/ 3 March 2011

Take Five: Of iPads, HPV and natural user interface

The M&G’s Faranaaz Parker rounds up five odd things you may have missed this week.

iPad 2 makes its debut
Late on Wednesday Apple unveiled the second-generation iPad which, as many anticipated, is faster, lighter, and a full third thinner than its predecessor. It also features front and rear-facing cameras. Another exciting innovation is the new smart cover that will go on sale soon. The cover automatically turns the iPad on and off when it is opened or closed. Unchanged are the screen resolution, battery life and price. (The new iPad will retail at $499.) The original iPad sold three-million devices in less than three months. We await sales figures with great anticipation. The second-gen iPad begins shipping on March 11.

You are the peripheral
It would appear the age of the natural user interface is upon us. This week Fast Company magazine reports that Lenovo is due to unveil the world’s first “eye-controlled laptop”. Eye-tracking technology is already used by web designers and internet researchers, now it could be used to automatically filter the visual information your laptop provides.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of the Kinect, Microsoft is developing a system dubbed “Skinput”, which would allow users to control a device, such as an iPod, by tapping on their own skin. It may sound like a pipedream but the research is solid, though it may take up to five years to come to fruition. The system monitors mechanical vibrations, transmitted through skin, bone and flesh, and translates them into digital instructions for a specific device. This video has to be watched to be believed.

Half of men may have HPV
A new study in Britain’s respected medical journal the Lancet reveals more than half the men in the United States (US) have contracted the sexually transmitted infection human papilloma virus (HPV), which is known to cause genital warts and certain types of cancer in men and women. A vaccine that protects against HPV exists and the US’s Centre for Disease Control recommends that young girls and women aged 11 to 16 take the vaccine. This is already a controversial move, particularly among conservative groups, but now the question being asked is whether it should also be recommended for boys and men aged nine to 26.

No more Y incision
The BBC reports that a team of scientists at the University of Leicester have developed a technique to carry out non-surgical autopsies. Autopsies are carried out to confirm the cause of death and involve making a large Y-shaped incision in the torso to gain access to and examine the organs. With the new technique, medics use a CT scan to check for injuries and cancers. For a detailed look at the heart, a scanner is inserted into the body through a small incision in the neck and threaded through the coronary arteries. The Leicester team says the technique is 80% accurate and less invasive, which in turn is less upsetting to the family of the deceased. The question now is whether it will gain acceptance from coroners and pathologists.

Gmail’s lost and found
Google was left scrambling this week after about 20 000 users woke to find that their email and contacts had mysteriously vanished. The company’s engineers eventually managed to restore the missing data but not without great physical pain. Google stores copies of all its data in duplicate data centres scattered around the world. When one fails, another plugs in the gap. But in this case, a software error permeated multiple copies of the data so the company had to resort to its ultimate backup — tape. The tapes are offline, which protects them from software bugs but also makes it more difficult to restore information from them. In the end it took more than 30 hours for Google to pull itself together. In the meanwhile, many were left to wonder if they could ever trust the cloud again.

Faranaaz’s interests span science, technology and development. Read her weekly wrap every weekend on the M&G and follow her on Twitter here.