Tech Universe: Thursday 3 May

By Miraz Jordan

An ongoing problem with solar cells is their low efficiency. Photo / Thinkstock
An ongoing problem with solar cells is their low efficiency. Photo / Thinkstock

WHAT GOES AROUND: An ongoing problem with solar cells is their low efficiency. Researchers at the University of California have shown that solar cells that emit light as well as absorb it can be more efficient than those that don't emit light. They demonstrated that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage. The researchers say there's a thermodynamic link between absorption and emission that produces this unusual effect. Or maybe it's just the pay it forward principle. Visit The Optical Society.

HANDS-ON MAP: Systems developed to help robots navigate could be used to help blind people. Researchers at at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France created a pair of glasses equipped with cameras and sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes. The system produces a 3D map of the wearer's environment and their position within it in real-time then feeds the map to a handheld electronic Braille device. The Braille map is updated fast enough for the user to walk through an area.

Provided your map reading skills are up to speed. New Scientist has more.

UNIVERSAL PIXELS: The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope digital camera has 3.2 billion pixels. The camera will capture the widest, fastest and deepest view of the night sky ever observed as it surveys the entire visible sky every week. It'll generate about 6 million gigabytes of high quality and scientifically valuable data per year. When completed in 2014 the camera will have 189 sensors and over 3 tons of components, all sited atop a mountain in Northern Chile. And the processors to work with all that data? Check out the SLAC News Center for details.

TRAINING WHEELS: It's important for babies to learn to crawl and discover their world, but some babies with disabilities just can't do it. Engineers at the University of Delaware, have created a robot wheelchair designed for kids aged 6 months to 3 years. It's operated by a joystick and includes sensors so it won't crash into things. It's good to get the joystick training in early. Boing Boing explains. Video here.

DRIVING PATTERNS: Honda created a system to monitor the acceleration and deceleration patterns of a vehicle and determine whether the driver's driving pattern is likely to create traffic congestion. Then it gives the driver feedback to encourage smooth driving. The smooth driving can alleviate or prevent congestion and also reduces fuel use. Honda plan to begin the first public-road testing of the technology in Italy and Indonesia this year. You have to wonder how they picked those 2 countries to start the testing. Honda has more info.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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