Tech Universe: Wednesday 27 February

By Miraz Jordan

Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Jean-Pierre Garcin during the 2013 Dakar Rally. Photo / Getty Images
Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Jean-Pierre Garcin during the 2013 Dakar Rally. Photo / Getty Images

FLIPPING MINI: Maybe you've done a backflip or two in your time, but were you ever driving a Mini Cooper at the time? Guerlain Chicherit, rally driver and freestyle skiier, was. He drove the highly modified Mini up a ramp like those used for a standard quarter pipe, did the backflip and landed as planned on a snow bank. Definitely don't try that one at home.

GETTING THE DROP: Sick of your windscreen fogging up? If we understood better how water droplets adhere to surfaces then perhaps we could do something about that. Researchers at MIT were able to adapt a scanning electron microscope to push and pull droplets across a surface with a tiny wire. They found that a key factor in determining whether a droplet sticks to the surface is the angle of the droplet's leading and trailing edges relative to the surface. They also found that surface texture is crucial to adhesion, and droplets stick more on a rough surface.

The researchers have now developed a mathematical system for precisely predicting droplet behaviour. Or maybe make windscreens with superhydrophobic coatings?

UP IN THE AIR: When you draw with a pen on paper you're applying ink in 2 dimensions. The 3Doodler is a different kind of pen. It resembles a soldering iron, but its heated tip extrudes 3mm ABS or PLA melted plastic so you can draw 3D shapes by lifting it up in the air. The pen weighs less than 200 grams and measures 180mm by 24mm. You may need a steady hand for this.

BRAIN BOX: Many of us spend all day looking at a computer screen, filling our heads with information, some of it useless. What say the computer could read our mind and adjust the information flow to suit our needs? A team at Tufts University are working on that. They've created a headset that beams infrared light into the wearer's prefrontal cortex. Some light is absorbed while the rest is reflected back. By measuring the reflected light the system can tell when the wearer is concentrating intently. When that data is matched to what's on the computer screen the system can make better predictions about what's useful and what's not. This kind of flow control could be specially useful for drivers or air traffic controllers. And employers.

FALLING ELECTRICITY: What do you do if you have an old open-pit mine lying around that you no longer need? Well, you could turn it into a hydroelectric energy scheme. In Ontario one power company has plans to use an abandoned open-pit iron ore mine for a pumped storage hydroelectric project. It would create a waterfall 5 times the height of Niagara Falls from the slag mountain to the mine pit below. At night the company would use cheap electricity to pump water up to a reservoir. Then releasing the water during the day would generate 400-megawatts of power they could sell at high prices. Buy low, sell high is a handy maxim.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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