TIME Innovation

Finally, ATMs That Can Spit Hot Acid When Thieves Attack

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Researchers have come up with a chemical cocktail they say could be implemented in ATMs to defend against would-be robbers -- but there's no word on whether you'll get charged an extra fee for that

Want a splash of steaming acid to the face next time you try to jack an ATM? Researchers at ETH Zurich University may have you covered. Almost.

They claim to have come up with a chemical cocktail they say could be used in ATMs or to protect money being transported, by soaking money stashed in ATMS and targeted by miscreants with a kind of hot foam. So no, not a gruesome face-melting experience like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but a destructive enough one to deter would-be thieves. And it’s all thanks to a tiny-winged orange and black insect known as the bombardier beetle.

The bombardier beetle defends itself by spraying perceived threats with a nasty chemical concoction, storing hydroquinone (a type of phenol sometimes used in skin-lightening procedures) and hydrogen peroxide in separate repositories within its abdomen. If it’s threatened, it injects those into a third chamber, where they mix with water and enzymes that catalyze the brew into a boiling fluid that comes shooting out of a swiveling gland at near-boiling temperatures.

The beetle’s sophisticated defense mechanism inspired the Zurich research team to posit anti-theft technology that works much the same. Their solution, Gizmodo reports, involves filling two honeycomb-like compartments—one with hydrogen peroxide, the other with manganese dioxide (a synthetic compound used in batteries)—separated by an easily breakable layer. If the compartments get jostled, the layer breaks, the chemicals combine, and the reaction produces superheated foam. Drop that into an ATM with and you’ve got a contraption that’s like an ink-spewing clothing store tag.

The material could include a marking dye as well as DNA nanoparticles, which the researchers say could be used to sabotage the physical bills themselves and render them traceable. “Since the responsive materials presented here do not depend on electricity, they may provide a cost-effective alternative to currently used safety systems in the public domain, automatic teller machines and protection of money transport systems,” the researchers write in their paper, published in Journal of Materials Chemistry.


TIME how things work

How 3D Printers Work

See how 3D printers create everything from guns to chocolate.


3D printers were invented by Chuck Hull as far back as 1983, but they recently rose to prominence after being used to make common items ranging from guns to body parts. But how do they work?

Using a process known as “additive manufacturing,” 3D printers can take a number of different materials from metal to plastic and even chocolate to create every piece of the final structure from scratch, with no material left over.

Hull sees a bright future for 3D printing, saying it’ll be a $4.5 billion business by the end of the decade.

TIME Innovation

New Kohler Tech Turns Existing Toilets Touch-Free


I have an embarrassing phobia to admit: Like an estimated 51% of Americans, I hate touching things in bathrooms. I don’t like touching bathroom door handles and I absolutely hate touching foreign toilet handles. Even when things look totally clean, my inner germophobe is on high alert.

Thankfully, plumbing fixture specialist Kohler has come up with new technology for those, like me, concerned about germs in the bathroom. Its new Kohler Touchless Toilet Kit allows you to retrofit your existing commode into a futuristic, high-tech, no-touch toilet.

The Kohler Touchless Toilet Kit uses “extremely accurate” electromagnetic field technology, so all the ugly mechanical bits fit neatly inside your toilet tank. Just wave your hand over the top of the toilet near where the device is installed, and it’ll flush. Everything runs on 4 included AA batteries.

The kit comes with a hole cover in case you want to get rid of the flush handle entirely. An optional hand icon decal is also included in case you want to clue the uninitiated in on how your new flush mechanism works.

There is an important limitation to the technology, however: It only works on the common canister and flapper type toilets. It’s not compatible with dual-flush, top-mount flush, pressure assist or ballcock valve toilets.

