The story of a PhD student weaving his way through a busy university corridor doesn’t usually make for breaking news. But then the average PhD student isn’t wheelchair-bound, visually impaired, and testing a new laser-based wheelchair navigation system. In front of a crowd of onlookers earlier this month, a student performed the first public demonstration of a wheelchair that lets blind people “see” and avoid obstacles, afterward remarking that it was just “like using a white cane” (presumably underselling the technology to blunt the jealousy blooming in the onlookers).
From the user’s perspective, the new high-tech wheelchair is quite simple: You hold a joystick in one hand to drive the motorized chair, while the other hand engages a “haptic interface” that gives tactile feedback warning you about objects in your path, be they walls, fire hydrants, or those mobile collision-makers called people.
Ever since last month’s China International Medical Equipment Fair in Shenzhen, China, a curious video (above) has been spreading across the blogosphere. The gadget in question is apparently an automatic sperm collector, an all-in-one machine into which men can donate sperm (hands-free). The video treats the entire subject in a rather ridiculous manner, raising two questions: How does this gadget actually work? And does anyone actually use them?
Today, there are in fact several companies selling automatic sperm collectors on the internet (here, here, and here, for example). Your average sperm-collecting gadget consists of a kiosk with a monitor that provides stimulating visuals (!), complimented by sounds (!!). A little lower is a “semen-collection sheath,” which purportedly simulates the feel and movement of a vagina. Read More
Eyestrain. Headaches. Nausea. For some people, this is all part of the 3D movie experience. And until now, your choice was to either suffer through 3D; find a cheaper, low-tech theater; or else forgo some new films altogether. But that was before one guy invented 2D Glasses, a pair of specs that converts projected 3D images into 2D (yup, you read that right). It’s touted as a way of preventing eye strain while still enjoying a flick with your 3D-loving friends.
The story starts at the end of 2010, when inventor Hank Green wanted to watch Tron Legacy in 3D with his wife. She confessed that 3D movies give her headaches; Green wanted to see the film in all three dimensions, but didn’t wanted to see it alone, which sparked the idea of modifying 3D glasses into 2D glasses. As Green writes on his website, “after a lot of poking and twisting and gluing and cutting and cursing and sawing, I had created my first pair of 2D Glasses.” He then went to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 3D with his wife, and she “could watch the movie in 2D, and even switch to 3D for the action scenes!”
If the Air Force gets its way, it will have spying eyes hidden in the very motes on its enemies’ boots. In a wonderfully vague request this week, the Air Force called for companies to design miniature drones capable of dusting targets with signal-emitting particles. They say the technology (assuming it works) could be used to identify civilians or track wildlife, which is military-speak for “we want to track and kill terrorists, not bunnies.”
According to the request, the Air Force wants a small remotely piloted aircraft, or SRPA, that would “unobtrusively distribute taggants onto moving targets.” They describe taggants as tiny electro-magnetic-emitting devices. The key part of the request is for the tracked person to not be aware that he’s being tracked. The request makes the laughable point that a swooping SRPA or tracking-device-laden paint ball probably wouldn’t be unobtrusive enough because “the target would obviously notice a swooping SRPA and likely feel the sting of the well-placed pellet.” (Either that, or you’re dealing with one very unaware terrorist.)
The latest state-of-the-art night-vision helmet should probably come with a warning label: “May cause uncontrollable laughter.” Despite its goofy, high-tech-Frankenstein appearance, the helmet actually makes a significant improvement in night vision by doubling the field of view compared to—and making that view much sharper than—the view through current goggles.
Called the High Resolution Night Vision System (HRNVS), these helmets are designed to give U.S. Air Force pilots higher-resolution images and an over-80-degree field of view, which is much better than the fuzzy, 40-degree field of view of conventional goggles. With the helmet in place, a pilot simply flips the viewers over his eyes to peer into the night. Each eyepiece is fed a synced image from two digital night-vision sensors. In addition to seeing more, the pilot also receives a crisper image because the helmet is programmed to enhance edges and contrasts, says SA Photonics, the company that developed the device. And as he spies another aircraft, a HUD-like digital overlay tells him how high it is and how fast it’s moving; and he can even record what he’s seeing as a video.
