Tech Talk iconTech Talk

GPS Network Weighs Drought in the U.S. West

A record-breaking drought has left California and most of the western United States parched, threatening crops and even some of the region's hydroelectric power . Now a network of global positioning system stations scattered across the west is providing a new way to show just how dry it's become.

"The beauty of this is that, at a regional scale, you're able to put a number on how much water we've lost," says Daniel Cayan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Compared to the nine years before the drought, the new data show that the western United States has lost 240 gigatons of water, which is enough to flood the entire region in 10 centimeters of water.

Read More

Camouflage Technology Copies Cuttlefish Trick

Octupodes and cuttlefish have a remarkable ability to change their appearance, producing colors and patterns in their skin that allow them to disappear into the background. Now a team of scientists says they’ve engineered an approach to camouflage that’s inspired by the way these sea creatures work.

“I think we’ve put together the key elements that are needed,” says John Rogers, head of materials research the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The adaptive optoelectronic camouflage system, which Rogers developed with scientists from Illinois, Texas, and China, consists of several components piled on top of one another in very thin layers and divided up into pixels. The top layer contains a kind of dye that is normally black but becomes transparent with a small increase in temperature. Beneath that is a layer of white reflective silver. Next down is an array of silicon diodes that heat up when current runs through them. Separated from that layer by a sheet of silicone lies an array of ultrathin silicon photodetectors on a transparent polymer substrate.

Loading the player...

When light strikes a photodetector, it sends a signal that drives current into the diode above it; the diode heats up, causing the black dye to turn transparent. This lets the white layer of silver show through. As the pattern of ambient light changes, the array of pixels match the pattern of light striking the structure.

The system, which works in a manner similar to the skin of cephalopods like the cuttlefish, grew out of the research of Roger Hanlon, a biologist at Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass. Hanlon, Rogers, and their colleagues describe the work in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

The work was sponsored by the U.S. Navy, which has an obvious interest in camouflage, but Rogers says there could be a range of industrial and consumer applications, including mood lighting and sensors that change color based on exposure to ultraviolet light. Though the team worked with black and white to demonstrate the concept, Rogers says the technique could also be used to display colors—and might incorporate actuators or even a camera. “We view it as sort of a general set of engineering approaches,” Rogers says.

Loading the player...

 

Samsung + SmartThings: Will the Internet of Things Stay Open?

This week the smart home and “Internet of Things” company SmartThings announced it had been acquired by Samsung. Since its 2012 founding, SmartThings has been one of the more aggressively inclusive companies in the emerging smart home marketplace, selling a US $99 smart home hub and hosting an open community of developers to connect as many third-party household gadgets as possible—water heaters,sprinklers, garage door openers, TVs, and more.

And since announcing the buyout, SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson has been a conspicuous presence on the SmartThings blog, responding to critical comments from SmartThings fans that the acquisition has generated.

Read More

Mathematical Obfuscation Against Hackers Is Focus of New Cybersecurity Center

Turning computer code into a kind of math puzzle may hold the key to protecting software from hackers. A consortium of universities developing the idea, called mathematical obfuscation, recently received a $5 million grant from the U.S. government as part of a broader cybersecurity initiative.

Read More

Raman Laser Could Identify Explosives at a Distance

A new technique that causes a diffuse material such as a powder to emit laser light could distinguish a harmless substance from an explosive or allow aerial mapping of fertilizer, say the scientists who developed it.

The method is based on Raman spectroscopy. When light strikes a molecule, roughly one in 10 million photons hitting it will drop to a lower frequency that’s determined by just what molecule it is. By seeing how the wavelength of the scattered light changes, an observer can identify what substance she’s seeing. Unfortunately, 1 in 10 million is a fairly weak signal, so some sort of amplification is needed.

Read More

Skully Motorcycle Helmet Has Heads-Up Display and Rearview Camera

I learned one very simple rule in my motorcycle safety course: keep your eyes and your head pointing toward the place you want to go. It sounds straightforward. But the truth is, you have to break this rule all the time. You check your gas gauge; you look over your shoulder before changing lanes; you crane your neck to see a road sign. During moments that I take no pride in, I have even broken this rule by stuffing my cellphone up into my helmet to answer an emergency call.

Riders who wear the new, digitally enhanced, Skully AR-1 helmet—which the company is calling "the world's smartest motorcycle helmet"—may never have to break this cardinal rule ever again. The design pushes all the information a rider needs onto a heads-up display right in the visor.

Read More

Algorithm Detected Ebola Outbreak Before Official Alerts

Earlier this year, on 23 March, the World Health Organization issued an alert reporting that 29 people had died after contracting the Ebola virus in the West African country of Guinea. The WHO alert marked the first official confirmation of what has become the worst outbreak of the disease, which has now claimed over 1000 lives.

For diseases that can spread rapidly like Ebola, early detection is crucial. There is still no cure or effective treatment against the Ebola virus, so isolating patients is the only way of avoiding an epidemic. Any methods or tools that could speed up the detection of outbreaks, even if only by a few days, could be a huge help in containing the disease.

That's exactly what HealthMap is trying to do. HealthMap is a website that tracks infectious diseases using specialized algorithms to make sense of information from news reports, social networks, and more official data from governments and organizations like the WHO. In the recent Ebola crisis, HealthMap spotted a news report describing a "mystery hemorrhagic fever" that had killed several people in Guinea. A purple dot immediately popped up on the site's disease-tracking map, prompting HealthMap staff to start looking into the report. That was on 14 March, or nine days before the WHO sounded its alarm.

Read More

BitTorrent Aims To Make Chat More Secure With Bleep

BitTorrent, the company best known for making peer-to-peer software that allows users to download the same file from multiple sources simultaneously, is turning its distributed approach to chat and voice-messaging services, launching a pre-alpha version of the chat service BitTorrent Bleep last week.

Read More

Google Teams With Asian Telecoms For "Faster" Undersea Cable

Google is looking to improve connections in the global Internet by adding some more bandwidth. A consortium made up of the tech giant and five of Asia’s largest telecommunications firms has announced a plan to construct a new fiber optic cable that will run along the floor of the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the United States, carrying up to 60 terabytes of data every second.

Read More
Advertisement

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement
Load More