Science Friday: Translators, Tricorders, Messengers and Bath Tubs?

This week’s edition of Science Friday is chock full of goodies. From NASA’s newly received images from Mercury to the future possibilities for Trek tech, to another gadget of the week. Read on!

Real Life Universal (almost) Translator
Recently, Voxtec released their “Phraselator” device to the public which has been utilized by soldiers and police officers already to communicate cross-language. It was originally designed for soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to communicate with locals who spoke Farsi, Dari, Pashto and other languages. It is now being used by police forces in California, Florida, and Nevada to help keep the peace between English and non-English speakers. It is not quite up to par with 23rd century technology yet, however, as it does not do direct voice-to-voice translations, but relies on stored words and phrases in the device’s data base. “It is not quite like that translator thing on ‘Star Trek.’ It’s a step or two away,” Los Angeles police Capt. Dennis Kato told the Los Angeles Times. “But when it comes to crowd control, natural disasters or medical emergencies, it can be a lifesaver.” See Voxtec for more.

The Trek-Like Phraselator

Messages from MESSENGER
Two weeks ago, on January 14th, the MESSENGER spacecraft completed its three and a half year journey to Mercury where it took the first images of a never before seen side of the planet. Not surprisingly, it looks a lot like the other side. Nonetheless, the images are pretty spectacular, and the orbiter will continue to transmit images to NASA for several more years. So far, the spacecraft has only taken a handful of images in a planned set of 99 which it will complete during future fly-bys and when it eventually settles into orbit. It has been over 30 years since an orbiter has sent us pictures of the small rocky planet, and scientists are jumping at the chance to study Mercury for many reasons including a possible insight into terrestrial planet evolution. See NASA for more.

That’s no moon!

Asteroid Zooms Past Earth
Just as MESSENGER did a fly-by of Mercury, Asteroid 2007 TU24 is doing a fly-by of Earth. The space rock was visible last Tuesday in the dark sky, but anyone hoping to catch a glimpse had to break out the telescope, as it is not bright enough to be seen by the naked eye. Don’t let that fool you, though, this asteroid is 2,000 ft. wide at its widest and could easily take out a large city should it decide to alter coarse toward Earth. Astronomers say there was never really any danger of impact as it was 1.4 times the distance of the moon from the Earth. That is, of course, assuming it is not like some other asteroids we know of. See NASA for more.

For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky

Make your iPhone into a Tricorder
Ever dreamed of owning your own Tricorder? Well, now you can show off your true geekiness with the new Tricorder iPhone web app! Just like the real thing (minus any actual scanning abilities) The iPhone’s touch screen interface allows you to “use” the tricorder by pressing buttons to reveal various statistics about your surroundings, nearby life signs, and how likely you are to score a date with the hot Vulcan accross the bar. Show it off to your friends and instantly gain cool points (or loose them depending on your friends)! Access the web app:

The iPhone Tricorder WebApp

Virtual Graffiti: Steps toward a Holodeck?
The “Tagged in Motion” project is an endevour headed by the Jung von Matt agency for interactive and innovative communication in an attempt to bridge the gap between real graffiti art and its virtual depiction. The artist dons the pattented video glasses which shows him or her their creation being applied to a real environment as the backdrop. Stationary cameras track the motion of the artist and their virtual spray can which can be adjusted for color, texture, and strengths of the brushstrokes by the user. The final result is 3-Dimensional artwork which “floats” in real space. Any image can be created, and when watching the video, one can’t help but ponder the future of this technology leading to a Trek-like holodeck environment.

New Software Gives Objects a Virtual Feel
European researchers have just unveiled a software breakthrough that allows users to touch, stretch, pull, and feel virtual fabrics designed to feal as realistic as possible. Deemed the HAPTEX project, the software incorporates the use of a specially designed glove along with a sophisticated computer model and visual representation to reproduce the sensation of cloth with an impressive degree of realism. Perhaps we can combine this technology with the Virtual Graffiti to have a fully-fledged holodeck! See Science Daily for more.

HAPTEX’s Virtual Cloth

Gadget of the Week: Bath-O-Matic Fills Your Tub for $8000
Granted, it does a little more than that, but $8K is a steep price nonetheless. The Bath-O-Matic is a unique automation system built into your bathtub which allows the user, through a touch screen interface, to draw a bath with specific parameters such as temperature, height of the water, and even any combination of oils, bubbles, and fragrances. It can even be automated so you can fill your tub from the comfort of your couch. See for more info and a spiffy demo of the UI!

For $8 grand, it better come with the duckie welcomes Kayla Iacovino as our new Science Editor. Kayla is a freelance science writer and experimental petrologist with Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. And, of course, she is a hard core Trekkie.

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Whoa, those are pretty darn cool. Still waiting on a non-invasive medical scanner/biobed, though. Colonoscopies/pap smear tests REALLY should be a thing of the past by now!!

And now that that’s out of the way, the Phraselator looks badass!

