Tag: oxford uni

Metamaterial tech threatens the end for power cables

Oxford University research into metamaterials could help the public do away with the masses of wires that connect computing devices.

Isis Innovation, the research commercialisation arm of the university, has come up with new technology that allows devices to both charge up batteries and transit data without the need for any cables.

It is already possible to charge devices using inductive charging, with devices from electric toothbrushes, but the team have struck on a new way to deliver power and data.

Using engineered metamaterials, the team says it is possible to connect devices with a patterned conductive layer that can be added to pretty much any surface. This means it is possible to use a carpet to provide power to a lamp, for example, and the same should apply to all manner of devices.  

Dr Chris Stevens, one of the researchers, said: “You could have a truly active, cable-free, batteryless desktop that can power and link your laptop or PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, phone and camera.” 

This could mean putting the technology behind a computer monitor’s screen to transfer digital files to and from a USB stick “simply by tapping the flash drive against an on-screen icon”, with touted transfer speeds of 3.5 gigabits per second.

In the future it could be possible to have your stereo, TV, DVD and satellite box all powered through the carpet and wallpaper. An electric car could also be charged via a mat, for instance.

By doing away with power cables components could be easier to recycle. As it stands, devices are soldered or wired together and so are difficult to recycle. Stevens claimed that by getting rid of wires and connecting components by putting them on a sealed circuit board it will be a lot easier to take them apart without desoldering or using heat treatments which could potentially damage components.

“High spec computers can be sent back to the manufacturer when the next model comes out and the processors can be reused for lower spec home computers,” he said.  “Eventually those same processors can end up in TVs and washing machines – dramatically increasing the lifecycle of electronics”

Oxford Uni develops porky-pie detection software

Being able to read a person’s expression is a useful skill, whether you are in a high stakes poker game or predicting which team’s paying over the odds haggling on Bargain Hunt

Unfortunately, it’s often very difficult to successfully determine when someone is telling porkies, and demanding to rig people to an old fashioned lie detector might be OK on the Jeremy Kyle show but it’s unlikely to go down well elsewhere.

However, small and fleeting facial expressions can sometimes give the game away when a person is attempting to hide their true emotions. 

Researchers at Oxford University reckon that such ‘micro-expressions’ can be tracked by software developed in partnership with Oulu University.

According to Tomas Pfister, an Oxford University engineer involved in the study, micro-expressions are incredibly rapid, and last only between a twenty fifth and a third of a second. 

It is, in some cases, possible to train people to catch those expressions, with US airports officials instructed to look out for giveaway signs in passengers when questioned. Typical giveaways for TSA officers are spotting people with ‘brown skin’ or when a parent refuses to let them strip-search kids right there in the queue.

Those indicators are quite broad, though, so such lie detection is about as intuitive as spotting a poker bluff from a seasoned pro. Oxford University’s automatic detection should kick those problems out of the door, significantly reducing the guesswork involved. 

One of the main problems for detecting fibbing micro-expressions is that they quickly vanish from the face. With normal speed cameras, tell-tale expressions will only appear for a couple of frames that can be examined by a computer. The researchers are using a temporal interpolation method to fix this. It involves filling in gaps with existing data, meaning that even a standard camera could pick up on lies.

The automated method was able to pick up on micro-expressions with a “significantly” higher rate of success than typical face reading, with 79 percent accuracy possible at this point in development.

While the expression detection might not provide conclusive evidence of lying, the researchers believe their approach can distinguish between deceptive and truthful micro-expressions.

Oxford invents intelligent hydrogel

Scientists affiliated with Oxford University have announced details of an intelligent hydrogel that they promise can revolutionise tissue expansion by surgeons.

According to researchers, new funding will help the development of a hydrogel that is able to control the direction timing and rate of expansion of a material used for a variety of tissue reconstruction needs.

Rather than traditional methods, often involving an inflatable balloon gradually filled with a silicon substance, the team has devised a method that can more easily be used in “delicate anatomical locations”.

Crucially, surgeons will have precise control over the size of the implanted device, how and in what direction it will grow, and over what period of time.

This means that there is greater scope for using the technology with the delicate tissue of children, one of the main reasons for the developments.

Adults often require more nuance care,  so it’s possible to use the hydrogel in reconstructive surgery and restorative dentistry. For example, the technology is often required for reconstructing tissue following burns or cancer surgery.

And the researchers hope that their intelligent hydrogel offers a significantly improved version of inflatable devices and other types of hydrogel.

Their version means that, thanks to its self-inflation, injection ports are not necessary. Further, a precisely controlled expansion rate over six weeks to six months can minimise the likelihood of tissue necrosis and potential for device extrusion.

The new gel promises surgeons greater control over shaping, meaning it’s easier to attain a better fit.

The researchers have received £365,000 in funding to develop the technology and trials will begin with restorative dentistry Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

 According to the researchers their method will allow “clinicians to treat more cases, at a lower cost, and hopefully with a better patient outcome.”

Facebook “will outpace Google” in five years time

The opening session at Silicon Valley comes to Oxford provoked a controversy over whether Facebook will be a larger company than Google in five years time.

The controversy was provoked by one of the members of the panel in response to a question from the audience.

On the panel were Brent Hoberman (founder Mydeco), Kim Polese (Marimba), Nick Hughes (Signal Point Partners), David Upton (Prof Operations Management, Oxford Uni), Anil Hansjee (Google), Monique Maddy (eZuza), Saul Klein (Index Ventures). You’ll remember Hansjee from Sitges, when he told us about the phalanx of lawyers the Great ‘Ogle was hiring to fight off aggression from Saint Steve of Cupertino.

