April 16, 2014, 3:36 am

How Implants and Prosthetic Limbs Get Recycled and Reused

By Raymond Refuerzo

Every year, millions of pacemakers, metal hips, and prosthetics outlast the bodies they’re designed for. But these medical devices could very well go on to have a second-life—in cars, wind turbines, and even another person. Gizmodo tell us more about this report.

The implants are, after all, full of valuable metals like titanium or cobalt alloy. Cremation makes the metals easily recoverable, writes Frank Swain in a fascinating investigation into the afterlife of medical devices.

The Dutch company Orthometals, for example, collects 250 tons of metal every year from European crematoriums and sells it all to car and airplane manufacturers. The city of Bristol in England has even proposedrecycling these metals into road signs. And, in the U.S., Implant Recycling sells crematorium metal back to medical device makers. So there’s never telling where grandma’s old hip might end up.

For more complicated devices like pacemakers and prosthetic limbs, charities are at the forefront of a growing movement to repurpose them in developing countries. The UK charity Pace4Life goes to funeral parlors, where it collects pacemakers for use in India, and the Tennessee-based Stand With Hope sends prosthetic limbs to Ghana—just to name a few.

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April 15, 2014, 3:20 am

Magical, Retractable Tire Studs Only Deploy When You Need Them

By Raymond Refuerzo

Finnish tire company Nokian is showing off a set of tires that do exactly that, allowing drivers to deploy metal studs at the push of a button for on-demand grip in even the worst polar vortex. There’s a lot of snow and ice in Finland. Wired looks at this story.

Nokian has a few decades of experience with this stuff. It made the world’s first snow tire, and its tires were on anAudi RS6 that hit 208 mph on ice.

The tire is based on Nokian’s Hakkapeliitta 8, which uses metal studs. The tire’s sipes–or grooves–are designed to eject liquid and slush while compressing surface snow to provide a stable surface. Several patent applications, however, offer tantalizing clues to technology that would make Q proud.

First, there’s a communication system that transfers data from the tire to a “mobile communicator.” Yes, that could be something so simple as a tire pressure monitor that pushes a message to your smartphone. But that patent, and another for “vehicle monitoring system tool,” could be combined with Nokian’s “system and method of converting and communicating operational characteristics of tires” that could alert the tire to a frozen surface or loss of traction, then deploy the spikes.

More interesting is a patent for “a coil system and voltage rectifiers for communication and inductive powering of devices inside rotating tyre of a vehicle.” It outlines a method of storing and deploying energy inside of a tire using a combination of receiver coils and serial capacitors.

And then there’s a patent simply titled, “spike for tire.” It outlines the design of a “a tire which has improved clawing force (ice traveling performance) and reduced weight.” There are any number of things this could mean, but as long as we’re speculating, it isn’t unreasonable to think that engineers designing a tire with electrically or pneumatically deployed spikes would want the spikes as light as possible to minimize the amount of energy needed to actuate them, and the aforementioned energy storage system would be just the ticket.

Photo Credit: Nokian

April 14, 2014, 4:55 pm

Volvo Thinks Magnetic Roads Will Guide Tomorrow’s Autonomous Cars

By Raymond Refuerzo

We live in a world where satellites and microprocessors can tell us how to get anywhere we want to go, but Volvo believes the future of transportation lies with something much simpler: magnets. Wired looks at this story from Volvo.

Volvo argues that magnets, unlike electronic transmission, are unfazed by poor weather conditions or obstacles in the road, so they can reliably guide vehicles along the road. It recently completed a research project to test the theory, using a road embedded with magnets and a vehicle outfitted with specialized sensors to determine how accurately and reliably the car could discern its position.

Volvo tested its theory at its test grounds in Hällered, Sweden. One of the biggest challenges was developing sensors capable of receiving data while speeding over a small magnet. Engineers calculated that a car traveling just over 90 mph would need a sampling rate of at least 400 readings per second. Typical magnetic sensors can only handle about three samples per second and need to be within centimeters of the magnet they’re detecting.

Volvo first tested the sensor system, mounted to an S60, on a “forest road consisting of a layer of stones of various sizes and on top of that a thick layer of soil had formed over the years,” according to a report on the project. Engineers lined the road with neodymium magnets 20 mm in diameter and 10 mm thick, and ferrite magnets 30 mm in diameter and 5 mm thick. They were placed in plastic tubes buried vertically in the road, with the mouth of the tube just below the surface. The first run with 100 magnets along 100 meters of road proved the system, when coupled with data collected from the car (speed, for example), could calculate the car’s position to within 10 cm when traveling just under 45 mph.

