Tech Universe: Wednesday 20 June

By Miraz Jordan

Surgeons can now practise and perfect their craft through a 3D virtual model before performing the actual surgery. Photo / Thinkstock
Surgeons can now practise and perfect their craft through a 3D virtual model before performing the actual surgery. Photo / Thinkstock

VIRTUAL SURGEON: Brain surgeons have a very tricky job to do, but how do they rehearse? Until now they've had generic programs that let them practise a type of surgery, but the Surgical Theater takes that a step further. The system takes the CT and MRI scans from an actual patient to build a 3D virtual model. Then the surgeon can practise their moves in a realistic way using a haptic stylus, and even rotate the images to check they haven't damaged blood vessels they won't actually be able to see. The unit will undergo clinical trials this year. Sometimes modern medicine is just like magic. MedGadget has more. Check out the video.

WEAK KNEED: A group of British researchers created a device that generates electricity when you walk, thanks to the motion of your knees. An outer ring applied to the knee rotates during walking. Teeth on that outer ring pluck 4 energy-generating arms attached to the inner hub.

The arms are made of a piezoelectric material that generates current when it's under strain. At the moment the device generates 2 milliwatts, but the researchers aim to increase that to around 30 milliwatts. That could be enough for some types of GPS tracking, but not to power a smartphone, for example. It sounds like a lot of effort for very little reward. Discovery News details.

VERY SUCKY: The Personnel Assisted Vacuum Climber is a backpack that lets its wearer scale a 30 metre wall without any ropes. The user presses two suction pads against a flat surface, such as a wall. A vacuum pack assembly generates suction that holds the pads to the wall. A support system helps support the climber's weight. The device was created at Utah State University as part of a US Air Force challenge. The device is far too noisy for stealth use, but the team aim to work on that. That could have some interesting industrial uses too. Business Insider explains. Video here.

FLIPPING OUT: A qubit is the quantum computing equivalent of a bit, and until recently each one has lasted a maximum of a few seconds. Now Canadian researchers managed to make them last for 3 minutes. They aligned the spins of some phosphorus atoms in ultra-pure silicon-28. Then they applied a series of half the radio-frequency pulse that could flip the spins by 180 degrees. This caused the spins to enter a superposition of two states: flipped and not flipped, and to stay in that state for a little over 3 minutes. Back in the day that was called not knowing whether you were coming or going. New Scientist has further information.

DEEP SOLAR: Solar cells are power generating devices that sit on the roof of a building, or at least in a farm on land. Or they used to be, now that the US Navy has found a way to make them work underwater. One problem is that solar cells are usually optimised for light frequencies on land, but sunlight underwater is biased toward the blue/green portion of the spectrum. High-quality gallium indium phosphide cells work best for those wavelengths. Early results show an output of 7 watts per square metre of solar cells at a depth of around 9 metres. Just don't fry the fish. US Naval Research Laboratory elaborates.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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