This week’s Association for Computing Machinery TechNews newsletter had some good stuff in it, here are a couple of the highlights.
I’ve experimented with hacking wearables for a couple years now, ever since I got an Arduino and then a Raspberry Pi. Light up shoes, wireless speech readers, temperature sensors and on and on. Chunky circuit boards and power supplies always made the idea of stuff like that being worn on a daily basis pretty unlikely. Flexible boards that can be sewn on things are pretty cool, but I haven’t done much with those yet. I’m holding out for a “computing shirt”, or at least some smart Nikes with a pump action. Apparently the research is entirely theoretical at this point, but the researchers do believe that they would be able to produce it given today’s technology.
“The material’s oscillations are due to chemical reactions inside the gel that cause it to continually expand and contract when certain chemical reagents are present. These pulses cause a piezoelectric beam lying across the gel to bend and generate a voltage. Piezoelectric materials generate electricity in response to mechanical stress.
When multiple units of this material are wired up, these electrical signals allow them to communicate and synchronize their oscillations. This allows these networks to carry out so-called “oscillator-based computing,” which operates more like the human brain than traditional computers, and is good at perceptual tasks like pattern recognition, the researchers said.”
This story is about a group of MIT researchers that are working on, and I’m not making this up, “an imaging system that can read closed books.”
Huh. That caught my eye and then my mind, I immediately started thinking about how you could do something like that. I didn’t come up with anything even remotely plausible though. It’s interesting to think about the other potential use cases as described by one of the researchers,
“The Metropolitan Museum in New York showed a lot of interest in this, because they want to, for example, look into some antique books that they don’t even want to touch,” says Barmak Heshmat, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab and corresponding author on the new paper. He adds that the system could be used to analyze any materials organized in thin layers, such as coatings on machine parts or pharmaceuticals.
Looks like the tech is called “terahertz radiation”, and a large part of this system is algorithmically filtering “noise” from the signal that is received. I don’t think I have ever heard of this until now,
The system uses terahertz radiation, the band of electromagnetic radiation between microwaves and infrared light, which has several advantages over other types of waves that can penetrate surfaces, such as X-rays or sound waves. Terahertz radiation has been widely researched for use in security screening, because different chemicals absorb different frequencies of terahertz radiation to different degrees, yielding a distinctive frequency signature for each. By the same token, terahertz frequency profiles can distinguish between ink and blank paper, in a way that X-rays can’t.
How small could you make a system like this? It seems to have “espionage” written all over it. Fascinating.