 Further testing on a paved roadway, onto which engineers glued the magnets to the asphalt. The results were similar, but more compelling because the installation was far easier–and could be applied to existing roads. The sensors calculated the car’s position to the same margin, at speeds exceeding 90 mph.

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April 13, 2014, 8:18 pm

Why More Americans Are Riding Public Transit Than Ever Before

By Raymond Refuerzo

Americans are using public transit more than ever, according to a study that further proves people are increasingly comfortable riding buses and trains. Wired shares this story.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transit last year, matching a ridership record set in 2008. The association has attributed the ridership gains to new infrastructure and a recovering economy, singling out cities that opened transit lines in recent years for ridership increases.

 Indeed, nearly 60 percent of trips taken on transit are work commutes. It’s true that employment rates, gas prices and expanded access affect ridership in the short term. But in the long term, increased public transit ridership is a trend that’s been ongoing for nearly two decades. Overall, ridership is up 37.2 percent since 1995—more than population growth.

Meanwhile, Americans are driving less: Vehicle miles traveled per capita have fallen since 2004. Car ownership is increasingly expensive, and congestion makes it less attractive to drive in an urban environment.

It appears that, slowly but surely, Americans are embracing the idea that railway tracks can take them the same places highways do and transit stops can exist alongside parking garages.

Perhaps the biggest sign of a cultural shift is that transit ridership isn’t just growing in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., where taking a subway or bus has long been faster and more convenient than driving on many routes.

Photo Credit: onesevenone/Flickr

April 10, 2014, 9:31 pm

Crash This Ducati, and an Airbag Goes Off in Your Suit

By Raymond Refuerzo

Riding gear with airbags are one of the greatest safety innovations for motorcyclists since body armor and back protectors. But until now, they’ve had to rely on sensors mounted inside the suit to detect a crash. That changes with the introduction of Ducati Multistrada D-Air, the world’s first motorcycle that wirelessly integrates with airbag riding jackets. Wired features this story.

Ducati and Dainese have teamed up to create a specially equipped version of the Multistrada equipped with a passive safety system that uses sensors built into the touring-adventure bike’s stock electronics. The sensors are constantly monitoring the Multistrada’s dynamics–accelerating, braking, or worse, falling over–and if these systems detect a crash, it sends a wireless signal to the Dainese D-Air jacket to deploy the airbag in a scant 45 milliseconds.

The system connects with both the rider and the passenger’s airbag-equipped gear, but for now, the system is only available on the D-Air Multistrada and only in Europe, with sales beginning in May.

Photo Credit: Ducati

April 9, 2014, 8:29 pm

LCD Soundsystem Frontman Has a Cure for NYC Subway’s Brutal Noise

By Raymond Refuerzo

The rhythm of an approaching subway may be music to commuters’ ears, but one legendary electronic musician has had enough with the dissonant beeps of New York’s turnstiles. Wired tells us more.

James Murphy, the DJ, producer, and former frontman for LCD Soundsystem, told the Wall Street Journal that he’s composed a new soundtrack for turnstiles over the past 15 years.

Murphy confessed to a “love affair” with the subway, although he admitted at times it “sounds quite brutal.”

So he devised a new system. Instead of an electronically generated beep, every turnstile would play a pleasing tone. Each station would have its own signature set of tones, which would all exist within a chord. That way, when lots of people are passing through the turnstiles, the station would be filled with harmony, which you can listen to over at the WSJ.

Musical signatures aren’t unheard of in public transit. The Seoul Metro, for instance, plays different jingles when trains are arriving and departing, and when a train approaches a transfer station. The alarms on the MTA are purely functional, and are intended to let riders know if a MetroCard has been approved.

Photo Credit: Jeff Berman/Flickr

April 8, 2014, 5:28 pm

How Smart Engines, New Data Strips, And A $40 Billion GPS System Are Making Air Travel Safer

By Raymond Refuerzo

While the investigation into the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, here’s a look at the latest technological innovations keeping the vast majority of flights safely on course. Fast Company shares this story.

The intense interest in the ongoing mystery surrounding Flight 370 notwithstanding, the many organizations and corporations developing safety tools for passenger jets are doing their job: 2013 had one of the lowest rates of commercial aviation incidents in history.

Here are some of the most interesting products and tools making the overwhelming majority of flights safe:

NextGen: Described by the Federal Aviation Administration as “one of the biggest public works projects in our lifetime,” the over $40 billion NextGen is an ambitious effort to rebuild America’s air traffic control systems. Despite the rise of GPS navigation in everyday life and the rise of computers, most airports in the United States still use sheets of paper in binders and radar to track air traffic. While paper makes air traffic controllers more secure from hacker attacks, it also slows response time, creates massive gridlock in the skies, and hampers response in emergency situations. The ambitious NextGen project is a government-funded attempt to switch air traffic control from ground-based radar systems to satellite-based GPS systems.

