Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mercedez-Benz has managed to significantly reduce the weight of its upcoming SL (sporty, lightweight) Roadster, thanks in large part to a new 89 percent aluminum bodyshell that, at 254 kg (559.9 lb), is 110 kg (242.5 lb) lighter than a comparable bodyshell. The new bodyshell structure also enables a new "FrontBass" system, which will make its world premiere in the SL series, that Mercedes claims delivers "concert hall" sound with the roof up or down. Another feature making its debut is the MAGIC VISION CONTROL wiper/washer system that cleans the windscreen without the splash of road-obscuring water seen in traditional systems.
The new aluminum bodyshell sees the weight of the new SL 500 reduced by 125 kg (275.5 lb) and the new SL 350 by 140 kg (308.6 lb) compared to their predecessors. Under a completely aluminum outer skin, non-aluminum parts of the new bodyshell include even lighter magnesium used in part for the rear panel while the A-pillars and roof frame are made from steel sheet metal incorporating high-strength steel tubing. Mercedes says the weight reductions come in spite of increased comfort, performance and safety.
MAGIC VISION CONTROL
The new SL will also feature the new MAGIC VISION CONTROL wiper/washer system that relies on a system of ducts to supply washing water to the windscreen just in front of the wiper blade lip, according to the direction the wiper is moving. This eliminates the familiar splash of water that can temporarily obscure the driver's vision when cleaning the windscreen.
The system also features three partly autonomous wash programs designed for summer, winter and cabriolet driving. The system automatically adapts the water quantity based on the surrounding conditions, including ambient temperature, speed, and the current driving situation.
The summer program uses small quantities of water which are sufficient to remove the light powdering of dust generally experienced in the warmer months, while the winter program increases the amount of water to cope with dirt mixed with de-icing salt. Meanwhile, the Cabriolet program reduces the overall amount of water used and reserves the majority of the water for the downward stroke of the wiper arm to keep the occupants and interior of the SL Roadster dry when driving with the top down
For the first time, Mercedes is also offering the option of fully heated wiper blades to prevent the formation of snow on the blades. The system also consists of a washer fluid container that is heated from the residual heat from the coolant and electric heating of the entire hose system. At temperatures below minus 20°C (minus 4°F) the system operates at full power, while at temperatures between minus 20°C and 5°C (41°F) it operates in an energy-saving mode.
FrontBass system
The new SL series will also see the world premiere of Mercedes' new "FrontBass" system, which is designed to deliver crystal-clear sound even with the top down. Instead of placing the bass loudspeakers in the doors as is usually the case, the FrontBass system sees them fitted directly in two openings in the firewall in the footwell in front of the driver and front passenger seats. Mercedes claims that the firewall, the vehicle floor and the underside of the dashboard form a sort of funnel that focuses and concentrates the sound to produce sound quality that has been unobtainable in a roadster until now.Mercedes is expected to unveil the new SL at the 2012 NAIAS in Detroit in January, where we'll likely learn more about the vehicle, including the powertrains on offer when the car is released next year.
It seems like such a simple concept, something Q might whip up for 007 in the next Bond flick: hook a recumbent electric motorcycle up to a paraglider, drive it off a cliff and see what happens. That's the thinking behind this offering from Serbian designer Zvezdan Nedeljkovic, and while the idea of attaching vehicles to parasailsis far from new, there's something about Nedeljkovic's concept design that captures the imagination.
Of course concepts tend to gloss over a host of real-world problems that need to be solved, aerodynamics, safety and durability to name just a few, but good ideas have a way of overcoming such obstacles. A good measure of enthusiasm doesn't hurt, either.
"This design is a mix of my three biggest passions- flying, motorcycling and design! I hope you like it," says Nedeljkovic. Indeed, apart from the fact that it doesn't exist, what's not to like? We'll be watching the road (and sky) in the hope that this one makes it off the drawing board.


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It's the first all-new Ducati for a decade, and given that the last one has won six of the eight World Superbike titles since it's release (and is certain to make it seven of nine this year), it has a lot to live up to.
Ducati has always been a forward thinking company. It has used the internet to release special models and has allowed customers to order their bikes over the net. Now it has extensively used 3D CAD and computer simulation to develop the new 999. Not just that, but computers have been used in developing all components and systems on the new bike, for rapid prototyping and rapid production tooling development. The bike appears to be a triumph of rationalisation and has approximately 30% fewer individual parts compared to its predecessor and requires less routine maintenance time. The priority of the design of the 999 Testastretta privileged function over form. The company's stated goal was to "improve rider ergonomics, make maintenance easier, reduce machine complexity, and of course, offer performance second to none." The aerodynamics, 
mechanical and electronic components, chassis and running gear were developed first and styling followed. Interestingly, the new bike combines a lower frontal area and more aerodynamic shape with what is apparently a more comfortable and fully adjustable riding position - the footrests, controls and levers and even the position of the seat/tank unit are all adjustable.
Just 40 years ago, Ducati was known for its outdated desmodromic singles and little else. On April 23, 1972, Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari debuted Ducati's new desmodromic 750 v-twin with a 1-2 victory at the Imola 200 Mile Race.
They beat Giacomo Agostini's MV Agusta, plus the best that Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, BSA, Laverda and Moto Guzzi could offer.
The famous victory set Ducati on a course that saw its big desmo V-twins dominating superbike racing for four decades. The official factory reserve bike from that day is coming up for auction, with bidding expected to finish beyond EUR150,000.
This is a significant example of the first of a new breed of Ducati and its desmodromic valve system.
Horsepower has a direct relationship with the revolutions per minute that an engine can turn. There are many factors which conspire to limit the rpm an engine can reliably achieve, but valve gear has had the greatest influence over the last century.
The inlet and exhaust valves in an internal combustion engine are usually opened mechanically, and closed with a spring. Springs worked well at low and medium rpm, but at high revolutions, the spring has trouble pushing the valve down fast enough.
Hence the desmodromic system, which mechanically closes the valve, was tried by many companies with varying degrees of success in numerous racing cars from the 1920s onwards.
The most famous vehicle to have ever used this system, which both opens and closes the inlet and exhaust valves mechanically, was the Mercedes Benz Silver Arrow which won two world Formula One championships and countless other races in the hands of the likes of Fangio and Stirling Moss.
As with Formula One racing these days, top flight car racing was a testbed of some remarkable future technologies and the V8 W196 which debuted in 1954 featured desmodromic valve gear and fuel injection.
The car's 100 mph average at the Mille Miglia (held on public roads in Italy in ) is still one of motorsport's favorite bedtime stories.
