Tech Universe: Monday 25 March

By Miraz Jordan

FULL FATHOM TWO THOUSAND: When the Apollo 11 mission blasted off carrying the folks who would be the first to walk on the Moon it was powered by 5 F-1 engines. Those engines burned for a few minutes, and then fell into the Atlantic Ocean, as they'd done their job. Now an expedition has recovered many pieces and filmed many more from almost 5 Km down. Remotely Operated Vehicles did the work, communicating with the recovery vessel via fibre optic cable. The expedition recovered enough major components to create displays of two flown F-1 engines. After more than 40 years in salt water, the components will be stabilised to prevent further corrosion. Good job!

BIGGER EFFICIENCY: At around 400 metres long the Maersk Triple-E container ship is designed for efficiency, economy of scale and the environment.

When complete it will be the world's largest ship, carrying the equivalent of 18,000 twenty-foot containers. A U-shaped hull allows it to fit in more containers than previous models. It has a deadweight of 165,000 metric tonnes, a top speed of 23 knots and a crew of only 19. The design includes numerous features to improve efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions by 50%. We won't see this giant here in New Zealand though as it will operate in China. The ship is about 13 times as long as a blue whale and nearly 1,000 times the weight.

UNDER THE SKIN: If you have a condition that requires frequent blood tests you may end up feeling like a pin cushion. A team in Switzerland may be able to reduce all those needle jabs down to one. They've developed a 14 mm long device that can be inserted into the interstitial tissue just beneath the skin of the abdomen, legs or arms. Once in place it checks for up to 5 different substances in the blood and sends its data to a nearby smartphone via Bluetooth. The implant can remain in place for months before it needs replacing. Early tests show it reliably detects both cholesterol and glucose in blood as well as some other common substances. That would have to be better than having blood samples drawn frequently.

FISH FOR BRAINS: Neuroscientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute are working towards a Brain Activity Map. They recently took a fish larva and used high-speed light sheet microscopy to image the activity in most of its brain down to single cells. They did the imaging quickly enough to more or less see the neurons working. Next the researchers need to correlate specific brain activity with behaviour, and then to advance to more complex brains. The day is coming, however slowly, when we'll be able to do this with human brains.

FACING EMOTIONS: Zoe the talking head is an avatar being developed by Cambridge University. An actress was filmed over several days speaking around 7,000 sentences and expressing various emotions. Those recordings are used as elements in a visual avatar that can be given texts to speak and express in a realistic way. The lifelike face displays emotions such as happiness, anger, and fear, and changes its voice to suit any feeling the user wants it to simulate. The developers hope to eventually be able to use any face provided by photos, and perhaps to use the avatar on computers and smartphones.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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