Tech Universe: Thursday 26 July

By Miraz Jordan

You couldn't really wear that space suit for a meander through the fields now could you? Photo / Thinkstock
You couldn't really wear that space suit for a meander through the fields now could you? Photo / Thinkstock

AIR SUIT: Those great lumbering space suits from the Moon landings might not be the best for other uses or other places. NASA's designing a new suit that can take astronauts to asteroids, Mars or the Moon. The Z-1 prototype needs to be flexible enough to handle almost anything. Along with bearings at the joints for increased mobility, the suit includes a port on the rear so an astronaut can dock it with the spacecraft and climb in and out. That would avoid having to use an airlock, potentially saving precious air. Good thinking, NASA. Popular Mechanics details.

UP IN THE AIR: Large scale disasters are challenging for everybody and in every way, but a UK scientist believes that drone aircraft could be a huge help. Disaster drones could help emergency services from the air with minimal human supervision. First responders could send out a call for an aerial overview of a particular area. That call could go to a co-ordinated system of drones, perhaps half a metre in size, that launch and gather the real-time data that's needed.

The challenge is to create a system that allows drones to be co-ordinated, and efficiently share information. The implications of a system like that for civil defence are enormous, though it's also easy to see how it could be used or misused for controlling civil unrest too. BBC explains.

SMALL AND WILY: Drone aircraft don't need to be large. Micro-aerial quadrotor vehicles from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are only 50 centimetres by 50 centimetres. They use a camera pointed at the ground to navigate and pick landing spots, rather than relying on GPS like other full-size craft. Before launch a human operator tells the drone where it is and where its objective is. Then the miniature drone uses the camera and onboard software to figure out where it's going and how to avoid obstacles. Indoor tests have been successful and now researchers will give the drones more complex environments to work with. An overview of any complex situation is very handy. New Scientist has the info.

GOLDEN AIR: One way to survey land is to send teams of geologists out. Another way is to use hyperspectral imaging from aircraft, as the US Geological Survey have recently done in Afghanistan. Airborne hyperspectral sensors measure light reflected from the earth. In their survey the USGS flew nearly 37,000 Km in 43 days to gather more than 800 million pixels of data. The results show that Afghanistan is rich in minerals that could help support its development. That would be a good use for drone aircraft of any size. US Geological Survey elaborates.

HOT JACKET: Polychromelab jackets use a fabric that's both waterproof and breathable, but more importantly includes clever warming and cooling features. One side of the reversible 3-layer fabric jacket is black, to absorb warmth from the sun. The other side's a reflective silver to keep in body heat. Or turn the jacket inside out to reflect the sun's heat and stay cool. Watch out that you don't blind people nearby with your glare. GizMag has further details.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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