Did someone build a real lightsaber?

A video posted to YouTube suggests someone has built a device similar to a Lightsaber you'd see in a Star Wars movie.

YouTube users styropyro, aka “The DIY Laser Guy,” posted the 2 minute 21 second video that shows a hand-held cylinder emitting a bluish-purple laser beam.

“I usually try to refrain from using the term 'lightsaber' when referring to my lasers but there really isn't much else out there to describe this laser,” writes styropyro in the video's description.

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'Phone power from hot coffee' debate heats up

Remember that USB-charging coffee coaster I blogged about a few days back? It used differences in temperature to generate electricity, meaning that your hot coffee or chilled beverage could charge your phone. Well, a few friends have been talking about how efficient it might be. Comments ranged from "could it really work?" to "it just seems like a fast way to cool down your coffee". Then, an friend of a friend who is an actual engineer asked some other friends about it, and they decided that it couldn't charge a whole phone.

One engineer said that at 60 kilojoules, there is probably about twice the energy of a phone battery stored in the average mug of hot coffee. But heat transfer systems don't work at 100% efficiency - they lose energy from heat while transferring it into a usable form of energy. the coffee coaster isn't transferring the heat in the coffee to an absolute cold - there is still heat in the room, meaning that not all the heat from the coffee can be transferred into energy. About 20% of the energy from the coffee can be transferred into energy at room temperature. That knocks the available energy from the cup of coffee down to about 12 Kilojoules (half a phone battery). 

It doesn't stop there. You need a generator to transfer that heat energy into a form of useable electricity. That would work at about 50% efficiency, says our intrepid engineer, leaving roughly 6Kj available. 

The engineer also points out that the average user won't be making all of that energy available to the coaster. They'll be drinking a lot of the coffee themselves, which means that it can't dump all its energy in the device. Even though you'll be filling up your coffee more than once, the fluctuation in volume will still lower the available energy for the coaster. 

Furthermore, he points out that that the drink doesn't lose all of its heat via the bottom. "In reality almost all of the heat loss is going to be via the air and evaporation of the drink. I would be surprised if we get 5% over the bottom."

Ouch. So this coffee coaster isn't looking like the answer to our power problems after all. I took these comments and put them to Tom Joseph, founder of Epiphany Solar Water Systems, which is the firm behind Epiphany Labs. The estimates that the engineer used were mostly on the money, he says, but with one exception. 

"We are able to get quite a bit better than 50% efficiency from the electrical generator portion for two reasons: 1) We use a tiny linear generator (think speaker coil) to convert the motion into high frequency AC electricity, so it's pretty efficient; and 2) Since the motor is heat powered, whatever losses occur in the generator are sent back to the "hot" side of the motor, so we can keep most of the losses inside the box."

Nevertheless, Tom agrees that there is no way to charge an entire phone using the coaster. "Even when fast charging a phone from a wall outlet, it takes 60-90 minutes and if your coffee or beer lasts that long you have bigger problems anyway," he says. "What we're offering is a convenient way to charge your phone with any heat disparity."  

You could charge a full phone using a more permanent source with a good, solid temperature differential. Taping it against a cold window in the winter would work (especially if you're unlucky enough to be charging your phone in Saskatchewan, Alberta, or Manitoba). You could even use a candle, he points out.

"The ability to charge from a drink is a short term convenience to maintain a charge or save you when your battery is almost dead," Tom continues, "but not the ideal way to get a full charge unless you're a dedicated drinker (which means we should do great in Ireland!)."

Basically, the onE Puck is a fun gadget that will get you out of a tight spot if your phone is on its last few electrons and needs a quick emergency charge. "But the real significance here is in the global implications of a high efficiency, mass produced, low cost Stirling engine," he says. "This has been attempted for decades, but without success, for a variety of reasons that we think we can finally overcome.  Imagine having the ability to power your whole house, or a whole village in the third world, without a connection to a power grid." 

Epiphany will use the proceeds of the onE Puck to boost stirling engine production for its solar water systems, and provide some power into the bargain. 

"Once we can provide both water and power, a huge portion of the world's population moves from survival mode into development mode," he says. "About 35% (and growing toward 50%) of the world's population is too busy surviving to be able to contribute to society on a higher level. If humanity is going to save ourselves from the mess we seem to be creating, we're going to need all hands on deck to help us find solutions faster than we can screw things up." 

So this is about more than juicing up your phone. It's an innovative promotional item designed to draw attention to a bigger project that could have wide-reaching consequences. And it's from a company that epitomises social entrepreneurship. I'll raise my cup of piping hot beverage in a toast to that.

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Oops – NASA loses laptop with secret information

There are a lot of red faces over at NASA after the organization lost a laptop containing secret information.

According to the BBC, a NASA employee recently had his car broken into. The thieves manage to walk away with the laptop along with hard-copy documents.

What was on the laptop?

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Teen captures awesome photos from space

7895192732_ab282faf08_cA 19-year-old UK teen is in the spotlight for a pretty simple contraption he made, which captured absolutely stunning pictures from space.

Adam Cudworth is an engineering student at Nottingham University who thought it would be cool to snap some pictures from high above our planet. So he hopped on eBay and bought a cheapo camera for about $47.

Then, he built a device that launched his photography mission into space last week.

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Nissan creates self-healing phone case

Nissan_caseAutomotive giant Nissan has released a new phone case that might be the last one you’ll ever need (if you never get a different phone, that is).

What makes this new case so special is that it can automatically heal its own scratches and scuffs thanks to special high-tech paint.

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Are we ready for a brain on a chip?

Could we put the human brain on a microchip? Scientists in the UK hope that they'll be able to simulate at least 1% of it. The researchers, at the University of Manchester, want to string together 1 million processors to simulate the activity of 1 million neurons.

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Are human brains wired for more 'friends?'

Ever think that an acquaintance of yours had lots of friends and an active social life because of their good looks or charming personality?

Researchers now say the size of a section of someone’s brain can be linked to the number of friends they have.

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Can you help NASA find a planet?

Like many, you may have watched the lunar eclipse last night. The eclipse, which was the first to fall on the winter solstice in over 360 years, had astronomers gazing at the sky in awe. But others are collaborating in an online project to look far further into space, and find new planets - and they're looking at their browsers to do it.

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Want to use smartphones outside this winter? You might need these...

Gloves The leaves have fallen to the ground. Canadian Tire is promoting winter tires. Christmas lights are going up. The temperature is dipping below zero.

Yes, winter is right around the corner, but for smartphone users, the colder temperatures may make you a little less addicted to your handheld devices as gloves and mitts make answering calls and sending messages a pain.

The cold winter weather we can expect to have as Canadians will make touchscreens as useful as an ice scraper in the thick of summer. You could take off your gloves every time you want to access your phone or MP3 player, but after a while your fingers might be precariously close to frostbite – which could seriously slow your texting skills.

But fear not – there are gloves designed to keep your hands warm and still let you use your favourite touchscreen devices.


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Warning: Don’t get hot and bothered by your laptop

If you’re someone who often uses a laptop where its name implies - on your lap - you might want to change that habit. Especially if you like to have nice legs.


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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.