now exists via this wonderous global network to pour cubic brainpower on problems we need to solve. Tens of millions of scientifically trained minds all thinking about the same problem ensures that if there’s a way, we’ll find it. In terms of setting the global scientific agenda and stimulating innovation, nothing seems to work quite as well as a clearly defined challenge and a big fat prize. It immediately gives that limitless source of human intelligence out there a focal point – throughout history, such prizes have consistently proven to be the most effective method of fast forwarding development of enabling technologies, opening new vistas of human endeavour and solving key society-enabling problems. In announcing the Virgin Earth Challenge, Branson showed he had been an attentive student of innovation history when he said, “History has shown that Technology Prizes have been invaluable in encouraging technological advancements and innovation in many, many areas of science and industry.” History has indeed given us many big thinkers who have left massive legacies – people whose macro perspective on the world is such that they can identify a seemingly insurmountable societal problem and set in motion the process of solving it with an audacious stroke and a lot of money. In recent times we have seen DARPA’s Grand Challenge which gave us the world’s first truly autonomous vehicle inside a few years and for just a few million dollars. The Ansari X Prize fast-forwarded space development by decades. The British government offered the first prize of this type for a device capable of accurately measuring longitude in 1714. The prize was claimed 59 years later when clock maker, John Harrison (pictured) was awarded UKP 20,000 for devising an accurate and durable chronometer and it transformed our ability to sail the seas. The French have often used prizes as an incentive to fuel innovation, with a 100,000 franc prize in 1775 resulting in an artificial form of alkali being produced and hence began the French chemical industry. Napolean is best known for his battlefield genius but a 12,000 francs he offered in 1810 resulted in the first vacuum sealed food. A newspaper prize catalyzed the first flight across the English channel in 1909 and reset human boundaries as to what was possible with powered flight.  Read More

The US$25 Million Virgin Earth Challenge

February 13, 2007 Sir Richard Branson’s US$25 Million Virgin Earth Challenge focuses on the biggest single problem faced by humanity today - global warming. It steps across the national boundaries which have prevented anyone a full appreciation of the damage we have done to the environment and the gravity of the consequences of messing with the planet’s ecosystem. There may not be a single effective solution to this problem but if there is, the Virgin Earth Challenge is the best chance we can see of finding it. Given that these is no effective common approach on the horizon to a potential extinction event, we applaud the initiative wholeheartedly. The Virgin Earth Challenge will award US$25 million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without countervailing harmful effects. This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate.  Read More

Smart Nanobattery has indefinite shelf life, instant usage and it’s green too

February 8, 2007 mPhase Technologies today announced that the Smart Nanobattery it is developing could be equipped with features that would allow it to be disposed of safely. The company has applied for patent protection for a set of design strategies to create batteries that use advanced chemistries but are still safe to dispose. The prototype batteries use various chemicals as electrolytes residing on top of nano structures in a dormant state and when triggered, cause an electrochemical reaction to produce a measurable voltage and current under a load. Some cells are reserved to create the neutralizing chemical reaction at the end of life. The Smart Nanobattery promises an energy source that can be packaged in various configurations, with shelf life lasting decades, yet still able to be activated almost instantaneously on demand.  Read More

Fractional Ownership Portal

January 17, 2007 We’ve written before about the growing trend towards fractional ownership moving from cars to almost every aspect of lifestyle. Fractional ownership is the concept of dividing an expensive asset into percentage shares and selling those shares to individual owners. Each person who owns a fractional share then gets a relative percentage use of the asset. More often than not, a company manages the asset and owners pay fixed fees for the management in addition to variable fees for use. For rapidly depreciating assets, such as high-end vehicles, the management company may sell the asset after a fixed period and distribute the proceeds back to the owners. Now a new web portal named Fractional Life is providing a one-stop site to assist consumers in making sense of the currently expanding fractional ownership marketplace. The website also covers those companies that offer lifestyle experiences such as the use of supercars, jets, yachts and other top-end luxury products but without the consumer owning a particular segment - anything asset-sharing, part-ownership or experience sharing based.  Read More

Crosslink flexible lighting could change the look of the future

January 16, 2007 Futurists’ might need to reappraise their forecasts for the look of the future if the promise of a new electroactive polymer materials with remarkable properties reaches full commercialisation. Start-up Crosslink has developed a material with an array of real-world applications that could profoundly influence how our living environments, possessions and clothes look in the future as it effectively offers almost any object the ability to become a light source. SuperFlex is a lightweight, crushable, durable electroluminescent (EL) lighting technology based on polythiophene, an inherently conductive polymer known as PEDOT. SuperFlex can be formulated to emit light in both the visible and near-infrared (NIR) spectrums and can withstand being twisted, punctured, torn or scrunched-up (bottom images) without losing its ability to light up. The first commercialisation of the technology will be in the form of easily-transportable softwall shelters for the military (top image) with the lighting system semi-permanently attached to the inside of the shelter. The future prospects for SuperFlex are very bright as textiles, composites, plastics and metals all can be coated with SuperFlex, signalling a step-change approach to how we use light sources. The technology is applicable in myriad ways - from merchandising displays to packaging, walls, drapes, any part of a structure, clothes that light up at night for safety or decorative purposes ad infinitum. Then there are some compelling military applications, such as a foldable map that emits its own infrared light so it can be read in complete darkness using night vision goggles.  Read More

Looking for something? Search our 31,675 articles