New Tech October 2014

dolphinHere is the latest installment looking at the most interesting new technology that I’ve seen over the last month.

Improved Memory Storage. SanDisk announced the new SD memory card that can store 512 gigabytes of data. That’s on an SD card –  that tiny little device you can use with a digital camera or your cellphone. The card also has a very fast I/O to make it able to process shooting 4K video. The card is also heavy duty and able to withstand x-ray machines and getting wet.

This is a big step up in squeezing memory into a smaller package and is probably a harbinger of what we will be seeing in other devices in the not-too-distant future. SanDisk believes that they could squeeze 2 terabytes of data into an SD card in the near future. To put this capacity into perspective, most laptops today like the MacBook Air come with 128 GB of storage and desktops generally come with 256 GB of storage.

Like the first generation of any improved technology this is expensive and the card will sell for $800. But one would think that within a few years that the technology in this card will become the new standard and will get cheaper in a hurry.

Robot to Robot Communication. Researchers at Cornell, Brown, Stanford and Cal have developed a robot that is meant to act as the ‘brain’ for other robots. They call it Robo Brain. This is very similar to a project announced by Eindhoven University in the Netherlands earlier this year. The robot will scan the contents of billions of web sites and will then condense and store the information to serve as a repository to speed up searches by other robots. Think of it as sort of a card catalog for robots that will save other robots from having to have read the billions of web pages. When a robot encounters something it is not familiar with it will be able to query Robo Brain in the cloud for an answer.

Talk to the Animals. An interesting line of research is going on in the Bahamas. Scientists there are working with software that is trying to translate from human to dolphin. It has always been difficult for humans to make much sense of dolphin language because dolphins make sounds that are both above and below our range of hearing.

This project’s aim is to eventually develop a real-time translator between the two species. For now the program is limited to turning human words into dolphin whistles. But over time they are hoping to build up a library that will allow for two-way communications.

There are similar efforts being done today to create real-time translation between the various human languages. There is some software today that can do a fair job of this with the basic UN languages, but the translator software so far misses a lot of nuance and is till poor with slang or with recognizing tone of voice.

The researchers believe that the dolphin technology could be used with several other animal species. So we are perhaps not too many years or decades away when the universal translator of Star Trek can be a reality, including talking to dolphins, whales and apes.

Cellphone Microscope. Finally is a device that I think was designed to annoy my wife. Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory have developed a tiny microscope that will work with a cell phone. They say it can be built for less than a dollar.

The microscope consists of a plastic clip that is no thicker than a cellphone case that contains a tiny glass sphere. It can line up easily with the camera lens and can provide magnification up to 1,000 X. I say this device will annoy my wife, because I already can picture myself with one of these. “There is something floating in your drink, dear. Let me take a look to see exactly what that is”, as I whip out my handy-dandy cellphone microscope and snatch her drink. I just love science.

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