Alejandro Freixes
Mar 23, 2012

High-Tech Nova Weekly: Top five trends for 3/19-3/23

This week's high-tech trends to watch ...

Nokia's tattoo that buzzes your arm to signal a call or text 

Ferrofluid is the oily substance collecting at the poles of the magnet which is underneath the white dishNokia is bringing tattoos into the high-tech world. The telecommunications giant recently filed a patent for the world's first smart tattoos. Made of ferromagnetic material, the tattoo would vibrate when your smartphone received incoming phone calls, texts and emails. Nokia's vibrating magnetic tattoos are part of a broader trend in technology. No longer content to carry gadgets, there's a movement toward getting the conveniences of smartphones and other electronic devices embedded right in your body. Nokia's tattoo utilizes ferrofluid, liquids that become heavily magnetized when a magnetic field is present. Made of ferrous materials at the nanoscale, ferrofluid is used in everything from aerospace to art. Still, one problem with Nokia's patent is that no one has applied this technology to the human body in quite such an intimate way as of yet. The long-term effects of such technology are more or less impossible to gauge. 

Naval Research Labs, its robot 'Hunger Games,' and self-replicating machines

Capt. Paul Stewart, NRL's commanding officer is standing next to an android and is holding an Ascending Technologies Pelican quadrotor mini air vehicle (Photo courtesy of Jamie Hartman, NRL)An authentic representative sample of potential battlefields in microcosm -- that’s the method of an extensive project at the Naval Research Lab (NRL). Advancing the use and effectiveness of cutting-edge military robotics is one of the chief goals. By constructing elaborately realistic ‘arenas’ to test robotic and human combat operations, the NRL's Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) combines the immersive qualities of a Hollywood set or theme park, the bleeding-edge technology and discovery found only in the most forward-thinking of research institutes, and the deadly pragmatism of a team who have fully internalized the theory of peace through greater firepower. 

Hydrogen fuel catalyst makes the elusive alternative energy source more feasible

This diagram shows the new catalyst as it reversibly converts hydrogen and CO2 gas to and from liquid formate or formic acid (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory)In a paper published recently, researchers at Brookhaven Lab led by chemist Etsuko Fujita announced that they had found a safe and reversible way to store hydrogen under mild (and therefore hopefully much more economical) conditions, using a newly developed catalyst. The catalyst created by researchers at Brookhaven Lab connects hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide, 'storing' the hydrogen linked to (adduct to) carbon dioxide in a mildly basic solution. The reaction can be reversed -- and the hydrogen fuel released -- by adding a bit of acid. The entire process can be run, and easily reversed, in a watery solution under mild temperatures and pressures with no toxic byproducts, and at a faster rate than any previous catalyst. As a consequence, Brookhaven Lab's new catalyst might be used in future hydrogen fuel vehicles, though additional testing will be needed to see if it can be economically scaled up to industrial production. It may show up in other high powered systems too -- time and technology will tell.

VMware and the virtual machine: Putting an end to the 'work phone'

Xen running NetBSD and three Linux distributionsWith the ever-growing overlap between our personal and professional lives, keeping business separate has become a high priority. In order to do so, many of us have multiple email addresses, bank accounts, social profiles and mobile phones. VMware, a company that began as a research group at Stanford University, aims to change this and simplify the process of compartmentalization. This sort of convergence also makes for an interesting trend that has been accelerated with the rise in popularity of cloud computing. The integration of virtual environments with virtual production applications is continuing at a rapid pace with the increased popularity of cloud-based computing. This is an evolutionary paradox in that the entire personal computing revolution was about empowering users through the use of stand-alone devices. This means that the value proposition of platforms like VMware and XenServer is being redefined by the preferences of end users -- they want immediate access to their content regardless of their physical location and without always having to use traditionally heavy client office applications.

Neutrinos and wireless communications: The next quantum leap?

Fermilab's accelerator ringsA couple of years after researchers showed that neutrinos can work to provide communication through deep water -- as evidenced by their use with submarines in the ocean -- researchers now have determined that neutrinos can send messages through solid rock. This eventually could change the way communications take place throughout the world’s harshest climates. Although the general properties of neutrinos have been known for a few decades now, it’s been difficult to use them for communications, because the same properties that allow them to pass through water and rock also make it difficult for a receiver to pick up the data transmission that’s making use of neutrinos. Researchers, however, have figured out how to use the way that the neutrinos interact with matter to track them. The interaction produces particles called muons that the receiver can detect, allowing it to decipher the transmission.  A team at Fermilab in Illinois used a format called NuMi that has been able to send pulses through almost 800 feet of solid rock to a receiver. Although the receiver was able to pick out the message, it only detected about 1 neutrino out of every 1 trillion that were sent. The team estimated that it took the system almost 2.5 hours to receive and decipher the word “neutrino.”