Klein said that as much as he thinks Google has a “long way to run”, he would bet that Facebook is more valuable because it can build more big big businesses on top of itself. The fact is that 500 million people are now connected by Facebook, with one application developer building a billion plus business on top of it.

Hansjee shook his head. But Klein said it will be one of the biggest technology fist fights ever. Apple and Microsoft, for example, was not really a fair fight.

Hansjee said that he “really admired Facebook” and they have incredibly powerful tools. He said that Facebook is entertainment, and flirting and social activities and graphs will not remain the same as it was. Social networking was only one component of what Google wanted to do on the web. These are complicated problems that relate to problem solving that Facebook is simply not geared up to do and isn’t in its DNA, said Hansjee.

And so to the rest of the proceedings, before this spat emerged.

Cisco, Microsoft, Intel are minor players
David Upton started proceedings by asking what were  the less well known companies and investors that let Facebook, Linkedin and the others grow.

Hoberman reckoned that what was a niche technology became a mass market technology because of companies like Cisco and Microsoft – they’re hardly less well known, however. Polese said TCP/IP opened the field to social networking.

Hughes said that he’s a great advocate for mobile technology and there are five billion handsets out there – an invisible market that’s coming into its own in emerging markets. Hansjee said that the lower cost of storage and bandwidth made the technologies work for the mass market, but the flip side of that coin was the human perspective. “Within us all there’s a massive desire to communicate, articulate and express our views. There’s always a technology driver but there’s a set of tools that have created an unstoppable force.”

Maddy believes ease of use and allowing people to collaborate in different ways have given things a lot more breadth, while Klein said that Intel, Cisco and Microsoft were the carrier vehicles for the TCP/IP stack. AOL didn’t get enough credit for creating the notion of a mainstream mass market internet company. But the giant everyone else rested on was Netscape.

Klein said that the next 15 years of the internet was Maslow’s internet, where healthcare, water, food distribution and energy would underly the second version of the web. “Obviously shopping and entertainment will continue to be disruptive,” he said. We haven’t seen the Netscape or the Alta Vista of the energy web, the healthcare web, and the food web.

Google’s Hansjee said we’re beginning to capture data about food and energy and it will be possible to add value once that data was captured.

Professor Upton said US banks are looking at Google at being threats, and at what Google can do to the banking system.

The panel was asked how internet companies are influenced by politics.

Klein, a co-founder of Skype, said that the markets where people try to block Skype are markets where there are incumbent telecoms businesses and where people didn’t want competition. In China,  it’s around freedom of speech and Skype was blocked because a state owned telecom company didn’t want to have revenue cannibilisation.

Polese said the internet is the most powerful tool for democracy that’s ever existed and resistance will evaporate because people will self organise as well as the commercial interests that are involved. There’s no stopping the march.

Google’s Hansjee said that politics can help and enable innovation. From a policy perspective governments can do a lot including taxation to help to progress the internet. He didn’t mention China, nor Street View

Anyone can build a company. Honest.
Google constantly tries to out-innovate its own products because it knows if it doesn’t someone else will.

Polese says the technology is ubiquitous now and it was tied up in a few companies, but now anyone can build a company. The younger generation is not only interested in social networking, but in green technology and other social matters. Not everyone can be a billionaire by building a social networking site.

Technology needs to be human
Hughes said emerging companies will move directly to the newer models. Klein said that technology has been elevated to such a level as well as entrepreneurship that it seems like it’s the answer to all problems. Without understanding human factors such as how things fit into peoples’ lives, we elevate technology too highly. Skype was designed to be simple and it was fundamental to success, as well as Apple and Twitter. When would 900 year old institutions like Oxford, Yale and Harvard put design in front of students?

Maddy said there are 1.2 billion people with mobile phones but with no bank account. People have to know how mobile phones can seamlessly fit into their lives.

Bricks or mortar at Oxford University?
A chap asked whether Oxford spending £1.5 billion in the future, of which one billion was bricks and mortars, is a good investment.  There was a long silence. Then some nervous laughs.

Polese said that it’s not just the technology that’s the point in matter, it’s the way teaching might change. Klein said that while distant learning and the web is a great way to distribute knowledge, for “great brands like Oxford” taking university into remote locations is a very very powerful business model.  Europe has a very big challenge ahead of it by either exporting intellectual capital or brands or hunkering down in the UK.  Oxford University could be a torchbearer for this.

Oxford’s Upton said we needed to change our models of learning to help with the hunger of skills around the world. “There is a place for people to get together”. Oxford has holographed students into classes to be “part of a platform”.  He doesn’t know whether the university is doing the right thing or not in choosing between bricks and mortar and virtual classes.

Google said Hansjee was getting involved in video and audio in remote locations and that’s just round the corner.

Someone asked about journalism and paywalls.  Hoberman, who is on the board of the Guardian Media Group, said that the main point is you take yourself out of the conversation if you put yourself behind a paywall. That argues about changing the shape of journalism and what the Guardian calls “mutualisation” to get readers involved in the conversation.

Maddy asked whether there was controversy about paywalls because people regarded news as free. People are willing to pay for other things rather than news.  

Polese said the question is about the quality of the journalism that makes people want to come back and read it again. She said one good example is the Huffington Post and we’re seeing some models emerging where there’s high standards of journalism and design. We kept our counsel.