The new Kohler Touchless Flush Kit has an MSRP of $99.97, but is currently available at the Home Depot for just $75. And while you’re there, you may want to look into this: Kohler has a cool futuristic toilet seat nightlight available for retrofit, too.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Innovation

Ready or Not, Driverless Cars Are Coming

There may be an autobot in your driveway sooner than you think


Predictions about a future in which cars that will fly, float or drive themselves have been staples of everything from science fiction to pop culture to corporate PR for decades. But now it looks like driverless cars, at least, may finally be hitting the road in short order.

Google announced as early as 2010 that it logged more than 140,000 miles in a self-driving car as part of a secret project. “While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science,” said Sebastian Thrun, a Google Fellow working on the company’s self-driving cars. “And that future is very exciting.”

Since then, Google and auto manufacturers have made great strides in refining and testing driverless technology by integrating semi-autonomous features into cars already on the market and building legal and public acceptance of the concept. But as the technology develops, questions have been raised about what it would mean if autonomous vehicles start hitting the roads in larger numbers. How do “robot cars” determine the best ways to react to an impending collision? How will human drivers and robots interact when they have to share the road? It won’t be long until we begin finding answers to these questions and others.

TIME Big Picture

Scio Pocket Molecular Scanner Is a Google-like Device for Physical Objects

The handheld Scio scanner can detect the molecular makeup of certain objects Consumer Physics

A couple weeks ago I had a fascinating video call with a gentleman named Dror Sharon, the CEO of a company called Consumer Physics. He showed me a product called Scio that just went up on Kickstarter last Tuesday: a hand scanner that can scan physical objects and tell you about their chemical make up.

“Smartphones give us instant answers to questions like where to have dinner, what movie to see, and how to get from point A to point B, but when it comes to learning about what we interact with on a daily basis, we’re left in the dark,” Mr. Dror told me via Skype. “We designed Scio to empower explorers everywhere with new knowledge and to encourage them to join our mission of mapping the physical world.”

Consumer Physics launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 for Scio (which is Latin for “to know”) on April 28th, 2014. They reached that goal in 20 hours and raised a total of $400,00 in 48 hours.

At first Scio will come with apps for analyzing food, medication and plants. You could, for instance, use it to refine the ingredients of your home-brewed beer or figure out if an Internet site’s cheap Viagra is fake. Later, the company will add the ability to check cosmetics, clothes, flora, soil, jewels, precious stones, leather, rubber, oils, plastics and even human tissue or bodily fluids.

Early prototypes of the Scio physical object scanner Consumer Physics

Mr. Sharon told me, “The spectrometer figures out what the object is based on an infrared light that reflects back to the scanner. Most objects have different absorption rates as they vibrate at different levels on the molecular scale. The app takes the data and compares it to a cloud-based database of objects in a distant data center. When it gets a match, it sends the results to the user’s smartphone.”

According to Mr. Sharon, “The food app tells you calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, based on your own estimate of the weight of the food you’re about to eat. (With many food packages, you can get the weight from the label). The app could tell dieters exactly how many calories they’re about to consume, while fitness apps can tell them how many calories they’re burning. That helps people figure out exactly how much exercise they need to do in order to burn off the food they’re eating.”

As I understand it, the food app can also gauge produce quality, ripeness, and spoilage for foods like cheeses, fruits, vegetables, sauces, salad dressings, cooking oils and more. It also analyzes moisture levels in plants and tells users when to water them. Mr. Sharon suggested that you could even be able to analyze your blood alcohol level one day, but Scio is not currently approved as a medical device.

What I find most interesting is that as users conduct more tests, the app gets better and better at correctly identifying objects. The more people use it, the richer the database of information will be, which will add to the precision levels of the Scio over time and, more importantly, expand what it can understand. In the demo I saw on an Android smartphone, a ring fills up with circles on your smartphone screen to deliver the proper info, and it takes a matter of seconds to recognize something. Scio has to be about 20 millimeters from an object before it can be used for scanning, and the scanner uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to connect with a smartphone, which in turn needs to be running either iOS 5 or Android 4.3 or higher.

He also showed me its ability to scan what looked like a unmarked white pill. Scio correctly identified the chemical makeup of the pill as aspirin and even showed that it was made by Bayer. These are the first types of categories of physical products Scio will target, but eventually it could identify the chemical makeup of just about any object. That is why he likened it to being “Google for physical objects.”

If you are a fan of police procedural TV shows like CSI or NCIS, you already know about things like mass spectrometers and other professional machines that analyze the chemical makeup of objects. These machines can be very large. Although there are some handheld versions available today, they’re all pretty expensive. Scio aims to do similar tasks with a device that can fit into your pocket. And when it ships, it will cost considerably less than professional solutions — as low as $149. Now, I am not suggesting that Scio is as powerful as professional mass spectrometers. However, from what I saw in the demo, it can do similar types of chemical analysis and do it pretty quickly, with the readout showing up on your smartphone.

While I find the idea of a pocket spectrometer interesting, where this could have real impact is if it could be built straight into a smartphone. According to Mr. Sharon, this is ultimately where he sees his technology going. His initial focus is on food, medication and plants, although over time, it could be expanded to cover just about any physical object. Imagine being able to point the scanner in a smartphone at an apple and know exactly how many calories were in it based on its weight. Or if you had a stray pill lying around and you wanted to know what it was before you dare ingested it.

I see this particular device as a game-changer of sorts. Today, all of our searches are being done via text, numbers and through structural databases of some type. But with a consumer-based spectrometer initially designed as a pocketable device that could eventually be built into smartphones, gaining a better understanding of the make up of the physical objects we come into contact with each day would vastly expand a person’s knowledge base. I could imagine it as being part of a set of teaching tools to perhaps get more kids interested in science. Or it could be used in a science-related game as an important tool used to solve a puzzle. At the other extreme, its impact on health-based problems and solutions could be enormous.

This is a technology to watch. As Scio gets smarter as more people use it — and perhaps someday finds its way directly into smartphones — it would add a new dimension to our understanding of the world around us. It could become an important means for connecting us to our physical world in ways we just can’t do today.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Innovation

This Billboard Sucks Pollution from the Sky and Returns Purified Air


Imagine air-purifying billboards going up any time you had a sufficiently large construction zone -- a step that became part and parcel of the preparation process.

Remember the billboard that turned air into drinkable water? The one located in Lima, Peru that produced around 26 gallons of water from nothing more than humidity, a basic filtration system and gravity?

Its creators, the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC), are back with an encore idea that sounds just as clever. This one involves a slightly different sort of billboard — also located in Lima — that sucks pollution from the sky and returns purified air to the surrounding areas. Not just trace amounts of air, like those claimed by conventional room-based HEPA air purifiers, either, but 100,000 cubic meters of urban air per day. That’s over 3.5 million cubic feet, which UTEC says is equivalent to the work of 1,200 mature trees. That’s a lot of air. Furthermore, UTEC claims the billboard is “totally effective in removing [the] dust, metal and stone particles” that contaminate air spaces around construction zones, and which can lead to life-threatening health problems, from respiratory issues to cancer.

How do you quantify air purification? That’s the trick. The water-producing billboard drew attention because it worked in directly quantifiable terms. Lima, which has nearly 9 million inhabitants, is a coastal desert — it sees almost no annual rainfall. But since it sits along the southern Pacific Ocean, the city tends to be very humid, thus innovative water extraction solutions make sense. And you can see, touch and drink water. You can measure it. When you’re collecting it in a giant vat, you wind up with visible results, like “2,500 gallons of water in three months.” People could drop by the billboard with buckets, turn on a faucet and collect those gallons.

When it comes to air, purification claims are harder to verify: You’re talking about a mixture of gases — mostly nitrogen and oxygen — that you can’t see or touch or encapsulate in the same ready way you can water.

