“B” The Flying Car: I Don’t Know What This is for But I Want One!

Another great Kickstarter project, and this time it’s the brainchild of Witold Mielniczek a Ph.D. Student at Southampton University. “B” is a remote controlled car that turns into a VTOL aircraft for short flights enabling it to traverse difficult terrain with ease. The vehicle transitions pretty seamlessly from driving to flying as the video shows.

The body is made out of polycarbonate and is extremely tough. The wheels have been designed to compress and detach on heavy impacts so that they vehicle is very robust, ideal for the beginner radio control enthusiast. “B” also has a video camera build in so you can get a birds eye view of the vehicles journey. Mielniczek has further development plans including:

  • Support for water landings and a reverse periscope to look beneath the surface
  • The ability to suck to walls allowing vertical ascents
  • Controling “B” from your smart phone using an App

The drive system is currently in the patent process and according to Mielniczek:

“The patentable aspect of the design is called PDU (Propelling Driving Unit). The patentable mechanism can be briefly described as any part of the propeller going through the vertical plane of the driving ring (such as a wheel or a caterpillar track).”

The “B” is shaping up to be a particularly cool toy purchasable through the kickstarter project for a paltry £320. A bargain at twice the price. However, Mielniczek has bigger plans and is suggesting that his design could be scaled to provide an extreme sports vehicle for the adrenalin junkies amongst us or a rescue vehicle for crossing terrain inaccessible to more traditional forms of transport. Currently the only limitation is the relatively small duration of play with one charge only lasting around 15 minutes.

Given the speed at which “B” has achieved its funding target on Kickstarter we can expect to see more of Mielniczek and his flying cars in the future!

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Scrooser – A Harley Davidson for the Sidewalk

The Scrooser has been designed by a team in based in Dresden, Germany and there’s some pretty nifty technology built in. The first thing to notice from the video is that the thick tires on the Scrooser make riding it a very different experience from other two wheeled vehicles. It tilts and glides in a way that certainly looks more akin to snowboarding than riding a scooter. The fact that it is still a scooter meaning that you need to propel it with your feet but allowing the electric engine to enhance your action means that it’s probably a lot better for you than riding a motorbike or driving your car. The electric “impulse drive” engine  is a pretty clever piece of tech, learning the way you scoot and providing just the right amount of back up power when necessary.

The Scrooser has a range of around 35 kms but nearer to 55 kms when the “impulse drive” is running. The folks at Scrooser claim that this is equivalent to 25 days of urban Scroosing (<- see what I just did?) on a single charge. Charging should take between 1 and 5 hours depending on the power source. The Scrooser’s elegant minimalist design and eco-credentials certainly make it stand out and have already got it nominated for  the category “mobility” in the GreenTec Awards 2013, which honors pioneers who are committed to a more environmentally conscious future.

The team at Scooser are currently running a Kickstarter campaign and have hit about 50% of their total funding target with 19 days to go. You can be one of the first to own a Scrooser for the princely sum of $3,950 at Kickstarter.

Disney Infinity – Toy Box Mode Great For Imaginative Play

When I was a kid a good few years ago I remember being given a Space Invaders game. It was one of those clunky black plastic monstrosities that any child would happily have sold his sibling to obtain and provided many hours of entertainment late at night under the bed sheets when my parents thought I was asleep. One dimensional game-play and the simplest of objectives didn’t make the game any less compelling. Move over the early 1980s and take a look at what our kids have to look forward to now! I’m going to leave aside the discussion over whether or not kids should be playing video games as that’s a particular can of worms that it will take more than this blog post to cover.

Disney Infinity launches this August and you can see that it’s an idea that has the hallmarks of success stamped all over it. I’m pretty positive that my kids will want a copy, in fact I think I may pre-purchase a copy just so that I don’t have to look at those little imploring faces. So why will Disney Infinity be a hit?

