Tech Universe: Friday 22 June

By Miraz Jordan

Those who experience trouble walking can find hope in the Sensastep system which will help them navigate their way around. Photo / Thinkstock
Those who experience trouble walking can find hope in the Sensastep system which will help them navigate their way around. Photo / Thinkstock

MUSICAL WALK: People who've been injured or have certain conditions may experience problems walking because they don't know when their foot has hit the ground. This can lead to uncertainty and falls. The Sensastep system plays tones by their ear to help them recognise their own steps. A special foam insole contains pressure sensors and sends a tone via small ankle transmitter to a receiver behind the ear. The earpiece plays different tones for pressure on the heel or toe, allowing the wearer to judge their steps. I'm sure that kind of system could be tuned up to help athletes such as runners too. Sensastep explains.

POWERED CELLS: The Santa Rita jail in California is the 5th largest correctional facility in the US and needs a constant supply of electricity to keep the cells locked and the buildings secure. To help meet the power demands the jail has its own 1.2-Megawatt peak-power solar PV array, a 1 MW molten carbonate fuel cell power plant, 5 small wind turbines, a 4 MW battery pack and a solar tracking system with 1100 solar panels.

All of that means that if the main power grid goes down the jail can meet its own energy needs, keeping up to 4,000 inmates secure. And just in case that all isn't enough, it also has 2 back-up diesel generators. That's enough inmates to fill a small town such as Westport. Scientific American details.

BIRDS, BEES AND ROBOTS: Farming can be tedious, back-breaking work, so how about using swarms of robots to do the planting and harvesting? An inventor from Iowa in the USA is basing his small autonomous 6-legged robots called Prospero on the swarming skills of insects, birds and fish. The robots can plant individual seeds and remember where they are. Groups of the robots crawl across the ground communicating with one another, staying together as a group, and evaluating the soil. When they plant a seed they mark its position with a small dob of reflective paint. The inventor believes he could also create a shepherd robot to co-ordinate the activities of the swarm. There are some farm labourers who'd better start getting some robotics training. Discovery News has more. Check out the video.

A FRAMES: Getting spectacles that fit correctly can be a matter of trial and error. PQ Eyewear A Frame glasses may solve that problem completely. The specs include an A shaped wire structure in the middle of the frame over the nose that makes it easy to adjust how far apart the two lenses are. A hinge mechanism allows the lenses to slide across the frame. But really, why not just buy the right size frames in the first place? PQ Eyewear elaborates.

AMATEUR SPACE: NanoSatisfi in the US wants to send an Arduino-powered satellite into space, perhaps carrying your experiment. Their ArduSat satellite will be made of off-the-shelf parts and will run on Arduino boards. The craft, systems and launch should cost less than $100,000 all up. That's a pretty cheap satellite. Kurzweil AI has further information. Video here.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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