Tech Universe: Wednesday 3 October

By Miraz Jordan

Even the most skilled surgeons may succumb to slight hand tremors during fine-scale surgery. Luckily there's a 'smart' surgical tool to compensate for unwanted movements. Photo / Thinkstock
Even the most skilled surgeons may succumb to slight hand tremors during fine-scale surgery. Luckily there's a 'smart' surgical tool to compensate for unwanted movements. Photo / Thinkstock

DON'T SHAKE HANDS: Surgeons need a very steady hand, and it can be tricky if the patient moves or their hand shakes a bit while they're working. So US researchers are developing a Smart Micromanipulation Aided Robotic-surgical Tool that compensates by making hundreds of precise position corrections each second. The system incorporates a high-speed high-precision distance sensor that provides positional data to a computer. The computer in turn signals small piezoelectric motors integrated into the surgical device to control the position of the tool tip, keeping it steady and in the correct position. The researchers hope to develop the tool for surgical use within the next few years. Optical Society of America has further info. Check out the video.

HOME AND AWAY: People with Alzheimer's may sometimes wander off and go missing.

Havering Council in East London, which has a high population of older people, is giving some folk an On Track device that lets a control centre track them using GPS. They wear the device like a wristwatch. If the wearer goes far from home the control centre may call a carer to see if they're meant to be out and about. Or a carer may call the control centre to help find someone who's lost. There could be quite a lot of people who would like to equip their older relatives with a device like that. BBC has the news.

BLINDSIDED: One artist in California lost her eyesight because of age-related macular degeneration that created a blindspot. Now, like 49 other people in the US, she has a miniature telescope in her eye and can see again. The tiny telescopic implant projects images onto an undamaged portion of the retina. The brain needs a while to retrain itself with such an implant, but it doesn't usually take long. Blind in one eye, and has a telescope in the other. LiveScience details.

A SPRING IN THE STEP: Accident or illness may make it hard for you to walk. The Kickstart custom kinetic orthosis is designed to help those who have neurological disorders affecting the strength of their legs to walk with greater ease and precision. It stores energy during flexing of the knee and releases it to help propel the foot forward during extension. The device stores and releases the energy using spring tension, so it doesn't need a battery or external power. For once, something that doesn't need a battery! MedGadget explains. Video here.

COOL CLEAR WATER: Navajo people in Arizona have to spend a lot of time hauling drinkable water from distant places. There is an aquifer below their land but it's too salty to drink and recent droughts have created a water shortage. But a self-sufficient solar-powered desalination plant may solve that problem. Solar panels power pumps that bring the water to the surface and boil it. The steam passes through a membranes that filter out salt and other contaminants. The purified water collects in a condenser, and vapour pressure differences help draw more vapour through the system. And what happens to the salts? New Scientist elaborates.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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