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Good Thinking

February 25, 2007 Sensors might never cost-efficiently replace the keen eye of a farmer for spotting fungus, signs of vermin or bird attack, growth rate, weed levels and a host of other almost intuitive inspections, but they are already offering a viable method of ensuring that precious crops are perfectly watered. Data Logging specialist Onset has just added two new plug-and-play Soil Moisture Smart Sensors to its wares, with the new sensors promising precise, long-term soil moisture monitoring. The Decagon ECH2O dielectric probes offer highly accurate measurements of volumetric water content in soil, and have low sensitivity to temperature and saline effects, broadening the range of soil types in which they can be used to include sandy and high-salinity soils and their compact form factor means they can be used in pots and greenhouses. The US$139-a-pop smart sensor design enables the sensors to be plugged into Onset’s 15-channel HOBO Weather Station and 4-channel HOBO Micro Station and automatically recognized without complicated wiring, programming or calibration. Read More
February 25, 2007 Ever since Al Queda ever so kindly pointed out the vulnerability of domestic airliners, the world has been paying a hefty bill in the form of added security. At first it was very costly, because much of it was labour-intensive, but then industry responded with ever-more-clever devices to screen humans and ensure they were weapon free. So good have the machines become at peering through clothing that many scanning techniques have become very invasive. It will hence be of some comfort to know that the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun testing the privacy enhanced SmartCheck personnel screening system today at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. SmartCheck provides optimum security by safely screening for a wide variety of threats concealed on a passenger, while ensuring their privacy. The SmartCheck system creates an image that looks like a chalk outline of the passenger with threats and contraband outlined, but does not reveal facial features. A product of X-ray detection technology specialist American Science and Engineering, the SmartCheck system installed in Phoenix cannot store, export, print, or transmit images. The machine produces images such as this privacy-enhanced SmartCheck scan of a female (front and back) which presents only an outline of the scanned individual and an outline of any threats on the person. Read More
February 25, 2007 mPhase Technologies has been very successful in taking its message direct to the people in recent weeks with a video demonstration of its Smart Nanobattery on YouTube. The nanotech-based smart batteries (pictured bottom) can store reserve power for decades and generate electric current virtually on demand. Now mPhase has released another video, this time demonstrating its ultra-sensitive sensor magnetometer. “The extreme advantage of size, sensitivity and low cost allows us to develop the next generation of military and homeland security sensor applications while also addressing a number of commercial markets as well,” said mPhase Technologies’, Ron Durando. That's the magnetometer on the coin. Read More
February 20, 2007 Targeted promotional opportunities for premium brands often makes for some strange bedfellows, and resulted this week in premium aerospace and automotive brand Saab releasing ‘The Little White Purse.’ Created by Fashion designer Osman Yousefzada, the purse was designed as an innovative way to keep a woman’s keys stylishly at hand. It banishes those clumsy key-fumbling moments so you look fashionably efficient while stepping into your car, home or workplace. According to Saab, on average a woman wastes one day each year fumbling around for keys in the bottom of her handbag, which does seem a lamentable waste of time. The clever design means the purse can be worn as a necklace, attached inside a handbag, or around a wrist where it could no doubt double as a weapon should the need arise. Read More
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
February 19, 2007 A fortnight ago we wrote about Steve Jobs’ provocative open letter on Digital Rights Management and the extraordinary reaction to the letter. In the interests of fairness, there is another viewpoint and in our humble opinion, the best presented counter to Jobs’ position is presented by DRM specialist Macrovision. Macrovision has been in the content protection industry for more than 20 years, working closely with content owners of many types, including the major Hollywood studios, to help navigate the transition from physical to digital distribution. The company has been involved with and has supported both prevention technologies and DRM that are on literally billions of copies of music, movies, games, software and other content forms, as well as hundreds of millions of devices across the world. Macrovision CEO & President Fred Amoroso penned the response. Wikipedia offers perspective on the issue with links to all the stakeholder groups, and the illustration comes from here. Via Slashdot Read More
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
The most expensive parking is the parking we don’t have. Not that long ago, when cars were less plentiful and inner city space was moreso, the major expenses of driving were depreciation and running costs. Now as space becomes more valuable and competition for that space is also at a high, parking space is fast becoming a major expense with mid-town Manhattan, London and Tokyo all commanding up to US$500 a month for a parking space and a permanent parking space was recently sold in London for UKP300,000. The solution to the world’s Parking Crisis is obvious: state-of-the-art automated parking robotic technologies will deliver the most space-efficient and hence cost-efficient parking. The current generation of parking garages has space-consuming access ramps and lots of access lanes that never get parked on, and also needs enough height for a very tall human being to comfortably walk upright – rather than the space-efficient compact box into which your car is slipped in an automated system. The ramps aren’t needed when you have a car lift and a computerized racking system. Whatsmore, a custom-built automated car parking facility of the same size as a conventional carpark can hold at least twice as many cars, offering double or more the income after a safe refurbishing investment. It’s more efficient for the customer (less than 2.5 minutes to get your car), costs less to run (no human attendants are required), there are no accidents, dents or scratches (because computers move the cars, not humans), and as the cars cannot be reached by other car park users, there’s no chance of theft or vandalism. Though this article is primarily about Automotion, there are now many manufacturers of automated carpark solutions, such as Stolzer Parkhaus, Robopark, Westfalia, Klausparking, LTW, Trevipark, Urban Parking Concepts, Eltodo, Space Saver Parking and the massive Chinese Tianchen Group – if you have a space that could use a carpark, this solution will make your money work at least twice as hard. Read More
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
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
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