Before we get into the “how” behind UTEC’s idea, let’s talk about pollution in Lima, because it’s as extreme as the city’s water issues. According to the World Meteorological Association (in September 2012), Lima has the highest air pollution levels in all of South America, most of it related to transportation and factories, according to the head of the country’s national weather service. What’s more, the hills surrounding the city act as a natural barrier, preventing that polluted air from circulating. Recent reports indicate air pollution in Lima is on the decline, but even with an over 50 percent decrease in air pollution over the past decade, the city’s pollution levels are triple the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.

Enter the Barranco section of Lima, the city’s art district. UTEC’s billboard sits at the intersection of Bajada Armendáriz and Paseo de la República — currently near a construction zone (UTEC says the construction industry is booming in Peru, with zones “in almost every block”).

Here’s how it works: UTEC says it’s employing basic thermodynamic principles — that is, principles related to shifts in temperature, pressure and vacuum — to combine incoming air with water in a mechanism that balances their internal heat. That transaction results in the pollutants (dust, small particles of metal, germs and bacteria) hanging back in the water, effectively scrubbed from the air. UTEC says it keeps metrics on the actual amounts, and measures them daily: it told me that between March 24-30, 49,800 people benefitted from 489,000 cubic meters of purified air, and that its billboard managed to eliminate 99 percent of the airborne bacteria from that total.

The university describes all of this as “a highly efficient continuous process, with very low energy consumption” — just 2.5 kilowatts (2,500 watts) of electricity per hour, or roughly what an emergency generator might consume powering your bare essentials in a small home. UTEC says the billboard’s benefits extend to a radius of five city blocks, benefitting both residents and construction workers, and that the water used by the billboard is fully recyclable. The university adds that it’s using the extracted materials as an opportunity to analyze the residual pollutants, presumably to get a better read on pollutant specifics with an eye toward building even more thorough billboards down the road.

As with the water-producing billboard, the air-purification system is being promoted with the help of ad agency FCB Mayo (formerly Mayo DraftFCB). UTEC’s director of promotion, Jessica Rúas, says the university’s goal in working with the agency was “to demonstrate that engineering is behind everything,” and that the air-purifying billboard is “closely aligned with the university’s mission of educating creative engineers who are sensitive to social needs and have extensive scientific knowledge that enables them to become researchers and find solutions to society’s problems.”

Assuming the billboard works as well and broadly as claimed, which is to say sufficiently well to protect workers as well as residents in areas where pollutants are especially hazardous, imagine these billboards going up any time you had a sufficiently large construction zone — a step that just became synonymous with a construction company’s preparation process.

I just finished building a home myself in a booming residential association — I now live across the street from several homes that are all going up simultaneously and in various stages of completion. I have no idea what kinds of things I (and my wife, and my 21-month-old son) might be unwittingly breathing as I stroll through the neighborhood in the evenings after supper, but I’d love to think something like UTEC’s idea might make the air cleaner (or even post-construction, targeting excess pollen, say, or ozone), to say nothing of the more critical benefits it might provide in urban zones with epically dirty construction projects.

TIME Innovation

These Sunglasses Connect to Your Phone So You Don’t Lose Them

The Tzukuri iPhone app connects via low-power Bluetooth to a pair of sunglasses, tracking their location so you don't lose them. Tzukuri

Finally, a worthwhile use for technology.

Everybody knows that the more you spend on a pair of sunglasses, the faster you lose them. Death, taxes and lost sunglasses: these three things are guaranteed.

I can say with 99% confidence that I’ll never spend $350 on a pair of sunglasses. One, because I’m cheap. Two, because the last pair of $100+ sunglasses I owned were swallowed whole by the Atlantic Ocean before I even got my credit card statement. The $30 pair I bought to replace them? They seem to follow me around like a doughy Twitter user chasing a roving food truck. I can’t shake ‘em.