Grad students are a notoriously impoverished group, and so it’s only fitting that one has invented a pancreatitis test using a dollar’s worth of materials. In less than an hour, Reynolds Wrap, JELL-O, and milk can tell you whether you have pancreatitis, a sudden pancreas inflammation that can cause nausea, fever, shock, and even death.
Invented by biochemistry grad student Brian Zaccheo, this match-box-sized test detects high levels of trypsin, a pancreatic enzyme that’s abundant in pancreatitic patients. The diagnosis involves two simple steps: First, you drip some blood from a patient onto a gelatin and milk-protein layer, which breaks down in the presence of trypsin. Second, you add a drop of sodium hydroxide, or lye, which—if the trypsin has reacted through the entire gelatin layer—dissolves the Reynolds wrap that’s underneath the gelatin; the dissolved foil frees up a connection between a magnesium anode and an iron salt cathode, which creates enough current to light a red LED. “In essence, the device is a battery having a trypsin-selective switch that closes the circuit between the anode and cathode,” Zaccheo writes in a paper published in Analytical Chemistry. The patients know if they have pancreatitis if the LED lights up within an hour.
Some bald men are willing to go to great lengths to grow hair, including paying a robot to punch holes through their scalp skin. Recently approved by the FDA, a new robot takes out tiny pieces of your flesh in order to harvest hair follicles that can then be manually implanted into your bald spots.
Dubbed the ARTAS System, this automated robot images your head to single out a follicular unit, and then uses its robotic arm to make 1 mm-diameter “dermal punches” into your scalp. It continues extracting hair follicles from parts of your head that have sufficient amounts of hair (a process known as follicular unit extraction, or FUE), and these bits of flesh and hair are then stored until a doctor implants them into your bald and thinning areas. Within a few months, these newly-planted hairs start growing just like your other ones.
I like the habit because it makes me
look like the Linux penguin.
From elite hackers, to white-hat hackers, to hacktivists, hackers don’t generally have sterling reputations as upstanding citizens—at least as far as the general public is concerned. That’s why it may come as a surprise that the Vatican has published an essay that redeems computer hackers and even compares hacker philosophy with Catholic theology.
In his article published in the Vatican-vetted Civilta Cattolica, technology expert, literary critic, and Jesuit priest Antonio Spadaro draws similarities between hackers and Catholics (via TechWorld):
Aching legs. Throbbing feet. Creaky knees. Standing for long periods of time can be a chore. And if there aren’t any chairs or clean floors to sit on, it’s also inevitable—unless you have a new invention that resembles a retractable robotic kangaroo tail.
Meet Emanuele Lopopolo, an Italian inventor who unveiled this portable backrest this device (picture of Lepopolo using the backrest here) at this week’s 39th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva. As he puts it, “the kangaroo can rest its weight on its tail, so we’ve made the same thing for humans.” You just have to buckle yourself into Lopopolo’s backrest, extend the telescopic pole that juts out of the back, and then lean back: By reclining at a 60-degree angle, you can give your feet a break from supporting your full body weight. It’s intended for chair-less humans who want to take a load off without bending down to sit.
When it comes to redemption stories, gaming consoles aren’t usually the first items to come to mind (or even on the list). But the Xbox 360 has made a surprising comeback in Japan after last month’s tsunami swept over 5,000 consoles out to sea: One company has deployed Xbox’s hand-held controllers to help maneuver robots at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Meet the Talon robots, which were sent to Japan by a Virginia-based tech company called QinetiQ North America. With Xbox pad in hand, Fukushima workers can now remotely drive these robust bots around the plant, where it would be far too dangerous for human workers to go. Without putting themselves in danger, operators can peer into the darkest parts of the plant using Talon’s night-vision cameras. They can also gauge the temperature and air quality around the plant, as well as identify over 7,500 hazardous substances using the robots’ chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) detection kits (as long as they’re within the robot’s over-3,000-foot operating range).