Enzo Ferrari, whose cars were being beaten by the Silver Arrows, is reported to have discussed the advantages of demodromic valve gear at length with Ducati's designer Fabio Taglioni during the mid-fifties, and it's hence not surprising that Taglioni decided to give the system a try in Ducati's 125 single cylinder racing engines.
The engines were fast, and they could rev several thousand rpm faster than their counterparts but they were brittle. In the late fifties Ducati desmodromic singles won four Grands Prix - three in 1957 when the bike could easily have won the 125 title, and once in 1958, in the hands of an up-and-coming British rider named Mike Hailwood.
In the subsequent few years the multi-cylinder 125cc race machinery of MV Agusta and Honda rendered the 125cc single uncompetitive of paved race tracks and the project was shelved. Ducati's Fabio Taglioni learned a lot about metallurgy and even more about the reliability and perfromance of the desmodromic system though the continued production of Ducati's road bikes.
He also knew for certain by then that the mechanical valve system enabled the desmo motor to rev far harder than engines with conventional valve trains, which were limited in their ability to rev by valve bounce (the springs could not close the valves fast enough).
There's a downloadable PDF booklet (9.3 MB) on the Ducati website which plots the history of Doctor Taglioni and the evolution of the Ducati desmodromic valve system and its racing bikes and it's well worth a read - on the cover of the book is Taglioni with Smart and Spaggiari. This was Taglioni's finest moment, and despite more than 50 world titles, probably Ducati's finest as well.
The bike to be auctioned is identical in ever way to the bikes which went one-two that day, and had there been reliability issues with any of the works machines, this bike would have been substituted.
It is being auctioned as part of the disbursement of the Saltarelli Ducati Collection which represents one of the largest private collections of Ducati motorcycles ever to be offered at auction.
Spanning the marque's full history from road to racing machines, the 100-bike collection was carefully selected over the past 30 years by lifelong enthusiast Carlo Saltarelli, an ex-Ducati factory test rider, racer and owner of a Ducati dealership.
The catalogue describes the bike as an "immensely-desirable works 1972 Ducati 750SS 200 Miles Imola Racer" - it is actually also the first Ducati v-twin as we know it.
There had been a 500cc v-twin race bike used the previous year, but this was one of the original eight Ducati 750s prepared for the first race - it produces 80 bhp (60 kW) at 8,500 rpm. This bike would undoubtedly have felt the hands of Taglioni himself. Which makes the estimated price of EUR150,000 to EUR200,000 seem extraordinarily cheap. It will be offered without a reserve price on May 11 next year by RM auctions.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The marketplace is an extraordinary thing. Watchmakers could quite conceivably go the same way as blacksmiths with the advent of the mobile phone. With two thirds of the world's population carrying a mobile phone (up from zero two decades ago) and penetration quickly heading for ubiquity, the only genuinely functional aspect of the wristwatch - telling the time - has effectively already been replaced.
Yet the personal chronometer is still alive and well and in ruddy good health.
After the global financial crisis of 2009, no-one would have been surprised if the world world watch market had continued its downward trend into the same death spiral that has seen dozens of other more recent and technologically adept marketplaces succumb to the advances of digital technology.
Instead, it has rebounded magnificently and is expected to reach US$46.65 billion this year. That means the value of all the watches sold in the world this year is roughly three times greater than the value of all the tablet computers (i.e. Apple iPads, Samsung Galaxy Tab, et al.) sold and just short of the amount of money the Business Software Alliance claims is lost through software piracy globally each year.
Not only is the watch far from dead, it still commands a massive global marketplace and the largest share by total dollar value of the watch market is the luxury watch segment.
The watch is now almost exclusively a fashion accessory, a not-always-subtle pointer to one's financial wellbeing that is ideal for the nouveau riche to display their new found wealth. Hence the growing wealth of the BRIC countries is driving the luxury watch market to new levels.
Grand Prix de l'Horlogerie de Genève
Two days ago, the luxury watch industry held its annual equivalent to the Oscars - the Grand Prix de l'Horlogerie de Genève (Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix) - which recognizes the most outstanding watches from the previous year in a dozen categories.
With this premier event on the international watchmaking calendar now in its eleventh year, even being recognized in the preselection prior to the nomination of the final three in each category is an incredible honor in this world of mechanical mastery. In the months preceding the awards ceremony, the watches nominated by the jury were exhibited in Zurich, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Geneva.
Though a dozen winners were awarded by the jury on Saturday night, there is one very special award for the best timepiece of the year - the "Aiguille d'Or". This year, the award went to the DB28 model by De Bethune.
All the prize-winning and nominated watches will now go on show at the Salon International de l'Horlogerie de Prestige Belles Montres, which will be held at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris from November 24 to 27.
This year's Laureates of the Grand Prix de l'Horlogerie de Genève are:
"Aiguille d'Or" Grand Prix: De Bethune DB28
Most watch connoisseurs would recognize the origins of the DB28 in an instant as some of De Bethune's classic designs and signature features are clearly evident - the spherical moon, blued steel, silicon/platinum balance wheel, triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system and the company's "floating lugs" which adjust to the size of the wearer's wrist and its movements.
The DB28 is exceptionally light, with its case made entirely of titanium. The moon's phases are displayed by means of a platinum and blued steel sphere revolving on its axis and are accurate to one day every 122 years.
The DB28 is powered by Calibre DB 2009 mechanical hand‐wound movement which is equipped with an ultralight 0.18 gram silicon/titanium tourbillon. This tourbillon is the lightest on the market (classic counterparts often weigh four times as much) and comprises 50 parts, of which the lightest weighs less than 0.0001 grams and the "heaviest" 0.0276 grams!
De Bethune thus undertook to rethink the tourbillon around this new wristwatch dynamic. The laws of physics are implacable: in order to compensate for the disorganised violence of wrist movements, the carriage must be as light as possible with as high a frequency as possible and a maximum rotation speed for a minimum mass and inertia.
Thanks to new technologies, De Bethune has therefore created a 0.18 g silicon-titanium tourbillon in a carriage spinning once every thirty seconds at its axis, and a balance oscillating at a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour.
Best Ladies' Watch Prize: Boucheron Crazy Jungle Hathi
The Indian influence of Boucheron dates back more than a century, from when Louis Boucheron first visited in 1909. In 1928, the Maharajah of Patiala commissioned Boucheron to create a jewellery collection and the style is still evident to this day.
The winning womens watch in this year's Grand Prix de l'Horlogerie de Genève, the US$80,000 Boucheron Crazy Jungle Hathi, reflects the Indian influence, with the name a derivative of the Hindi word for elephant and the dial featuring a Murano aventurine glass mosaic set with 40 diamonds, plus sapphires, tsavorites, amethysts and onyx.
