A solution for ill people: using eyes to communicate

July 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

For those who, after suffering from a stroke or a degenerative disease, have lost the ability to speak and have serious difficulties in moving normally, among the several problems that they encounter to carry out even the simplest tasks of daily life, one of the hardest is often the one that involves communication with others.

Not being able to move is already hard and painful enough, but the inability to communicate one’s emotions and needs to the people around must be a further hard blow, especially from an emotional point of view.

To assist patients with this task, only apparently easy but as high as a mountain for those who can not move, a new device has just been introduced, which can solve the problem by using eye movement to communicate thanks to Morse language.

i-Mos, as it is called, is basically something like a pair of glasses, equipped with a sensor that detects eye movement. By moving them to the left or to the right, it is possible to “write” in Morse code, as the sensor would read the movement in either direction as a line or a dot.

Along with this, the glasses also feature a display which shows the letters that the patient has “written”, and thanks to the automatic fill function, the counterpart can already try to guess the word after a few letters, and suggest it, thus saving the i-Mos user time and effort.

Among those who could possibly benefit from using this device, which is only a concept now, but that we hope to see in production soon, there are for example patients suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or other degenerative diseases which hamper motion and communication abilities; thanks to i-Mos, their life could be a bit better, at least from an emotional point of view.

Panasonic to enter the mini camcorder market

July 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

With a delay that it’s hard not to notice, finally Panasonic has decided to play its cards on the mini camcorders market, a market dominated by devices with an extremely small size, a generally affordable average price and a good quality (which of course may vary depending on the price, and vice versa).

To do so, it has just announced the launch of its mini digital video recorder, called HM-TA1, with an attractive price tag of just 170 US dollars.

In spite of its low price, it is one of the smallest pocket video recorders available, with a candybar design which is now the standard for this kind of devices, available in several colors and with pretty good technical features, such as a 3 megapixel sensor which, although its resolution may be a bit lower than many competitors, gains in terms of quality thanks to its backlight which allows for a good performance in conditions of low lighting.

The presence of many buttons, in a field that tends to me as minimalistic as possible, makes it not so easy to use, but certainly one of its strong points is the possibility to use HM-TA1 as a webcam, also using its built-in microphone, by simply connecting it to your computer via USB cable.

It will then be possible to use it not only for good quality video recordings, but also to achieve a higher flexibility during your Skype or VOIP calls. In fact, while other webcams are more difficult to move around (when they are not embedded in the laptop monitor), moving around during a video chat will be easier thanks to this model.

All this comes at a low price, with a weight of only 100 grams and very small size.

Organized crime wants your personal data

July 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

According to a report recently published by Verizon, approximately 85 per cent of thefts of personal data and unauthorized access to restricted information (out of which, 38 per cent is represented by theft of usernames and passwords) can be directly or indirectly linked to organized crime.

Always according to this report, more than 70 per cent of these thefts is perpetrated by outside parties, while 50 per cent of attempts comes from insiders, such as for example collaborators, staff members or business partners, or from an improper use of access credentials, which gave staff the opportunity to take a sneak peek where they should not.

If on one hand, external intrusions exploit weak spots in computer systems, which at times may happen to inadvertently leave a backdoor open, which can be accessed by a hacker, on the other hand inside attacks are a breach of the trust relationship between boss and employees, or between partners.

For this reason, it is absolutely vital to adopt an efficient access control system or procedure, which can unequivocally define who has the right to access to certain data or information, and who doesn’t. For example, still according to Verizon’s report, by adopting simple precautions it is possible to thwart up to 96 per cent of data theft or unauthorized access attempts.

These precautions may range from data protection via encryption and encoding at different levels according to the importance of the data stored, to physical measures to limit access to certain rooms in your workplace and allow only authorized people to get through.

For more information on how to maintain security and privacy of information in your office and workplace, and on several data protection options, we advise that you visit the Endoacustica website.

Robotic tentacles to neutralize bombs and landmines

July 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As soldiers deployed in war zones know too well, danger may be waiting around the corner, behind a closed door or in the form of a homemade bomb (the so called IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices) which may explode at any time. Neutralizing these bombs is one of the hardest jobs for the troops, and one with the highest risk and casualty rate.

To improve soldiers’ safety in these situations, the US Army Research Laboratory, in cooperation wit Carnegie Mellon University, is developing the Robotic Tentacle Manipulator, an anti bomb robot made up of three coordinated robotic tentacles, mounted on a cylindrical bottom.

The system features a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) functionality, as well as 3D imaging software, which allow it to scan a suspicious object, and an advanced manipulation system which allows it to open doors or inspect a bomb without setting it off.

Its tentacles can also be used to move the robot, allowing it to negotiate even the narrowest spaces, to walk on rough terrain or even to swim to reach its target.

The anti bomb robot is controlled remotely, thanks to a laptop to which it is connected by Bluetooth or WiFi. Each one of its tentacles is basically an individual robot, and a central control system would communicate with the individual motors placed on each tentacle.

