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Alcohol makes autos more climate-friendly - tech - 30 May 2009 - New Scientist

Ford Motor Company revealed that a gasoline engine can be made 23 percent more efficient by injecting ethanol into the fuel mixture when the engine needs more power, such as on hills. This increases the compression ratio and suppresses premature ignition ("knocking") that results in loss of engine power. A 40 litre auxiliary tank would provide enough ethanol to last 30,000 km. They are currently testing the approach on different vehicles and reports that the new engine would add between $1100(US) and $1500(US) to the cost of a vehicle.
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BBC NEWS | England | Flying car reaches new milestone

Cool video of a live test of a flying car. It's essentially a dune buggy with a big fan and a parachute.

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Cadillac World Thorium Fuel Concept Car - Neatorama

The concept car, designed by Loren Kulesus, would be powered by thorium, giving a time between refueling of 100 years. If you look closely, you might notice that each "wheel" is really six wheels, each with its own induction motor. The designer expects you could go five years between tire changes, but then you'd be changing a LOT of tires.

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Remember the Aptera? Their makers claim they can get 300 miles per gallon with this vehicle that they intend to submit to the Automotive X-Prize. Follow the link to see a video of the car in action, as well as how it is constructed.

Found on Engadget.
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The sQuba is billed as the world's first car that is capable of driving both on land and under water. The vehicle is rated for depths of up to 10 metres. An onboard SCUBA system allows the driver to avoid the embarrassing situation of drowning at the wheel. Just the thing to use as a stocking stuffer... provided you have a really big stocking.
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Yours for only $15,000(US) on eBay, this is a concept car is being sold by Universal Pictures. Just don't expect to go anywhere fast; this one is just a shell on casters. But it could look cool sitting in your driveway. 
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"Bubble cars" were popular in Europe in the 1960's, and are now making a come-back.
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MIT is working on stackable rental cars as a way of providing energy-efficient in-city travel. The vehicles would picked up and deposited at train stations, airports, and bus depots. The key to the device is that each wheel contains a motor, suspension, breaking and steering rather than placing them in the chassis.
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Scientists University of Delaware are testing the feasibility of using electric automobiles as power storage when they are not in use. The car batteries would serve as extra storage for the power grid, potentially improving the overall efficiency of energy storage and distribution. For this approach to work, thousands of automobiles would need to be in active service with owners willing to let their batteries be used by local power companies while sitting idle. More than 100 cars are required to store 1 megawatt of power, but this approach could mean each car would save the power company more than $4,000 in storage costs for a $600 per car investment. If some of these saving were passed on to the consumer, it could make electric vehicles more cost-effective.
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Space Makes Bacteria More Dangerous - A germ that causes food poisoning and other illnesses can be three times more dangerous in space than on the ground, an experiment has shown. The researchers' experiment revealed that a genetic switch called "Hfq," which may control more than 160 genes in S. typhimurium, turns on in space and causes S. typhimurium to become three times more virulent than on the Earth's surface.
Hubble Telescope to Star in Warner Bros.' IMAX 3D Film - An IMAX 3D camera will be on-board the space shuttle when it launches its final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2008. The large-format film will use the footage taken by the STS-125 crew to share the "life story" of the orbiting observatory.
'Space Mail' Experiment Fails to Deliver Goods - In an experiment combining elements of a package delivery service, the sport of kite surfing and a REALLY big fishing reel, Russian and European engineers on Tuesday sought to pioneer a technology that could be used in the future to retrieve cargo from space. The experiment involving a 19-mile, super-strength tether hit a glitch, however, when the line failed to unwind fully, but Russian Mission Control said it hopes to salvage the test by recalculating the landing capsule's orbit. (see also: Dropping a line from space

Physics Org
Giant ocean-based pipes could curb global warming: scientists - Two of Britain's best known scientists proposed Wednesday to curb global warming by sowing the world's oceans with thousands, perhaps millions, of giant vertical pipes 100-to-200 meters deep. Free-floating or tethered pipes with one-way flaps some 10 metres in diameter, they conjecture, would increase the mixing of nutrient-rich waters below the surface with the warmer -- and relatively barren -- waters at the ocean's surface. (see also: Giant Ocean Tubes Proposed as Global Warming Fix)
Research team says extraterrestrial impact to blame for Ice Age extinctions - What caused the extinction of mammoths and the decline of Stone Age people about 13,000 years ago remains hotly debated. A team of international researchers, including two Northern Arizona University geologists, reports evidence that a comet or low-density object barreling toward Earth exploded in the upper atmosphere and triggered a devastating swath of destruction that wiped out most of the large animals, their habitat and humans of that period.