The subject is quite obviously an elephant, the casing and bezel are of white gold with an automatic Manufacture GP4000 caliber, and the blanket on the elephant's back contains Boucheron's "Crazy Seconds" module, which is a spinning array of lights.
Best Men's Watch Prize: Hermès Arceau Le Temps Suspendu
Hermès' Arceau Le Temps suspendu is a new take on the 33-year-old Arceau design and an interesting concept, in that the owner can "suspend time" by pressing on the pusher, at which point the sweep of the seconds, minutes and hours are suspended and the date indicator disappears.
At another press of the pusher, the watch resumes at the exact time, down to the second, having continued to monitor time in the background. The remarkable thing about this functionality is not so much the usefulness, but the fact the whole illusion is achieved mechanically with an ingenious system of cams, pinions and segments.
The capability is made possible by an additional module that enables the watch to alternate automatically between real and suspended time, coordinated by two synchronized column wheels, one for the hours, the other for the minutes and date. Thanks to its 360 degree hour and minute retrograde mechanism, the time stops and moves into the "Time Suspended" zone at 12 o'clock, while the date hand disappears completely.
Best Design Watch Prize: Urwerk UR-110
Twin turbines, "Oil Change" indicator ... URWERK's description of its latest creation sounds like it should be driven, not worn on the wrist. The UR-110 continues the Swiss timepiece innovator's trend of producing off-beat displays - the time is shown by three rotating "torpedoes" mounted on planetary gears that pass down a vertical line, marked 0 to 60 minutes, on the side of the face.
Sound complicated? It's actually quite a simple to read layout and because the time can be read by looking at only the right side, you can discretely sneak a peak at your titanium masterpiece without upsetting those tiresome dinner guests.
Best Jewellery and Artistic Crafts Watch Prize: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Polar Landscape
The Lady Arpels Polar Landscape Seal decor timepiece depicts seals drying themselves in the sun. Each watch is a work of numerous craftsmen, from machinists to engravers to enamelers to stone cutters. The water is translucent enamel, the skies are turquoise enamel, the waves and clouds are mother-of-pearl, the seals are made of diamonds and the dial is enameled, engraved gold. Each watch costs US$106,300
Best Complicated Watch Prize: Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Equation of Time
At CHF 220,000.00 (US$240,000), you might rightfully ask what makes this watch so special, even before it had taken the prize for the most complicated watch of the year.
The reason this watch is SO complex is that the 24 hour day is a convenient average because the Earth's elliptical orbit and the inclination of its axis actually vary the length of the day by up to a quarter hour depending on the day of the year. This watch calculates all that and tells you how many minutes you should add or subtract from the time to get the real time. This will probably never be of any practical usage, and almost certainly not anywhere you'll actually be wearing a quarter of a million dollars on your wrist, but heh, you will feel good knowing that the mechanical computer on your wrist is as fine as any going around, and that only 74 other people on the planet will have one.
Best Sports Watch Prize: TAG Heuer Mikrotimer Flying 1000 Chronograph
In a world where the capabilities of a watch in terms of genuine usefulness beyond telling the time and are really only of conversational value, the TAG Heuer Mikrotimer Flying 1000 Chronograph would have been a certainty with the bookmakers for the Best Sports Watch Award.
The Mikrotimer Flying 1000 Chronograph's claim to fame is that it is the first and only mechanical chronograph to measure and display time to one thousandth of a second. Its oscillating system vibrates at 3,600,000 beats per hour, 125 times faster then most existing chronographs.
Remarkably, it has taken almost a full century for the capture of fractions of a second to progress an order of magnitude.
In 1916, Charles-Auguste Heuer launched the Mikrograph Genesis stopwatch, giving mankind the ability to measure 100ths of seconds for the first time, and not surprisingly, revolutionizing sports timekeeping into the bargain. Apart from taking a major historical milestone, the watch became the official stopwatch for the Olympic Games.
Hence the TAG Heuer Mikrotimer Flying 1000 was a shoe-in for the top sports watch, having historical significance and precedent on its side. The fact that it's now more accurate than its owners are capable of using it is of little consequence.
"Petite Aiguille" Prize (for models under CHF 5'000): Montblanc, Star Worldtime GMT Automatic
The winner of the Petit Aiguille Award, and quite possibly the most relevant watch of all the winners in that it was judged the best watch under CHF 5000, is the Montblanc Star Worldtime GMT Automatic.
Apart from being more affordable than most of the watches in this array of watchmaking mastery, it's capabilities are also quite possibly the most relevant to a world quickly overcoming the tyranny of distance - put simply, the Montblanc Star Worldtime GMT Automatic puts two different time zones on its dial and at the same time, indicates the time in all time zones.
It does so by purely mechanical means.
lt is hence a cosmopolitan instrument primarily for businesspeople or bankers who travel the world or who wish to keep a watchful eye on the world's stock exchanges, or when colleagues overseas might be available for a quick chat.
As can be expected from a winning watch in any category, user-friendliness is one of the key attributes of the watch. When the crown is in its neutral (unscrewed) position, turning it clockwise manually winds the automatic movement and turning it counter-clockwise resets the outer ring which indicates the world's 24 time zones.
When the crown has been withdrawn to its first extracted position, turning it clockwise resets the date and turning it counter-clockwise triggers the GMT hand (with the red tip) to advance in hourly increments.
Finally, when the crown has been further withdrawn to its second extracted position, turning it clockwise adjusts the 12-hour and the minute-hand in the usual manner.
The 12-hour hand is permanently coupled to the movement and shows the time in the wearer's present location. The smaller GMT hand culminating in a red tip is accompanied by a contrastingly colored 24 hour-scale indicating whether people are momentarily at work or asleep in the distant time zone. The outer ring simultaneously indicates the corresponding time on all the global time zones when correctly adjusted with the current time and location of the GMT hand.
At CHF 4,100 (US$4470), it's the bargain of the bunch in terms of functionality and affordability.
Special Jury Prize: Patek Philippe Museum
The Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva was awarded a special Jury Prize for good reason. Patek Philippe was founded in 1839 and during its 172 year history, has assembled a collection of watches that have left their mark on the history of horology, plus an astonishing assortment of musical automata and portrait miniatures from the 16th through to the 19th century. There's also a library dedicated entirely to horology and related subjects plus examples of nearly all of the most remarkable pocket watches and wristwatches made by the company.
Audiovisual multilingual presentations of selected masterpieces animate the exhibit and if you are ever in Geneva, the Patek Philippe museum is a time-tunnel to the beginnings of horology.