The motors are used to provide movements on each tentacle, while the operator that controls the whole system from his laptop would control the whole movement. According to Army researchers, in the future it will be possible to create such robots in different sizes and with different features according to the job they will need to take care of.

A new generation of flying cars by Terrafugia

July 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Terrafugia, one of the most popular names in the world of flying cars has just presented the concept, integrated with computer graphic images and technical specification, of its next vehicle called Transition Roadable Aircraft (TRA).

It is a hybrid vehicle, whose characteristics might be summed up with the description give on the manufacturer’s website: land at the airport, fold your wings up and drive home. Of course, behind this simple concept there is a lot of work by Terrafugia, a work that results in a vehicle with an array of technology that adapts the typical features of a small plane to the needs of a car, for example with a cockpit that includes a rigid shock-absorbing safety cell which can withstand heavy impacts.

Other technological and security features include, along with a touchscreen interface to handle operational commands with ease, a ballistic parachute along with several airbags for driver and passenger’s protection. To turn the car into a plane and vice versa, the process has been simplified, and it is now possible to open or fold its wings by simply pressing a button on the inside of the flying car.

Once the wings are spread, its 100 hp engine allows for easy takeoff. The TRA concept has been recently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, thus marking an important step towards production of a vehicle which in the future might be a common sight on our roads… and in our skies.

Of course, this is applicable only for those (and there are not too many) who can afford to pay a price which is expected to be around 190 thousand dollars. Price does not seem to be a problem, though, for those 80 folks who already booked their TRA, while cashing out a 10 thousand dollar advance payment.

Robot planes to deliver cargo

July 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The latest frontier in the development of pilotless planes or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)might be, in a not so far future, be crossed by Fedex.
The express courier giant, in fact, is willing to consider the possibility of employing robotic aircraft in its fleet.

The idea would be using them not only as transport planes to carry shipments from a central hub to a local handling station, but also to study the possibility of using them to carry out the delivery service to the end receiver. At the moment though, the rules governing drones’ flights are extremely restrictive as flight over inhabited areas is concerned, at least for a civilian use, while military rules in war zones are different.

For this reason, the US Army is studying the way to make them intelligent enough that they can recognize an airport’s flight paths, adapting their own trajectory in order to avoid any possible risk for commercial air traffic.

Furthermore, a team of Air Force researchers is at work to develop robots that might quickly handle the process of loading and unloading cargo on board. For now, this kind of operations would be carried out on military material, but in the future it might be adapted for civilian use, for example to load and unload the goods that Fedex would then deliver to its customers thanks to these robots, but without losing touch with the human factor.

In the future, we could see cargo planes, piloted by a human, being followed by a V-formation of unmanned aircraft, just like birds or acrobatic teams do. Does it look like science fiction? Maybe it’s not…

Spy phones, the alternative to bugs

July 26, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Aside from the latest political developments in Italy, according to which the Government seems to be busy fighting telephone wiretapping, by complicating the regulations that rule the usage of listening bugs, using hidden microphones is in any case not always easy for the police, and they must always have an alternative available to be able to listen to the conversations involving the subjects under control.

Now, although the legislative journey of what has been nicknamed “gag bill” seems to be likely to end up nowhere, there are still several alternatives to bugs on the surveillance devices market, at least looking at the matter from a strictly operational point of view.

For example, the most complete and flexible surveillance method is beyond doubt the Spy Phone, which gives the opportunity to listen to the target’s conversations in real time, wherever he goes, without being noticed.

Thanks to a spy cellphone it is possible not only to listen to phone calls in real time, but also to listen to all text messages, incoming and outgoing, as well as recording conversations when you can not listen to them on the spot; for some phone models, it is also possible to receive geographical coordinates of the current location, in order to track down at any time the whereabouts of the target who, unaware, keeps using his cellphone without being able to know that he is being bugged.

All this and more is possible thanks to the installation, on most phone models currently on the market, of a spy software, installed in an absolutely invisible way and impossible to detect even for the savviest of users.

This software can be installed in seconds: just wait for your subject to go to toilet or so for a few seconds and the trick is done. Once installed, the spy software is programmed to notify you automatically, as soon as the phone starts a conversation, by sending you an SMS towards a preset number, for example your mobile number.

Once you receive that SMS, you can join the conversation and listen to it in real time, without being noticed and being able to collect all the information you need. Along with real time listening, it is also possible to listen to calls at a later stage, thanks to the call recording function. The conversation is saved as an audio file and sent to you buy email, that you will be able to easily download on your computer and listen to later.

Among other spy mobile phone features, it is worth mentioning, along with the possibility to receive a copy of all incoming and outgoing messages, also the function, active on all GPS-enabled cellphones, to receive in real time the geographical coordinates of your subject’s current location.

All functions can be activated or disabled remotely, by simply sending an SMS, written in a simple particular format, with operating instructions. T he spy software will intercept this message and, without displaying it on the mobile phone’s screen, it will just execute the instructions it contains.

