Tech Universe: Wednesday 02 October

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

CHAIR ON THE SIDE: There's a fundamental problem when one person is pushing another in a wheelchair: they can't easily chat because one is behind the other. It would be much easier and more sociable if they could be side by side. The Side by Side handlebar takes care of that.

It easily attaches near the front of the chair and is angled so pushing still makes the chair go straight ahead. The handlebar also includes a horn and light the rider can operate for themselves. Rubber grips, hollow metal tubing and a folding mechanism make the handlebar light and affordable. What a difference a little design makes.

A LITTLE PUSH: While some metals and polymers may remember their shapes and snap back after being deformed ceramics usually just break because they're brittle. Now researchers have created shape-memory ceramics — at least in tiny filaments with a diameter of just 1 micrometer.

These strong flexible ceramics could be used for medical applications, such as actuators that release drugs in implants.

OPEN HANDED: Prosthetic hands, often made with materials like titanium and carbon fibre, are amazing devices but also very costly. One British inventor is making a low-cost prosthetic hand thanks to a 3D printer. The Dextrus hand connects to an existing prosthesis using a standard connector and picks up signals from its wearer's muscles.

Each finger is individually activated and feedback allows the hand to feel objects, adjusting the grasp to safely handle even delicate items. The project is open source so anyone can use and build on the designs and code. 3D printing in changing lives in such interesting ways.

THE WIDE VIEW: A normal wide angle lens may capture a lot of a scene but it sacrifices detail. A tiny camera system from the University of California captures big pictures that still have high-resolution. The system can image anything from half a metre to 500 metres with the equivalent of 20/10 human vision. The imagers use monocentric lenses made of concentric glass shells, that are perfectly round like marbles. To send the data to an image sensor without distortion they use a dense array of glass optical fibre bundles polished to a concave curve on one side so they perfectly align with the surface of the lens. The current prototype connects to a 5 megapixel sensor but soon the team expect to build a walnut sized 85 megapixel imager with a 120 degree field of view, more than a dozen sensors, and an F/2 lens. Cameras are becoming tinier and tinier yet more and more sensitive.

BLOW, YOU'RE OUT: People who play sports may suffer a concussion.
Continuing to play can lead to brain damage. Diagnosing a concussion though is very subjective. Researchers at San Diego State University have come up with an objective test by accurately measuring how well a player can balance. Players have their balance measured regularly to establish what's normal for them. That data is stored in a database that can be accessed by an app on a tablet. A low-cost portable device can be used on the sidelines to accurately check the player's balance and see if it's outside their normal readings. Now sportspeople just need to actually use the test and heed the results.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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