• Ann Makosinski was just another teenager with another science project when she joined her local science fair in Victoria, Canada, last year. Her invention, a flashlight that is powered solely from hand heat, took second place at the competition.

    Ann, 16, and her parents, both of whom are HAM radio operators and like to fiddle with electronics, were satisfied with that result.

    “It’s a very simple project,” said Arthur Makosinski, Ann’s father. “It has four electrical components. Let’s move on and do something different.”

    But had Ann left her project in Victoria, situated just 25 miles north of Washington State, the world may have missed out on a light source that doesn’t use batteries, solar power or wind energy.

    Think about that for a moment: a flashlight that shines for as long as you hold onto it. No more scrambling for and chucking away AA batteries. It could have an immediate impact on more than 1.2 billion people -- one-fifth of the world’s population -- who, according to the

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  • Now You Can Touch Virtual Objects

    Efforts to create virtual reality in video games have been well documented. But what about making virtual objects touchable?

    At Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh, engineers are doing just that with two separate tactile projects that employ haptic technology. Haptics stimulate touch sensations, making virtual objects feel real.

    The first project is called Aireal (think “air-real”), which delivers tactile air bursts in mid air. These air bursts, created by powerful sound compressions, correspond with virtual balls on a monitor so it feels like the on-screen ball is hitting you when you touch them. Likewise, when you swat the air burst, the on-screen ball is also swatted. All of this is accomplished without a wearable device.

    The second tactile project, called Tesla Touch, allows you to touch objects on your tablet. When you swipe your finger over an image of sand, you can feel the friction of the grains. This is accomplished by exciting an electrode with an electric signal, which

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  • This Microphone Transfers Sound Through Touch

    The telephone game is played all over the world (it's known as Chinese whispers beyond North America). It involves a group sitting in a circle and starts with someone whispering a message into their neighbor's ear.

    The message is then passed around the group until it makes it back to its originator; if the message is still intact, the group wins.

    I can't remember ever taking part in a telephone game where the message wasn't altered in some way. But had I had an "Inshin-Den-Shin" microphone, pictured above, there wouldn't have been a contest.

    Named after a Japanese expression for non-verbal communication, the microphone converts a spoken phrase into an inaudible signal that is relayed through the speaker’s body. When the speaker touches another person’s earlobe, that second person will hear what the speaker said into the microphone.

    So whisper, touch, transmit. It's the telephone game, perfected.

    The microphone was created by the Disney Research Lab in Pittsburgh. The lab conducts

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