Public Prize: Audemars Piguet, Millenary 4101
Each year, the public is asked to vote on the 70 watches pre-selected by the jury, with one vote per person allowed to visitors to the Geneva exhibition and internet users who visited the official Grand Prix de l'Horlogerie de Genève web site or World Tempus web site. This year Audemars Piguet's Millenary 4101 took the public prize.
The nominated watches
If you're looking for a special gift for Christmas for a (very) loved one, many of the watches above are very exclusive and very, very expensive and may not be available at relatively short notice, if at all. The list of nominated watches though, should see you being able to acquire something that is to your (their) taste.
We've already seen rearview mirrors from the likes of Ford, Toyota and Mazda that display the vision from rear-mounted cameras, along with a GPS-enabled rearview mirror that includes a 4-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth. Now Hong Kong-based gadget wholesalers Chinavasion has started selling a kit that replaces any standard rearview mirror with a GPS and Bluetooth 2.1 enabled unit featuring a 4.3-inch touchscreen for multimedia playback and even playing touchscreen games (seriously), while DVR capabilities let you record what goes on inside and outside the car.
The mirror is designed to fit over a standard factory mirror and requires no installation or setup. It comes with both a charger that plugs into a car's DC connector and a power cable for a more permanent connection to the car's battery. The GPS is powered by a SiRF Atlas VI chip and a Centrality Atlas 4 Dual-Core 500 MHz processor and is compatible with most brands of GPS software, including TomTom, iGO, Route66. However, hardware specific software - Garmin for example - might run into problems.
The unit's microphone and speakers allow users to make and receive hands-free calls and listen to music via a Bluetooth connected mobile phone, while the included waterproof wireless rearview camera helps negotiate parking. There's also a camera embedded in the mirror itself that can record video (AVI, MOV, ASF, MP4, WMV) at up to 640 x 480 resolution at 30 fps onto SD or Micro SD cards of up to 32 GB capacity. The DVR functionality lets users record interior and exterior sound and vision that could come in handy in the case of an accident.
Multimedia playback capabilities provide video entertainment via the 480 x 272 pixel 4.3-inch touchscreen, with touchscreen games also included - although it's hard to see how it would be comfortable playing a game with an outstretched arm reaching up to the mirror. The unit also supports MP4, AVI, MPG, WMV and 3GP video, MP3, WMA and WAV audio, BMP, JPG, PNG and GIF images, as well as TXT documents for a little light reading on the road.
While factory-installed car multimedia systems will generally only function when the car is stationary, since the Chinavasion kit isn't hardwired into the vehicle it seems drivers will have to exercise their own common sense when deciding when it's appropriate to enjoy some video entertainment.
Aimed at eBay sellers, the Complete Car Bluetooth Rearview Mirror Kit comes with a 4 GB Micro SD card and 4 GB SD card and sells from Chinavasion for around US$200 for a single unit with discounts for bulk purchases.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

NASA is looking to turn another staple of science fiction to practical use by studying ways to make "tractor beams" a reality. While none of the technologies under the microscope will be able to transport anything the size of a modified YT-1300 Corellian freighter - at least in the short term - the researchers will examine if it is possible to trap and move planetary or atmospheric particles using laser light so they can be delivered to a robotic rover or orbiting spacecraft for analysis.
NASA says current extraterrestrial sample collection techniques, such as theaerogel used by the Stardust space probe to gather samples as it flew through thecoma of comet Wild 2 or the drilling and scooping of samples by NASA's next Mars rover, have proven successful but are limited by high costs and limited range and sample rate.
"An optical-trapping system, on the other hand, could grab desired molecules from the upper atmosphere on an orbiting spacecraft or trap them from the ground or lower atmosphere from a lander," says Principal Investigator Paul Stysley. "In other words, they could continuously and remotely capture particles over a longer period of time, which would enhance science goals and reduce mission risk."
Approaches being studied
The first approach the team will study is dubbed the optical vortex or "optical tweezers" method. This involves the use of two counter-propagating beams of light that create a ring-like geometry that confines particles to the dark core of the overlapping beams. By heating the air around the trapped particle by alternately strengthening or weakening the intensity of one of the light beams, the particle can be made to move along the ring's center. Although this technique has beendemonstrated in the laboratory, it requires the presence of an atmosphere to work.
Unlike the optical vortex method, the second technique under examination relies solely on electromagnetic effects, giving it the advantage of being able to operate in a space vacuum. Testing has shown that using optical solenoid beams, whose intensity peaks spiral around the axis of propagation, it is possible to exert a force that traps and drives particles in the opposite direction of the source of the light beam. The researchers say this method would be ideal for studying the composition of materials on an airless planetary moon, for example.
The third and final approach being considered exists only on paper and has never been demonstrated in a laboratory. It involves the use of a Bessel beam - which does not diffract or spread out as it propagates, unlike normal laser beams that spread out after being focused down to a small point. When seen straight on, Bessel beams appear with rings of light surrounding a central dot, much like ripples surrounding a pebble dropped in a pond. Although creating a true Bessel beam would require an infinite amount of energy, reasonably good approximations can be made that exhibit little or no diffraction over a limited distance. Theoretically, a Bessel beam could induce electric and magnetic fields in the path of an object and the spray of light scattered forward by these fields could pull the object backward, against the movement of the beam itself.
The team consisting of Stysley, Barry Coyle and Demetrios Poulios from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will study the state of the technology to determine which of these three techniques would be best suited to sample collection after being awarded US$100,000 in Phase-1 funding from the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT). The funding is through the OCT's recently re-established NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program that is designed to spur the development of "revolutionary" space technologies. 

"We want to make sure we thoroughly understand these methods. We have hope that one of these will work for our purposes," said Coyle. "Once we select a technique, we will be in position to then formulate a possible system" and compete for additional NIAC funding to advance the technology to the next level of development.
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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Whatever you call it - lavatory, privy, latrine, crapper, loo or dunny - most of us take the humble toilet for granted. But in many parts of the world the absence of sanitary waste disposal is not just inconvenient, it can kill you. When effluent is not properly disposed of it can enter waterways and cause diseases such as hepatitis, dysentery, trachoma, typhoid and cholera. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) up to 5 million people suffer from cholera every year.
Flushable toilets, including composting toilets, are expensive, require complex sewage infrastructure and massive amounts of water. This is not an option for many developing regions.
Enter Marc Deshusses, a Duke University environmental engineer who has envisioned an innovative yet simple waste disposal system designed specifically for Third World countries that can be constructed from everyday items.
