Rover Software Updates

NASA says that a ‘brain transplant’ is necessary for the Curiosity rover before it can spool up to begin its research mission on the surface of Mars.

Subroutines used during the descent and landing of the rover and its ancillary parts are no longer needed, and the available memory on the rover is limited, so the onboard software needs to be updated to include instructions that will help it navigate its environment.

The process takes a couple of days; data transmission rates are slow and the rover isn’t in constant contact with its controllers on Earth.

(Image is a 3D render released by NASA.)


Bio-engineered electronics

Electronic components are continually shrinking – just think of laptops & mobile phones in the last few years – but there is a limit and even now, the improvements required of industrial processes to maintain this trend are becoming increasingly expensive and old ones dreadfully outdated.

One possible solution would be to replace these industrial techniques with ones that use biological processes that self -assemble and are relatively cheap.

For instance, this article describes a technique whereby a specially engineered virus is coated with chemicals and sandwiched between other chemical layers to make a tiny battery that could be ‘printed’ onto any conducting surface! Some more background, also at Ars Technica, on engineering using viruses can be read here.

Photo from http://www.kilmerhouse.com/?p=89 – lovely, isn’t it?


Eco-disco

A night club in London is now generating 60% of its energy requirements from the dancing of its patrons!

Under the dancefloor is a an array of piezoelectric elements that produce electric current when they are squashed by the dancers’ movements.

And it’s not the first. Another club in Rotterdam has been going for some time now using the same technology. Clever, isn’t it? I’d love to see more of this. Imagine generating electricity in public spaces like train station concourses or shopping centres, schools, libraries, museums just from the footsteps of the people walking through.

From Inhabit.com via Engadget


History of mobile phones

You might recall the history of computer memory a couple of weeks ago. Here is more in the same vein. The movie clip at this link is a great overview of the evolution of mobile phone design. Beware: obnoxious background music – be ready with the mute button.

You might recognise one or two models of your own experience. Personally, I’m hanging out for the official release of an iPhone here in Australia. And so, judging by the school yard chatter, are a large number of secondary students. The implications of that trend are worthy of a thesis…

(pic via Wikipedia, showing Dr Martin Cooper of Motorola, who made one of the first mobile phone calls before I was born! I feel young, now 🙂


Solar stickers

Going with the theme of yesterday’s posts on renewable energy comes news of solar panels that are installed quickly like stickers on building roofs and come in a variety of colours and shapes.


The disadvantage of the low-profile design is a trade-off in efficiency. As yesterday’s post on the solar lilies showed, a panel needs to be able to follow the path of the sun through the sky during a day if it is to collect the maximum amount of solar energy. The panels discussed here are stationary – lying flat along the unchanging roof-line – and the resulting drop in efficiency is fairly substantial (somewhere in the order of 5%).

Still, the design of the collection elements in solar panels is also the subject of improvement; I imagine it wont be long before this limitation is removed by advances in panel design.

Bonus article linked at the bottom of the Treehugger page: Hairy Solar Cells created from nanotubes. Nice!


History of memory

Computer memory, that is.

Some formats are missing – like bubble memory (big in the 1970s until cheap magnetic storage took over) and some forms of magneto-optical storage – but the overview gives you a great idea of just how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time.

One can only imagine where we’ll find ourselves next…

From Royal Pingdom, via Gizmodo.


Now, look here!

The Boston Herald (via Crunchgear) has published a story about the creation of a bionic eye by researchers at The Boston Retinal Implant Project

eye-glasses.jpg

Designed to be implanted behind the retina, it transmits signals along a fine wire directly into the optic nerve. While this bionic eye won’t provide a great deal of visual resolution and works only for people who were able to see at some time in the past, it holds great promise for helping to restore sight to those who have lost their sight to degenerative diseases of the eye.

Human trials will begin in the next couple of years.