10 to 13 March 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Monday 10 March 2014

  • HOLD TIGHT: Better hope the wheelchair you’re pushing doesn’t slip from your hands as you manoeuvre that steep slope. With the inexpensive and easily fitted Wheelchairhandles you’ll have a much better grip. Most wheelchairs have horizontal handles, but the ergonomic Wheelchairhandles attach with 3 screws and provide a vertical hold that adds control and make it easier to push a chair uphill. The polymer handles can cope with more than 360 Kg of pressure. Sometimes great design is in the little things. Wheelchairhandles. Video:
  • SKIING ON AIR: Cars have airbags, so why shouldn’t skiers who can travel at more than 100 Kph? If sensors in the Dainese D-Air Ski backpack-like vest detect a crash then the vest inflates within 100 milliseconds to protect the wearer’s chest, shoulders, collarbones and cervical vertebrae. . The vest uses an algorithm that differentiates between forces like a jump landing or hard turn and crash-level forces. Accelerometers, gyroscopes and GPS all play their part. Cyclists could perhaps use something like that too. Gizmag.
  • LIGHT LIFT: The HAV Hybrid Aircraft is 90 metres long and can stay airborne for up to three weeks at a time, with inert helium providing much of the lift. The aircraft combines features of a plane, a helicopter and an airship and is likely to serve as a freighter, carrying tonnes of freight over difficult terrain. The airships seem to be back. The Telegraph.
  • A CHEAP LOOK: What could you do with an expensive microscope? Identify giardia or malaria perhaps? All you really need is a correctly folded sheet of paper with a tiny lens, an LED and a watch battery, at a total cost of $1. Scientists from Stanford have devised such a microscope that can be easily printed on a sheet of card, then cut out and folded. It can magnify up to 2,000X, enough to see the parasites that cause malaria and other diseases. With certain coloured LEDs it can see specific proteins or other biomolecules labeled with fluorescent dyes. You don’t even need a glass slide for samples, as sticky tape will do the job. At $1 per microscope it could become possible for a billion people or more to be tested each year. This could create the opportunity to actually wipe out malaria. Wired.
  • FOLLOW THAT NANOPARTICLE!: Chemotherapy drugs can be quite effective at killing cancer cells, but also affect the healthy cells around them. US Scientists custom designed nanoparticles to carry the drugs to the spot where they’re needed and then trigger them with a two-photon laser in the infrared red wavelength. The light can penetrate only around 4 cm from the skin surface, meaning the therapy would best suit breast, stomach, colon and ovarian tumours. The nanoparticles include thousands of pores which hold the drug. Each pore is equipped with a nanovalve that responds to energy from two-photon light exposure, causing it to open and release the drug. The nanoparticles are fluorescent, meaning medical staff can track their progress using molecular imaging techniques and trigger them at the correct time. Such highly targeted treatment should make plenty of people very happy. UCLA.
The HAV Hybrid Aircraft.

The HAV Hybrid Aircraft.

Tech Universe: Tuesday 11 March 2014

  • THE OFF SWITCH: Did you forget to switch off your appliances when you left home this morning? Leaving them on unnecessarily means more power used and higher power bills, and of course, a bigger drain on the planet’s resources. The Parce One from Germany aims to help us take a small step in the right direction. It’s a smart plug that not only monitors energy usage but also makes suggestions for improvement and allows you to switch appliances on and off remotely. The smart device learns how you use electricity and can make suggestions, connecting via WiFi to smartphone and web apps. You can also define detailed schedules of your own or accept default settings. One day things like this will be installed by default in all homes. Parce. Video:
  • PUSH ME PUSH YOU: The M3 Wave power system is designed to be anchored to the ocean floor where it produces electricity without spoiling the view or causing a hazard to shipping. At its heart is a bidirectional turbine. The Delos-Reyes Morrow Pressure Device contains linked chambers of air. As a wave rolls over the top of one chamber it pushes air through a turbine and into another chamber. When the wave rolls over the second chamber the air is pushed back again. Like all technologies, the key will be to discover the negative impacts on the environment. IEEE Spectrum.
  • JOINED AT THE WRIST: Cuff bracelets and pendants have a little something out of the ordinary: a CuffLinc. It’s not to keep your shirt sleeves closed, but instead includes a GPS receiver and uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone. If you’re in a dangerous situation press the Cuff for 3 seconds to send out an alert to selected people. The alert continues until someone responds. The Cuff also vibrates when anyone with you in their circle presses their Cuff. If you aren’t wearing a Cuff, the alert goes directly to your phone. The CuffLinc can be swapped between different items of jewellery, and the battery lasts for 12 months. Clever. Cuff.
  • THE MIRROR SWITCH: Maybe the vehicle you drive has a rearview camera so you can see what’s going on behind the car. That’s undoubtedly useful, and potentially a lifesaver. Usually those views appear in a separate display on the dashboard. Nissan’s Smart rearview camera instead displays in the rearview mirror itself, if you want it to. A built-in LCD monitor with a unique aspect ratio of approximately 4:1 can be activated in place of the conventional mirror by flipping a switch at the bottom of the mirror. The image comes from a 1,300,000 pixel narrow-angle camera mounted on the rear of the vehicle, while image processing helps deal with glare from a low sun angle or the bright lights of a following vehicle. Both camera and monitor had to be developed for an unusual aspect ratio to avoid the image losing resolution. The smart mirror will first be implemented in cars racing in the 24 hour Le Mans and will appear in regular cars next year. A facility to record the camera images could be interesting too. Nissan.
  • SUNNY DISPOSITION: Bright light improves both our health and our mood, but how much do we actually receive, especially in the depths of winter? The SunSprite is a small wearable device that tracks daily visible and UV light, and of course it’s solar powered. At the press of a button each of 10 tiny LEDs lights up to represent 10% of the daily exposure you need to meet your goal. A smartphone app indexes UV exposure, tracks goals and offers tips. That’s a great idea, at the right price. SunSprite.

