Tech Universe: Thursday 19 April

By Miraz Jordan

New oil sponge technology could help save beaches and wildlife. Photo / Thinkstock
New oil sponge technology could help save beaches and wildlife. Photo / Thinkstock

OIL SUCKERS: Engineers at Rice University have created sponges made of carbon nanotubes with boron mixed in that could be used to soak up oil spills from water. The sponge is extremely hydrophobic: it doesn't absorb any water, but just floats on the top. It's magnetic though so can be moved and directed with magnets. The main attribute though is that it soaks up 100 times its weight in oil which can then be squeezed or even burned out without harming the sponge. The sponge can then be used again. Now let's see them devise oil tanks filled with the sponges in the first place so oil never spills. Details at io9, and video here.

PAPER 2.0: Italian scientists have come up with an upgrade to ordinary paper. Their process uses nanotechnology to make paper waterproof, magnetic, antibacterial or even fluorescent without modifying the basic properties of the paper. That means you can still write or draw on the paper as usual and even recycle it.

The process adds specific nanoparticles to single molecules of the paper, meaning it doesn't add a layer on top. Instead the particles wrap around each fibre. The process could, for example, create antibacterial paper money or food wrappers. I want to see the waterproof, antibacterial, magnetic, fluorescent banknotes clumping together. Forbes.

HUD'S UP: What say you're walking around wearing glasses with a heads-up display? Probably only the HUD will be in focus and the rest of what you see won't be. A new contact lens from iOptik aims to give us clear vision in two separate parts of our field of view. The central part of the lens sends light from the HUD towards the middle of the pupil. The outer part sends light from the surrounding environment to the pupil's rim. This means that light from both separate images is in focus at the same time on the retina. The company is making these prototype lenses for DARPA, but hope to license the technology for public use too. Some experts suggest the lenses may just give the wearer motion sickness. No using the HUD on a bus then. BBC has more.

ICE PHONES: Surrounded by ice and snow you may be too cold to risk taking your gloves off. So how do you use your smartphone or tablet's touchscreen then? ISGLOVES (pronounced ice gloves) from Singapore cleverly combine nanotech and bamboo yarns to create conductive and touch sensitive gloves. The gloves are then capped with mittens for warmth. Slip off the mitten cap to tap a gloved finger on your phone, then slide the cap back on to warm up your hands. Of course, your
phone may freeze, but at least your fingers won't. Chilly details from FIETT here and video here.

CODDLE THE KIDS: Car airbags can save lives — for adults, anyway. But children and toddlers are still at great risk. A company in Sussex, UK, has created the Carkoon to protect young children. The special carseat has a cover that deploys in a fraction of a second on impact to protect the child from flying debris and fire. The seat also sends a signal to emergency services, including a GPS location. The Carkoon is quite pricy and not yet commercially available. That makes an airbag seem a little inadequate really. More at the BBC.

- Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz

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