Save Your Computer Data With Raspberry Pi and a Mason Jar
Jul14

Save Your Computer Data With Raspberry Pi and a Mason Jar

When one thinks of a mason jar it is typically in the context of a Pinterest project, or a glass container filled to the rim with sweet, sticky raspberry jam. Some of us in the digital age have found a new and far less messy use for mason jars. Technically it still involves raspberries— not the delicious bright red berry, but the Raspberry Pi minicomputer. The Raspberry Pi has been touted by some as the worlds smallest computer. While this may not technically be correct it is easily one of the smallest, most accessible computers for do-it-yourself computer enthusiasts. This minicomputer innovation has allowed users to put computing power into increasingly smaller devices at a relatively low price point. Building a mason jar data storage center using Raspberry Pi is an easy and fun project to get in touch with your inner geek. Essentially, the end product is a Raspberry Pi, housed inside a mason jar, that is running BitTorrent Sync to keep files in sync between your devices. BitTorrent Sync works in a similar fashion to Dropbox, and the Raspberry Pi-compatible version is aptly named Raspberry Preserve. The developers chose to use BT Sync, which is free to use, due to the decentralized nature of the BT network, as well as to keep the price of the project as low as possible. The Pi can also be attached to optional LEDs which will blink or remain lit to signify when data is being transferred. BitTorrent Sync is a software program that functions much like a peer-to-peer network, except the peers are the various devices you would find in your home: cell phone, laptop, desktop and in some case, television set. Once the Raspberry Pi jar is complete, it is able to store any files that are wirelessly shared with it. Simply move your family vacation pictures to a synced folder on your device and it will be synced to the hosted node of the Pi. From there, it can be accessed on any device you choose. The Raspberry Pi data preservation device is a DIY project that digital enthusiasts are sure to love. It’s also a great reminder that there is still room for creative innovation in the modern...

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3D-Printed Electronics Are the Future
Jul09

3D-Printed Electronics Are the Future

Imagine printing a solar cell in a matter of minutes. Some business owners may think it sounds like something out of a science fiction story, but 3D printing is developing with ever-expanding capabilities including the possibility for 3D-printed electronics. The technology isn’t perfect yet, but researchers are hard at work developing ways for printers to create nanotech components from synthetics. These so-called organic electronics rely on highly conductive materials that break the production mold. A team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and Technische Universität München (TUM) in Munich have been working to identify and improve upon the electrical properties of synthetic films. The TUM team recently reported that razor-thin polymer electrodes can be created on 3D printers using enhanced synthetic films. Researchers in California can be thanked for these enhanced films. The team at Lawrence Berkeley used X-ray radiation to alter the molecular structure of freshly printed synthetic layers and worked in conjunction with the TUM researchers to determine how different post-printing processes affected the films. The international team plans to publish their results in Advanced Materials, an industry trade journal. These new printing technologies are exciting, but more research is on the horizon. Making organic electronics is incredibly complex. The process will need to be closely observed and understood so that custom applications are possible in the future. Researchers are also working to perfect techniques to create the various layers in electronic components using only one process. This will increase convenience for manufacturers and will allow the large-scale use of 3D printing to create designer electronics. There’s a great deal at stake here for businesses. Projected future markets for these technologies include solar cells, RFID tags, touch screens, glowing films and flexible displays. With future projects in development, such as wallpaper made of OLEDs, it is not surprising that organic electronics are expected to make a big impact on the consumer market thanks to this incredible range of applications. Of course, the ability to print designer electronics on a 3D printer also significantly increases prototyping and bespoke design capabilities for small businesses. Instead of blowing their research and development budgets on electronics manufacturing, businesses will be able to print components in house for immediate testing. It may seem a distant dream now, but the enthusiasm of researchers in California and Munich indicates that printed electronics are closer than many might...

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Scientists Dig Up New Discoveries with Nanotechnology
Jun16

Scientists Dig Up New Discoveries with Nanotechnology

It’s been twenty years since Jurassic Park captured the imaginations of movie-goers with its fantastic and terrifying tale of prehistoric creatures brought back to life through revolutionary science. This past weekend the series debuted its latest chapter, Jurassic World, to eager audiences around the globe. The film has broken box office records and stands at the second highest US opening of all time. But is it really as much of a fantasy as we think? As audiences prepared themselves for opening night, Dr. Sergio Bertazzo was announcing the discovery of red blood cells and other soft tissue remnants in a cache of 75 million year old dinosaur fossils. These fossils had been stored under imperfect conditions at the Natural History Museum in London for the past 100 years, since their discovery at the Dinosaur Park Formation, located in Alberta, Canada. The general belief in the scientific community has been that the maximum survival rate of protein molecules was limited to 4 million years, while soft tissues were thought to degrade in less than 1 millionyears, even under optimal conditions. Soft tissue discoveries have been made in extremely rare cases, and were derived from exceptionally well preserved specimens. The samples analyzed by Dr. Bertazzo’s team at Imperial College, London dated back to the Cretaceous era, which ended 66 million years ago, leaving a significant gap between the date of the fossils studied and the expected time frame for usable organic material. By utilizing nano-analytical techniques, which employ a specialized microscope that creates cuts on a nanometric scale and is capable of moving infinitesimal particles within the sample, the team was able to identify amino acid fragments signifying the presence of organic materials. The ability to detect the presence of red blood cell and collagen fragments where there are no visible soft tissue structures presents scientists with some exciting prospects. “If we can find blood cells in lots of different dinosaurs, the range in size might provide an independent line of evidence for when dinosaurs became warm-blooded.”—Dr. Sergio Bertazzo, Imperial College, London It remains to be seen whether this increases the odds of discovering DNA, or cloning your own pet dinosaur, the insight into the biology of these distant ancestors can still provide a wealth of information for researchers. While the chances of a modern Velociraptor chasing Chris Pratt across your backyard remains slim, these developments are certainly no less exciting to scientists looking to expand our understanding of the natural history of our world....

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Hong Kong Shames Litterbugs with DNA
May26

Hong Kong Shames Litterbugs with DNA

An innovative advertising campaign in Hong Kong is using DNA technology in a unique—and perhaps somewhat creepy—way. To help reduce littering, a non-profit organization called Hong Kong Cleanup is publicly shaming litterbugs on billboards around the city. Those litterers aren’t sitting down for portraits, though. Instead, DNA found on chewing gum, cigarette butts and other trash is used to produce close approximations of what the litterers look like. The process is known as phenotyping, and it’s remarkably accurate in predicting a person’s appearance. Ogilvy, the advertising agency behind Hong Kong Cleanup’s Face of Litter campaign, teamed up with Parabon Nanolabs of Virginia to produce the portraits. The work is performed in conjunction with the Department of Defense, which is primarily interested in the technology for use in criminal investigations. Of course, the public doesn’t see the behind-the-scenes work that’s involved in producing the portraits. Rather, they are simply confronted with random images of people who have been “busted” carelessly tossing garbage onto the streets of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Cleanup hopes litterbugs will feel so ashamed of themselves that they will think twice before littering again.   The way in which they portraits are produced is fascinating. First, trash is retrieved from the street. It is then sent to a genotyping lab, where it is processed to produce a set of data using DNA retrieved from dried saliva. Incredibly, only a nanogram of dried saliva is needed to make a digital portrait of a person’s face. Next, the data is processed using special machine-learning algorithms. These algorithms produce snapshots of phenotypes, or traits, that may translate into what a person looks like. Algorithms focus on what are known as highly heritable traits, or traits that aren’t affected by environmental variability. These include things like skin color, eye color, hair color and face shape. The technology can’t account for age, but the ad agency estimates this based on the type of litter that’s processed. For instance, people between the ages of 18 and 34 are most likely to chew gum. While the campaign was designed to shame litterbugs, Ogilvy received permission from everyone whose trash they used. In the future, though, who knows? Campaigns like these are just the beginning. As the technology improves and becomes more ubiquitous, it’s sure to prompt many privacy concerns. If it can strictly be used for good, however, it’s sure to have a positive...

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Smart Necklace Tracks What You Eat
Apr20

Smart Necklace Tracks What You Eat

Researchers at UCLA, aided by a $148,739 federal grant, have created what is being dubbed a “diet choker.” WearSens is piece of wearable technology; a “smart” necklace that tracks vibrations in the neck to automatically detect if a user is eating, what he is eating, and whether he should stop. A person’s chewing, swallowing, and breathing patterns change depending on what food is being consumed. The necklace uses piezoelectric sensors that generate electricity under applied stress to record the body’s movements as food moves in, around and down the mouth and throat. In March 2015, Majid Sarrafzadeh, Director of the Embedded and Reconfigurable Computing Lab at UCLA’s computer science department, and his team of researchers released a pilot study of the necklace’s performance. “To personalize the device, we ask a new wearer to eat a 3-inch Subway sandwich and then sip down a 12-ounce drink,” he said. In the study published in IEEE Sensors Journal, the necklace could distinguish between solids and liquids 90 percent of the time, and could precisely categorize common foods like chocolate, hamburgers, and nuts about 75 percent of the time. WearSens logs the user’s dietary intake and forwards the data to a smartphone app. WearSens may send compliments like, “You ate at a good speed,” or polite warnings such as, “You may be eating too much.” It may also buzz if it detects undesirable eating habits (read: Thanksgiving dinners and Thirsty Thursdays). But, can it distinguish between baked veggie chips and kettle-cooked potato chips? Can it identify culinary outliers like Arizona’s prickly pear cactus nopales or Cajun Louisiana’s crawfish boil? Questions like this have been raised by Edward Sazonov of the University of Alabama, who says, “It’s an interesting study, no doubt, but I want to see how it performs in a larger community.” Perhaps most importantly, WearSens has the weight of pride stacked against it. A WeightWatchers journal can be maintained in privacy. The mothering WearSens may be construed as a public admission of corpulence and weak willpower. Thankfully, researchers have other uses for the necklace. Sarrafzadeh and his partners have preliminary evidence suggesting the device can track pill schedules, help smokers quit, or remotely measure the breathing patterns of patients recovering from throat...

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No Batteries Needed? Ever?
Apr17

No Batteries Needed? Ever?

On April 15th, scientists from Columbia University announced a power solution that could solve our ‘low-battery’ problems. They’ve created a camera powered solely by ambient light; as long as there’s enough light, the camera will go on snapping photos. It uses no batteries, no power cable, and no solar cells. In short, it’s a completely closed system. Presently, the camera is only a prototype, but, according to Shree Nayar of Columbia, the technology may eventually find itself into a myriad of other devices. The current idea is to have the camera power itself, backing up the main battery when not taking photos. Nayar says this is part of the current imaging revolution, making the camera a stand-alone tool within a device. Since the light is converted into energy by the camera’s light sensor (which also takes the picture), the camera is essentially a self-sufficient system. By charging a capacitor, the camera is able to convert the light of an average house lamp into energy sufficient to run the camera. At 200 lux, (average room light level) the camera voltage maintained a steady level, even while snapping photos at a rate of one per second. Nayar says we’re still a long way – and a great deal of money – away from using this technology in our phones or computers. However, the Columbia University team will be showing the findings at the International Conference on Computational Photography. According to the team, they’ll also be looking for potential collaborators, a good sign for the future of power-starved...

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