But what makes the spy cellphone absolutely unique is the possibility to use it just like a normal listening bug, using its microphone to listen to the conversations around it, and to be able to do it even while the phone is turned off or while the battery is removed! All you have to do is call from the preset number and you will be able to listen in, without the phone giving out any sign of activity like a glowing display or so.

For more details on how spy phones are working, we recommend that you visit the Endoacustica website.

Military UAVs for scientific use

July 26, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Generally, people are prone to thinking that the military has a very tight relationship with technologies, keeping for themselves all those devices they use to do their job, devices which in some cases hit the civilian applications market only a few years after having been thoroughly used by the men in uniform.
In some cases though, it is nice to see how military technology can be made available also for scientific use.

This is the case with Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft initially designed by Northrop Grumman for the US Department of Defense, a vehicle we mentioned on these pages more than once. Recently, a particular version of this aircraft, carrying scientific equipment, has been used in cooperation with NASA for a test run, in a first test flight lasting over 82 hours. This research project, called GloPac (Global Pacific Hawk Program) is aimed at studying conditions of the air over the Arctic and Pacific oceans.

The vehicle is equipped with devices such as laser hygrometers which can detect the level of water vapor in the air, to point towards the clouds to analyze their consistency and features, or to measure the presence of microwaves emitted by oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. Water vapor, for example, is a powerful greenhouse gas, and its presence at high altitudes is a sign of pollution from gases that increase the Earth’s temperature.

Global Hawk can fly at altitudes between 14000 and 20000 meters, and from up there it is capable of gathering data related to the presence of greenhouse gasses and to the level of substances that damage the ozone layer, also measuring the level of dust (such as for example the ashes released by the Icelandic volcano a few months ago).

This enables scientists to monitor the health of higher layers of the atmosphere, gathering information that can prove vital also to monitor air quality at lower heights. Thanks to the endurance of its missions, Global Hawk can also be used to measure short-term phenomena at high altitude.

In the long run, scientists would like to have a better overview of the Polar Vortex, a cyclone located on the North Pole, analyzing which they hope to understand the dynamics that regulate the atmosphere in Northern latitudes.

From Italy to China on an empty tank

July 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Since we are talking about vehicles that can recharge themselves, let’s go back to the Mother Earth, and more precisely in Italy, in the city of Parma, where technicians from the VisLab laboratory of the local University have launched a very ambitious project, that is, the intercontinental road trip of an autonomous vehicle, capable of driving itself and recharging its batteries thanks to solar panels mounted on the roof.

Two of these vehicles, strictly without a pilot, have just left Parma, and the final destination of their trip is Shanghai in China, where they are expected to arrive in approximately three months, covering approximately 90 kilometers per day at a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour, of course while using absolutely no polluting fuel but only feeding on the clean energy harnessed by the solar panels.

To make sure that all runs smoothly, the two vans will be following a bigger van, acting as expedition leader and driven by a real human; and inside the two automated minivans, during the autonomous drive part of the journey, there will be an auxiliary driver in flesh and blood, ready to intervene in case of emergency.

These vans are equipped with a varied array of control and orientation devices: along with the requisite GPS navigation system, there are laser scanners, sensor to detects obstacles on the road such as rocks or potholes, video and photo cameras to document the trip and keep in video contact.

If you want to follow the journey live, the project site features a webcam, where one can see the trip in real time. We will stay tuned in 3 months, and we really hope (not only as fellow Italians) that the project has a happy end, as it might open new perspectives in the field of autonomous vehicles, which so far has been basically monopolized by military applications.

Bring down enemy missiles with your iPhone

July 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple like to boast that there is nothing you can’t do without an iPhone app. Now it looks like another step in this direction has been taken by Raytheon: in fact, the Massachusetts giant is working on Patriot Crew Drill, some sort of videogame whose effects are far from virtual, as it is used as a training tool for troops that operate Patriot anti-missile systems to shoot any approaching enemy rockets.

The troops assigned to Patriot usage are generally deployed in not so “hot” locations; when they are sent for an assignment to locations such as Iraq or Afghanistan, their knowledge of the Patriot system might get a little bit rusty. To counter this possibility and keep troops always up to date, also in case of any possible modifications to the Patriot operation, Raytheon has then created this iPhone application.

Used just like a common videogame, Patriot Crew Drill presents its user with a virtual scenario, with multiple choice questions that must be obviously answered correctly. If everything goes well, you would advance to the next step. In case of a mistake, a “virtual” Sergeant would make sure that the user does not make the same mistake the next time, and he would do it very politely… not.

It is not the first time that Raytheon presents iPhone apps designed to be used on the battlefield, although there is still a long way to go before they could actually be deployed. When this happens, soldiers will have to make sure that, if they are using an iPhone 4, they don’t hold it with the infamous Death Grip, as Steve Jobs may not be able to send a new bumper case in due time!

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