Electronic Data Strips: Air traffic controllers record flight information on paper stripsin the United States; the small pieces of paper are used in the hectic control centers to quickly record necessary information.

Satellite Radio for Pilots: When aircraft fly over oceans, they have traditionally used high-frequency radio to communicate. While this has been an accepted solution for a long time, radio also comes with considerable static. A new technology calledAutomatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS), increasingly used by airlines, uses satellite uplinks to send real-time data from the aircraft instead. This allows for changes like aircraft being able to choose faster flight paths over the ocean and getting much more reliable information. ADS is part of the NextGen program and is also being adopted by the European Union

Smart Engines: The much-heralded Internet of Things consists of putting sensors and data-collecting devices into every imaginable consumer and industrial good, which then pings far-away servers every so often with all sorts of information

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April 8, 2014, 3:06 am

Inside the Nearly Impossible Task of Finding an Airplane in the Ocean

By Raymond Refuerzo

Two-thirds of the planet is covered with water, which makes finding something lost at sea an imposing task. Wired tells us more.

Four days after Malayasia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared enroute to Bejing, search and rescue vessels scouring the region have found no trace of the airliner or the 239 people aboard. Although authorities have yet to speculate on what happened aboard the Boeing 777-200, what ever it was that brought down the plane is widely believed to have occurred quickly, catastrophically and at high altitude. That would scatter debris over a huge area.

You’d think that would make finding debris easy, but that has not been the case. Malaysia Airlines says nine aircraft and 24 ships are searching for Flight 370; the flotilla includes the USS Kidd and USS Pinckney, two destroyers that were conducting exercises in the area. The U.S. Navy also deployed a Lockheed P-3C Orion, a maritime surveillance plane originally developed for anti-submarine work. This search force, drawn from nine countries, has expanded its focus to a vast swath of the South China and Andaman seas, the Straits of Malacca and the Gulf of Thailand–an area larger than Texas and California combined.

Despite the size of the search operation and the technology at its disposal, the task of searching for an aircraft in the water still comes down to sailors and airmen looking at the sea, for hours at a time.

Large-scale pelagic search-and-rescue operations are managed from what’s called a Rescue Coordination Center. Officials there coordinate the efforts of the various nations and agencies involved, ensuring efforts are not duplicated and the area in question is thoroughly and efficiently searched. Because Flight 370 was from a Malaysian carrier, departed from Malaysia, and presumably went down relatively close to home, that country’s Department of Civil Aviation is running the show. Malaysian authorities have considerable experience with search and rescue operations, and the country’s expertise is well regarded by others in the field.

The biggest challenge, aside from the size of the search area, is not knowing where Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shaw and First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid ran into trouble, where the plane went down, or why. Knowing where to begin the search is, of course, a key data point, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer of the United States Coast Guard. Although she would not speak specifically about the search for Flight 370, she outlined what typically happens in such a search and rescue operation.

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April 7, 2014, 5:04 pm

The Top 10 States For Green Buildings

By Raymond Refuerzo

Some states have been more proactive in getting LEED-certified buildings built than others. Which has the most sustainable square feet per citizen? Fast Company tells us more.

People don’t usually think of Illinois as the greenest state in the union, but it happens to have the most green buildings per capita, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Green Building Council. California had the most projects overall. States like Louisiana and Montana? Not so much.

The council, which oversees the LEED green building rating system, named lIllinois the top state in 2013 for buildings that are energy-efficient and minimize impacts to people and the environment. The state had more than 29 million square feet of space LEED-certified–that’s 2.29 square foot per person. Maryland (2.20) and Virginia (2.11) came next, followed by Massachusetts (2.09).

Top-10 LEED-certified states (by per capita square footage)

  1. Illinois
  2. Maryland
  3. Virginia
  4. Massachusetts
  5. New York and California (tied)
  6. Oregon
  7. North Carolina
  8. Colorado
  9. Hawaii
  10. Minnesota

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April 6, 2014, 8:35 pm

Ford’s Smooth-Driving Autonomous Research Car

By Raymond Refuerzo

IEEE looks at Ford’s first autonomous research vehicles, with protruding sensors and instruments.

The new one, a Ford Fusion Hybrid test vehicle—announced in December and displayed here at at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain—looks like someone installed a few gas canisters on the car’s roof rack, except that the canisters spin.

These cylinders house a new generation of light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensors. There are two on each side of the car, midway along the roof. One on each side tilts, giving the car the ability to detect objects closer to its sides than the older central roof-mounted LIDAR on Google’s self-driving prototypes. It is the only non-production sensor added to the Fusion, though the research vehicle does contain some extra processing and communications hardware in the trunk. The engineers also added a wide-angle optical camera to record the vehicle’s driving for post-trip analyses.

