23 to 24 April 2014 Tech Universe Digest

Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Black Knight Transformer.

The Black Knight Transformer.

  • GIVE BACK THE LIGHT: There’s a 500 metre stretch of highway near Oss in the Netherlands that has no streetlights. Instead it has road markings that absorb light then glow in the dark. This is made possible by a photo-luminescent powder that’s integrated into the road paint. The glow lasts up to 8 hours after a day’s light is absorbed. Nice idea but how about being able to see people and things on the road? Ars Technica.
  • DRINK OR DRIVE?: When astronauts spend a while on a mission, dealing with their urine and other waste becomes quite a problem. Urine can already be processed into drinking water, but now there’s the possibility it could become fuel as well. First forward osmosis is used to filter contaminants from urea in urine and other wastewater. Then a Urea Bioreactor Electrochemical system converts the urea into ammonia which is then turned into energy with a fuel cell. The system was created with space missions in mind, but could be useful for any wastewater treatment systems where urea or ammonia are a problem. Water or fuel is an inconvenient decision. American Chemical Society.
  • UP, OUT AND AWEIGH: The Black Knight Transformer sounds like it should be in comic books, but it’s actually a modular and roadable vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The vehicle has wheels on the bottom and rotors on the top. It’s makers claim it’s the world’s largest multicopter that is controlled and stabilised with propeller speed. The vehicle has a large interior volume so it can transport cargo to the front lines and carry wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Its modular nature means it can be quickly reconfigured and repaired in the field, for example, swapping in a boat hull or an amphibious hull for water operations. Nice: travel by land, sea or air. Advanced Tactics.
  • DEAF TO THE PLEAS: In Missouri they really want drivers to slow down past road works. They’re so serious about it that the Department of Transportation has bought two Long-Range Acoustic Devices, otherwise known as sound cannons. The LRAD puts out up to 153 decibels of sound through an emitter, not a loud speaker, so it penetrates even windscreens and well-insulated vehicles and can be heard above a loud radio. As well as an alarm sound, a spoken message will tell drivers to slow down. Sound levels above 130 decibels can permanently damage hearing, but officials say the device will be used safely. Of course it will. Story Leak.
  • A JUMP TO THE LEFT: There are a lot of objects orbiting the Earth: many are operational satellites while others are bits of junk, dead satellites and the like. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A environmental monitoring spacecraft was launched successfully in early April. Rather than celebrating though, the team almost immediately had to start avoiding space junk: a NASA satellite that had run out of fuel and could no longer be manoeuvered. Even before the Sentinel-1A’s subsystems had been commissioned an extreme risk of collision had been identified and the satellite’s orbit had to be shifted. That space junk problem’s not getting any better either. European Space Agency.

Tech Universe: Thursday 24 April 2014

  • A QUICK HIGH: If you find the lift to the 4th floor slow just think about how lifts work in skyscrapers. In Guangzhou, southern China, is a skyscraper due to be completed in 2016. The lift in that building will reach speeds of 72 kph as it takes 43 seconds to carry its passengers to the 95th floor. Because of the height and the speed the lift will change air pressure as it travels so no-one’s ears get blocked. The tower may also warp slightly in the wind, so guiding rollers will help keep the ride smooth. If the lift malfunctions normal brakes could fail because of heat, so brakes able to resist extreme heat will activate in an emergency. What goes up fast must come down fast. BBC.
  • STUMP UP: Amputees who wear artificial limbs can suffer from sores where the limbs rub against their skin. That can prevent them from using the artificial limbs which flows on to poorer health. Researchers at Southampton University developed a pressure sensor that detects detect rubbing as well as downward pressure. The sensor is taped into a liner in the socket that connects the stump and the artificial limb. Data goes to clinicians for monitoring and to decide if any adjustments are needed. The researchers hope to develop a smartphone app and system to adjust the fit of the socket so users can monitor themselves. Being able to monitor things for yourself would seem much more useful than relying on others to keep track of things. BBC.
  • SCRAP FILTERS: Discarded cellphones and other electronic waste can yield valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper, but the processes to retrieve them tend to be dirty and polluting. The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland has an idea: a biological filter made of mushroom mycelium mats that could recover as much as 80% of the gold in electronic scrap. The processing starts the same way: by crushing the electronic waste into tiny particles. Then the particles are sent through a biomass that collects around 80% of the gold, rather than the 10% or 20% that harmful chemical methods can achieve. The researchers say the biomass could be engineered to target other precious metals too. That seems like a win all round. EE Times.
  • SWEET PEE: Researchers in Singapore can now accurately measure glucose in urine using a bimetallic film over nanospheres. The assay detects various sugars, but the concentration of each is revealed by the magnitude of a unique signal peak. Researchers were able to measure glucose levels at a clinical accuracy of 0.1 millimoles per litre. This technique requires only a small sample which doesn’t need to be purified, so could eventually lead to an accurate glucose test that doesn’t require a finger-stick. Many people will welcome that. MedGadget.
  • WAVE TO THE LIGHT: Tall buildings in cities tend to block sunlight, and the more densely they’re packed together the darker streets and alleyways can become. That affects health and safety as well as business. Egyptian researchers have developed a corrugated, translucent panel that can be mounted on rooftops and hung over the edge at an angle, where it spreads sunlight onto the street below. The panels are made of polymethyl methacrylate, the same acrylic plastic used in Plexiglas. Panels are smooth underneath, but the top is corrugated in a specific sine wave pattern that most efficiently redistributes light from a wide range of sun positions all year round. In simulations the panels gave the area below up to 4 times as much sunlight. The next step is to test full size panels on real alleyways. Regular cleaning will be a must. The Optical Society.

With Easter and Anzac Day in the same week there were only 2 Tech Universe columns.