Tech Universe: Wednesday 7 March

By Miraz Jordan

Solar powered helmets. Could there be a cooler way to power up your electronic devices? Photo / Thinkstock
Solar powered helmets. Could there be a cooler way to power up your electronic devices? Photo / Thinkstock

HOT HEADS: Fraunhofer IZM have developed a prototype solar powered helmet that skiers or cyclists could use for powering their MP3 player, smartphone and other devices. The solar cells have been specially designed to fit to the curve of a helmet, bike, clothing or other objects without losing performance. A specialised microcontroller also makes recharging at temperatures between -30°C and +60°C possible. Charging all your devices sounds like a great excuse to go skiing. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has more.

SHOOTING INTO SPACE: When it comes to hurling a payload into space, most of the fuel is used in moving the fuel itself. Very little applies to the actual payload. StarTram has an idea for doing things differently: a maglev vacuum tube that launches cargo up the side of a mountain and straight into low Earth orbit. They figure a 128 Km tube, with the inside held at a vacuum, could launch a magnetically levitated payload that's been fired along the tube at 32,000 Kph.

Although construction costs would be high, the cost per payload would be quite low. The acceleration force on the payload though would be high enough to be unsuitable for humans. What a ride that would be! DVICE details.

THE SILENCER: Japanese researchers, concerned about people talking for more than their fair share of the time, have created a speech-jamming device. The device uses a directional microphone and speaker to listen to someone's words and play them back after a short delay of around 0.2 seconds. The effect is to silence the speaker, as you'll know if you've ever had that kind of feedback while on a phonecall. Cue the movie villains. ExtremeTech explains.

TWISTED SIGNALS: Electromagnetic waves carry radio, TV and wifi signals. As the waves travel through the air they could be twisted a little and made to carry more data. In a crude experiment in Italy recently the technique was shown to work. A standard satellite-type dish was split and the two resulting edges were separated, imparting a twist to the dish. That meant that as the beam was sent, different points around it had a slightly different starting time, twisting the beam. Researchers used this twist to send 2 signals within the bandwidth normally filled by 1 signal. So long as the signals are twisted and not crossed. BBC has more info.

KEEP IT TOGETHER: Scientists in Illinois, USA, are experimenting with wrapping some bridges with stretched spirals of shape memory wire made of a nickel-titanium-niobium alloy. If the wire's wrapped around the column of a bridge and heated it contracts, applying pressure to the column and strengthening it. The purpose is to see if bridge columns strengthened in this way could withstand earthquakes and other stressors. It could be an interesting building technique in itself. New Scientist shares more.

- Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz

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