Tech Universe: Thursday 15 March

By Miraz Jordan

Warp Drive may have been a cool Star Trek concept, but researchers say it could not possibly work. Photo / Supplied
Warp Drive may have been a cool Star Trek concept, but researchers say it could not possibly work. Photo / Supplied

WARP BLAST: Suppose for a moment you could travel quickly through the galaxy by deforming the space-time continuum in a bubble around the spaceship. Warp Drive is familiar from Star Trek, but this notion is based on theories by a Mexican physicist called Miguel Alcubierre, and it takes account of Einstein's theory of special relativity. But even if we could implement Warp Drive today, scientists from the University of Sydney have pointed out a rather substantial problem. The warp bubble would interact with particles of matter and light, building up high energy particles. On arrival releasing those particles would destroy everything for a considerable distance around. Oops. Back to the theoretical drawing board. University of Sydney has details.

TEXT SIGNS: Sign language is extremely important for people who are deaf. Like any language though, both parties in a conversation need to be able to understand it. While various software apps have had some degree of success in translating spoken languages, researchers in Aberdeen, Scotland, are tackling turning sign language into text.

Their portable sign language translator uses the camera on devices such as laptops and phones, then an app handles the translation. The system is still being developed, but the creators hope to have a commercial product in 2013. This will be an interesting one to watch. More at BBC.

CABLE DROPS: Researchers at MIT have developed a new optic fibre 400 micrometers in diameter. The fibre has a hollow core surrounded by alternating layers of materials with different optical properties that act together to create a mirror. A droplet of fluid in the core can be pumped up and down with a laser. When the droplet receives energy it emits light that bounces back and forth between the mirrors, emerging from the core as a 360-degree laser beam. Four liquid-crystal channels around the core control the brightness of the emitted light. This all means different people could see different images from the single source. The researchers believe this cable could be useful for medical applications or for 3D displays. Do you see what I see? More at MIT News.

JUNK INDEX: Lockheed Martin has developed a prototype Space Fence for the US Air Force. It uses ground-based scalable, solid-state S-band radars to detect, track, measure and catalogue more than 200,000 orbiting objects and bits of space debris. Its high wavelength frequency can detect even quite small objects. That's important so that if space junk is where it shouldn't be someone can take action to prevent collisions and other damage. You wonder if they'll at least stop adding to the space junk soon. More information here

NO TREE WOOD: Making products from wood usually means chopping down trees. And wood's not so easy to keep clean by washing. Meanwhile, landfills are overflowing with plastic. NewWood in the USA are recycling both used timber and polyethylene plastic by combining them into a product that's 50% wood and 50% timber. The materials are shredded, shaken, and formed with heat and pressure into panels that are durable, insect-proof and virtually waterproof. And if it's reached the end of its useful life it can be recycled again. Shake and bake building materials. More details at NewWood.com, and video here.

- Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz

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