Tech Universe: Tuesday 5 March

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

SWALLOW THIS: Tiny computers small enough to be swallowed could monitor your internal health or release drugs and medicine inside your body. The Kinetis KL02 microcontroller unit is roughly 2 millimeters on each side. The chip includes a processor, RAM, ROM, clock and I/O control unit. Its memory is measured in kilobytes, but it also includes a 12-bit analog to digital converter and a low-power UART to help with translating data. Remember to swallow without chewing.

OUR ROBOT CARERS: Carebot P37 S65 from the University of Salford reminds its elderly patients to take medication and exercise. It also answers questions and tells jokes. It recognises faces and can be programmed with speech therapy and object recognition exercises to help people with dementia. Video conferencing and SMS capabilities mean the robot can also connect its patient with the outside world. The human-sized robot is just a prototype though, and needs investors to take it through to trials and further development.

It's going to need a much better name though.

BELTS WITHIN BELTS: You know about the two Van Allen radiation belts around Earth, don't you? They're two distinct zones of trapped, highly energetic charged particles. After the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope was launched in August 2012 it was supposed to wait months before being turned on so testing could be carried out. For various reasons it was turned on only 3 days after launch though — just in time to catch a big burst of radiation from the sun. That burst first enlarged the Van Allen Belts and then caused a third to be created. A month later the extra ring was destroyed by another powerful eruption from the sun. A lucky chance: the right place at the right time.

BANDS OF INFLUENCE: Gesture control is a really fun thing: wave a hand, flick a finger to make a device respond in a certain way. The Kinect, with its sensors, has been one way to achieve such control. The Myo controller from Thalmic Labs takes a very different approach. It's a band you wear on your arm. It uses embedded electrodes to detect activity in muscles that contract or relax in the course of moving the hand and arm. The signals are then sent wirelessly to an app that translates the gestures into commands. The electrodes don't even need to make direct contact with the skin. The first generation can recognise around 20 gestures. That could inspire a whole new breed of magicians and illusionists.

LITTLE BOXES: The Modularflex is a foldable disaster housing unit from Argentina that packs flat and can be assembled in about half an hour. Each unit has hinges half way up the walls. That means a module can collapse flat for easy and low cost transport and storage. The units are formed from insulated thermal panels with optional doors and windows, and can be connected together to create larger structures. The basic 7.4 square metre module includes electrical wiring and LED lights. Modules could also be used as living quarters in places like mining camps. The flat-pack storage and delivery really sets these ones apart.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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