Wearable tech set to revolutionise disaster recovery and emergency response

Wearable tech can help the emergency services by freeing up their hands an allowing them to access more information while carrying out essential tasks.

At a recent London event Samsung and consultants Ovum said that the emergency services and healthcare professionals can significantly benefit from the rapidly advancing field of wearable technology.

He said the devices have huge benefits for those in emergency services as they will enable workers to use their hands while also receiving the information they need to know.

Adrian Drury from Ovum, at the Futurescape event, said: “Fire police, rescue, these are the people who are really interested in wearable tech to make their jobs better.”

As an example he said those working in hospitals will be able to benefit from seeing vital patient information, on systems like Google Glass, while still being able to treat the patient.

The potential for using Google Glass and other wearable technology in situations which require a fast, or expert, response is only just being realised.

In recent weeks Google announced a first round of companies which would start to use glass in the work place.

This included Augmedix a company that is teaming up doctors with the headwear to help them see information about the patients in front of them.


Now BAE Systems has launched new software that can be used with Glass in the event of a natural disaster.

The company has launched a new prototype app that allows emergency workers to collect data and images from an area while they are doing other, more urgent, jobs.

This will allow damage to be assessed and the data collected uploaded to a server which is accessible by those in a command centre.

The technology offers the potential to be able to allow first responders in emergency environment to focus on life threatening issues while also capturing what is happening in the surrounding area.

This may be able to give those who are responsible for co-ordinating a larger response to see the extent of a potential situation and then act in an appropriate way.


DeEtte Gray, president of BAE Systems’ intelligence and security sector said: “Disasters affecting a large number of people spread across a wide geographical area present a significant challenge for emergency responders.”

Peder Jungck, also from the company, said: “Crowdsourcing enables emergency responders to quickly provide real-time images, video and intelligence back to the command post, so decision makers can effectively determine when and where to deploy resources”.

Image one courtesy of Augmedix



Ultra-thin spray-on solar cells to bring cheap green energy to the masses

Scientists have developed low-cost spray-on solar cells that could result in a dramatic drop in the price of solar electricity.

Designed to be applied using a method similar to car paint, the cells could be easily mass produced, giving solar power the chance of ubiquity. The spray technique also results in very little waste, which helps to keep manufacturing costs low.

If the technique takes off we could see solar cells built into everything from cars to clothes, leading to a move away from centralised power generation.

The cells are made from a rival material to market-dominating silicon: perovskite. Although only recently adopted for use in solar cells, the material is gaining popularity due its low price and energy costs.

“There is a lot of excitement around perovskite-based photovoltaics,” explained Professor David Lidzey, lead researcher from The University of Sheffield Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“Remarkably, this class of material offers the potential to combine the high performance of mature solar cell technologies with the low embedded energy costs of production of organic photovoltaics.”


The design of the cells is similar to organic equivalents, but with better performance.

“What we have done is replace the key light absorbing layer – the organic layer – with a spray-painted perovskite,” explained Lidzey. “Using a perovskite absorber instead of an organic absorber gives a significant boost in terms of efficiency.”

Although not quite as high as silicon, the efficiency levels of perovskite cells are far better than their organic counterparts.

“The best certified efficiencies from organic solar cells are around 10%,” said Lidzey.

“Perovskite cells now have efficiencies of up to 19%. This is not so far behind that of silicon at 25% – the material that dominates the worldwide solar market.”

At present the team have only achieved 11% efficiency but believe that with further research this can be improved.


The study itself, however, has moved ultra-thin solar cell technology far closer to mass production.

“This study advances existing work where the perovskite layer has been deposited from solution using laboratory-scale techniques,” said Lidzey.

“It’s a significant step towards efficient, low-cost solar cell devices made using high volume roll-to-roll processing methods.”

Lidzey argued that this solar technology would become increasingly key in power generation.

“I believe that new thin-film photovoltaic technologies are going to have an important role to play in driving the uptake of solar-energy, and that perovskite-based cells are emerging as likely thin-film candidates,” he said.

Images courtesy of Alex Barrows, Lucy Pickford and Jon Griffin via The University of Sheffield.



Looking for life: NASA announces Mars 2020 rover instruments

NASA has announced the instruments it has selected for its Mars 2020 rover, and the focus is on detecting signs of life and developing technology for a human mission to the red planet.

The Mars 2020 rover is a follow-up to Curiosity, the currently-deployed rover that has excited many with its robotic selfies and amusing tyre shapes. Mars 2020 will have a very similar design to Curiosity, but will feature more advanced instruments that its predecessor.

In an announcement from NASA’s Washington headquarters entitled “Mars 2020 Rover: Studying the Red Planet as Never Before”, the agency outlined the instruments it had selected to be part of the roving laboratory.

As part of the announcement, John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, discussed how great it was that Curiosity – Mars 2020’s predecessor – found that Mars had previously seen life-suitable conditions.

