Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is famous for innovating advanced technologies, and now program manager Charles Chase has outlined their plan to create a prototype 100 MW fusion reactor by 2017. If nuclear fusion could be used to supply power, it would be cleaner and safer than fission, without the possibility of meltdown, and would not create radioactive byproducts that could be turned into nuclear weapons. Most fusion experiments use a giant tokamak to squeeze and heat deuterium plasma into a torus shape, but the Lockheed approach will be to use a cylinder instead, for a stronger magnetic containment field. The project hopes to one day create a reactor small enough to fit on a truck that could power a hundred thousand homes.
Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University and from the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have created BallCam -- a football with a narrow field-of-view camera inside. The raw video from the spinning ball is jumpy as you would expect, until software stitches together a much smoother video. The algorithm starts by isolating the sky to ignore it, and stitches together the remaining frames using commonly-available software techniques. A camera? Fine. But no accelerometers in my football! I don’t need electronics detecting that your grandma can throw better than me.
Wristband control device
Thalmic Labs, a startup from Kitchener, Ontario, has developed the MYO, a human-machine interface wristband that operates on both motion sensing and by detecting when muscles in the forearm are activated. The company claims the device will detect hand gestures down to the individual finger. The MYO is scheduled to ship later this year, and will work out-of-the-box for computer control on Windows and Macintosh, and will have an API for developers on Android and iOS. Personally, I was hoping the Power Glove fad would come back. I love to Power Glove. It’s so bad.
Detecting pulse on video
A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed software that amplifies differences between frames of video, in a process called Eulerian Video Magnification. By amplifying tiny interframe skin color differences in video of a sleeping baby’s face, you can effectively see the pulse, which was verified on an EKG. The system can also amplify differences in motion to show a quivering eyeball or a baby breathing. The code is now open-source and available, and opens up a wide range of possible applications, like non-invasive monitoring of neonatal vital signs, detecting from far away if a search-and-rescue victim is still breathing, and more.
Japanese robot maker Cyberdyne has received its global safety certificate for the Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL -- a power-assisted pair of robotic exoskeleton legs. Powered by a twenty-two pound battery pack mounted on the waist, the robot detects your movement, and guides it efficiently. The exoskeleton is intended for the elderly and disabled, who need the power assist in order to function. The new safety certificate is the first for any nursing-care robot, and should pave the way for selling it worldwide. I want this, for three reasons: “You have twenty seconds to comply,” “Come with me if you want to live,” and “Get away from her you b--”
Lion deterrence system
An eleven year old boy, Richard Turere from Kenya, entrusted with protecting his family’s livestock, noticed that lions would stay away when he moved around with a flashlight. He soon invented “Lion Lights”, outward-facing LEDs attached to poles around livestock areas, programmed to flicker intermittently and powered by a solar panel and car battery. Turere’s family has not lost an animal since the lights were installed, and the now-thirteen-year-old has spoken at the TED conference in Nairobi. I see now that the King of the Jungle is a fearsome beast, until an eleven-year-old picks up a Rayovac. Then, meow.