Tech Universe: Thursday 7 February

By Miraz Jordan

New innovations in prosthetic hands. Photo / Thinkstock
New innovations in prosthetic hands. Photo / Thinkstock

FINGER PRINTS: When Liam was born in South Africa he had no fingers on his right hand. But two 3D printing enthusiasts have fixed him up with a working prosthesis and released the plans as public domain files. Being able to print parts with the 3D printer means fast iterations, reduced cost and that the design can easily be scaled up as Liam grows. That's where 3D printing really comes into its own.

A SPIN OF THE WRIST: The i-limb Ultra from Touch Bionics is a myoelectric prosthetic hand that features 5 individually powered articulating digits. The thumb and wrist can rotate all the way around, which allows the wearer to use various complex grips. An electrical sensor detects muscle movements in the residual limb then controls the hand movements. Although expensive, the hand more closely resembles the real thing than previous prosthetic hands.

The next steps though include touch sensitivity and substituting for skin. That rotating wrist sounds like a cool thing.

RESISTANCE GAMING: If you're gaming on your smartphone then you might like the realism of actually feeling the struggle. A team at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam use electrical stimulation to provide direct feedback to gamers. Two small wired electrodes attach to your arm and stimulate the nerves electrically which makes your hand muscles contract. The muscle contraction could make you tilt the phone, for example, then you have to struggle to right it, creating a realistic force for you to fight against. The creators say it will be easy to make the system smaller and it will use far less power than traditional vibrating motors. Your hands in theirs.

LIGHT NETWORKING: The University of Strathclyde in Scotland are developing a new wireless network, using micron-sized LEDs. This would create a LiFi network, rather than a WiFi network. The idea is to make the LEDs flicker on and off thousands of times a second, transmitting digital information to specially adapted computer devices. The tiny LEDs can flicker 1,000 more quickly than standard 1 square mm LEDs and so can transmit data very quickly. What's more each tiny LED could act as a separate communications channel. The micron-sized LEDs could also be used for communicating visual information when set up in an array so could act as a simple light source, or as a communications screen. That's multitasking at its best.

TURN ON THE POWER: Off grid and need some extra power? Extend the arm on The Voltmaker and give it a whirl. The kinetic energy creates a steady source of electricity for your gadgets. The device fits in a backpack or jacket pocket, so why not cart it along?

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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