According to Deshusses, for less than $100 and a day's work a single family in an undeveloped country can construct a solid waste disposal system that processes the waste, requires no electricity or additional energy and destroys harmful pathogens.
In the system Deshusses is developing, the waste is directed to a chamber, most likely constructed of PVC pipe. Once sealed in the chamber, an oxygen-free, or anaerobic, environment is created and bacteria digest the waste. As a byproduct of this digestion, methane gas is produced. Instead of the methane escaping into the environment, the new approach captures and burns it, creating enough heat to kill the bacteria and viruses most commonly found in effluence.
Deshusses suggests that additional organic materials, such as leftover food scraps or animal waste, might also need to be added to boost the amount of organic matter and therefore increase the methane produced.
"The system works much like septic tanks used in many rural communities," Deshusses said. "However, in septic tanks, the methane produced is released into the environment, which a lost opportunity as well as an environmental liability. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide."
"People in countries that lack proper sanitation for their sewage desperately need a disposal method that is cheap, simple to implement and maintain, and reliable," Deshusses said. "We believe the proposed system could represent a major advance in environmental and health protection for developing countries."
The Duke University program has active projects throughout the Third World as part of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an organization that aims to help people lead healthy and productive lives, believes in Deshusses' idea and has backed the project with a US$100,000 grant.
Deshusses says he and a team of Duke researchers will use the grant to perfect and test the system in the laboratory before producing a prototype to field-test in 18 months time. If successful, Deshusses hopes to test the device in up to five additional countries to be identified with the assistance of the Gates Foundation. 
The Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations program awarded 110 such grants on November 7, 2011. One of their focus projects is to reinvent the toilet. As the following Gates Foundation video cheerfully remarks, "Reinventing the toilet - let's get our sh*t together and do it". Yes lets!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Microsoft built a six-story Windows Phone in New York's Herald Square to launch a batch of new HTC and Samsung phones running on the Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) operating system. The Big Windows Phone structure featured two stage areas in between the huge screens - one to demonstrate the Music+ Video Hub with a live performance from electro hip hop group Far East Movement and the other to represent the Xbox LIVE gaming experience with a game of Plants vs Zombies using real people as the characters. As for the phones themselves - HTC's Radar 4G is available now on T-Mobile, while HTC's TITAN and Samsung's Focus S and Focus Flash head for AT&T. 
Microsoft says that its new Windows Phone operating system is all about connecting people and as if to prove the point, the Big Windows Phone - about 150 times bigger than the real thing - kick started the launch day by playing host to a cutesy wedding proposal from New Yorker Yuriy Rud to his suitably stunned girlfriend (she accepted, by the way). In addition to live music and an epic battle between the undead and some overly protective flowers, the huge screens in front of the stage areas in the super-sized smartphone also slid back to reveal a live game of Fruit Ninja, complete with real fruit and a sword-wielding martial artist.
Of course, the event was staged to showcase the new Mango phones - all of which feature front- and rear-facing cameras, powerful processors, bright, colorful screens with a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, and are capable of 4G speeds.
Leading the charge is Samsung's 8.55 mm thin Focus S, which has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display boasting a 16 million color palette, a 1.4GHz processor and an 8 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash and 4x zoom on its rear, and a 1.3 megapixel at the front. The smartphone is said to be good for up to 250 hours of battery life on stand-by and 6.5 hours of continuous talk time, and is available on the AT&T network for US$199.99.
Also on AT&T, the Samsung Focus Flash is available for just US$49.99 and features a 3.7-inch Super AMOLED screen, a 1.4GHz processor, a 5 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash and 4x zoom, and is capable of 720p video capture and playback.
Taking a quick diversion to T-Mobile, HTC's Radar 4G has been constructed from a single piece of polished aluminum, and features a 3.8-inch screen, a 1GHz Qualcomm processor, a rear-facing 5 megapixel camera with LED flash and low-light-friendly BSI sensor and a VGA-quality camera at the front. This one is priced at US$99.99 (after a US$50 mail in rebate).
HTC's impressive 9.9 mm thin TITAN smartphone will be added to AT&T's portfolio shortly. It has a 4.7-inch screen, a 1.5GHz processor, is capable of recording 720p video, has an 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash and F2.2 lens, and also features a BSI sensor. There's also a 1.3 megapixel camera at the front and SRS Audio enhancement. 
Highlights of Windows Phone 7.5 include Internet Explorer Mobile with a new Local Scout function that offers restaurant, shopping and event recommendations, the grouping of communication portals together in one place - such as email, SMS, social media, chats, and Windows Live instant messages - and a catalog of over 35,000 apps and games from Windows Phone Marketplace, including the new Spotify on-demand music service app.
Even for diehard sports fanatics, it can sometimes be quite difficult to tell which player is which, when watching a field, court or rink full of team athletes. While this can be merely frustrating for fans, it can have larger ramifications for referees or coaches, whose jobs depend on being able to know which players are doing what, at what time. Scientists from Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have devised what could be a solution to that problem - it's a system that continuously tracks each player, superimposing their number and jersey color over top of their image, on a computer screen. 
Hardware for the system consists of a computer and eight regular video cameras - two are set up on each side of the field, two look down onto the field from overhead, and two zoom in on players.
Software running on the computer uses three algorithms, to detect, track and identify the players.
The first algorithm works by dividing the field into a grid of squares measuring 25 square centimeters (3.9 sq.in.) each, then removing the neutral background (such as grass, hardwood, etc.) from each one. Whatever is left over is presumably a player, thus allowing the system to detect where the players are.
The second algorithm connects the series of results obtained by the first one, to establish trajectories for each player. This is how the system is able to track their movements.
In order to establish who's who, the third algorithm identifies the uniform color of each player, and reads the number they're wearing. A rectangle in that team color and bearing that number is then superimposed over that player, and will follow them onscreen wherever they go. Even after pileups or other kerfuffles, the system can quickly re-establish which player is which.
Other player-tracking systems do already exist, but unlike this one, they require each player to wear extra devices such as RFID chips. 
The EPFL system is currently being tried out on basketball games, although its creators state that it should work equally well with other sports. In a move that some people would definitely describe as Orwellian, it could conceivably also be used to track pedestrians on the street, cars on the road, or clients in businesses. The European SUBITO project is currently developing technology that does much the same thing.
