MIRRORS ARE A DRAG: If no-one has messed with your car's wing mirrors, and they're not too dirty or covered with rain or frost, then they can help you see what's going on behind you as you drive. Except for the blind spot, of course. Wing mirrors do something else though: they contribute around 3 to 6% of the drag on a car, adding to fuel consumption. Tesla Motors are aiming to get US legislators to allow them to replace wing mirrors with cameras and electronic displays. It would definitely be useful to add cameras to avoid blind spots, perhaps with a zoom feature for checking more distant vehicles, and maybe even a recording feature.
ARTFUL BACTERIA: Bacteria can be very useful little lifeforms. The latest idea is to use them to power lightbulbs. The Biobulb is an ecosystem in a jar which sustains itself with the addition of just light.
It also includes a plasmid that contains the genes for bioluminescence. Hang the jar in the light during the day and it glows at night. The project is more about science and art than creating a functional lightbulb, but there are interesting possibilities there.
BLOOD SUCKING ROBOT: Bleeding into the brain is not a good thing but operating may cause more harm than good, and it's a tricky procedure. Around 40% of people who suffer a brain hemorrhage die. But the complex procedure is the kind of thing a robot could do. A robot being developed at Vanderbilt University uses steerable needles to reach otherwise inaccessible clots. The needle has a straight outer tube and a curved inner tube. A CT scan determines the location of the blood clot, then a surgeon decides the best entry point and angle for the needle. The robot uses the CT scan to insert the needle and guide the inner tube to the blood clot, which it then sucks out. A needle in the brain sounds extremely unpleasant however it's handled.
UV BURNS: The silicon chips that drive your computer are etched using a deep ultraviolet wavelength of 193 nm. That's fine, but to pack in more processing power the etching needs to be even smaller. That's where Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography comes in, though it's not easy to make a strong enough light source. A low-powered light source means longer etching times and slower production. The new NXE:3300 EUL machine from ASML should be ready to produce 125 wafers per hour by 2015, if they can boost its power sufficiently. 125 wafers per hours seems very few for such a thriving market in computer chips.
IT'S A GAS: Solar cells are still comparatively expensive but a specialised type of ink developed at the University of Minnesota could bring costs down. Creating the ink requires an ionised gas, called nonthermal plasma to produce highly conductive but stable silicon inks with a long shelf life. The electronic ink, based on silicon nanocrystals, could be printed on to inexpensive plastics to create electronic devices. Always, smaller and cheaper is the rule.
Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz