Sunday, 9 December 2012

LCD contact lens puts an image right over your eye


The LCD lens, with a dollar sign displayed.
Many research institutions are working on electronics that can be worn on the surface of the eye. While there is the possibility of having a private display overlaid on your vision, there are other applications as well. An electronic contact lens could monitor the eye for problems like cataracts, and a safety lens could block out unwanted radiation, acting as automatic sunglasses.The dream of a bionic eye is closer than ever: Researchers at Ghent University have created an LCD display the same shape and thickness of a contact lens. There's still a long way to go, but this is a major breakthrough.
There are many problems to overcome, however: Among other things, power must be provided, the display must be itself extremely small and durable, and it must fit the shape of the eye.
But there are also many solutions. Power can safely be provided wirelessly, as recent tests showed. The miniaturization and encapsulation of the electronics is an ongoing process, but critical milestones were reached years ago. And now, Ghent's Centre for Microsystems Technology has created a monochrome display with hundreds of pixels that curves spherically, allowing it to be worn on the eye.
Jelle De Smet, the research team's leader, describes the obstacles and accomplishment:
Normally, flexible displays using liquid crystal cells are not designed to be formed into a new shape, especially not a spherical one... By using new kinds of conductive polymers and integrating them into a smooth spherical cell, we were able to fabricate a new LCD-based contact lens display.
Their prototype display shows a dollar sign, which is both a fun nod to cartoon characters and a way of showing off the resolution of the display. At the moment, the display can't become totally transparent or totally opaque, which may reduce its usefulness in some situations — but that's just another technical hurdle to be addressed.
You can see the display turning on and off in the video below, which uses a prototype from 2011, before they could create patterns using the LCD:

Future research could go in multiple directions, De Smet told me in an email. Biocompatibility, or making sure the device can be used safely, is one thing to confirm. The power source for the display must also be considered; De Smet said there are several options, but because the display uses so incredibly little power, a tiny solar cell might actually be able to pull it off.

The oldest known dinosaur, lighting up a space station and the black marble

Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.
Altweek 120812 The oldest known dinosaur, lighting up a space station and the black marble
While some refer to it as a lonely planet, we prefer to think of it as unique. Where else can you find such diverse biology that dates back millions of years, that also has a space station hovering delicately above it. A planet where several millennia of human evolution gave birth to the comedy animated gif? Precisely. One of a kind. This is alt-week.
wwThere are many challenges presented to humans when living in a space station. Not just the obvious basics such as sufficient resources of food and water, even the simple light bulb poses a problem. First of all, what happens if they run out? Beyond that there are other, more subtle, issues to deal with. Light and quality of sleep are well-known to be linked, as anyone who has ever pulled a night shift will attest. Now, what if you're working in an environment where there's a new dawn every 90 minutes screwing with your circadian rhythms? (Not to mention all the other issues like noise, and unnaturally floating in bed.) As supplies of the current fluorescent bulbs start to decline, NASA is taking the opportunity to refresh the lighting onboard the ISS with a new Boeing-developed solution, that will also help the astronauts get some quality rest. The new bulbs will house a "rainbow" of over 100 bulbs that can deliver three types of light. For general use, there's standard white light. However, when residents need to be a little more focused, a special blue-hue that has been found to stimulate alertness is generated. Likewise, when it's time to get some shut-eye, a warm red tone that promotes sleep can be dialled in. The first bulbs won't get to the station until 2015, but it's also expected the same technology might find its way into more earthly locations too.
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Palaeontologists are exercising some caution, but a recently published study reports evidence of a discovery that could be the oldest known dinosaur -- predating the previous eldest by up to 15 million years. The species -- called Nyasasaurus parringtoni -- is believed to have been six to ten feet in length, weighing between 45 and 130 pounds. The reason for the dose of caution is due to the skeleton being incomplete, with just one upper arm bone, and six vertebrae being recovered. Despite this, the finding very strongly suggests something of the dinosaur classification, that also fills in a "missing blank" between them and their earliest relatives. If proven, this could push the origin of dinosaurs back to a time when there was a wide variety of reptile families evolving, long before the dinosaur would become the dominant force on the planet. Whether this might inspire some Jurassic Park prequels, we don't know.
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Fast-forward a few ages, and we encounter the humble GIF image -- something of an internet staple. We've all been amused, bemused and irritated by them at some point in our time on the big 'ole W W W. But, love 'em or hate 'em, they persist. Of course, it's the animated variety that we're largely discussing here, and their broad influence hasn't gone unnoticed -- particularly by Legs Media, who produced the video below that gives a succinct, yet entertaining, summary of the image format's illustrious 25-year history. There are a few classics in there, and a few we're more than happy to have forgotten (we're looking at you Baby Cha-Cha). If you're hungry for more, however, head over to the Moving the Still blog which has been calling out for your submissions as part of its GIF festival.

