Tech Universe: Best of 2010

By Miraz Jordan

Tech Universe is taking a break over the summer. We'll be back with more of the latest technology news from around the globe in the New Year. Meanwhile, here are 10 of the most memorable items from 2010.

The Zambulance is a bicycle fitted with a trailer that has a mattress, privacy curtain and intravenous hangers. Photo / Supplied
The Zambulance is a bicycle fitted with a trailer that has a mattress, privacy curtain and intravenous hangers. Photo / Supplied

LIFE BIKE: In rural Africa ambulances are rare. The Zambulance is a bicycle fitted with a trailer that has a mattress, privacy curtain and intravenous hangers. After 12 months in one Ugandan community the number of women who died in childbirth dropped from 30 to zero, thanks to the Zambulance. High tech or low, it's the effect that counts. More at RedFerret and video on YouTube.

SMS FOR YOUR LIFE: Volunteer health care workers in Rwandan villages are saving lives with their cellphones, in spite of long walks to charging stations. They report on the pregnant women in their care, then the health clinic sends text messages with advice. And to think I find it annoying when the charger's in the next room. More at CNN.

WHEEL OF SPEEDING: Constant exhortations to reduce our speed on the roads just don't seem to do the job, but we'll slow down to win money. Speed cameras photograph motorists and send fines to those who exceed the limit. But anyone obeying the law is entered in a lottery to win the fines. In a test in Stockholm average speeds dropped by 20%. That's a more positive spin on that creepy TV ad about, uh, something we do wrong on the roads. More at Facebook and video on YouTube.

ECO METROPOLIS: Residents are moving in to Masdar, a new ecocity in the United Arab Emirates. Buildings are placed to maximise shade and airflow. Cars are banned - instead driverless electric vehicles travel through underground tunnels. A nearby a 54-acre photovoltaic field, incineration and water treatment plants service the city. The city will be constantly monitored and finetuned to maximise performance. An interesting destination for ecotourists. Details at the New York Times.

BACK TO NATURE: PlanIT Valley is a new eco-city being planned in Portugal. The city will collect data from a network of sensors, in the way the human nervous system works. An urban data centre 'brain' will control and recycle waste, water and power. Each building will also have its own computer as a failsafe. Natural features are deliberately used to play a part in the recycling system. This is definitely one to watch. More at NewScientist.

CROWDED WEATHER: The Old Weather crowdsourced science project asks you to read through handwritten ship's logs looking for weather data. The handwritten logs are too variable for reliable text recognition, but the human eye can discern the contents. Marine weather data from early 20th century logs can help build up historic patterns as a basis for projections. The thrills, the spills, the weather reports. Details at OldWeather.

WIND STALKERS: The Windstalk wind farm concept doesn't use conventional turbines. Instead 55 metre high 'stalks' sway in the wind, producing energy from alternating layers of electrodes and ceramic discs made from piezoelectric material. The wind compresses the discs and generates power. I'd have a windstalk in my back yard. More at DiscoveryNews.

SMELLER RAT: Giant African pouched rats are the latest recruits to an organisation called APOPO. They sniff out the TNT in landmines. Two deminers and 2 rats can clear a 200 square-metre minefield in 2 hours. The rats are generally too light to be able to set off a landmine. Once upon a time it was sniffer dogs. New technology's always smaller and lighter though. More at Physorg and APOPO.

COW POWER: Huishan Dairy in China is installing a system to collect methane from cow dung and turn it into electricity - on a massive scale. The dairy runs 250,000 cows. The power system will
capture 20 million cubic metres of biogas and produce 5.6 megawatts of power from just 30,000 cows. That's enough power for 3,500 American-size households. If you look at things the right way, there's
no such thing as waste. More at TechnologyReview.

NUMB GUMS: Soon your dentist may dab a healing peptide gel onto a tooth cavity rather than drilling and filling. That really will hurt the dentist more than it hurts us. More at DiscoveryNews.

- Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz

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