Archive for May, 2008

Invention: Plasma-powered flying saucer

May 8, 2008

Invention: Plasma-powered flying saucer
13:10 06 May 2008, news service, Justin Mullins

Pass a current or magnetic field through a conducting fluid and it will generate a force. Numerous aerospace engineers have tried and failed to exploit this phenomenon, known as magnetohydrodynamics, as an exotic form of propulsion for aircraft. But perhaps attempts so far have all been too big.

A very small design could have a better chance of taking off, says Subrata Roy, an aerospace engineer at University of Florida, Gainesville, US.

How could I pass this one up? Roy has a patent for a “WINGLESS HOVERING OF MICRO AIR VEHICLE.” The design is a saucer with electrodes all along the bottom. They would ionize the air below the saucer and thus make a plasma that could be used to generate lift. The same (or different?) electrodes would create electric fields that would interact with the plasma to create a force. By cleverly arranging the electrodes on the surface of the saucer, there would be a net upwards force on the saucer, causing it to hover. Presumably you could tweak the electric fields and/or plasmas to steer the craft without having any moving parts. He proposes filling the saucer with helium to decrease the amount of force needed to get it off the ground.

I’m going to let you come up with all sorts of uses for such a device (war drones, autonomous cameras, automatic dog walkers, etc.) and I’m going to recall a previous story where scientists proposed using a plasma bubble to protect astronauts from radiation during a trip to Mars. They could pool these idea and use the plasma shields for propulsion as well. In space, you don’t have to overcome gravity, so the plasma-powered flying saucer could be big enough to carry people (or robots or a fleet of micro-sized saucers). Of course there would be no air to ionize to create the plasma, but in the old post, they came up with a way to keep a plasma around the ship. That means that propulsion would be achieved with electricity as the only fuel source.

And that’s where the solar sails and micro sterling engines come in.

May 2008 Newsletter

May 7, 2008

I have my May newsletter up on my site now:

The big news is that I sold a short story to a horror anthology! My first sale! See the newsletter (which is on the main page) for details.

Electronic ‘pet’ could replace passwords and PINS

May 2, 2008

10:12 02 May 2008, news service, Colin Barras

Portable electronic pets able to recognise their owner’s voice and walking style could replace passwords and PINs as a way to keep personal details and accounts secure, say UK researchers.

Other experts, though, say the advanced Tamagotchi plan still needs some work.

Called “biometric daemons”, they borrow a concept from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, in which people are accompanied by an animal daemon that is a physical representation of their soul.

Do you write about witches in the modern world? Do want an excuse to have a talking cat? Or do you just think that familiars/robot sidekicks are the bee’s knees? Well now you can put them in your story without them being the same boring old thing. Now your characters can have biometric daemons that imprint on the character and store all the character’s personal info.

Everyone has different habits, walking styles, voices, etc. Easy to mimic one or two things about a person, but hard to mimic them all. So if you have a pet that learns your style, they will know if they are with you or not. If they are with you, they will give up the info they are storing. If not, they will die. Kinda harsh, and of course it will mean that you have to carry them around with you always and forever. And if you get them when you are young, you might be stuck with something that seemed cool at the time but later just seems lame.

Not unlike many tattoos.

But I digress.

Think of the merchandising possibilities. If your books become wildly popular, you could sell biometric daemons that match the ones used by characters in your stories. Chaching! Personally, I’m going to hold out for a R2-D2 that can also act as a PDA and cell phone. In the mean time, I’ll have to settle for this item which will make my life complete.

For more info, check out this paper on the subject.

Engineers find ‘missing link’ of electronics

May 1, 2008

Paul Marks, news service, 18:00 30 April 2008

Nanoscale circuits based on molecules used in sunscreen lotion have led to the discovery of the “missing link” of electronics engineering – a previously mythical device known as a “memristor”.

First predicted in 1971, the memristor could help develop denser memory chips or even electronic circuits that mimic the synapses of the human brain, says Stan Williams who made the discovery with colleagues at Hewlett-Packard’s lab in Palo Alto, California.

Some cool stuff here. Basically all electronics boil down to resistors (current flows through and some energy is given off as heat), capacitors (charge is temporarily stored), and inductors (current flows through and some energy is stored in a magnetic field). In 1971, Leon Chua at UC Berkeley predicted that there should be a 4th hardware device that remembers the last voltage applied to it and how long it was applied. Now someone has made such a device.

Memristors are cool because they mimic properties of neurons. In neural networks of cells or in computer simulations, each neuron has multiple inputs but only one output. So there are lots of On and Off signals coming in (chemical and/or electrical signals in cells), but the neuron has to take all that info and the either fire or not. Basically, it has to reach a voltage threshold before it will fire. Memristors work the same way. The consequences are that you can store information in the resistance of the device, and you can have passive computer memory (no power needed to maintain it).

Even cooler, you can envision a solid state brain. To model neurons now, we have to program them into computers, thus slowing the process down. Making the model out of solid state parts means that it could work much faster. From a plot standpoint, that means AI without having to have massive supercomputers. And of course that leads to the Singularity, which is overdone.

How about making solid state brain “blanks”. Then we can download our mind into the blank when we die (or before) and live on as cyborgs. For inspiration, see Robocop or read David Brin’s Kiln People.