Last up this week is one that, to be fair, needs no words. We'll give you some about it anyway, but the money is all in the graphic. NASA has compiled two month's worth of images of the Earth at night, and compiled them into an awe-inspiring animation. The pictures come from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) satellite, and have been referred to as "The Black Marble" in reference to the famous "Blue Marble" daylight pictures. But enough talk, head down below for the goods.

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself?

Low-cost tablets from HCL, Beetel

When little-known tablet maker Zync Global started selling its first 7-inch device in November last year, director AnujGarg realized his big customers were not in the metros but in smaller towns and cities. And he faced some peculiar problems. "We would get calls for even the most basic inquiries, for instance, 'how do you switch it on?'," he says.While the Delhi-based company claims to have sold about 100,000 tablets, mostly in the sub- Rs 5,000 segment, Garg admits that low-cost tablets are not exactly flying off shelves.
Multiple research agencies tracking the Indian tablet market say Samsung, Apple and BlackBerry hold anywhere between 80% and 90% of the Indian market, even though it's raining low-cost tablets with a new device entering the market every second day, at least for the last couple of weeks.
So far, Indian challengers such as HCL, Beetel, OliveTab, Aakash, Acer, Reliance Communications and BSNL have not been able to make a significant mark in the tablet market, despite prices starting as low as Rs 3,000.
Analysts blame it on poor quality of products, lack of free public wi-fi hotspots, low uptake of 3G connections and little clutter-breaking differentiations.
Also, the worldwide craze for tablets has yet to reflect in India.
"One of the big challenges which tablets are facing (in India) is the uncertainty in consumers' mind about the usage of these devices," says Vishal Tripathi, principal analyst at Gartner India.
Voice & Data estimates that about 800,000 tablets, worth 1,962 crore, were sold in India in 2011-12. This was a huge 749% jump year-on-year, but just a fraction of the 65 million tablets sold globally.

Urban consumers, who buy tablet as an additional fun device to support smartphone and laptop, have mostly preferred iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab because of their superior product quality, user interface and ever-growing bank of apps. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has amassed about one-tenth of the tablet market largely due to massive cuts in the retail price of its PlayBook.
As a result, many local challengers have been struggling to stay in the game.
Beetel Teletech, which launched Magiq brand of tablets with much fanfare in September last for Rs 9,999, has stopped making tablets.
Executives privy to the developments say the Bharti Enterprises' company had changed its strategy and would only focus on offering products for the enterprise market in the future. But some say that the advent of tablets priced much lower than Beetel's instigated the company to move away from tablets.
Beetel did not respond to ET's query asking the reasons for this decision.

So, why are Indian companies-from handset makers Micromax, Karbonn Mobiles, Zen Mobiles and Wishtel to peripheral-makers Go Tech Digital and Alphabetics Computer Services-still rushing to the tablet market?
Because of its huge potential.
Frost & Sullivan expects the Indian tablet market to 23.38 million units by 2017, with sales doubling every year starting 2011. Even a conservative projection by ABI Research pegs the tablet market at 9.66 m units by 2017.


samsung galaxy note II

Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon: what's different?

DNP Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon what's different
The Galaxy Note II is a big phone that has attracted an even bigger following: Samsung shipped over 5 million units in two months, even before the holiday shopping season commenced in full force. And we don't expect the company to slow down either -- now that the device is available worldwide and on all four national US carriers (not to mention a regional player as well), Samsung's likely to pick up the pace exponentially. We've already painstakingly reviewed the Note II in all its glory -- twice, actually -- but Verizon's particular variant has a few key differences that are worth noting. What kind of carrier "enhancements" and other goodies can you expect as a reward for your 300 hard-earned dollars? How does the Note II match up against the rest of Verizon's lineup? Follow us past the break and we'll give you the full scoop.

