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Monday, 4 November 2013

Product Review: Nakamichi NBS5 - 2.1 Bluetooth Speakers

It's been a while since I last posted on here, however The Technology Room is back and better than ever. As well as the interesting sciency-stuff you got before, there's going to be product reviews of the latest technology and gadgets for you to cast your eyes over. And with that, I introduce you to Nakamichi's NBS5 speakers.

Nakamichi, for those that don't know, is a Japanese electronics company, famous for producing some of the best ever cassette decks.  However, we've moved on a long way from cassettes, and Nakamichi failed to keep up with the times, resulting in  the company filing for bankruptcy in 2002. Now though, Nakamichi are back, and keen to regain its stature of old.

And so we come to the NBS5 speakers. They're not widely available in the UK, although your local Richer Sounds might have some in the clearance section (at a ridiculously low price) if you're lucky, as they seem to be the sole official UK distributor. If not, some are popping up on ebay every now and then, or keep a lookout next time you're away on holiday!

First off, I think the unit looks fantastic. The "bullet design" Nakamichi has gone for works really well with the glossy black finish, with the base unit being my favourite. Everything also has a high-quality feel about it, from the way the circular volume control feels in your hand (yes, that little ball controls the volume in case you were wondering, and also lights up to tell you if you're using bluetooth) to the brushed metal on the tweeters.

Connectivity-wise, you get a standard 3.5mm jack which will plug into almost any MP3 player or computer. You can also pair a device via bluetooth, which is incredibly easy to setup and works well, without any noticeable sound distortion. One point to note though is that any other bluetooth enabled devices which are nearby can have a tedency to interfere with the speakers, so make sure to keep a lookout for that. Also, before purchasing, remember that the speakers themselves aren't wireless, and that the cables provided aren't particularly long, so you'll have to keep them relatively close to the base unit.

And now, the most important thing, sound quality. Wow. For such a small pair of speakers (less than 10cm high) these really pack a punch. The tweeters handled everything I threw at them perfectly, with no sound distortion at high volumes, and well-defined treble and midrange. The base, as you can probably tell from the size of it alone compared to the speakers, was incredibly powerful. A point to note if you're thinking of getting a set of speakers - the amount of base will increase the closer it is to a corner and if its in something like a cabinet, due to sound waves crashing into one another. I have this base unit under a desk in a corner, so the base is clearly going to be amplified. That being said (with a bit of fiddling of my computer's sound settings) the base wasn't overly powerful, and didn't overshadow the rest of the frequency range.

Overall, the NBS5's are a fantastic little set of speakers if you want something to connect to your computer or pair with your phone, and mark a welcome return to the world of audio for Nakamichi. They're also available in a design which makes them look like golfballs, but if you're the kind of person who finds that attractive well, um, it's probably best you don't visit this site anymore.

5/5

RRP: £129.95
Available at Richer Sounds for £49.95
Full specification

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Smart materials get smarter

In the news this week was Belgian engineer and designer Carl de Smet, who believes he may have a solution to the flat-pack furniture assembly conundrum so many are faced with each time they visit IKEA.

Not handy with a spanner? Too proud to look at the instructions? Read on.

Carl, in his workshop-come-house, works with Shape Memory Polyurethane (SMPU for short), a smart material which can expand to many times its initial size when heated, to a prefabricated design.

Carl sees a future where you can pop out, buy a small roll of SMPU, heat it up at home and voilĂ , a new chair, or table, or whatever takes your fancy.

Even better, the designs can be re-shaped, meaning that if you decide you don't like the look of an item or get bored of it, you can just change it to your heart's content!

To see some of Carl's designs, visit his website here.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Robotic Suits

Following on from Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature, one thing in particular caught the eye of The Technology Room, namely the robotic suit based on arthropods (basically any animal with a skeleton on the outside of its body, an exoskeleton, as oppose to internal endoskeletons we humans have). In the show, the suit helped a man who had broken his back and hadn’t walked since take his first steps in over 8 years. The Technology Room decided to dive in and explore this world, and below are 3 examples of robotic suits from across the globe. 


Ekso

American company Ekso Bionics, founded by Homayoon Kazerooni, Russ Angold and Nathan Harding, makes this first suit in our list. All the founders were members of the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California, the same laboratory that helped to make someone walk again in the aforementioned section of Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature. The Ekso, also known as eLEGS (Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System), is designed to be a portable exoskeleton which can help paraplegics stand and walk. Although it weighs over 20kg, the user should feel none of that weight, as the Ekso structure ensures that the weight is transferred directly to the ground. Anyone between 5 ft 2” and 6 ft 2” weighing less than 100 kg can wear the suit, and experienced users should be able to take it on and off in less than 5 minutes. The on-board lithium batteries should be able to drive the motors for 6 hours, and allow walking speeds of around 1 mph. The suit is currently undergoing clinical trials, although Ekso plan to launch a personal version in early 2014. The costs are high though, with initial estimates placing the suit at well over £50000. More information on the Ekso can be found here.

HAL

Over to Japan, and the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL). This exoskeleton was formed in a joint development by robotics company Cyberdyne and the University of Tsukuba. This differs from the Ekso by providing functions for the torso and arms as well as the lower body. The current HAL-5 model has advanced significantly from its first iteration; the total weight of the suit is approximately 23kg. The first HAL model’s battery alone weighed 22kg. More impressive though is the way the suit operates. Sensors on the suit detect weak bio-signals, sent from the brain when it tries to move a muscle, and the suit then helps provides movement by translating these signals into the intended movement of the wearer. This can aid user movement, and help perform tasks such as lifting heavy objects, which may have previously been impossible for the wearer. The full body specification however, means that the suit can only operate for 2 hours 40 minutes between charges on its lithium batteries. HAL was developed to increase the well-being of the elderly and disabled, although the company is also exploring options in factory labour and rescue sites. The suit can currently be rented in Japan, for a monthly fee of around £1250, with the company announcing plans to expand into the overseas market. Find out more about HAL here.

XOS 2

We return to America for the final exoskeleton in our list, the Raytheon Sarcos XOS 2. Raytheon is the sixth largest military contractor in the world and, unsurprisingly, the XOS 2 has been developed for use by the US army. This 95kg steel and aluminium suit allows its operator to lift up to 17 times the weight they would have otherwise been capable of, whilst still maintaining relatively high ease of movement and agility. There is a catch though. Unlike its lithium battery powered counterparts, the XOS 2 uses hydraulics, and as such needs to be tethered to a hydraulic fluid supply permanently. A hydraulic fluid backpack is being developed by Raytheon though, and is expected to be operational by 2020, with the tethered version hoping to be entered into service by 2015. In the meantime, watch a video of the XOS 2 in action here, or visit Raytheon’s website.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Miracles of Nature

Last Monday saw the conclusion of the BBC's new three part series Richard Hammond's Miracles of Nature. For those that haven't seen it, Richard Hammond, better known for his escapades on Top Gear and Total Wipeout, explores how the world of nature has inspired inventions at the forefront of human technology and innovation, with everything from a kingfisher's eye helping to create a new type of camera which can see underwater from a distance far above the water's surface, to a butterfly wing leading to a material which can make any object completely waterproof. It's a great series, and Richard Hammond is an excellent host, being both funny and informative. You don't need to have a degree in engineering or physics to understand or enjoy the series, and The Technology Room urges anyone with a remote interest in science or even evolution with a spare few hours to have a watch. Something's bound to interest you, whether it be a cuttlefish helping turn a tank invisible, or a crab's exoskeleton inspiring a robotic suit which can increase the user's strength tenfold. All three episodes are on BBC iPlayer until tomorrow evening, and the first episode is available here.