Birds may 'see' magnetic north - Previous work has suggested that the Earth's magnetic field might act on the sensitivity of a migratory bird's eye, so that sight might be involved in finding magnetic north. Now researchers have firmed that up with evidence that molecules in the eyes of migratory birds are connected to the part of the brain that guides their direction of flight.
Tiny RNAs, big problems - Researchers have implicated a tiny RNA molecule in the invasive spread of breast cancer — the factor responsible for most deaths from the disease. If the molecule can be confirmed as a key player in cancer migration, and targeted by drugs, the find may lead to a new preventative measure against the deadly spreading of tumours.

ABC News: Technology & Science
Do You Stare at Hotties? Blame Science - The fixation on a beautiful face happens so quickly that it's involuntary, meaning the poor bloke who's about to get clobbered by his wife for checking out another woman, or vice versa, had no control over that initial impulse to stare at someone else. But, that excuse expires very quickly, say, in about 100 milliseconds. After that, consciousness should take over. So, this research isn't going to get anybody off the hook.

Reuters: Science
Scientists get DNA from moldy old mammoth hair - Scientists who pulled DNA from the hair shafts of 13 Siberian woolly mammoths said on Thursday it may be possible to mine museums for genetic information about ancient and even extinct species. They were able to sequence a DNA sample taken from mammoth hair that had been "in somebody's drawer for 200 years," and one that was at least 50,000 years old, the international team of researchers said.

BBC News | Technology | World Edition
Town tries out Cybercar concept - A driverless car which is controlled by computer and uses lasers to avoid obstacles is being demonstrated in a Northamptonshire town. Cybercars are designed for short trips at low speed in an urban environment and need only a very light track to operate.
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Physics Org
Breakup event in the main asteroid belt likely caused dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago - A joint U.S.-Czech team from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Charles University in Prague suggests that the parent object of asteroid (298) Baptistina disrupted when it was hit by another large asteroid, creating numerous large fragments that would later create the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan Peninsula as well as the prominent Tycho crater found on the Moon.
Hot Ice to Lubricate Artificial Joints - A recent simulation has shown that thin layers of ice could persist on specially treated diamond coatings at temperatures well above body temperature, which could make ice-coated-diamond films an ideal coating for artificial heart valves, joint replacements, and wear-resistant prosthetics.
Discovery may help defang viruses - Researchers may be able to tinker with a single amino acid of an enzyme that helps viruses multiply to render them harmless, according to molecular biologists who say the discovery could pave the way for a fast and cheap method of making vaccines.
Pressure sensors in the eye - Sensors can monitor production processes, unmask tiny cracks in aircraft hulls, and determine the amount of laundry in a washing machine. In future, they will also be used in the human body and raise the alarm in the event of high pressure in the eye, bladder or brain.
Right breakfast bread keeps blood sugar in check all day - If you eat the right grains for breakfast, such as whole-grain barley or rye, the regulation of your blood sugar is facilitated after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was previously not known that certain whole-grain products have this effect all day. This is due to a combination of low GI (glycemic index) and certain type of indigestible carbohydrates that occur in certain grain products.
Texas Startup Says It Has Batteries Beat - An Austin-based startup called EEStor promised "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries," meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline. EEStor's secret ingredient is a material sandwiched between thousands of wafer-thin metal sheets, like a series of foil-and-paper gum wrappers stacked on top of each other. Charged particles stick to the metal sheets and move quickly across EEStor's proprietary material. The result is an ultracapacitor, a battery-like device that stores and releases energy quickly.

Schizophrenia genes 'favoured by evolution' - The genes that underpin schizophrenia may have been favoured by natural selection, according to a survey of human and primate genetic sequences. The discovery suggests that genes linked to the debilitating brain condition conferred some advantage that allowed them to persist in the population — although it is far from clear what this advantage might have been.