Samsung Galaxy Note II (Verizon)

Verizon's Galaxy Note II is the final US variant, marching onto the scene long after the rest of the group. Regardless of whether the carrier was hoping to make a grand entrance by taking extra time to push its version out, it's certainly ruffled quite a few feathers since it arrived. It seems that having the largest subscriber base in the country gave the network more leverage at the negotiation table, as the handset is littered with Verizon branding, both on the device itself and in the software.
DNP Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon what's different
First, Verizon took way too many liberties in altering the phone's design. The home button, once a sacred edifice immune to the effects of any type of branding, now houses Big Red's signature checkmark logo, and the company even found a way to cram its name in this tiny space. Not only does it stand out like a sore thumb, but the logo looks like the victim of a tragic accordion accident, scrunched up and out of place.
DNP Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon what's different
Flip the phone over to the back and a larger version of the very same logo (along with the usual Verizon "4G LTE" symbol) is prominently stamped on the back cover. Put it side by side with an AT&T Note II and its globe is easily eclipsed. Underneath the back cover you'll notice something else that separates this phone from the rest of the pack (save Sprint's version): there's only one pair of gold contacts (for NFC use). Meanwhile, Verizon chose not to include contacts for inductive charging. This is a huge head-scratcher, since the company has been a strong advocate for wireless charging over the last two years.
DNP Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon what's different
To some extent, these shortcomings can be rectified. Special home button stickers are available for purchase, you can replace the back cover with a generic Note II version and we even found a YouTube video showing a way to hack your phone to make inductive charging work. (It's not for the inexperienced, so don't try this at home kids.) Still, all of these fixes require additional time, money and effort. All that just to bring it in line with other Note II devices.

The differences don't end there. Big Red thankfully included support for Samsung's Multi-Window feature, a new multitasking option that earned our praises in previous reviews. When holding down the back button, a sidebar appears with several apps included. Simply drag and drop two of these apps to either half of the screen and you'll be able to use both programs at the same time. Unfortunately, Verizon's take on the feature came without support for Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube or Google Talk -- all of which are offered on the global and Sprint versions. This comes as a huge disappointment, especially since we'd prefer to use those apps in Multi-Window mode quite frequently. To be fair, Verizon has stated that it will soon be releasing an update that adds support for these apps -- third-party support is now offered as well, so we hope to see developers take advantage of the feature -- but we have no way of knowing when we can expect to see it.
DNP Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon what's different
Other than that, you'll have to wade through the usual barrage of preloaded apps, including the full Amazon suite (which comprises six apps) and services like VZW Navigator, Viewdini and NFL Mobile. Fortunately, most of these can be disabled.
(Update: Our friends at XDA-Developers uncovered even more of Verizon's tweaks. The carrier has axed Blocking Mode, S-Cloud and the S-Planner widget, locked the bootloader and replaced the WiFi quick toggle with the same annoying ongoing notification we've seen on several other Verizon devices. Thanks, nrbovee!)
Internally, you can expect the same 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4412 SoC found on other Note II devices, along with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, a 3,100mAh battery, 8-megapixel rear camera with 1080p video capture and a 1.9MP camera up front. You'll also be treated to the same beautiful HD Super AMOLED panel with 1,280 x 720 resolution and a density of 267 ppi. In addition to the standard Verizon-specific LTE and EVDO radios, Verizon's Note contains quad-band (850/900/1900/2100) HSPA+ and quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) GSM / EDGE for global roaming capabilities.
Galaxy Note II US comparisonNote II (Verizon)Note II (AT&T)Note II (T-Mobile)Note II (Sprint)
Quadrant v26,9866,6116,6956,752
Vellamo v21,8141,8311,7591,806
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)1,0751,0761,0591,075
GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt 1080p Offscreen (fps)17171717
SunSpider: lower scores are better
Our benchmark scores matched the other US variants, and in our real-world usage we enjoyed similarly smooth performance. Given that this device runs Project Butter (Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean) and uses such a powerful chipset behind the scenes, we found that there's absolutely nothing to complain about in terms of performance. As we've come to expect on a Verizon smartphone, calls were clear, reliable and worry-free. In short, there was nothing about this model that stood out to us -- for better or worse -- when compared to our fellow Notes. We also found the battery life to match the expectations set by the original Note II; in our standard endurance test, which involves running a video on endless loop, we managed to get 10 hours and 15 minutes with LTE turned on, and heavy users will end up going to sleep at night with plenty of battery to spare. Anyone enjoying the Note II on a moderate basis should make it through almost two days before needing to charge up again.
DNP Samsung Galaxy Note II for Verizon what's different
It's not too often we can seriously say that Verizon has one of the most enticing smartphone lineups in the US, but the addition of the Note II and HTC Droid DNAhelp convince us that the nation's most popular network has grown considerably over the last few months. Samsung's new device comes in marble white and titanium grey and has an asking price of $300 with contract. That puts it in the same pricing tier as the Motorola RAZR Maxx HD, another heavy hitter in the battery department. If you can forgive the smaller battery and lack of stylus, however, the DNA is a bit more tempting in that it offers a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, wireless charging and a gorgeous 1080p HD display -- all for $100 less. Both powerhouses pack plenty of punch to please picky power users, which means you'll probably need a scale to weigh the decision facing you -- unless, of course, your thumbs are allergic to ugly logos and styli.

