Tech Universe: Thursday 1 November

By Miraz Jordan

Who knew rubbish could be so valuable? Photo / Thinkstock
Who knew rubbish could be so valuable? Photo / Thinkstock

FUEL FOR TRASH: Sweden has a program for generating energy from rubbish. Unfortunately, it's been so successful that they've run out of rubbish. Now Sweden has started importing around 800,000 tons of trash per year from other countries, and some, like Norway, are paying for the privilege. Sweden's incineration plants create energy for around 250,000 homes. So even at full stretch, all the rubbish they create powers only what amounts to a handful of homes, relatively speaking. NPR details.

ANY COLOUR, SO LONG AS IT'S BLACK: In Switzerland the company BlackSocks unsurprisingly sells socks. But their Smart Socks are a bit different because each contains an RFID tag. Wave a wireless reader called the Sock Sorter over the socks to identify matching pairs. A free app helps owners measure a sock's age and colour density too — is it still black enough to wear in formal situations? Amazingly, it seems this isn't even a parody. Hmmm, The Internet of Things. Ecouterre has more.

Video here.

WHIRLY CAPSULE: When a capsule returns from space it normally has to land in the ocean. NowNASA are testing alternatives, in the form of an unpowered rotor system to give a capsule the stability and control of a helicopter. Air passing over the rotors makes the blades turn. Astronauts have some control by changing the pitch of the blades. In tests on a model a researcher remotely changed the pitch of the rotors to slow the fall of an unpowered craft from a tower. If the system works astronauts on board could plan a soft landing and direct the craft to any spot they chose. That would beat a plain old parachute. NASA explains.

TOUCHING PHONES: The Project RAY Android smartphone has been specially designed for blind people. Its custom designed user interface includes vibrations and audio cues. It's also designed to replace audio book-readers, colour readers, navigation tools, raised Braille labels, special bar-code scanners, and large-buttoned, voice-enabled MP3 players by integrating all their capabilities into a single device. The touchscreen is the starting point for users, while voice prompts provide user feedback. In Israel, where the device is in trials, books and other material are available from The Central Library for the Blind. When smartphones get smarter. Qualcomm elaborates.

GREEN HOUSE: The BIQ house in Germany has a novel way to keep cool and generate energy: it's coated in algae. The bio-adaptive façade uses microalgae that grow faster in bright sunlight and provide shade. The algae capture solar thermal heat and produce biomass that can be harvested. The building should be completed in March 2013. The algae may be good for wildlife too, attracting insects and birds. PSFK has further details.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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