Tech Universe: Monday 18 June

By Miraz Jordan

So how do you inspect those tall, imposing wind turbines? With a wall climbing robot of course. Photo / Thinkstock
So how do you inspect those tall, imposing wind turbines? With a wall climbing robot of course. Photo / Thinkstock

HIGH SIGHT: How do you inspect a wind turbine? They're tall structures and it's not easy to get a close-up look at things. That is, unless you use a special climbing robot like the one from GE. Inspections usually involve stopping the blades and taking photos through a telescope. But the remote-controlled wall climbing robot carries a wireless high-definition video camera. A vacuum pump keeps the robot glued to the wall it's climbing and soft tracks maintain grip even over bumps. The robot's grip is strong enough it could even carry a 100 Kg weight behind it. Suddenly there's a market for very light people to accompany the robot on inspections. Check out GE Reports.

HOT AND COLD: Pyroelectric nanogenerators may sound like a new way to generate power from heat, but in fact the ancient Greeks came up with the idea. More than 50% of the energy generated in the US (and probably other countries) each year goes to waste, commonly as heat. A team at Georgia Tech in the US made nanowires out of zinc oxide then made them into an array of short lengths of wire standing on end.

Then they applied heating or cooling, which rearranged the molecular structure, creating an imbalance of electrons that generated an electric current. Add this to a laptop and I bet it could help enormously with battery life. American Chemical Society has more.

DID U LOCK?: That D lock you use to secure your bike? It takes 4 seconds to cut it with bolt cutters. The TiGr titanium lock won't succumb to bolt cutters, and angle grinders and the like take at least twice as long to break it as they do the D lock. The TiGr is shaped like a long U, and its arms take in both wheels and the frame as well as a post. The lock cylinder is made of CNC machined stainless steel. When not in use the lock stores easily along the top bar of the bike. Making it easy to carry is a smart move too. TiGr details. Video here.

WATCH THE GRASS GROW: The John Deere Tango E5 electric lawnmower doesn't have a driver's seat or handles because it offers fully autonomous mowing. You install a preset boundary wire then the Tango E5 mows randomly and frequently within that area keeping the grass short. The mower includes a traction sensor device that makes it back away from obstacles such as trees. It can maintain up to 1800 square metres of lawn, and automatically returns to its charging station when the Li-Ion batteries are low. At a tad over 15 Kg though you wouldn't want to leave it unattended in the case the neighbours 'borrowed' it for a sneaky mow. John Deere explains.

NEEDLED BATTERIES: We're coming to rely more and more on batteries for gadgets and devices, but how long a charge lasts is a constant source of pain. Researchers at Washington State University believe they can triple the capacity of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries can also recharge more quickly and more often. Their new technology uses tin for the anode instead of graphite and involves growing tin nanoneedles directly onto copper foil using a standard electroplating process. That sounds very promising. Washington State University details.

Miraz Jordan,

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