“The science behind Mars 2020 is really going to extend that,” he said.


Out of the 58 proposals that the agency received, NASA selected seven instruments to feature on the final rover.

Most exciting of these is MOXIE, a system designed to break apart Mars’ CO₂-laden atmosphere to produce oxygen.

Of all the technologies, this bears the most significance for future manned missions, as it could form the basis for a technology to enable humans to breathe on the planet, and one day even provide air for a human colony.

“This is a real step forward in helping human exploration on Mars,” explained Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program.

Among the other technologies selected for Mars 2020 is Mastcam-Z, an upgraded camera that features a zoom for accurate terrain plotting and a weather station named MEDA that will provide clear data about dust levels and how well MOXIE is working.


Mineral and organic detection, however, covered the bulk of the instruments, with the hope that Mars 2020 will find the long hoped-for evidence of life on the red planet.

Among the instruments designed for this purpose was SuperCam – an upgraded version of Curiosity’s Chemcam with the ability to indentify minerals – SHERLOC – a mineralogy and organics detector – and PIXL, an arm-mounted sensor head that provides detailed mineralogy at the scale of microbial life.

The set is rounded off by RIMFAX – a radar imager that will provide the first subsurface images of Mars.

For Meyer, the value of the instrument selection is in how they work together.

“It’s how they play well together,” he said. “No measurement such as elemental chemistry is only done by one instrument. They overlap, they complement each other”

By having instruments use different methods to achieve the same results, the rover should provide robust and reliable data for future missions.

Images courtesy of NASA.



Blurred lines: Using computers to automatically fix your vision

Needing reading glasses while using technology could be a thing of the past, as computer screens may be given glasses instead of you.

Everything could be solved with a thin screen protector and computer algorithms that change the image on screen depending on the viewer’s eyesight.

The displays are being created to allow users to be able to see images clearly without the need to wear corrective lenses.

The work has been develed by researchs at the UC Berkley, US, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology added a printed pinhole screen between two layers of clear plastic to an iPod display to improve the sharpness.

The pinholes are 390 micrometers apart and 75 micrometers wide.

This is combined with an algorithm that adjusts the intensity of each direction of light coming from a single pixel, which is manipulated to fit the user’s visual impairment.

Brian Barsky from UC Berkeley, who worked on the project, said that the tech only works for a single user at a time.

“Our technique distorts the image such that, when the intended user looks at the screen, the image will appear sharp to that particular viewer,” he said.

“But if someone else were to look at the image, it would look bad.”

The next development looks clear for the product; another Berkley member of the team, Fu-Chung Huang, said they may be able to make it work for multiple users at a time.

Huang added: “In the future, we also hope to extend this application to multi-way correction on a shared display, so users with different visual problems can view the same screen and see a sharp image,” said Huang.


Barsky added that the screen filter could be the most beneficial to those with very severe eye conditions.

“We now live in a world where displays are ubiquitous, and being able to interact with displays is taken for granted.

“People with higher order aberrations often have irregularities in the shape of the cornea, and this irregular shape makes it very difficult to have a contact lens that will fit.

“In some cases, this can be a barrier to holding certain jobs because many workers need to look at a screen as part of their work.

“This research could transform their lives, and I am passionate about that potential.”



Under the sea: Weaponised submarines and drone boats to help protect countries

Military submarines and boat drones that are able to carry and use weapons are to be developed by the UK.

This is intended to address the issue of maritime security and also boost the defence capabilities that are available for countries.

The areas of technology that are of interest include being able to ensure the navigational accuracy of the drones, as well as ensuring that all communications are secure.

The UK government also wants to be able to launch drones from a larger platform that is already at sea.

Private companies are being invited to submit proposals for the development of the military tech. A graphic (below) included in the guidance for applications identifies the desired  drones, including a version designed special operations.

Other uses include sea mine clearance and persistent wide area surveillance.

Funding has been announced for early proposals for ‘Maritime Autonomous Systems’ by the UK government. In the guidance for applications to create the systems, it says that the technologies will be able to help support people in increasingly complex defence and security environments.

Proposals will also enable infrastructure to be developed, as well creating economic benefits.


“Maritime Mission Systems may be defined as the set of integrated equipment and human resources that provide the capability maritime vessels (Ships and Submarines) require to conduct their operational tasks,” the guidance for proposals says.

“The scope of the definition includes vessels either operating alone or in consort with other maritime vessels, or with units in the land and air domains.

“Essential sub-systems include wide ranging technologies for sensors (e.g. sonar and radar), weapons, command and control systems, command information systems, communications and networks, navigation and geospatial/temporal referencing systems.

“The subsystems may be hosted organically on the platform itself or (as increasingly the case) deployed through off-board systems such as supervised and autonomous unmanned vehicles.”


However, the project is by no means the first to be looking at using autonomous devices at sea.

Earlier this year Rolls-Royce revealed its plans to create drone ships.