Technology Review Feed - Tech Review Top Stories
Is a Virus Behind the Honeybee Plague? - Scientists have identified a likely culprit underlying the massive and mysterious plague that has killed off tens of millions of bees in the United States over the past year. By sequencing the DNA of every microbe inhabiting the bees, researchers have pinpointed a novel virus strongly linked to infected hives. The findings could help beekeepers protect their colonies. The research also suggests an effective new method for identifying infectious pathogens, be they from bees or humans.
Animation for the Masses - Computer-generated effects are becoming increasingly more realistic on the big screen, but these animations generally take hours to render. Now, Adobe Systems, the company famous for tools like Photoshop and Acrobat Reader, is developing software that could bring the power of a Hollywood animation studio to the average computer and let users render high-quality graphics in real time. Such software could be useful for displaying ever-more-realistic computer games on PCs and for allowing the average computer user to design complex and lifelike animations.
The Invisible Hearing Aid - Hearing aids help millions of people, but many resist them because they think wearing one carries a social stigma. Hearing aids also have serious lifestyle limitations: the hearing impaired can't wear them while showering or swimming, and most models are hard to wear while sleeping. Now, a new kind of hearing aid that aims to overcome these problems is in clinical trials. It's invisible and waterproof because all of its circuitry--including its battery and microphone--is in the user's head.
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Source: Gizmag
India's largest car manufacturer has signed a deal to create a production version of the MiniC.A.T. air-powered (sort of) car. The vehicle is small, light, cheap to build and cheap to run, and the engine uses compressed to drive each of the cylinders. A reserve tank is used to store the compressed air to drive the engine, giving you an effective range of between 200 and 300km. The tank is either refilled in about 3 minutes at a service station equipped with a high-pressure air pump, or the tank can be refilled in less than 4 hours by plugging it into an outlet. The top speed is only 68-km/hr so it is only useful for in-city driving. You can find out more about it at http://www.theaircar.com/ which is being marketed as a pollution-free alternative to standard automobiles.

Source: PC World
A German company is offering a unique solution to the fire risk of hot server rooms: reduced oxygen atmosphere. Normally the air we breath at near sea level contains approximately 21 percent oxygen, but wood fires cannot burn when the oxygen content falls below 17%, and plastic cease burning at 16%. Meanwhile, humans can function in as little as 15% oxygen so one trick that is being employed is to replace enough oxygen with nitrogen to keep the (sealed) server room at at around 15% oxygen. One way to do this is to use a fuel cell to remove excess oxygen from the air and generate electricity as a side benefit.

Source: SlashDot
Some non-profit and government groups are looking for a new type of donation: unused patents. The idea is that patents that have been sitting idle in a company's holdings can be given to entrepreneurs who attempt to create new businesses out of them. Apparently, 90 to 95% of all US patents are currently sitting idle. In some cases, the donating company receives a share of any profits that the new company earns, while in others they receive grants and other incentives that immediately benefit the donating company.

Source: Information Week
A case is currently in the courts between a Colorado resident and the web crawler Archie to determine if the webcrawler's inclusion of her public data in its search constituted a breach of contract, even through the automated system is incapable of comprehending the legal notice she placed on her website. If the case goes in her favour, search engines like Google will need to obtain permission before obtaining any information from a site in which a person places a contract agreement notification. The key question in the case is whether posting the notice constituted a "meaningful opportunity to review the terms" of the agreement.

Source: ABC Science News
Australian researches have developed a dress made from fermented wine. Normally when wine turns to vinegar, a rubbery layer of cellulose is produced. The scientists removed the material as it formed and layered it over an inflated human doll. When complete, the doll is deflated and the dress is ready for use. One catch: they have to be kept wet, otherwise they tear like tissue paper. They hope to find a way to polymerize the short chains produced in the vat to long chains that will withstand daily wear.
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Source: Wired
The US Air Force has developed a camera that can follow bullets in flight (follow the link to a video of a speeding bullet caught in flight). The technology can be adapted to tracking anything slower than a speeding bullet so may find its way into a wide range of applications. The trick is to learn from what the human eye does: it focuses on what's important and ignores the rest, what they are referring to as a "virtual fovea". This means that things like a bullet that are moving in the scene get processed rapidly and the rest is discarded or processed as time permits. Tracking uses a standard quick-fix technique of keeping some aspect of the environment, such as the brightest or closest object, in the centre of the image by moving the camera between frames. The idea is old, but the results are new.

Source: Defense Tech
You might recall from an earlier post that the military was planning to build a giant spy blimp. That idea was canned in the most recent budget review.

Source: jkOnTheRun
This is a cool application of range imaging using single-picture photogrammetry. A person places a 7.5x7.5 inch white panel somewhere in a scene and, using the relative size of the panel's black border, the camera calculates the dimensions of lines in the image. Great for measuring, say, a house (such as in the picture), or any other planar structure.

Source: IOL: New Ideas
here's an interesting idea. Someone has taken out a patent on a cell phone in which the numbers are placed ABOVE the screen. Apparently this makes typing text messages using the thumb easier because the buttons are at the natural position for the thumb. It will be interesting to see where this idea goes.

Source: Gizmag
We all know about the computerized systems that mechanics regularly use to run diagnostics on our cars, and I've run into problems with being unable to decrypt diagnostics information (in my case, Saturn's proprietary format). Enter the Smart Automotive Management System (SAMS) that reads your car's diagnostics information and interprets it for those who are not professional mechanics. This $15(US) gadget can read the logged data of any car made after 1996.

January 2010

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