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Friday
Mar142014

This App Could Save Your Life in an Avalanche

Credit: KTH

If you're buried under an avalanche, every minute counts. Luckily, these days, everyone has their smartphones with them at all times. That's why Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology developed an app that makes it possible for skiers to find people buried in the snow.

The app turns a smartphone into a transceiver. All the trapped skier has to do is launch the app and press a button to activate a distress call. Nearby skiers, who have their smartphones with the app, can zero in on the trapped skier's location. The positioning process operates more quickly when several people are searching at the same time, since phones in the vicinity can exchange information. Each phone creates its own picture of where the avalanche victim is and the system provides clear instructions to guide them to the buried skier.

The app is now being tested, and future applications may include its use in public places, such as shopping malls and amusement parks.

Tuesday
Mar112014

Can Crowdsourcing Find Missing Malaysia Airlines Plane?

According to a CNN article, DigitalGlobe, a Colorado company that owns one of the world's most advanced commercial satellite networks, is asking for volunteers to scour 1,235 square miles of satellite images for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370. 

Luke Barrington of DigitalGlobe wants volunteers to tag anything that looks interesting, like anything resembling wreckage or life rafts.

Thousands of volunteers have responded, crashing the site. 

"In many cases, the areas covered are so large, or the things we're looking for are so hard to find, that without the help of hundreds of thousands of people online, we'd never be able to find them," Barrington told CNN affiliate KMGH. 

More satellites photos of the Strait of Malacca will be posted soon. 

The company also called upon crowdsourcers in November after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, the tornado in Moore, Okla., the Colorado floods and in Russia for the Sochi Olympics. 

Monday
Mar102014

High-Tech Glasses Visualize Cancer Cells During Surgery

Breast surgeon Julie Margenthaler, M.D., wore the glasses on February 10, 2014, to visualize cancer cells in a patient. Credit: Washington University School of MedicineA team of scientists from Washington University School of Medicine and University of Arizona have created a pair of high-tech glasses that help surgeons visualize cancer cells during surgeries. The cancer cells glow blue when viewed through the glasses.

The technology incorporates custom video, a head-mounted display and a targeted molecular agent injected into a patient that attaches to cancer cells, making them glow.

The wearable technology was used during surgery for the first time on February 10, 2014. 

Cancer cells are difficult to see, even under high-powered magnification. The high-tech glasses are designed to make it easier for surgeons to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells, helping to ensure no stray tumor cells are left behind during surgery and reduce the need for additional surgical procedures. 

Tuesday
Mar042014

DHS Considering Facial Recognition at Border Stations

The Department of Homeland Security is looking to dive into the world of biometrics.

DHS is requesting information from contractors on the use of facial and iris recognition to track the departure of foreign visitors. The technology could help to DHS agents to confirm that pedestrians and drivers leaving the U.S. are who they claim to be. There’s no word yet on whether a similar system might be used for air passengers.

DHS hopes that this type of technology could help them better keep track of travelers who overstay their visas, such as Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan immigrant who was living in Virginia on an expired 1999 visa when he attempted to bomb the U.S. Capitol Building.

DHS wants to find a “fingerprint, iris, and facial matching" system that could identify more than 97 percent of foreign pedestrians. Most systems currently average 95 percent or better in ideal situations.

While it’s a bit exciting that DHS might invest in such (relatively) cutting-edge technology, we have to wonder how effective it will be in this case. What if people with expired visas never leave—or already have? DHS would never know it using this technique. Besides, what are the odds that foreigners who have overstayed their visas would exit via a border crossing, as opposed to taking a flight out of the country? And finally, how much of a backlog are these systems going to create at each border crossing? Many are already plagued with long lines and staff shortages.

Kudos to DHS for going the technology route to solve a long-term problem. But in this case, biometrics might not be the best bet.

What are your thoughts on this approach? Do you think DHS would actually make some progress using biometrics? Or would it be a waste of resources?

Thursday
Feb272014

Virtual Reality Project Lets Subjects 'Switch Bodies' with Opposite Sex

Researchers in Barcelona are using advanced virtual reality technology to allow subjects to “switch bodies” with the opposite sex.

A group of student’s at Barcelona’s University Pompeu Fabra is the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset in its “The Machine To Be Another” project, which is featured in the video. The project aims to let male and female participants experience how it feels to be in a body of the opposite sex.

Each subject wears a headset, which projects the video feed from their partner’s POV. Then, the two subjects move according to the same set of instructions in order to mirror each other.

“Deep inside you know it’s not your body, but you feel like it is,” digital arts student and group co-founder Philippe Bertrand said in a Wired report.