But – BUT! — the idea of a $350 pair of sunglasses that connect to your iPhone and alert you if you lose them seems to be a better use of $350 than a $350 pair of sunglasses that don’t connect to anything.

These Tzukuri sunglasses will be available toward the end of the year for around $350 (the company seems to be hinting at some sort of crowdfunding campaign, promising early backers a $100 discount) and connect via low-energy Bluetooth to an iPhone app. An Android version will be in the works once BLE (the Bluetooth Low Energy standard) becomes more pervasive on Android handsets.

Should you wander off without your glasses, the app will alert you at 16 feet, 32 feet and 50 feet. The glasses have a range of 82 feet, and their last known location can be plotted on a map if you lose them. The technology to do all this stuff is crammed into a tiny three-millimeter chip hidden in the glasses, which is recharged via solar power.

tzukuri frames

As for the glasses themselves, they’re ridiculous. And I mean that as a compliment. They’re handcrafted in Japan, each taking up to three weeks to cobble together. There are six styles available, each paying homage to someone famous (whether real or fictional): Atticus Finch, JFK, Tom Ford, John Lennon, Grace Kelly and Truman Capote. As 9to5Mac.com reports, there are prescription glasses in the works as well.

I’ll bet you a buck that none of them would fit my gargantuan cranium. That’s probably best, though: These things may alert me if I walk away from them, but my jam seems to be losing expensive sunglasses in the ocean. And that ocean… she’s a fickle mistress. Once she takes your shades, there’s no getting them back.

Product Page [Tzukuri.com via Uncrate]

TIME Innovation

Graduate Student Creates a Nanowire Just Three Atoms Wide Using an Electron Beam

Vanderbilt Ph.D. graduate student Junhao Lin's three-atom nanoscale wire could be used to craft paper-thin electronic components that could in turn lead to much smaller and thinner mobile electronics.

What’s the diameter of an atom, precisely? How do you describe something you can’t see with a light microscope? Is the term “diameter” even the right one to describe an atom’s size? Don’t atoms change over time?

They do, sometimes varying significantly, and so there’s no standard number that describes the atomic distances, strictly speaking, of one of matter’s building blocks. We settle instead for measuring the distance between two adjacent atomic nuclei, dividing that number by two, and calling it close enough: the approximation typically comes in around 1 x 10-10 meters, which is an incredibly small figure.

Put in broader context and borrowing an analogy from this worth-watching TED talk on the subject, if you took a nitrogen atom in a grapefruit and blew it up to the size of a blueberry, to render the grapefruit proportionately, you’d have to blow the grapefruit up to the size of the earth. “That’s crazy,” says educator Jonathan Bergmann in the video. Yes, yes it is.

So imagine someone taking a beam of electrons — one of three subatomic particles, the other two being protons and neutrons, that comprise a single atom — and using it to craft strands of bendable metallic wire only three atoms wide — roughly one-thousandth as wide as the wires used to link transistors in modern integrated circuits. If you scaled that three-atom wire up to its size in blueberries, imagine how big your transistors would have to be.

The wizard behind the process is a fellow named Junhao Lin, a Vanderbilt University Ph.D. graduate student and visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), whose feat was just published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“Junhao used a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) that is capable of focusing a beam of electrons down to a width of half an angstrom (about half the size of an atom) and aims this beam with exquisite precision,” said Lin’s ORNL mentor, Wu Zhou (via Vanderbilt News), adding “This will likely stimulate a huge research interest in monolayer circuit design. Because this technique uses electron irradiation, it can in principle be applicable to any kind of electron-based instrument, such as electron-beam lithography.”

In other words, Lin’s three-atom nanoscale wire could be used to craft paper-thin electronic components that could in turn lead to much smaller and thinner mobile electronics, to say nothing of its potential to improve wearable or even biologically embedded tech. The following video is actual footage of the strand taken with an electron microscope.