Final Fantasy IV headed to iOS on December 20, Android version to follow in 2013

Final Fantasy IV headed to iOS on December 20, Android version to follow in 2013
That Nintendo DS re-make of Final Fantasy IV may add 3D graphics, a variety of bug fixes, and a fresh localization, but who wants to lug around their old Nintendo DS? Thankfully, it won't be much longer before the same version of FFIV ends up on iOS, as spotted by the folks at gaming forum NeoGAF. The game arrives on the iOS App Store for both iPhone and iPad starting on December 20, and is headed to Android sometime next year. As of now, it's only got a Japanese pricing of ¥1800 ($21.77), but we expect it'll cost about $17.99 when it launches Stateside. In anticipation of the pending release, Square's marking down prices of its other iOS FF games (which are usually priced absurdly high), so now's a good time to snap them up on the cheap. If you'd like to take a gander at the first images of the iOS port, Japanese publication Gamer has a first-look.

YouTube Undergoes A Redesign

YouTube Undergoes A Redesign
YouTube recently underwent a face lift. The popular, Google-owned service decided to place videos at the top of the page and added a "Guide" icon feature to the left of each video, similar to the "Guide" sidebar on the homepage of YouTube. As the Los Angeles Times reports:
Video titles and the subscription button are now shown under the video.The new look has also ditched YouTube's gray color used for all areas around videos and replaced it with a lighter shade that is almost white. Additionally, the video site has adopted a more simplistic design, similar to that of Google Drive, with 2-D shapes, leaving behind the button-like look it previously used.
"In this new layout, you’ll find the most crucial elements are front and center when you watch a video," YouTube said.

Google Gives $5M To Build Drones That Hunt Poachers

Google has provided the World Wildlife Fund with $5 million to fund a big data system and aerial drones to help catch gangs illegally hunting endangered species.As part of Google’s new Global Impact Awards, which provides funding for non-profit technology innovations, the search engine giant has provided a grant of $5 million to the World Wildlife Fund for aerial drones to help catch poachers who are hunting endangered species such as tigers, elephants and rhinos.
The goal of the Google grant is to allow the WWF to create an integrated smart system that includes aerial drones, DNA tracking and communications with law enforcement it easier to quickly identify and intercept criminal gangs that are in the process of hunting endangered animals.Increased demand for parts of endangered species, coupled with the low risks for poachers, have created a black market trade in poaching that may be worth as much as $10 billion, according to the WWF.
“We face an unprecedented poaching crisis,” said WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts in a statement. “The killings are way up. We need solutions that are as sophisticated as the threats we face. This pushes the envelope in the fight against wildlife crime.”
Other projects funded by Google’s award include sensors to ensure that clean water pipes are properly maintained, providing education opportunities for low-income students, and a grant to the Geena Davis Institute to take on gender bias in media.