  • Collectibles – There’s something absolutely inherent in a child’s psychological make up that drives them to collect things, whether it’s sea shells, interesting flowers or any manner of other objects. In fact humans just in general are natural collectors. I imagine there’s probably something in our evolutionary background that selected for this particular behaviour. Maybe cavemen who always had that useful object tucked away somewhere tended to have a better chance of survival. Disney Infinity follows in the footsteps of Skylanders in having real world objects that activate game play when placed on a peripheral figurine docking station.
  • It’s Disney – Kids love the films, heck, I love the films. I could spend hours listening to Edna talk in The Incredibles. The idea that kids can play in the worlds inhabited by these characters and share their adventures is always going to be a compelling one.
  • Social Play with Friends – You can’t build a major gaming title today, whether it’s a big AAA title or a little iPhone game, without having some form of social play. I know from watching my kids play Littlest Petshop that the social aspect of play is very important to them and is certainly a factor in determing both the longevity of the game and the amount of time children spend playing. Disney Infinity looks to have very strong social play building on the learning Disney has had from other social titles it’s released.
  • Toy Box Mode – Here is where I think that Disney will “hit the ball out of the park” to use and American maxim. Toy box mode allows kids to actually build there own worlds then play in them with their friends. Disney have obviously seen the popularity of sand box environments like Minecraft and equated that to children’s love for being able to create. This is a great feature and this alone would persuade me to purchase the game for my kids just to see what they’re going to create and the games they end up playing.

From the point of view of a parent another thing I like about Disney is that they spend a lot of time thinking about “safe guarding”. I’ve worked in the past with people that work at Disney and I know they spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to protect kids online. Disney Infinite should be a safe and creative environment for our kids imaginations to run riot.

Why Seals Can Hold Their Breath Underwater For Longer Than Me

Why Seals Can Hold Their Breath Underwater For Longer Than Me

Seals, dolphins, whales and other mammalian marine animals have evolved the ability to hold their breaths underwater for extended periods. Scientists have long been interested in how they achieve these underwater feats of endurance. In an article in Science this week a group from Liverpool University has proposed a molecular mechanism that accounts for this ability.

Oxygen is stored in muscles using a protein called myoglobin. Like most proteins you can only have myoglobin at certain concentrations because proteins in high concentration tend to form dysfunctional aggregates. This means that for you or I there is a theoretical maximum amount of oxygen our muscles can store.

So how do marine mammals manage to get around this? Simple, they have a mechanism that allows them to pack more myoglobin together without it forming aggregates. Proteins are made up of amino acids, there are 22 standard amino acids some of which have either a positive or negative charge. If the protein evolves enough of these charged amino acids on its surface it will have a high net electro-static charge and it will repel other copies of itself just like trying to bring together the negative poles of two magnets.

This is exactly what has happened to myoglobin as it has evolved in marine mammals. It’s gained a high electrostatic charge which means molecules of myoglobin repel each other and this in turn prevents aggregation.

This means that marine mammals can pack together far more myoglobin molecules and their muscles can hold far more oxygen allowing them to dive for much longer between breaths.

A Mote of Dust Suspended In Sunbeam

300px-PaleBlueDot

Earlier today I was having coffee with our village curate and as is normal our discussion ranged across a wide range of subjects from the history of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 to a picture I remembered having seen and the associated quote. As Voyager left our solar system for deep space it turned and took a sequence of pictures; in one of these, the one above, you can see the planet earth as it appears from about 6 billion kilometers away caught in a reflection of light rays from the sun through the camera’s optics.

Carl Sagan in his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” said this about the picture:

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

I suggested to our curate that there were probably several sermons in this particular quote but I suspect that if there is one lesson to learn from it then it is not to take yourself too seriously.

Microsoft Tells Customers The Offline Strategy for XBox One is XBox 360

In a recent interview Microsoft’s Don Mattrick told a reporter that if customers didn’t have an Internet connection then Microsoft has an offline device, it’s called Xbox 360. Whilst this was a heavy handed and perhaps unwise statement, it underlines the company’s position pretty clearly.