The company has been designing autonomous cargo ships since 2013 and believes it won’t be too long before they can be created.

However the company has said one of the hardest things that needs to be overcome is ensuring correct regulation is in place for them to be used.

As with all autonomous devices, there needs to be strict rules and security measures in place to avoid attacks from would-be virtual pirates.

Image two courtesy of Rolls Royce 



Factor reviews: Logitech Ultrathin keyboard for iPad Mini

‘Why have a normal iPad case when you can have a case that doubles as a keyboard?’ is the thought that ran through a Logitech designer’s head when they designed their range of cases.

Now they have scaled it down for the iPad’s smaller sibling.

What really shines for the keyboard, which is designed for the iPad mini and the iPad mini with Retina display, is its ability to double up as a cover and its command functions.

As someone who carries my iPad mini around in the bottom of my bag,without a case, a cover that offers a second practical use makes perfect sense.

It clips to the iPad by a magnetic clip and holds the tablet securely (even when tipped upside down), and when being held the keyboard feels sturdy as well as being capable of protecting the iPad.

The keyboard-cover, which is just 6.4mm in depth, retails at £49.99, allows the iPad to be protected when not in use and also doubles as a stand.

The keyboard, which connects to the iPad via Bluetooth, is comfortable to type on with the pressure needed to execute each stroke not being either excessive or too light.

Based on two hours use a day the keyboard will retain its battery for three months, which is perfect for anyone wanting to use it on a train commute to work.

The biggest issue I had when using the keyboard was adapting to the size and spacing of the keys.

While the amount of space between the keys is generous there are naturally limitations to the overall shape and length of the keyboard.

As with almost all cases designed for iPad, the Logitech creation doubles as a stand and is also hinged to change to a more comfortable viewing angle.


The most irking design element, which may come down to a unfamiliarity compared with my current set up, was the positioning of the shift key.

I often while typing found my hand resting on the outer keys of ‘q’, ‘a’ and ‘z’ whereas when typing on a desktop computer my hands tend to hover over ‘Shift’, ‘Caps Lock’ and co.

This led to a lot of red squiggly lines underneath the incomprehensible sentences.

However, there were times while using the keyboard where typing felt natural and could easily flow without no more mistakes than I usually would make.

With a prolonged use I can see that it is very possible to adapt to using the keyboard and type in a way that is comfortable and accurate.

The biggest question that has to be answered when using a keyboard designed for iPad is how does it compare to the onscreen keyboard?

The native keyboard on the iPad feels less cluttered due to the one less row of keys but it does have the flexibility of being able to change the character set with the press of a button.

If you are typing a large amount on the iPad then having a pressure sensitive keyboard will be better for the fingers.

One huge advantage over the iPad’s inbuilt keyboard is the softness which is felt when typing, rather than the solid glass screen of the tablet.

The keyboard also has a range of function keys (operated in the same way as an Apple-made keyboard) which allows you to change music, lock the iPad, easily take a screenshot and do anything it is possible to do with a traditional keyboard.

Overall the Logitech devices makes having a case for you iPad mini more practical while also offering protection that you can trust.

Factor’s verdict:





Twice the turbine: Radical green wind power source now generates even more energy

A wind turbine that produces 600% more green energy than traditional turbines is now able to create almost twice as much power again.

Now the company, Sheerwind, is testing using multiple turbines in one device, which means it is possible to generate 1.7 times more power than it was originally creating.

Adding an extra turbine to the tower that channels the wind proves that sometimes the best ideas can be the simplest ones.

The turbine operates with wind speeds as low as 2mph and accelerates the wind before it is delivered to turbines located on the ground.

Rather than having the generator at the top of the tower, the patented technology places it at the bottom.

The company says by adding a new turbine each tower in its Invelox system has the potential to produce electrical energy for 579 houses in the US.

This additional turbine should also reduce the capital expenditure needed to produce each kilowatt of energy.

President of SheerWind Cyndi Lesher said that being able to combine the more than one turbine on each tower allows for even more efficient energy production.

“Because the Invelox system directs and controls wind, we are able for the first time in history, to place multiple turbines together to produce more energy.

“This means a single Invelox tower is able to increase its output— reducing cost per kilowatt— all without additional structure or land use. Increasing the ability to operate in areas never before feasible or economical with even less environmental impact.”

The company also say that having more than one turbine allows the downtime to be reduced when repairs are needed.

This is due to the possibility of one turbine continuing to run while the other receives maintenance.

Previously, Factor spoke with Sheerwind’s VP of marketing and communications, Carla Scholz, who said that she would like to see the turbines help to provide electricity in developing countries.

This new development could increase the potential energy to be created where a turbine was installed in a developing country.

She also said that it was speaking to some large scale manufacturers in Dubai about the uptake of the devices.

Since then the company has signed a deal with Dubai Aluminium to run a pilot project at the company so it can reduce the company’s carbon footprint by using the green energy production method.

Featured image courtesy of Sheerwind


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