Weird Tech: The GPS-assisted cannabis-hunting tortoise

22nd Aug 2008 | 15:20

Weird Tech: The GPS-assisted cannabis-hunting tortoise

Plus: Why World of Warcraft makes you a superior scientist

It's been a strange week for tracking tech. In an unlikely turn of events, police arrested a suspected marijuana-grower after a box tortoise with a GPS tracker attached to its shell accidentally strayed (slowly) into a secret cannabis patch.

The tortoise was being tracked for "research purposes" in a park in Washington DC, local news reported Wednesday. A ranger in charge of the reptile made the discovery when he retrieved it from a remote area of the park. US Park Police set up surveillance and later arrested a 19-year-old teenager on suspicion of growing the plants.

The week's strangest stories, all in one place…

And as we've already reported today, tracking tech is making the news elsewhere. Affluent Mexicans are so scared of soaring kidnappingrates that they are paying thousands of dollars to have tiny transmitters implanted underneath their skin, to enable satellites to help find them.

Ranking with Iraq and Colombia as being among the worst countries for abductions, kidnapping shot up almost 40 per cent between 2004 and 2007 in Mexico. Mexican security firm Zega, which designed the chip, claims its sales have leapt 13 per cent this year. The company says it has already injected over 2,000 clients with the crystal-encased chip.

Sadly, critics have labelled the chip as "little more than a gadget that serves no real security purpose". For the chip to work, the client must also be carrying a larger device containing a global position system. This receives the radio signals transmitted from the chip, broadcasting them out to the nearest satellite, helping pinpoint the victim's location. It's brilliant, then, until the kidnappers remove the device.

Gadget therapy

The Wii Balance Board/Google Street View device wasn't the only useful mod we saw this week: introducing the solar tie that recharges your phone. Having harnessed digital textile printing so that fabric can be printed that matches the pattern of solar cells, and then be attached via a 'liquid stitch' method, the end product is discretion personified. Not only does it function as a tie, it also charges your mobile. What a combo.

However, all this could be eclipsed with the Bio Energy Discovery Kit. Able to directly convert alcohol into electricity, its makers have hailed it "the fuel cell industry's first direct ethanol product". The tech could be the first step towards replacing conventional batteries in portable devices, like your iPod or mobile phone charger. They'll run non-stop for days on end – if you're prepared to sacrifice your drinks cabinet, that is.

And finally…

It seems that playing and talking about WorldofWarcraft can encourage scientific thinking. After studying a sample of 2,000 chatroom posts, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have concluded that "forum and game-based learning could supplement textbooks and science labs in fostering scientific thinking and problem-solving ability".

According to the results, WoW stimulates chats involving maths and problem-solving, encouraging scientific thinking. "These forums illustrate how sophisticated intellectual practices to improve game play mimic actual scientific reasoning," said researcher Sean Duncan this week. So next time you're up all night on WoW or the like, remember: gaming is good for you.

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