If you really want to minimize the amount of toxins that you put into the environment, use rechargeable batteries. Disposable and rechargeable batteries can contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, and with an estimated 3 billion batteries a year being discarded in the U.S. alone, the sometimes small amounts in each battery can really add up. Using rechargeables greatly reduces the number of batteries entering landfills, but many people don't bother buying them, or the chargers that they require. That's where earthCell batteries come in. They can be used like disposables, except that users send them away for for recharging or recycling when they're dead.
earthCells are low self-discharge nickel metal hydride (LSD NiMH) batteries, which among other things are claimed to have a much longer shelf life than regular NiMH batteries, and longer run times than alkalines. When a customer's earthCells do expire, they put them in a prepaid mailer. Once that mailer is full, the customer sends it off to the company.
Staff at earthCell will test each used battery that arrives. If it's up to snuff, it will be "revitalized," then resold - each battery can reportedly be recharged hundreds of times. If the battery is just too used up, it will be dismantled, so that its materials can be used to create new batteries.
"Our batteries are essentially rechargeable batteries," earthCell founder Jason Rugolo told us. "They can be recharged at home in LSD NiMH chargers. Our understanding is that the vast majority of people out there don't want to manage their battery stock, perhaps because batteries are an insignificant part of peoples' lives." 
Rugolo is presently in the process of raising funds for his business, on Kickstarter. A pledge of US$13 will get you four AA and four AAA earthCell batteries, along with a mailer. Higher amounts will get you more, with pledges of $45 or over paying off in 10 AA's and ten AAA's.
Projected retail prices for the batteries haven't been announced yet, although Jason has stated that they will be a much better value than disposables. So far, earthCells will only be available within the U.S.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Nissan is the latest auto manufacturer to declare its hand in the lead up to the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show with the announcement that a new version of the PIVO electric concept car will take center stage. The PIVO 3 will be joined at the Nissan stand by two other concept electric vehicles, a light commercial van prototype and smart house technology that allows a Nissan LEAF's batteries to supply a home with electricity. 
Despite the list of cars and technology Nissan plans to show in Tokyo, there's only a few items that haven't already been unveiled at previous events. The ESFLOW electric sports car had its world debut at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show back in March, while the TOWNPOD crossover EV made its public debut back in September 2010 at the Paris Auto Show. This leaves the PIVO 3 as the only previously unseen concept car set to make an appearance in Tokyo.
The PIVO 3 is the third in a line of PIVO electric concept cars Nissan has developed, starting with the original PIVO that was one of the stars of the Tokyo Motor Show way back in 2005 and followed by the PIVO 2 in 2007. The most distinctive feature of both those vehicles was the fully rotating cabin design that made reversing a thing of the past. The PIVO 3 does away with this unique design in favor of a (slightly) more traditional arrangement.
PIVO 3 
The PIVO 3 is a compact three-seater with the driver positioned centrally in front of the two rear passenger seats in a 1+2 layout. Designed as an urban commuter vehicle, the PIVO 3's body is just three meters (9.84 ft) long thanks in part to the use of in-wheel motors to propel the car.
While Nissan has done away with the rotating cabins found in its predecessors, the PIVO 3 will still be able to get out of most sticky situations without reversing thanks to its zero turn gap capabilities and wide steering angle that allows the car to hang a U-turn on roads just four meters (13.12 ft) wide.
The concept car's most futuristic feature is Automated Valet Parking (AVP) that allows the PIVO 3 to automatically drive, locate a parking space and park without any driver input. The vehicle can then charge itself and return to the driver when summoned by smartphone. Unfortunately, it might be some time before such a feature makes it into Nissan's production vehicles, as it also requires "smart" parking lot infrastructure to function.
Nissan's deputy divisional General Manager for product strategy, Francois Bancon, says Nissan is currently considering the next step in its electric vehicle strategy after the first wave of EVs from the company in the form of the LEAF, the Infiniti EV andLCV EV. Bancon says there are a number of candidates and PIVO 3 is in the mix, but that the company is still investigating what kind of category and body type to pursue. He adds that no decision on whether it will be the PIVO 3 that gets the nod until around 2016/17.
NV350
The 2011 Tokyo Motor Show will also see the debut of the NV350 light commercial van that comes in above the NV200 and is scheduled to launch in Japan in summer 2012, with other markets to follow. The van features keyless push button ignition, which Nissan claims is a world first for a commercial vehicle, along with a dash-mounted shift lever and foot-operated parking brake. A multi-function display is located in the center stack, while a reversing camera will be available as an optional extra.
The vehicle's cargo area is up to three meters (9.84 ft) in length with 50:50 split fold-forward rear seats and embedded mounting nuts in the interior side panels so the cargo area can be customized with hooks and shelving fixtures. Nissan says the NV350 also boasts improved fuel economy but hasn't yet revealed specific figures or powertrain details. We'll bring you more info from the floor once the Tokyo Motor Show gets underway.
EV technology 
In addition to the vehicles, Nissan will also display its Smart House "NSH-2012" technology, which combines solar panels, fuel cells and power stored in a Nissan LEAF's batteries to maintain a steady power supply to the home independent of weather conditions or power outage.
Nissan will also introduce technologies developed as part of its PURE DRIVE initiative that aims to boost the environmental performance of conventional powertrains. The display will include cutaways and videos showcasing clean diesel, hybrid, start/stop system and XTRONIC Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) technologies.
Nissan will hold a public preview event for the PIVO 3 on November 12 at its Global Headquarters Gallery in Yokohama, while the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show 2011 will run from December 3 to 11 at Tokyo Big Sight.
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The World Diabetes Foundation estimated that some 285 million people, or around 6 percent of the world's adult population, were living with diabetes in 2010. For type 1 diabetics and up to 27 percent of type 2 diabetics, that means daily insulin injections, which can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Since most people would rather pop a pill than get a shot, researchers have been trying to develop an oral form of insulin. However, this has proven difficult because insulin is a protein that is broken down in the stomach and gut. Now a team of researchers from Australia's Curtin University has found an insulin substitute to treat diabetes orally that they hope could help take the needle out of diabetes for many people.
In an effort to find a compound that emulates the molecular map of insulin, Professor Erik Helmerhorst and his colleagues at Curtin University in research undertaken with Australian pharmaceutical company Epichem searched the structures of three million compounds.
"We took a 3D molecular map of insulin and identified the key features within this map that are needed for insulin's activity," Prof. Helmerhorst told Gizmag. "We then searched over 3 million small molecules 3D structures for their ability to fit the key features within this insulin map. We found a lead drug molecule that fitted the map and mimicked insulin in specific biological assays and animal models. We have already spent nearly 10 years optimizing this lead molecule."
Unlike insulin, the small drug molecule isn't broken down in the stomach so can be taken orally as a tablet. As well as appealing to people who aren't fond of needles, Prof. Helmerhorst says a tablet would also be cheaper to produce and easier to store than insulin. This would make it easier to distribute in developing countries where the rates of diabetes are on the rise.