TIME Music

Watch: Startup Bets on Millennials and House Parties to Save Classical Music


If you walk into a chamber concert organized by Groupmuse, you soon realize this is not your traditional classical performance. There’s clapping in-between movements of Mozart’s duo in G major, as well as whistling, drinking and sitting on the floor so close to the musicians that one risks getting jabbed with every note. But most importantly, there is a rare breed in the audience: engaged, iPhone-less millennials.

Groupmuse is a Boston-based startup that strives to attract new audiences for live classical music by re-imagining the traditional concert experience. Sam Bodkin, 24, started the venture in January of last year. Bodkin blames the stifling, severe traditional orchestral experience for turning millennials away from classical music concerts. He plans to make his business profitable by pairing musicians and hosts to create what he calls “chamber music house parties.”

“In what other form of music is the sincere instinct to express enthusiasm ever to be subdued?” Bodkin asked. “At Groupmuse we clap anytime we want to clap, even if it means in the middle of a movement.”

Groupmuse hopes to bridge the gap between audiences that are willing to pay for intimate, high-quality concerts with talented musicians who are looking for alternative performance opportunities at a time when orchestras face troubling demographic trends and graver financial worries. Donations are collected at each event and go directly to the musicians, who earn $150 to $500 on an average night. Groupmuse itself made about $25,000 over the course of the past year, Bodkin said, though it’s not currently making a profit.

Groupmuse fits within a long-standing tradition of entrepreneurial ventures hoping to find new formats to make classical music profitable, said Angela Myles Beeching, Director
 of the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at the Manhattan School of Music.

“Everyone is talking about how to make this traditional art form more relevant and ways to change traditional concert settings,” Beeching said. “The really smart thing about house concerts is that it takes away the business of renting venues and the middle management that comes with presenting any type of traditional concert. As a business model, it has a low overhead.”

Groupmuse represents an unprecedented opportunity to engage with a wider audience, said Julia Glenn, a 25-year-old doctoral student at the world-renowned Juilliard School and a regular performer at Groupmuse concerts.

“If something about the culture of classical music isn’t changed, the audience is at risk of drying out.” Glenn said. “The hope of Groupmuse and ventures like that is to give people the chance to get excited about the music, and give the music a chance of having a future.”

First-time Groupmuse attendee Garrett Kotecki said the event was described to him as “classical music for people who don’t want to wear a suit and tie.”

“I didn’t think it was boring at all, because they were right here in the room. It wasn’t a huge orchestra, far removed onstage,” Kotecki said. “I had never been this close to a viola and violin player. You can hear their fingers move, you can hear them breathe inhale and exhale in tempo with the music.”

Bodkin doesn’t want Groupmuse to replace conventional concert experiences at established symphony orchestras. Instead, he sees it as an entry point into the more traditional concert experience for a generation that he believes to be increasingly alienated from the genre.

“People should just go and get into the music and experience it on their own terms,” Bodkin said. “Then hopefully a lot of them will get really turned on by Beethoven, because, ‘Wow, this guy I heard about so much is actually pretty rocking,’ and then they go see the big show at Carnegie Hall.”

TIME Innovation

Smooth Moves: The History and Evolution of Honda’s ASIMO Robot


As the robotics realm continues to heat up, Honda’s ASIMO (short for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) is something of an old-timer.

It’s been around for 14 years, and has seen continual improvements – check out the above video for more of the backstory.

While some robots have a more menacing look – ahem, Atlas – ASIMO has always played the part of a cutesy, Jetsons-style robot meant, in Honda’s words, “to help those in society who need assistance.”

In that spirit, ASIMO is able to do things like opening and serving beverages. It knows sign language – both Japanese and English. It can avoid bumping into people in hallways. Stuff like that.

At the International Auto Show in New York last week, Honda showed off ASIMO’s latest improvements. The robot, once relatively rigid and… well, robotic, is now far more nimble, able to run, jump, climb stairs and kick soccer balls with more human-like dexterity.


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