Tech Universe: Tuesday 25 June

By Miraz Jordan

A young boy hears is father for the first time thanks to a microchip on his brain stem. Photo / Thinkstock
A young boy hears is father for the first time thanks to a microchip on his brain stem. Photo / Thinkstock

NOW HEAR THIS: Sometimes you'd just like everyone around you to be quiet. But 3 year old Grayson Clamp in the US was thrilled to hear for the first time. Grayson didn't receive hearing aids though. The problem was he was born without the crucial cochlear nerves that carry auditory signals from the inner ear to the brain. Doctors instead placed a microchip on his brain stem to bypass the cochlear nerves altogether. Adults have received such aids before to help them hear better but this is the first time it's been used on someone who's completely deaf. Doctors hope Grayson's young brain will be able to adapt to use the implant to replace normal hearing. Kids these days can do almost anything it seems.

BRAINS: The brain is a massively complex organ that researchers are studying closely. The European Human Brain project has spent 10 years cutting one donated brain into 7,400 slices and scanning each slice.

The scans have created the BigBrain Atlas, an accessible, highly accurate 3D anatomical model of the human brain available to researchers. Each slice took about 1000 hours of nearly continuous labour to prepare and scan. The BigBrain Atlas is only one smaller part of the larger Human Brain project. That's a very intensive scanning project.

THE FABRIC TRAP: Bed bugs are particularly unpleasant and seem to be a growing problem. Thanks to a special material created by researchers at Stony Brook University though they may soon be less of a problem. A new Fibertrap fabric acts as a web of microfibres 50 times thinner than a human hair which entangle and trap bed bugs and other insects. The microfibres trap bed bugs by attaching to microstructures on their legs. That stops them moving, which prevents them from feeding and reproducing. The microfibres are safe for humans and pets, and unlike with chemical treatments the insects cannot develop a resistance. It'd be interesting to know if using the fabric in mosquito nets would help control mosquitoes too.

HERE COMES THE SUN: SunnyBot is a lamp with a difference. Rather than shining a bulb on your work it captures and reflects actual sunlight towards any point you direct it to. The robot uses a fully automated intelligent optical positioning system to identify the position of the Sun and track it throughout the day. It rotates the mirror via two linear actuators to ensure your selected target is always illuminated. If the weather turns bad the robot puts itself on standby or turns itself off. Built-in solar cells keep the robot working. That first adjustment to point it to the right spot could be the tricky one.

SWAP AND DRIVE: It takes a few minutes at a petrol station to refuel a car, while an electric vehicle can take hours to charge. A Tesla Model S though will be ready to go quicker than any other car. Pull into any suitably equipped Tesla station where the battery is replaced with a fully charged unit. It takes only a couple of minutes. The Tesla car is driven over a charging point. Automated equipment comes up under the car, unbolts the discharged battery and bolts in a charged one, tightening the bolts to factory specifications. Pay and drive away. Better hope they have a good supply of already charged batteries.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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