Tech Universe: Thursday 5 September

By Miraz Jordan

Bicycle wheels could be getting smaller. Photo / Thinkstock
Bicycle wheels could be getting smaller. Photo / Thinkstock

GET A WIGGLE ON: The Kwiggle is no ordinary bike: it weighs less than 8 Kg, uses a belt or chain drive, is designed to be used standing up and folds down to a compact 55x40x25 cm that will fit into a small suitcase or even the overhead locker on a plane. You could even stash it under the desk at work, rather than locking it up to a rack. There is a seat, if you need the support, though the idea is to ride it upright. Avoid the traffic and bike to the airport for your next flight.

KEEP IN SHAPE: At night on a country road you may encounter a cow or a horse, or in some countries a moose, boar or camel. Avoiding a collision is a very good idea, but you may spot the animal too late. The Night View Assist Plus from Mercedes-Benz is designed to avoid such collisions. The system identifies people but also picks out cows, moose, horses, deer, camels, and even wild boar. A thermal far-infrared camera in the grille scans for heat signatures, while a near-infrared camera on the windshield watches the road.

Then a processor analyses the input and matches the data with known shapes for specific animals and humans. A display on the dash alerts the driver and the car primes the brakes. The system could also shine a spotlight on what it sees. Ah, blinding the person or animal — such a good idea.

SUNNY WITH STEW: It looks like a satellite dish, but it's not. The parabolic solar cooker collects sunshine and focuses it on a central point where a ring supports a saucepan, frypan or kettle. The solar cooker lasts 5 to 10 years and costs as much as around 7 months worth of electricity for cooking for people in its target market of South Africa. It's that initial cost that will be a big hurdle for those who'd use it.

ELECTRIC WINDOWS: An ionic speaker can play back music, but it's see-through and doesn't include electronics. A thin sheet of transparent rubber is sandwiched between two layers of a saltwater gel. As a high-voltage signal runs across the surfaces the rubber rapidly contracts and vibrates, producing sounds from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. In this speaker the electrical charges carried by ions are doing the work. Researchers say this could be used on windows to provide active noise cancellation, or perhaps in systems that provide haptic feedback in response to sounds. Or maybe windows that play music?

NET WATER: Using nets to harvest fog to collect drinking water isn't a new idea. Nets of woven polyolefin mesh may extract about 2% of the water available in a mild fog. But researchers at MIT say their finer mesh collects as much as 10%. Part of the gain in efficiency is due to the coating on the mesh which allows small droplets to slide down into the collector before the wind blows them away. The researchers are testing their mesh in Chile, in an area where there's little rainfall but a lot of fog. The good news is that the collectors are passive: they don't need any power, though it's a good idea to brush the grit and bugs off occasionally.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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