Tech Universe: Wednesday 12 March 2014

  • SOMETHING IN THE AIR: China’s cities have a smog problem, but the Government is tackling it with drones that disperse fog and smog by releasing a chemical catalyst. The parafoil plane features a gliding parachute, and can carry 3 times the cargo weight of common planes. Fog, smog, and now unnamed chemicals. Scientific American.
  • POLES APART: You’ve been in hospital and are feeling well enough to get up, but are still attached to an IV drip. At the moment you have to drag around a stand to hold the drip. The Mobiu Corporation has developed a wearable pole that should be more convenient. The EZPole is attached to a shoulder harness with a strap that goes across the body. A pad is buckled onto one shoulder and the pole is mounted to that. The EZPole leaves the wearer’s hands free and allows for greater mobility, such as being able to use the stairs. Handy. Mobiu Corporation.
  • A ROUGH PICTURE: Fujitsu have a prototype haptic sensory tablet whose touchscreen conveys a sense of slipperiness or roughness depending on the image being displayed. The tablet uses ultrasonic vibrations to convey tactile sensations by varying the friction between the touchscreen display and the user’s finger. The ultrasonic vibration creates a high-pressure layer of air between the screen’s surface and the fingertip, reducing friction and creating a floating effect. Meanwhile, rapidly cycling between high and low friction generates a tactile illusion that the screen is bumpy or rough. One day we may be able to feel images on screen, which could be very interesting in movies. Fujitsu.
  • BIG PRINT: 3D printing can be rather slow, and generally the printed objects are also fairly small. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory wants to change that with a large-scale polymer additive manufacturing system they’re working on. Their aim is for their system to be 200 to 500 times faster and capable of printing polymer components 10 times larger than today’s common additive machines. So far all they have is an agreement with a manufacturer of high quality machine tools. Let’s hope it’s not too long before they have a product that works. Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • HEALTH ON THE GO: People in remote spots, such as astronauts in space for example, could benefit from the Astroskin smart shirt currently being tested by the Canadian Space Agency. The WiFi equipped shirt is packed with sensors that monitor blood pressure, skin temperature, activity, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and breathing rate. The data helps monitor the health of the wearer in real time. Once testing on the ground is complete the shirt could be used in future space missions or perhaps in remote communities. It should be more comfortable than the half dozen bits of equipment it replaces. Space.com.

Tech Universe: Thursday 13 March 2014

  • ROLLING ROLLING ROLLING: Properly inflated tires on a vehicle save fuel and reduce accidents, and that’s especially important on trucks that travel long distances carrying freight. Aperia’s Halo is a system that monitors tire pressure and automatically inflates tires as needed. The easily retrofitted Halo is a self-contained pump that generates pressure when rotated. It has a pendulum-like mass, similar to a self-winding watch, that hangs while the pump is rotating with the wheel. The relative rotational motion is used to create a pumping action, adding air up to a preset maximum. If it’s that easy, perhaps it should be compulsory. Aperia.
  • NOTHING IN THE AIR: Canada’s Boundary Dam coal power plant emits 1.1 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Until this year, that is. From the middle of the year that number will drop by 90%. The power plant’s exhaust will be passed through a solvent that binds to CO2. That mix is then heated to release the gas which is then piped to a nearby oilfield and saline aquifer, and pumped several kilometres underground. That seems a lot like moving the problem. New Scientist.
  • BREATHE FREE: Vehicles and power plants are two sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. How to get the CO2 out of the atmosphere again is a challenge facing those who’d like to clean up the air. US chemists have devised a way to trap carbon dioxide and transform it into useful organic compounds, thanks to a simple metal complex. The technique uses a molecular ion known as molybdate — an atom of the metal molybdenum bound to four atoms of oxygen. The ion binds to CO2, but in a way that can be reversed, meaning the CO2 could be stored in a cartridge for later use elsewhere. Although in its early stages of development this could lead to opportunities to use CO2 as an inexpensive feedstock to make value-added chemicals, including things like polymers. That must be better than pumping CO2 underground. MIT News.
  • A STICKY SOLUTION: Some companies are using CO2 as the raw material for making products including superglue and fertiliser. Liquid Light will produce ethylene glycol, the raw material for making polyester fibre, plastic bottles and antifreeze, using catalysts that can turn CO2 and electricity into more than 60 carbon-based chemicals. Their module is about the size of a coffee table. Dioxide Materials on the other hand, will produce acetic acid, a chemical used to make products like paint and glue. Turning dangerous waste products into useful materials is great news. New Scientist.
  • SOLAR IS THE OLD BLACK: Solar panels are usually black so they can absorb the maximum amount of energy. Researchers at the University of Michigan have created semi-transparent, coloured photovoltaics that could lead to stained glass windows functioning as energy collectors. The panels could absorb ambient light as well as energy directly from the sun. The colours come from the mechanical structure of the solar cells as they reflect different wavelengths depending on the thickness of the semiconductor layer. Unlike other coloured panels these are independent of the viewing angle. One problem is that these cells absorb at most one third of the light so are less efficient than black panels. Their decorative function compensates for that inefficiency though: maybe solar panels no longer belong strictly on the roof. University of Michigan.