So has the Microsoft senior management team lost all understanding of their customer’s needs? Certainly the discussion of this feature has flared across the social media channels and much of the response has been negative. Bearing this in mind, why insist on Internet connectivity for XBox One? The answer is simple, Microsoft want to make money.

Now before you throw your hands up in the air and say “Well they won’t make money if everyone buys a PS4” take a moment to consider that Microsoft have almost certainly taken a good long look at their customers and have still decided to go down this route. The question is why?

On the face of it the PS4 is a better gaming platform, with a more open development strategy to encourage indy developers. It doesn’t have to be online and it has a lower price tag. Gamers at E3 certainly seem impressed with comments like “They’ve listened to us and given us exactly what we want” being frequently heard.

The answer to what Microsoft are doing is that they are not aiming at hardcore gamers. They’ve noticed four important trends:

1. The market for hardcore gamers is significantly smaller than the entire home entertainment market. Customers want games sure, and your gaming console better not disappoint, but the on-demand entertainment market is just starting to become mainstream.

2. Net-neutrality has become pretty enshrined in U.S. law with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approving new rules in 2010 banning Internet providers from interfering with traffic from “over-the-top” service providers like Netflix.

3. Networks are beginning to have the speed with fiber optic roll outs to reliably deliver high definition, on-demand content in a reasonable time-frame.

4. The Fremium model has shown that you can make millions out of in app purchases on mobile platforms and that some games with very limited scope can perform beyond expectations.

So what does all this mean when we look at Microsoft’s strategy? Simply, they don’t just want to be a gaming platform, they want to be a home entertainment platform and for this they need to be online. They want a bigger bite of the cherry and they don’t mind offending a few hard core gamers to do it.

Expect to see more on-demand video, TV channel packages, non-AAA title games with fremium models and other web based pay-as-you-go services.

There’s no doubt that Microsoft are taking a bit of a gamble with this approach but ultimately time will tell whether they manage to successfully position themselves as a media provider and quarterly financial reports will inform as to whether the strategy is a success. However, they’re in good company with taking an online purchasing approach; Apple makes as much money from apps now as it does from the hardware.

The Buccaneer 3D Printer – Affordable 3D Printing For Your Home

3D printing allows you to create a three dimensional object from a two dimensional plan by laying down multiple layers of material to build the object. Sometimes known by the snappy name of Stereolithography, the first 3D printer was produced by 3D systems in 1984. It’s become a valuable tool for design and development with industry being able to rapidly develop prototypes of ideas and test them before going to full development. Recently the technology came to the forefront in people’s minds when Defense Distributed tested and published its design for a 3D printed gun. Regardless of the ethics of this particular piece of design, 3D printing has a huge number of applications ranging from processor manufacture through to medical implants.

So what does this have to do with you and me? In recent years the cost of 3D printers has fallen significantly, you no longer need to be a large company to afford the technology. You can buy the UP! 3D printer on Amazon for just over £1000. However, this still puts it in a price range acceptable to only the most dedicated consumer 3D hobbyist. Where the folks over at Pirate 3D have scored big with the Buccaneer is that it will have a price tag under £300 in the UK. This puts it firmly in the hands of the interested enthusiast.

This technology is inspiring allowing you to run riot with your imagination building all sorts of fantastic creations. However, Pirate 3D’s innovation hasn’t stopped at the cost, the Buccaneer looks great having an almost Apple’esque elegant compact design. Loading of the substrate for building your models is easy, a circular cartridge that fits in the top and feeds through a small hole at the top of the device. Perhaps the smartest innovation though is the software; by creating a design suite that is easy to use and requires no knowledge of complicated computer aided design (CAD) systems, a complete novice can create great looking objects. The design suite will work on either your PC or tablet.

It seems that I’m not the only one excited by this technology, Pirate 3D’s Kickstarter campaign to fund development and commercialization of the Buccaneer 3D Printer has reached just over $850,000 raised of a $100,000 target. For anyone that enjoys tinkering the Buccaneer 3D printer is a valuable addition to the toybox!