Tech Universe: Tuesday 2 October

By Miraz Jordan

An electrical engineer at Imperial College London is working on a smart wheelchair with laser scanners and sensors to predict collisions. Photo / Thinkstock
An electrical engineer at Imperial College London is working on a smart wheelchair with laser scanners and sensors to predict collisions. Photo / Thinkstock

ITTY BITTY BANG BANG: Cars that drive themselves are all very well, but what say you're a kid who needs to get around in a wheelchair? An electrical engineer at Imperial College London is working on a smart wheelchair with laser scanners and sensors to predict collisions. An onboard computer then adjusts speed and direction to avoid bumps. The Assistive Robotic Transport for Youngsters wheelchair is being tested with children. The controls can be set to increase or reduce the ability of the wheelchair to override the driver's commands. So demolition derby races would be out then? Technology Review.

OLD SALTS: Lithium ion batteries are expensive, as they depend on the rare metal Lithium. Scientists at the Tokyo University of Science are using sucrose to create anode material for Sodium Ion batteries.

Sucrose powder is heated in an electric furnace that excludes oxygen to create black hard-carbon powder. The powder is then used in anodes. The researchers believe a practical version may be 5 years away. Such batteries should be cheaper because the supply of sodium is unlimited. Saltwater perhaps? DigInfo TV.

SUN TRAP: Brisbane Materials has developed an anti-reflective coating that can boost the power output of solar panels by 3% by increasing efficiency. The coating is applied at room temperature as the last step in making a solar panel. Glass panels are coated with a liquid solution of silicon dioxide, forming an ultra-thin layer of porous glass that reduces reflection by 75%. Every percentage gain is a good one. GigaOM.

BIG PRINT: 3D printers are starting to become popular, but we probably think of them making smaller objects. Dutch DUS Architects recently opened their KamerMaker movable 3D printer pavilion which can print entire rooms out of recycled plastic. The 'Room Maker' printer can create rooms up to up to 2.2 x 2.2 x 3.5 metres in size. Oh, go on then, just print another room for the house. Inhabitat.

BALANCED GRAVITY: NASA's thinking of setting up an outpost to act as a staging area for missions to the moon and Mars. A gateway spacecraft would hover in orbit by the Moon, supporting a small crew. The craft would need little energy to hover at Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 where the gravity of the Earth and Moon are at equilibrium. The idea raises questions though about how to keep astronauts safe from radiation and how to supply the spacecraft. The other big problem is whether the mission will be approved and receive funding. Let's hope they take a balanced view on it. Orlando Sentinel.

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