Archive for the ‘Home and Leisure’ Category


June 10, 2012

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Say goodbye to your mouse and keyboard

May 24, 2012

Leap Motion is a California-based startup developing advanced motion sensing technology for human-computer interaction.

This week, they publicly announced their first product – the Leap.

Leap is a small iPod-sized USB peripheral that creates a 3D interaction space of 8 cubic feet to precisely interact with and control software on your laptop or desktop computer.

The Samsung Galaxy S III

May 7, 2012

Samsung has announced its third generation Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy S3. A direct competitor to the iPhone, the device will launch in Europe on 29th May and in America some time in June.

The S3 is Samsung’s first quad-core smartphone, with four 1.4 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processors and Mali-400 MP GPU. It boasts a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution for ultra-sharp 1080p video playback. Alongside this, it has an 8-megapixel camera and 3.3fps burst mode capable of 20 shots.

Available in two colours – marble white and pebble blue – the S3 has numerous new software features and hardware accessories. These include Smart Stay (the screen remains on when the user looks at the screen, otherwise it sleeps), Direct Call (which allows the user to call a person whose text is currently on screen by simply raising the phone to the ear), Pop Up Play (allows a video and other activities to simultaneously occupy the screen), S Voice intelligence, Buddy Photo Sharing, Allcast Share Dongle, Group Cast (documents collaboration), wireless charging, S Pebble MP3 player (a portable music controller), dock/charger, C-Pen, slimline case, and a car mount.

The phone comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants. This is expandable by an additional 32GB thanks to a microSD card slot, for a massive 96GB of total storage. Furthermore, an additional 50GB of space is offered via the online Dropbox service for purchasers of the device for two years (doubling rival HTC’s 25GB of storage for the same duration).

Samsung has now overtaken Nokia to become the world’s largest maker of mobile phones. You can read more about the S3 at the official website.

Major milestone takes “flying car” closer to first delivery

April 10, 2012

Developed by Terrafugia, the “Transition” is a two-seater personal aircraft/car hybrid that can drive on roads and highways, park in a single car garage, and fly with unleaded petrol. This light sport, roadable aircraft has been under development since 2006. It is now a significant step closer to becoming a commercial reality, after the production prototype completed its first test flight at New York’s Plattsburgh International Airport.

It is the first vehicle in the world to have met both the standards of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), making it the first “street legal aeroplane”.

The Transition’s first flight reached an altitude of 426m (1400 ft) above the ground and lasted eight minutes while staying in the vicinity of the airport. During this time, it demonstrated the controllability and safe operational characteristics of the aircraft. Six phases of flight testing are planned to continue development and demonstrate compliance to the Light Sport Aircraft standards.

The production prototype is on display at the New York International Auto Show until 15th April. Initial customer deliveries are expected in 2013, with a price tag of US$279,000.

Battery switch stations could revolutionise the electric car industry

April 9, 2012

Better Place is a venture-backed American-Israeli company based in California, which aims to develop new infrastructure to boost the electric vehicle industry. According to Shai Agassi, the company’s founder and CEO, his vision was inspired by Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum, who asked: “How do you make the world a better place by 2020?”

Though they are clean and green, a major issue for electric cars is their limited range and the time needed to recharge batteries, which can be up to several hours. This “range anxiety” has dissuaded many potential buyers until now.

To get around this problem, Better Place has been promoting the idea of battery swapping. Using an automated system, a spent battery can be ejected and replaced with a fully charged one, saving the delay of waiting for the vehicle’s battery to charge up. The driver can remain in their car while the battery is swapped, with the process being completed in less than a minute, which is actually faster than refueling a conventional petrol car.

With networks of battery switching stations in and around cities, drivers would potentially have electric cars with unlimited ranges for long distance trips.

Better Place is partnering with governments and businesses around the world to accelerate this transition to sustainable transport. Retail customer deliveries of Renault’s Fluence ZE – the first electric car to operate in the Better Place network – are scheduled for the second quarter of 2012. The first battery switch stations have already been deployed in China, Denmark and Israel, with plans for additional networks in over 25 regions around the world.

Google’s futuristic, Internet-connected glasses

April 8, 2012

Google this week announced “Project Glass” – a research and development program which aims to prototype and build an augmented reality (AR) head-mounted display.