Although Prof. Helmerhorst says the insulin substitute could potentially replace the need for injections for sufferers of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, because type 1 diabetics depend on insulin for their survival, the researchers plan to initially target type 2 diabetics prior to them developing full insulin dependency. 
The research is still in the lead optimization stage with clinical trials not expected to begin for another five years or so. Looking for licensees to market the insulin substitute and investors to fund the next stage of development, the Curtin Universityteam recently presented their research and generated a lot of interest at Univation 2011, which aims to showcase research being developed at West Australia's universities to potential investors.
When we first took the Zero S electric motorcycle for a spin our verdict was that while great fun to ride, impending advances in battery technology will mean that this - and other electric bikes - will only to get better from here ... and they are. Zero Motorcycles has announced a complete overhaul of every model in its 2012 range of electric two-wheelers with new powertrains and upgraded power packs that promise greater longevity, speeds of up to 88 mph (142 km/h) and a significantly improved range in excess of 100 miles (160 km) for the street-oriented models.
Zero says its new Z-Force™ power pack is up to 95% more energy dense and is rated to 3,000 complete charge cycles before hitting 80% capacity, giving the Zero S a battery lifespan of as much as 308,000 miles - meaning the bike itself will probably wear out before the battery pack does.
All of the street models feature regenerative braking and the Zero S supermoto and Zero DS dual sport will be available in 6 or 9 kWh configuration (ZF6 and ZF9). Range-wise, for the Zero S this translates to 76 or 114 miles (122-183 km) on a single charge for city riding and 43 miles (69 km) and 63 miles (101 km) respectively when traveling at highway speeds. This is up from a 50 mile city range on the earlier the model and in our time spent with the outgoing Zero S we found that the city riding range figures hold true. If the same applies for the new addition, it will be a very practical urban commuting option and according to Zero Motorcycles, the improvements make the S the world's first available mass-produced electric motorcycle capable of exceeding 100 miles on the EPA's UDDS range test.
Top speed for the S is specced at 88 mph (142 km/h) while the Zero DS can hit 80 mph (129 km/h).
Recharging time for the 6 kwh Zero S is quoted at 6 hours (100% charged) and 5.3 hours (95% charged) through a standard outlet, while the 9 kwh model takes 9 hours (100% charged) / 8.0 hours (95% charged). There are also quick-charge options available that can cut recharge times by up to 75 percent. 
Revised frame geometry and a new bodywork (which gives the S model in particular a noticeably meaner streetfighter appearance) complete the transformation of street models along with the welcome addition a larger front brake master cylinder.
When it comes to gathering measurements of objects so distant in the universe that they can no longer be seen in visible light, the smallest amount of stray light can play havoc with the sensitive detectors and other instrument components used by astronomers. Currently, instrument developers use black paint on baffles and other components to help prevent stray light ricocheting off surfaces, but the paint absorbs only 90 percent of the light that strikes it. NASA engineers have now developed a nanotech-based coating that absorbs on average more than 99 percent of the ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and far-infrared light that hits it, making it promising for a variety of space- and Earth-bound applications.
The new super-black material developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is a coating made up of a thin layer of multi-walled carbon nanotubes that are positioned vertically on various substrate materials, much like a shag rug. Using a catalyst layer of iron, the team has grown the nanotubes on underlayers of materials commonly used in space-based scientific experiments, including silicon, silicon nitride, titanium, and stainless steel.
The team found that the material absorbs 99.5 percent of ultraviolet and visible light and dips to 98 percent in the longer or far-infrared bands, making it ideal for stray-light suppression applications. This is because the tiny gaps between the nanotubes collect and trap background light to prevent it from reflecting off surfaces and interfering with the light that scientists actually want to measure.
"The reflectance tests showed that our team had extended by 50 times the range of the material's absorption capabilities. Though other researchers are reporting near-perfect absorption levels mainly in the ultraviolet and visible, our material is darn near perfect across multiple wavelength bands, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared," said John Hagopian, who is leading the 10 strong Goddard team. "No one else has achieved this milestone yet."
In addition to providing benefits to astronomers observing distant objects or those in high-contrast areas - planets orbiting other stars, for example - NASA says scientists studying Earth's oceans and atmosphere would also benefit. This is because more than 90 percent of the light Earth-monitoring instruments gather comes from the atmosphere, which overwhelms the faint signal they are trying to retrieve.
Another downside of the black paints currently used is that they don't remain black when exposed to cryogenic temperatures. Instead they take on a shiny, slightly silver quality, says Goddard scientist Ed Wollack, who is evaluating the carbon-nanotube material for use as a calibrator on far-infrared-sensing instruments that must operate in super-cold conditions to gather faint far-infrared signals emanating from objects in the very distant universe. If these instruments are not cold, thermal heat generated by the instrument and observatory, will swamp the faint infrared they are designed to collect.
In addition to absorbing light, black materials are also used to radiate heat away from spacecraft instruments, such as infrared-sensing instruments. Since the blacker the material, the more heat it radiates away, the new super-black material could be used to remove heat from instruments and radiate it away to deep space. This allows the instruments to be cooled to lower temperatures so they are more sensitive to faint signals.
And unlike black paints that require epoxies loaded with conductive metals to prevent them from losing their absorption and radiative properties, the nanotube-based coating is less dense and remains black without additives. 
"This is a very promising material," said Wollack. "It's robust, lightweight, and extremely black. It is better than black paint by a long shot."

When the very last model of the award-winning Gocycle was sold in February of this year, Karbon Kinetics Limited immediately announced plans to develop an updated version. The technical specifications have now been finalized and a manufacturing partner secured - so let's have a closer look at the upcoming Gocycle G2.
Karbon Kinetics Limited was founded in 2002 by former McLaren Cars design engineer Richard Thorpe with the aim of developing a high-performance and lightweight electric two-wheeler. The generation one Gocycle was made available to the European public in April 2009 - with lightweight, injection-moulded magnesium alloy frame and wheels, an electric motor that kicks in at the push of a button and an specially-developed enclosed multi-speed chain-drive.
Now it's time for a second generation Gocycle to follow in the tire tracks of its popular predecessor. The G2 is lighter than the first gen model, now comes with three speed electronic shifting as standard, has full hydraulic brakes, features proprietary, patent-pending seamless internal cabling technology, and benefits from smoothness, efficiency and reliability improvements to the electric drive system.