I don’t see why it isn’t possible to incorporate a blood scanner for diabetics into some kind of a Tricorder-gui device…

iPhone tricorder……OMG. Kickass!

$8000 bath tub filler. OK. Why?

For fifty bucks, I’ll get you a glass of water.

You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult for a society that can send people to space to come up with a fully functional translator.

The translator also functions as an Agonizer if the foreign person doesn’t give you a good answer.

Do you mean to tell me that the picture of the Phraselator is NOT a Star Trek toy?

Wow — they couldn’t have made it look more “ST:TNG” if they’d tried!

Cool article with some interesting stuff. Well Done.

I want to welcome Kayla to the family. I am so happy to have a real scientist doing our weekly science column

Does anyone else think the picture of th Bath-o-Matic look like the graphic of the Mr. Coffee from the movie Spaceballs?

The nebulous space being in that top photo looks angry.

Ovaries! The Universe is Female!

Welcome, Kayla.

$8k for a *bathtub*??

Does it come with a cabana boy? ;p

for $8k, not only had it better fill up my tub to the proper perfect temperature, but it also better serve me a glass of wine and very expensive snacky things and give me a massage afterwards!

Peace. Live long and prosper.
The Vulcanista }:-|

I could use that Phrasalator on my in-laws. They only speak Mandarin. Does it translate Chinese Opera into GOOD music?

Welcome aboard, Kayla!

#7 What you have to realize is that the pure, reproduceable physics of of a moon launch, while impressive, is actualy much easier computationaly, than the process of understanding and translating the nuances of human communication which is based on tone, infection, slang, ever changing colloquialisms, and possibly even some factors that have yet to be figured out yet, depending on the studies done. Direct translations rarly work well, which is why translators do much more than direct translate. They must understand both languages and cultures and then take the essence of what is said and say it correctly in the other language. Much harder for a computer to do than to calculate the variables in a moon shot.

How do I apply the tricorder webapp to my iphone?

I made the tricorder my home page, but I still see the text at the bottom, anyway of hiding that, or am i doing somthing wrong?

Welcome, Kayla! Great work! I look forward to next week’s entry! :)

11 – great news!

12 – yes, i agee!

Great job Kayla. I like your sense of humor too.
“….journey to Mercury where it took the first images of a never before seen side of the planet. Not surprisingly, it looks a lot like the other side.” haha

Vulcanista, I’m with you! I want a cabana boy too (now that may be worth 8K; as long as he does exactly what he’s told to do :->).

#7 It would require the species to come up with a coherent functional thought.


Oh my! ;-)

Peace. Live long and prosper.
The Vulcanista }:-|


Forgot to add: BFEG

Peace. Live long and prosper.
The Vulcanista }:-|

Vulcanista, what is BFEG? I have a hard time keeping up with all these acronyms. Took me a long to figure out IMHO and TPTB.

BFEG = big fat evil grin!

Peace. Live long and prosper.
The Vulcanista }:-|

Okay. I want that I-corder.

Translator device! In yon teevee show Enterprise it looked about the same size.
That there be the magic of TOS- the show found ways to bring us together… including the Universal Translator. Good ta see an attempt at it.

But TNG gave us those Holodecks…used and abused as plot devices…arrrr…

And oddly enough, depsite the holodeck allure to do much fantasizing like that there Barcly (sic)… still they had lives… unlike me and this here virtual interweb net…

Oh, when I need a bath I just jump overboard… Davey Jones gives me a good locker o’ water…

OK why, oh why, do Berman’s Enterprise get a bad wrap? 4th season be a time where the path to that there lovely TOS time comes about…

Maybe we don’t need this here new Trek movie… Kirk, Spock, McCoy were too large in story and relationship to see them young and dumb… but… maybe, just maybe… TOS has more stories ta tell and that magic will be back… So why not just wait ’til the 12th Night and the next film to see real TOS-time new voyages… oh, yar! wait… there be a crazy guy named Crawley doin g that…

So the internet gives us the chance to re-love TOS….
And this site be bonny for a lad like me… until I get me shore leave then Trek be last thing on me mind and it’s all about what dear lady I can have a time with…

Arrrr… I’ve seen tha future, baby… I wish it be like Gene’s….Wish they be all lovely Uhura…

And for the ladies … The Shower-O-Matic, complete with Patrick Duffy!

It seems that you can only use the Tricorder via the web browser on your iPhone browser. Now that’s disappointing. I’d like it to be it’s own app with sounds and more motion!

Wow that HAPTEX project sounds cool.
It seems it would have all kinds of applications.
Like running computers & equipment from another location.
Or even be the interface itself.

Science Daily is a cool place!
Loved that Virtual-Reality Hamster Wheel!
Anyone out there know if there is video of the HAPTEX project?

Love me this Science Friday (Althouugh NPR was probably first wit he name)

Keep em coming!


Kayla it was a great article and I can’t wait to read more–who knew when we were in MMATS that you should’ve written all our scripts? No relation.

I’m still waiting for the phaser.