Although this technology is not a new idea, the project is gaining media attention due to its backing by such a high-profile company, as well as the design concepts which are smaller and slimmer than previous versions of head-mounted displays. These early demos appear to more closely resemble normal eyeglasses, where the lens is replaced by a heads-up display, and may be integrated into people’s day-to-day eyewear in the future.

Project Glass is part of Google X Lab, a secret facility which has worked on other futuristic technologies including a self-driving car. The project’s intended purpose is to allow hands-free displaying of information currently found on smartphones, while providing interaction with the Internet via natural language voice commands, in a manner similar to the iPhone application Siri.

The New York Times reports that the glasses will be available for “around the cost of current smartphones” – $250 to $600 – by the end of 2012.

Flexible touch sensors could revolutionise mobile device design

April 8, 2012

Atmel, a semiconductor manufacturer, this week announced the release of “XSense” – a revolutionary, highly flexible, film-based touch sensor. This will not only enable a new generation of smartphones and tablets, but will also extend touch capabilities into a wider array of new consumer and industrial products.

Based on a proprietary roll-to-roll metal mesh technology, XSense provides a high-performance alternative to existing touch sensors. Larger, lighter, sleeker, curved and edgeless designs could now be developed for smartphones, tablets, Ultrabooks and a host of new touch-enabled devices.

Thinner sensor stacks with flawless touch performance, excellent optical clarity, low sheet resistance and low power consumption will enable designers to turn unique, futuristic concepts into functional designs at lower total system costs compared to current market alternatives.

The first products to feature XSense will appear in Q4 2012, and the company expects “significant volume ramp” in 2013.

Driverless cars can be licensed in Nevada

February 27, 2012

Nevada has become the first state in the US to allow self-driving autonomous vehicles on public roads.

The newly approved regulations, which come into effect on Thursday 1st March, require two drivers in every car – one in the front seat, to take back control in an emergency. The vehicles must also be fitted with a data recorder, to collect information in the event of a crash.

In creating the regulations, the Department of Motor Vehicles partnered with Google, auto manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement, all with a common vision of saving lives.

Several other states currently have bills in front of their legislators that will follow Nevada into the future.

You will be able to distinguish an autonomous test vehicle by the red license plate it displays. When the technology is ready for general public use, a green license plate will be displayed on vehicles using it.

Augmented-Reality Contact Lenses

February 12, 2012

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), together with Washington-based Innovega, is reported to be developing contact lenses that enhance normal vision, by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus. Instead of using oversized helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-colour displays that are very near the eye. These novel contact lenses allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away.

In other words, this could enable the use of tiny portable displays while still interacting with the surrounding environment. Developed as part of DARPA’s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, the objective is to give wearers better situational awareness in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities – greatly enhancing their security and survivability. Innovega plans to begin low-volume production for the defence community in 2014.

Consumer versions may become available later this decade. Imagine the number of applications you’d get from such a device – especially when utilising the vast power of cloud computing. Terminator-style vision would give you access to a wealth of information about your surrounding environment. It would also enhance gaming and movie experiences.

Credit: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

2011 – A look back (part 3)

January 15, 2012

Home & Leisure

2011 saw countless innovations in the home and leisure markets. Among them was Android@Home, announced by Google. This offers a new way of controlling home appliances, lights and other utilities, via smartphones and tablet devices.

There was also Nest, a new “learning” thermostat by Nest Labs. This remembers temperature adjustments entered over time, creating the most efficient schedule possible. It eliminates the hassle of changing the temperature settings manually, as well as conserving energy and saving money. It can also be controlled remotely using a smartphone.

LG launched a new 12kg washing machine, the largest ever capacity in a standard size machine. In addition to its huge size, this also features smart technology allowing you to remotely control functions through your smartphone.

In an effort to appeal to environmentally-conscious users, Samsung promoted its Eco Bubble series of washing machines. These use a whopping 70% less energy than standard machines. Beko’s new dishwasher, the DFN 71046 X30 beat the world record for energy efficiency, with 194kWh/year of consumption.

Beko also launched its quietest ever “Silent Tech” washing machine – which claimed to be five times quieter than comparable models – and Bosch released its Pro Silence Plus vacuum cleaner – with a noise output of just 71 decibels.

