Tech Universe: Wednesday 5 September

By Miraz Jordan

The US military are looking at training rats to sniff out explosives; a new era of rats to the rescue. Photo / Thinkstock
The US military are looking at training rats to sniff out explosives; a new era of rats to the rescue. Photo / Thinkstock

SEND IN THE RATS: Dogs are good at sniffing out explosives, but they take a long time to train and the training is expensive. The US military are researching a Rugged Automated Training System as another option. The system is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives such as IEDs and mines. If training costs are lower than for dogs, and given that rats are easier to transport, then rats could detect a lot more explosives and save more lives. Rats can also get into smaller spaces than dogs, so could be useful in searching rubble after an earthquake. Though someone trapped under rubble may be more frightened on seeing a rat than a dog. Armed with Science details.

FINISH WHAT YOU START: When people who've suffered a stroke are learning again how to move their arms and legs they are retraining their brains. But the person can't always complete the movement they begin. US researchers aim to use robots to help. The person wears an electrode-studded cap so their brainwaves control a robot orthotic worn on the limb.

The robot helps out only if the wearer is unable to complete a movement they start, eventually teaching the brain to reroute motor control. Researchers hope to soon begin trials of the robot orthotics. Having a robot finish what you start sounds like a great idea to me. Gizmodo has more info. Check out the video.

LIGHT MUSCLE: Scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have genetically engineered muscle cells to flex in response to light, and are hoping to use the light-sensitive tissue to build highly articulated robots. Usually neurons are what cause skeletal muscle to contract, though sometimes it's electricity. These researchers used 20-millisecond pulses of blue light to cause muscle fibres in a dish to respond. This research could lead to improvements in robot mobility. Lighting the way for robots to follow. MIT news explains.

SEED THE SPEED: Researchers in Singapore have created a tiny antenna — it's about the size of a sesame seed — that can support wireless speed of 20 Gbps. That's 200 times faster than current WiFi speeds. It seems the trick is to fill the antenna cavity with polymer instead of air. Such a tiny antenna could be really handy for medical use. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research elaborates.

4K TV: Sony's XBR-84X900 is an 84 inch 4K resolution TV that will ship later this year. It features a quad full high definition resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels and includes a surround sound speaker system. Catchy name. Ars Technica has further details.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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