LIDAR is one of a handful of sensing technologies carmakers are using in prototypes to identify a car’s surroundings and help localize the vehicle. The systems are not yet in production, because they cost about as much as a luxury car—Google’s may cost about $70 000.

The second-generation LIDARs would make the car conspicuous even without the optical camera, and the crowd milling around the Ford display was in no more danger of confusing the experimental Fusion with its production version than the car was of confusing them with an open road.

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April 4, 2014, 3:55 am

How It’s Possible to Lose an Airplane in 2014

By Raymond Refuerzo

In an era when we’ve all got GPS in our pockets, OnStar in our cars and the NSA tracking anyone, anywhere, it is still possible–although rare–for an airliner to seemingly vanish. Wired shares this report.

That appears to be what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Friday night. As of Monday, search and rescue teams from nine countries including the United States had not found any trace of the Boeing 777-200 or the 239 people aboard. There are many theories about what went wrong, but the airline, Boeing and investigators in Malaysia have so far refused to speculate or offer any insights.

The most chilling thing about this is the fact the plane seemingly vanished without a trace. The captain, who had more than 18,000 hours of flight time, gave no warning, issued no mayday. There was no indication anything was amiss. This is not terribly unusual, because a flight crew’s first priority in an emergency is dealing with the situation at hand. “Aviate, navigate, then communicate” is the mantra. Airline pilot and blogger Patrick Smith says the radio silence “doesn’t startle me.”

There’s no radar tracking airliners over the ocean

It is a misconception that airline pilots are in constant communication with air traffic control, or that planes are constantly watched on radar. Once a plane is more than 100 or 150 miles from shore, radar no longer works. It simply doesn’t have the range. (The specific distance from shore varies with the type of radar, the weather, and other factors.) At that point, civilian aircraft communicate largely by high-frequency radio. The flight crew checks in at fixed “reporting points” along the way, providing the plane’s position, air speed, and altitude. It isn’t uncommon to maintain radio silence between reporting points because cruising at 35,000 feet is typically uneventful. Some aircraft communication systems don’t require pilots call in; flight management computers transmit the info via satellite link.

Although modern flight management systems use GPS for navigation, that only tells the airplane where it is–it does not tell air traffic control where the plane is. It’s a bit like taking your iPhone into the heart of the Mojave desert: Your GPS will tell you where you are, but you can’t use Find My Phone because there’s no cell coverage. Although it would be possible to stream data from an aircraft in real time via satellite, implementing such a system across the industry would cost billions of dollars

The debris field is big, and the ocean is bigger

Still, if a plane goes down, it’s gotta land somewhere, which means there should be something out there. But after three days of searching, investigators still hadn’t found any sign of the plane. This is unusual, but not unprecedented.

The most obvious explanation is search and rescue vessels aren’t looking in the right place because they aren’t sure where the plane went down, Smith said. It’s also possible, though highly unlikely, that the plane remained largely intact after hitting the water and sank.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what might have happened, and airliners have been brought down by everything from an onboard fire to an intentional crash by the pilot and, of course, terrorism. A catastrophic failure of the airplane–the failure or loss of an essential component, for example, or explosive decompression–is another possibility.

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April 3, 2014, 4:44 pm

Mitsubishi Planning Predictive User Interface for Cars

By Raymond Refuerzo

Mitsubishi Electric is developing predictive technology that will suggest a route based on your previous driving history, come up with an alternative route if you hit a traffic jam, and make it simple as pushing a button to find that radio program, make those phone calls, and even adjust the air conditioning to boot. IEEE shares this report.

Mitsubishi expects to ship its Ultra-simple HMI (human-machine interface)technology for in-car operations to auto manufacturers from spring 2018. It demonstrated a prototype system in a recent Open House event at its headquarters in Tokyo.

In a mock-up driver’s seat, the driver was able to easily operate four main functions: navigation, phone, air conditioner, and audio-visual system. This was done in one or two steps using a set of three buttons on the steering wheel while viewing three predicted operations on a 44-cm heads-up display (HUD)on the windshield above the dashboard—operations such as Go to soccer practice ground, Call boss, Tune to radio station XYZ.Voice commands can also be used to control such operations and is activated by long-pushing one of the buttons.

The predictive technology relies on such operational history as past destinations and routes taken, and previous use of in-car functions, as well as time and day, location, speed, fuel level, and current traffic and driving conditions. It then estimates the three most likely operations to be used and displays them on the HUD. They can be overridden using a set of four separate buttons that provide direct access to the main functions.

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