Two Kickstarter projects helping make Back to the Future 2’s predictions a reality, robot security guards with more than a passing resemblance to Daleks, vibrating clothes for the blind, the rise of brain to brain communication, and the fastest train in the world. All in this week’s tech roundup.
Catch the 500km/h train
Japan, not surprisingly, have built a train that floats ever so slightly above the rails and can travel over 500km/h.
Known as a maglev train (short for magnetic levitation), the super-fast train uses magnets to push the carriages a few millimetres above the track
Other maglev trains, such the Shanghai Maglev Train in China, can go pretty quick as well, but this one is by far the fastest yet, in part due to its elongated nose that dramatically reduces wind resistance.
Passengers were allowed on board for the first time this week, with more testing due in December. It’s expected to be fully operational in 2017, carrying 1,000 passengers a trip between Tokyo and Nagoya.
A smart bracelet for women
Until now, most smartwatches have been pretty gender neutral. Not anymore.
Intel have just introduced a stylish and sleek smart bracelet called MICA ("My Intelligent Communication Accessory") solely aimed at women.
The 18-karat gold-coated bracelet comes with a curved sapphire glass touchscreen display and in various styles, while also letting you receive texts, check social feeds, and get Google alerts.
Vibrating clothes for the blind
A team of researchers are developing special vibrating clothes they hope will help blind people navigate without the need for a white cane.
Cleverly called Eyeronman, the device is a hands-free wearable vest that uses a combination of lidar (a laser-based system used in driverless cars), ultrasound, and infrared sensors to detect obstacles. This data is then converted into vibrations in a T-shirt made from electro-active polymers.
For example, an obstacle on the wearer's lower left would cause the lower-left part of the shirt to vibrate. The system is designed to provide 360-degree obstacle detection and could also aid firefighters and soldiers, its developers say.
Bearing more than a slight resemblance to Daleks, a California start-up, Knightscope, have built robot security guards designed to monitor buildings for any anomalous activity and report back to its security centre.
Known as the K5, each one has 4 high-definition cameras (one on each side), a license-plate recognition camera, 4 microphones, and a weather sensor for measuring barometric pressure, carbon dioxide levels and temperature.
The robots use Wi-Fi or a wireless data network to communicate with each other and with people who can remotely monitor its cameras, microphones and other sources of data, and uses GPS and a laser ranging instrument to help navigate around patrol area and avoid obstacles.
They are not, apparently, designed to exterminate any threats.
Brain to brain communication
Think of all the time and energy you would save if you could tell people things just by thinking it. That’s precisely what researchers at the University of Washington have shown recently, sending one person’s thoughts to control the hand of another person 800m away.
How it works is, one person is hooked up to an electroencephalography cap, which is covered in sensors that pick up brain signals and send them to a computer. The computer decodes the signals and sends them as electric pulses to the second person, who is wearing a cloth swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil on top. The coil is placed near the area of the brain that controls hand motion.
The first person thinks about moving his or her hand, and that brain signal is transferred to the second person, triggering a twitchy hand movement.
Obviously there’s a long way to go before this is perfected, but the researchers hope one day it can mean easy transfer of information between people, especially teachers and students.
Two signs that the creators of Back to the Future 2 were on the money when it came to predicting technology can be found on Kickstarter at the moment.
The 1989 film had a segment set in 2015, and although flying cars are not yet here, some of the other technologies are just around the corner.
The first is auto-lacing sneakers, a Kickstarter project that, you guessed it, ties your shoes without the pesky need for hands.
It doesn’t use batteries either, instead, when you insert your foot, a cabling mechanism kicks in and pulls tight. Pretty clever, though the project is still a ways off from their target goal of $650,000.
The second, and more exciting, example of science fiction turning into science fact is the first thing you think of when thinking of Marty McFly: the hoverboard.
The Hendo Hoverboard is a Kickstarter project from a California couple who have built real life working hoverboards, and not surprisingly have already surpassed their goal.
However, as in the movie, the hoverboard won’t work on water; in fact they only work over a special surface as it uses magnetic fields to get its ¾ inch lift-off.
As an added bonus, here’s Tony Hawk having a go: