Thursday, February 8, 2007

Friday Tech Files

== Minority Report lives! ==

Remember that bit in the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report (which was adapted from a much better written work incidentally) where people were getting iris scanned wherever they went? Tom gets a new set of black-market eyes to hide his identity and when he goes into The GAP the computer snaps his picture and says something like "hello Mr. Kurosaka."

(Insert joke here about how The GAP really needs something like this to save them from bankruptcy)

Well, that day is coming. A new technology recently debuted called "Iris on the Move" from Sarnoff. It was actually announced (released) Back in 2005 but the product has been improving and advancing ever since. Currently they claim it can identify 20 people per minute at a normal walking pace. This gets the security people a step closer to their ultimate fantasy of being able to put up a system that gives a certain identification on everyone who walks past.

The system works through sunglasses, although it is still based on seeing the targets eyes so presumably a big hat and a gaze sternly leveled at ones own feet will prevent identification -- but that response will be pretty noticeable by guards stationed nearby.

I've done some work with the Defense Department before and always found Sarnoff to be very impressive. Too bad they aren't public!

== Bad Ideas Department # 6739 ==

Okay, just look at the picture for a second and tell me what isn't wrong with this product idea.

Yes, it's an automotive sun visor with a 7" LCD widescreen, DVD player, MP3 player, and TV tuner. It also includes a remote control, all for the low price of $300. Lest you think I am totally making this up you can follow this link to buy one.

Just keep in mind that when you get in an accident, the other guy can just show this thing in court and you will pretty much automatically lose your case.

== Fuel from Whatever ==

Like many cool technologies, this one is being funded by the US Military (who are, practically speaking, a stealth funding agency for our nations engineering universities). This is the so called "tactical biorefinery" being built by Purdue. It seems to be getting a lot of play on the techie blog circuit so please allow me to show that I have more information than anyone else...

The biorefinery (ignore the tactical part, that's for selling it to the military) takes any waste that you might consider putting in a compost pile and turns it into energy. The fuel (or Biomass) goes through two separate processing flows. On the one hand the sugars in the fuel are "digested" by bacteria, putting out burnable residues and sugary materials. On the other side a thermal process (similar to thermal depolymerization) puts out a primary natural gas that is burned with the residues of the sugar process and a "conditioned gas" which burns the sugars from the digestion side of the machine.

Together these two processes break down the trash, extracting more energy than it takes to get the process started. In theory the energy in a snickers bar, for example, could run a laptop for an hour or two. Multiply that by the output of the average military mess hall and latrines, and you have a significant bit of power.

The ultimate dream is to build devices on a scale appropriate to a municipal dump and/or sewage plant, where a lot of potential organic energy is going to waste. Imagine a day where the trash and sewage runs into a plant that supplies a portion of the cities power... with the outputs being clean water and fertilizer.

Some day.... some day...

Cheers and have a good weekend,

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