Philips unveiled its Perfect Care steam generator iron. This has one “perfect” setting for all fabric types, and its base will never burn. Philips also launched the Sonicare AirFloss, which offers a new way of flossing and removes up to 99% more plaque.

Self-cleaning fabrics were developed by Chinese scientists, while fragranced clothing triggered by exposure to light was described in a thesis written by scientist Dr. Olga Hinze of Cologne University.

3D printing continued to gain in prominence during 2011 – but has yet to become a widespread consumer product. It will likely be a few more years before it’s considered mainstream.

Lighting technology saw development, with a concept LED bulb featuring vastly improved efficiency, and an LED bulb with a filament bulb appearance. A report by the UK’s Energy Saving Trust showed that LED technology could be widespread by 2015 and will greatly improve the brightness, colour and distribution of lighting in housing communal areas.

Military & War

In April 2011, WikiLeaks, along with independent news agencies, began publishing hundreds of formerly secret documents relating to detainees at the Guantánamo Bay camp. These documents consisted of classified assessments, interviews and internal memos, written by The Pentagon’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo, headquartered at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. They revealed that over 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis – including farmers, chefs and drivers – were held for years without charge. It was also revealed that some of the prison’s youngest and oldest detainees suffered from fragile mental and physical conditions. They also contained statements from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessing to interrogators that Al-Qaeda possessed nuclear capacity.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a report showing that China is now on track to forge a modern military by 2020, a rapid buildup that could be potentially destabilising to the Asia-Pacific region. This comes at a time when the US military itself is being downsized due to the spiralling national debt. The Chengdu J-20 – China’s first high-tech stealth fighter – had its first test flight in January 2011.

Among the other countries with military budget problems is Britain. The nation could lack a fully operational aircraft carrier until 2030, according to a report published by a spending watchdog.

Military technology saw many developments in 2011. A report released by the JASON defense science advisory panel highlighted the plunging cost of genome sequencing and its potential applications for the military. Among the suggestions was the mapping of military personnel’s genomes – to pinpoint the genetic traits best suited to handling battlefield stress, sleep deprivation, prolonged bleeding and other conditions. This could help in selecting better personnel for specific missions.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers developed a radar system allowing soldiers to see through walls from over 60ft away.

At the University of Pittsburgh, scientists used pig cells to regrow soldiers’ destroyed muscles, including the nerves and tendons necessary to restore function. This form of regenerative medicine is seeing rapid development and may soon be “a standard of care for orthopedists and trauma surgeons.” Entire limbs could one day be fully replaceable. Soldiers with horrific injuries from IED blasts, for example, could have their lives returned to normal.

In August, the US Office of Naval Research successfully tested a revolutionary new type of explosive material. Damage is caused to the target not only by a high speed collision with dense material, but by further energy as chemicals react in the material. Known as “High-Density Reactive Material” (HDRM), it will replace steel in warhead casings and could dramatically increase weapons’ impacts. As a result, less ordnance and fewer sorties will be needed to get the same result. Because the material only reacts when involved in a high energy collision, there will be less collateral damage to innocent bystanders, too.

A German defence manufacturer demonstrated a new laser gun that could be fitted to vehicles – blasting everything from incoming mortar shells to roadside bombs.

In November, the Department of Defense announced the successful test of a hypersonic missile. Travelling at five times the speed of sound, this new weapon system is capable of striking targets 2,300 miles (3,700 km) away in less than 30 minutes. It is being developed as part of the Prompt Global Strike program.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force took delivery of the first GBU-57A/B (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) – a 30,000-pound (13,608 kg), precision-guided “super bunker buster”. This monstrous weapon can penetrate 200ft of reinforced concrete before it goes off, and is substantially larger than the deepest penetrating bomb previously available, the 5,000-pound (2,268 kg) GBU-28. It will be the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal.

As mentioned in part 1, 2011 also witnessed the Arab Spring, the Libyan civil war and overthrow of Gaddafi, the death of bin Laden and the end of the Iraq War. Additionally, the Basque terrorist organisation, ETA, declared a “definitive cessation of its armed activity”, after 43 years of political violence which had killed over 800 people since 1968.

The GBU-57A/B (massive ordnance penetrator)