New Gadget Applies 3D Grids to the Road

Red Dot Design recently recognized Lumigrids as one of the best designs of 2012.

The device attaches to a bicycle’s handlebars and projects an LED grid pattern onto the ground. Any deformation in the grid alerts the rider to changes in the terrain in front of him.

According to the creator:

“It can be difficult for night cyclists to get a good sense of the condition of the terrain ahead, even with a typical bicycle lamp. In many cases, a bicycle lamp will cast shadows on both concave and convex areas of the ground. This can hinder the rider’s judgment of the road surface ahead, and increase the potential for danger.”

The grid pattern and its deformation solves this problem.

Perhaps a similar approach could be taken to other challenges? A flashlight that casts this kind of pattern may be useful for people walking in the woods at night.


In Praise of Cloud-Based Applications

Some time Tuesday afternoon, a thief entered the house where I’m currently staying. Another of the occupants left the home unlocked and empty for about an hour. In that narrow window, a criminal entered and stole three laptops, a tablet, a watch and a backpack.

His haul included my 17-inch Macbook Pro—the machine on which I had just that morning completed a rough draft of a 2,500-word article due Friday. This piece had taken me approximately two days to write and is the first assigned to me by the magazine. I had also taken notes for eight interviews over the course of several weeks on that machine.

Just a couple of years ago, the loss would have been devastating. I would have lost my research, missed my deadline and perhaps lost the assignment altogether. Such a gaffe could cost me my enduring relationship with the magazine’s editor.

But I had completed all of the writing—including 40 pages of notes—on Google Docs. Today, less than an hour ago, I completed a first edit on the piece. I will meet my deadline, and perhaps even turn in the article a day early.

The loss of the machine still hurts. I won’t quote the price, but it wasn’t cheap. That sticker price is dwarfed, though, by the professional toll I could have suffered had I not been using Google Docs as my office suite almost exclusively.


Robot Rats on Mars

A group of researchers at Boston University’s Neuropmorphics lab are working on the next generation of Mars explorers: a set of autonomous robots with the intelligence of a rat.

The bots, which have currently reached the physical testing stage, began with basic visual recognition tools and then developed their own intelligence in a virtual environment.

When deployed, said Max Versace, the head researcher at the lab, the bots will use their own hierarchy of needs to decide what tasks to do in what order. In the video below, for example, the bots are assigned to explore unknown areas, map targets that fit with their mission and keep their batteries charged.

In an earlier interview, Versace described these as emotions: curiosity, duty and hunger.

While he aims for these particular robots and artificial intelligences to explore the surface of the Red Planet, he expects that later versions to help handicapped people in their homes. The same principles would apply, he said—except, instead of searching for science targets, the bots would search for things the patients needed.


Biofeedback Video Games a Heartbeat Away

A Fujitsu engineer in Tokyo demonstrates the company’s real-time pulse monitor system, which uses cameras in PCs, tablets, or smartphones to measure a user’s pulse. (Credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

A trio of researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have created a therapeutic video game that rewards children with anger issues for keeping their heart rate down. Right now, the kids can play the game only in a therapist’s office because it requires pulse-monitoring equipment.

That’s about to change.

Japanese firm Fujitsu this week announced a consumer-ready visual pulse monitor. The software calculates a subject’s pulse in as little as five seconds by measuring the fluctuation of subtle colors in portions of the user’s face. According to C-Net, the system requires no special equipment and works with any camera connected to a computer.

The announcement solves a “local frustration” for the Children’s Hospital team—which aimed to send their game home with patients. It also opens the door to a whole new world of biofeedback video games.

Pair this technology with the next generation of Microsoft’s Kinect, and you can have fitness games that keep you working at just the right level. Pair it with a horror title, and the game could customize its brand of scary to fit your brand of nightmares.

If a trio of pediatric researchers have already thought of this, some video game designer somewhere has had the same idea. Keep an eye out across the internet. Don’t be surprised if a tech demo-style game for this approach shows up somewhere.


Neuroscience Truck Headed to NYC, Surprisingly Inexpensive

A miniature model of The Think Tank.

If you happen to see a box truck with a brain atop of it parked along the streets of New York City, step aboard and participate in some neuroscience experiments. You’ve found The Think Tank.

The Think Tank, the brain child of a group of neuroscientists and artists, will visit schools around New York to “empower students with the tools of cognitive science.”

It will also stop along the sidewalks to offer the services of a food truck for your brain. Not only can you participate in experiments, but the creators promise to offer you some useful tips—such as how to run a successful charity event or better induce your friends to RSVP to your party.

The Think Tank wraps up its indiegogo campaign tomorrow, but it has already made its goal. The group aimed to raise $10,900 to buy a box truck, and overshot that goal by about $2,500.

If you’d like to push them further over the top, donate soon.

Lockheed Martin’s Perforene Needs to Meet Damian Palin

One layer of a graphite crystal (graphene) wit...

One layer of a graphite crystal (graphene) with carbon atoms and C-C bonds shown in black. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lockheed Martin recently announced a new ultra-thin water filter called Perforene. The graphene filter boasts pores so small that a single layer should remove all of the salt from water that passes through a single layer, reducing the energy cost of the filtration process by at least 99 percent.

This, in itself, is amazing. But it comes with a drawback: if we’re able to filter seawater 100 times more effectively, we’re likely to wind up with 100 times more concentrated brine—which can have a detrimental effect on the environment when released back into the ocean.

Enter Damian Palin. The biological miner uses magnetic bacteria to extract valuable minerals from concentrated brine. The process offers the twin bonuses of creating value from waste and making the brine less toxic before it re-enters the ocean.

Combining Mr. Palin’s process with Lockheed’s new filter and a solar or wind array could create a low-impact desalinization plant that supplies water to people who desperately need it and pays for itself with the minerals extracted.

How Can Flower Pots Treat Sewage?

The right collection of plants, fish and bacteria could help turn your human waste into a water supply usable to water your garden or flush your toilet—all while improving the appearance of your neighborhood.

Amelia Carver pitched the idea Thursday at the second and final Generator Dinner for the 2012-2013 season of the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge.

She knows that the system can work, and she knows it can be attractive if arranged properly, but she also knows there are challenges. Taking water from an undifferentiated waste stream could kill necessary organisms if people in the community use chemical soaps and cleaners. And the system would need a certain level of water flow to keep it working, which could be a challenge in the kinds of communities where it would be most useful.

But other IDEAS competitors have overcome similar challenges. A quartet of past winners shared excerpts of their stories prior to the dinner’s pitch session. In particular, Morgan O’Neil of told the would-be competitors that, just about a year earlier, she stumbled through her Generator Dinner pitch. Now, the company that she and her sister founded has several employees and helps communities organize recovery efforts in the wake of disasters.

Other notable ideas from Thursday’s pitch-session:

  • Kezi Cheng and Margaret Shaw proposed building a common scholarship application system in which applicants would fill out their relevant information, and the system would match them with appropriate scholarships.
  • Chris Goldstein proposed building a system that would evaluate nonprofits and non-governmental organizations for collaboration opportunities to enable more effective philanthropy.
  • A team called proposed building a crowd-funding system for social enterprises. This Kickstarter for a better world would replace perks with improved tracking of the social enterprise’s impact.
  • Elizabeth Shanahan proposed building a new, better bike ambulance for transporting AIDS victims in Togo to nearby clinics.