SciTech Briefs

Researchers test swarm of aerial robots

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are working on a project called SMAVNET, which stands for Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network. They are in the process of developing small flying robots that can be sent to a disaster-stricken area to create a communication network. The flying robots are built using one pound of plastic foam with a 31-inch wingspan, outfitted with an electric motor, a Linux-based processor, GPS, and Wi-Fi capability. To design a swarm algorithm, the researchers studied ants. Ants maintain multiple pheromone paths that lead them to food, and this served as an analogue for the robots, which were designed to deploy a communication network that would help rescuers.

The robots are launched in the air just like a Frisbee is, but not before they perform a self-check on themselves. They can be monitored using an interface which runs on any computer. The hope is that the robots reach the disaster site and relay information about the injured and the environmental conditions so that rescuers are more prepared when they arrive on the scene.

Source: Popular Science magazine

Alien planet looks ‘just right’ for life

Astronomers claim to have found a planet beyond the Milky Way which may have the perfect environmental conditions for humans to live on. This discovery was recently published after 11 years of research at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The new planet is called Gliese 581g and measures around 3.5 times the mass of Earth. This planet is tidally locked to its star, which means that half of the planet always faces the sun and the other half is in complete darkness. This causes temperatures to plunge to below –30 degrees Celsius. However, astronomers say that the planet does have a “livable zone” between the shadow and the light.

If we want to travel to the planet, however, it would take tens of thousands of years to get there via conventional rocket technologies. Steven Vogt, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said, “If you’re traveling at a tenth of the speed of light, you could reach this [planet] in 200 years.”

Source: MSNBC

Accept credit cards with the iPhone

Why do only “actual companies” accept credit cards? Why can’t we pay with credit cards at a farmer’s market or at a garage sale? Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles to overcome before cards can be accepted. To become a legal credit card merchant, one needs to buy the card-reading equipment. Then one has to register for a one- or two-year contract with the processing company. However, a company called Square has recently developed a system to get rid of all these costs. All that is required is an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or an Android phone.

Square provides a free tiny half-inch reader attachment that snaps into the phone’s headphone jack. This reader has a credit card slot through which a credit card can be swiped. A receipt is sent to the customer’s e-mail address, and the transaction is completed. For each transaction, Square charges 2.75 percent of the total, plus 15 cents. Most other dealers charge around 3 or 4 percent of the total plus 30 cents. The Square system is simple, unique, and has the potential to be a technology that could put many credit card vendors out of business as it saves money, red tape, and time.

Source: The New York Times