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Category Archives: Innovation

Virgin Galactic + NASA = Spaceplane

By Evan Ackerman

Virgin Galactic Spaceplane

Virgin Galactic, the company that successfully launched SpaceShipOne (with Scaled Composites) and is working on SpaceShipTwo (for which you can now book a 2009 flight at $200,000 a person, round trip of course), has entered into a joint venture of sorts with NASA to develop hypersonic commercial transport technology. Hypersonic generally refers to speeds of Mach 5+, or 3,500 – 4,000ish mph depending on altitude. That’s potentially London to New York in under an hour.

Virgin readily admits that hypersonic research isn’t something they’re cut out for. NASA, however, has already successfully tested their hypersonic scramjet powered X-43A up to Mach 10, and are working on expanding the program with hypersonic vehicles like the X-43B (concept shown above) and the X-51A. So in a nutshell (from the COO of Virgin Galactic): “We are interested in possibly paying for it. NASA is interested in researching it.”

As a past (and let’s hope, future) beneficiary of NASA grant money, I can say from experience that while NASA has the will, when it comes to the way, they’re notoriously stingy with research funding. Here’s hoping for my own corporate sponsor… Any British billionaires out there interested in Martian impact cratering?

VIA [ National Geographic News ]

Enviro-Friendly Enano PC Claims To Be World’s Smallest

enano computer

By David Ponce

The word Enano, as I learned it, actually means dwarf. But, we imagine the company probably had a different connotation in mind, perhaps more like “small or tiny”. Whatever the case, Enano Computers are indeed damn small, and energy efficient to boot. Matter of fact, that’s their whole point: some models consume as little as 20-25W, around as much as a laptop, and much less than an average desktop. They’re also tiny, at 6 X 6 X 2 inches. The company is proud to have achieved such low power consumption, and are positioning their products to attract the environmentally conscious crowd.

Not only are the Enano PC’s small, they pack half decent features too, running mostly Intel Core2 Duo processors, between 512MB and 1 Gig of RAM and between 40GB and 120GB of hard drive space. Sure, we’re not talking high-end gaming rigs here, but it’s not everyone that’s after that. If you’re looking for decently priced ($750 to $1,300), green and tiny PC’s, Enano sure sounds like it should be worth a look.

[ Enano Computers ] VIA [ UberGizmo ]

Project Epoc Controller Lets Your Mind Do The Button Mashing

project epoc

By David Ponce

Yeah, so we’re going to report on this news with a grain of skepticism. Project Epoc from company Emotiv is a cool looking controller that straps to your head, much like a helmet, and claims to give you the ability to control games with the power of your mind.

Project Epoc is a headset that uses a set of sensors to tune into electric signals naturally produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expression. It connects wirelessly with all game platforms from consoles to PCs. Project Epoc now makes it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player’s mind.

Now, before you go dreaming of playing Wii Sports while laying flat on your sofa (just the way you’ve always wanted to play it), chew on this. We remember a few years ago, much was made of some simple game where two people tried to move a ball towards each other by trying to be “more relaxed” than the other. This alone was considered an achievement in brain/real world interaction. It was called Brainball (great name), by the way. Well, what are the chances that in the intervening years, the technology has improved so much that this helmet is now able to pick up on complex and rapid series of button presses and combinations such that are required in today’s modern games? Wouldn’t it make more sense to believe that the helmet does allow you to control games… but only certain games that have been specifically written to take advantage of its inevitably limited application?

Yeah, it’s cool, but not quite as amazing as you’d initially want to believe. Then again, we could be totally wrong on this one. Or, maybe game developers will start writing games that can take advantage of this technology. Whatever the case, the Project Epoc is not going to be commercialized just yet, though it will be on display at the upcoming Game Developers Conference.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ UberGizmo ]

iPod Dock Extender Lets You Dock With Your Skin On

ipod dock extenderBy David Ponce

If you’ve decided to protect your iPod with a skin that’s any thicker than a thin sheet of paper, you’ve undoubtedly found out that docking your music player can become quite a pain. If it’s wearing leather, or something equally thick, it’s pretty much impossible without peeling the skin off first. So, leave it to the Sendstation guys to come up with an elegant solution. The Dock Extender simply connects to your iPod on one end, and to any dock on the other via an included standard size Dock Insert. There’s even a removable metal support for added stability. And, no need to remove your akin anymore.

It’s a simple gadget, but one that promises to make your life marginally more comfortable; at least, your music-listenin’, iPod-totin’ pampered life, that is. There’s no word on price or availability, though we don’t expect this to be too far away.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Coolest Gadgets ]

Breathing New Life Into The Watch With The JITWatch


By David Ponce

It’s pretty clear that watches are dying a slow death. The only reason they are worn is as arm decoration. But if German designer Martin Frey has his way, the JITWatch might change all that. It’s being built around the concept of a “thinking watch”. It would connect to your Personal Area Network (comprised, mainly, of the watch and your cellphone, though it could include your PDA as well), and keep track of all the little things you have so much trouble remembering: When is my next appointment? Where does the appointment take place and how long does it take to get there from here? Thus, when should I leave? How much time is left till then? Should I leave now? Am I already too late?