The G2 now weighs in at just 32.8 pounds (14.9 kg) thanks to its Magflow injection-moulded magnesium frame and side-mounted, interchangeable Pitstop Wheels (designed for quick flat tire repair). The new bike features a new German-made 250 watt electric motor with in-house controller that gives it speeds of up to 15.5 mph (25 kph) in pedelec or 20 mph (32 kph) in empower mode, with the same handlebar push-button access to the electric assist. The G2's range has been given a bit of a boost, too, with the inclusion of a new in-frame 11Ah/22V Lithium battery - riders can now expect to run for 40 miles (64km) in pedelec mode or 20 miles (32km) in empower mode, with a recharge time of 3.5 hours.
The new version also features an integrated dashboard display with fuel gauge/speed/gear selection indicator, fixed suspension at the front and Gocycle Lockshock at the rear, adjustable seat tube and handlebar stem, fully-enclosed, lubricated and self-tensioning chain drive to help keep clothes gunk and grease free, and an optional kickstand. It collapses down to 23.62 x 29.92 x 11.81-inch (600 x 760 x 300 mm) dimensions with folding pedals (or a slightly chunkier 15.15-inches/385 mm without folding pedals) for transport or storage between rides.
Karbon Kinetics Limited has just announced leading Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) provider Flextronics as its manufacturing partner for the new G2, with sourcing, logistics, assembly and quality control being undertaken at its factory in Hungary. 

A limited edition G2R in gunmetal gray - which includes new pedal torque sensing with four user-defined assistance modes and electronic security - will be available in Europe this month for a suggested retail price of EUR 2,999 (about US$4,100), ahead of general availability of the G2 proper (in white) in March of next year.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Apparent is updating its line of portable scanners with the Doxie Go, a lightweight, standalone unit with enough on board storage for up to 600 pages or 2400 photos and the ability to scan directly to an external drive or sync scans to iPad and iPhone without the need for a computer escort.
While Doxie's previous effort - the Doxie U portable scanner - came decorated with pink love hearts that would sit nicely next to a poster of Justin Beiber, the Go takes on a more executive look with its streamlined white finish.
Measuring 10.5" x 1.7" x 2.2" (26.7 cm x 4.35 cm x 5.6 cm) and weighing in at 14.2 oz (403g), the Go has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that's good for consuming about 100 documents before it needs recharging and scan speed is specced at eight seconds per full-color page, so it's not lightning quick.
The company's included Doxie 2.0 software automatically syncs scans to your computer when connected via USB and is set up for simple transfer to Evernote, Dropbox, Flickr and Google Docs. There's also automatic recognition, cropping, rotation and contrast adjustment, a "software stapler" tool for creating multi-page documents and ABBYY® OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology which is designed to create easily searchable PDFs that can be copied and pasted.
JPEG and PNG files can also be created while an SD slot adds to the Doxie Go's storage expansion options.
Recharging is via USB and a full recharge takes about 2 hours, but if you need to get on the road again in a hurry there's a charging kit available for US$19. 
The Doxie Go is slated to hit shelves in late November at a price of $US199.
There's little detail at this stage on the iPhone/iPad Sync Kit except that it enables you to upload scanned files directly into your photo roll. The kit will be released in December and will set you back a further $US39. The ABBYY® OCR functionality will also be available in December as a software upgrade.
The charge toward Glasses-free 3D displays hasn't left the iPad out in the cold, as we pointed out a few months back. Now, using a bit of smoke and mirrors (well, mirrors at least) a team from Japan's Ochanomizu Women's University (OWU) has developed a novel approach that incorporates a centuries-old artist's trick to bring "tangible" depth to the iPad's 2D display.
In the 16th Century, painters developed a technique (dubbed mirror anamorphosis) with which carefully distorted 2D paintings could be viewed in proper proportion from acute angles or using conical or cylindrical mirrors. Probably the best known example is Hans Holbein's 1533 portrait The Ambassadors with its anamorphic skull - what appears top be a grey streak in the foreground of the painting (below) is revealed as a human skull when viewed from an angle.
"We noticed that anamorphosis can be used to project data onto a 3D object by placing a 3D object on 2D data, so we developed an interactive system called Anamorphicons," said OWU researcher Chihiro Suga.
With traditional mirror anamorphosis, the mirror remains fixed and the observer moves around it. The OWU approach, however, utilizes the iPad's multi-touch sensitivity and allows the user to spin a cylindrical mirror on the iPad to change the view of the object. But therein lies the rub. Up to 70 images of the subject, pre-distorted using polar coordinate conversion software, must be loaded to create the 3D effect.
The mirror column contains two touch pens which contact the iPad. "The top surface of the pillar is an aluminum plate," Suga explains, "so it conducts electricity. The touch pens and the aluminum plate are connected by wiring inside, so the Anamorphicons are shown on the iPad while the user is touching the plate- it's just as if the user is touching the iPad with two fingers."
An iPad application tracks the coordinates of the two touch pens as well as the mirror column's rotation angle. Each position of the cylinder corresponds to one of the seventy images, which are displayed seamlessly as the user rotates the mirror. 
"Now, we can project information onto 3D objects, and let users manipulate them by hand in a tangible fashion. So we think this system could be used to make shopping sites more user-friendly," Suga said. If this takes off, product photographers ought to see a nice uptick in their workload, as well.
There are definitely some situations where it helps to be able to mount your smartphone, tablet or other mobile device on a flat surface, such as a dashboard, kitchen counter, or wall. If you use multiple devices, this entails buying several mounts - one designed for each device. Chicago inventor J.R. Sanchez, however, has created "one mount to rule them all," so to speak. It's called MobileMount, and it works with any device it can suck onto.
MobileMount consists of two twist-to-lock suction cups, linked by a ball joint. Users simply attach one cup to the back of any device, attach the other cup to any flat surface, then adjust the angle of the device via the ball joint.
The suction cups are activated simply by twisting a knob built into each one, which sucks out most of the air trapped between the cup and an adjacent surface. This creates a strong vacuum bond, which reportedly should last for at least several weeks, even when used on heavy objects - these are not like the cheap lick-and-stick suction cups used to stick things in your windows. When it's time to remove the mount, the knobs are just twisted in the opposite direction, and the cups instantly release.
Because devices with rougher matte finishes might not offer as good of a bond on their own, adhesive-backed vinyl circles are also included in each kit. Permanently placed on the mounting point of such devices, the circles provide a smooth surface for one of the suction cups to really grab onto. 
Sanchez is currently drumming up funds on Kickstarter, to finance commercial production of MobileMount - he has already reached his goal of US$20,000, so it looks very much like the product will see the light of day. A pledge of at least $25 will get you a mount in black (once they're ready), while $30 will be required to score you one in white. Delivery is estimated for January.
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