Once synced up with your cell, it could access your calendar and become aware of your schedule.

The watch knows the wearer’s actual position coordinates via GPS, GSM-tracking or other techniques. In addition to that the cell phone enables a data connection with the www. Appointments with site coordinates can thus be synchronized. They were entered in advance e.g. into the cell phone or into the computer with a calendar tool like iCal. Furthermore the watch can access web-based navigation-, timetable- and traffic information services.

Unfortunately, no availability or pricing information is available, though the picture hints at a wonky looking prototype, what with wires and batteries sticking out willy-nilly. So, maybe there’s so commercial effort behind the concept.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ popgadget ]

Fraunhofer To Release World’s Smallest HDTV Camera


By David Ponce

Fraunhofer are the people behind the MP3 compression format. Little did we know they also made gear, but they do. And they’ve recently announced the development of the world’s smallest HDTV camera, named MicroHDTV. The device is only 3 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, yet is still capable of recording video at full HDTV resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, and 60 frames per second. It achieves this in part by ditching bulky heatsinks:

The camera?s electronics have a very low power loss, which means that little heat is generated and the housing can thus be kept very small. By using highly integrated parts, we were able to fit all of the components such as the image sensor, the analog-to-digital converter, the color processor and several interfaces into the tiny space available inside the camera

Being this small, it can easily be strapped to a skier’s helmet, or embedded in a race car.

There’s no word on price or specific availability, though the MicroHDTV will be on display at CeBIT, in Hanover, from March 15 to 21.

[ Full Article ] VIA [ Electronista ]

Researchers Develop Mirror That Turns To Window

window mirror

By David Ponce

A window that turns into a mirror at the flick of a switch. Sounds simple enough, yet the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology (AIST) in Japan is making it sound as though it recently invented the thing. Well, we imagine they did, because we can’t prove otherwise, but damn, it just seems like such a simple thing, it ought to have already been done ages ago. Well, whatever. There you have it.

By using a thin film of magnesium-titanium alloy, the company created a prototype mirror window with the size of 60 ? 70 cm, and were able to switch it back and forth between reflective and transparent states. At the moment, the technology is ages away from being commercialized, as it still faces some hurdles. For instance, AIST is working on improving degradation of the material as a result of several cycles of switching. They are also working on simpler methods of application; as it is right now the making of the mirror requires a somewhat complicated process that can’t easily be sent into the marketplace.

While we’re thinking of a couple of hilarious pranks this sort of thing could amuse us with, AIST has more noble goals in mind, such as energy preservation in large buildings. They could also be used in car windows, to keep the vehicles cooler during hot summer months.

[ Research Summary ] VIA [ Plastic Bamboo ]

Online Store Found For World’s Smallest Cellphone, The Xun Chi 138

By David Ponce

We reported on the Xun Chi 138 a while ago. In case you missed it, this device claims to be the world’s smallest cellphone, with dimensions at 55 grams and 2.64 (67mm) inches long. It features a VGA camera with video recording & webcam, a video player, photo editor, MP3 player w/EQ settings, voice recorder, 121 MB of memory, a 260,000-color touchscreen, multimedia messaging, WAP browser, GPRS, calendar with multiple alarms, handwriting recognition, vibrating alert, games, calculator and unit converter!

The thing about it, is that it was notoriously hard to find a place to purchase. Until now. A fine reader of ours has found an online store that seems to carry stock, and ships worldwide. But there’s a problem. The phone will only GSM networks in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia, but unfortunately will not work on North American GSM networks such as Cingular/Cellular One, T-Mobile, Rogers, Fido/Microcell, SunCom, Dobson, Edge Wireless, Alltel, Petrocom, Union, Pegaso/Movistar, Radiomovil/Telcel etc., since the frequencies used in North America are different than in Europe and Asia. You can go here for a list of supported countries.

If you can purchase, it’s $235 plus $15 for worldwide shipping. We’re not vouching the site, since we’ve never seen or heard of it. But any inquiries can be sent to smyers22 at lycos dot com.

[ Product Page ]

Thanks, Steve!

Gemotion Is A Soft, Bulging 3D Display

gemotionBy David Ponce

At the moment, this technology is being displayed as art, rather than some R & D project, yet we see some promise for consumer applications here. Gemotion is simply a projector screen. But behind the screen, Yoichiro Kawaguchi (well-known computer graphics artist and University of Tokyo professor) installed 72 air cylinders, which move up and down through the orders of a PC to which they’re connected, giving a 2D image a real 3D texture. The PC then synchronizes the projected image with the bulges.

?If used with games, TV or cinema, the screen could give images an element of power never seen before. It could lead to completely new forms of media,? says Kawaguchi.

We agree. In fact, we’d like to see the cylinders miniaturized and embedded behind flexible OLEDs. That way, you could solve at least some of the problems with the iPhone, for instance. In fact, there’s no reason such technology couldn’t be a couple of years away already (if it isn’t already here, and we’re just displaying our ignorance for all to see).

Gemotion will be on display from January 21 to February 4 as part of a media art exhibit (called Nihon no hyogen-ryoku) at National Art Center, Tokyo, which recently opened in Roppongi.

[ Asahi Article ] VIA [ Pink Tentacle ]