Tech Universe: Wednesday 14 November

By Miraz Jordan

The Curiosity rover takes a photo of its shadow in front of Mount Sharp. Photo / NASA
The Curiosity rover takes a photo of its shadow in front of Mount Sharp. Photo / NASA

A LONG DRIVE: Sunita Williams, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, recently used a laptop to drive a robot in Germany. She was testing Disruption-Tolerant Networking, or DTN, an Internet for space. Problems with sending and receiving data in space include interruptions when craft are behind a planet or moon, solar storms, and of course delays as signals may need to travel long distances. The Curiosity rover on Mars, for example, receives signals direct from Earth, or sometimes via a satellite orbiting the planet. Interruptions and delays mean data can be lost. The DTN will take currently discrete items, such as the individual rovers, and build them into a network that can store data and send it on once a connection becomes possible. The Internet here on Earth has transformed how we do things. Doing the same for space is a new challenge. BBC elaborates.

MUSIC TO THE EARS: We can quickly decide whether music we hear comes from a violin or a piano, thanks to timbre.

But people with hearing loss can't easily do that because hearing aids discard much of a sound in favour of the parts that convey speech. Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University studied sound and the way our brains process it. Then they devised a computer model that can accurately mimic how specific brain regions process sounds as they enter our ears. In tests, the model was able to almost perfectly pick which of 13 instruments was playing. The research could help improve hearing aids or lead to computer systems that are better at processing music. I bet music publishers wouldn't mind a wider market. The Johns Hopkins University finds.

LEND THEM YOUR EARS: To let us balance ourselves and hear sounds our ears convert mechanical energy into an electrochemical signal. They don't produce much energy — it's measured in nanowatts. Still, it's enough to power a tiny chip that contains a 2.4-gigahertz radio transmitter. A team from MIT created the device and tested it on a guinea pig. The animal's ear provided enough power to run the transmitter without damaging the guinea pig's hearing. The researchers hope this finding could lead to implantable sensors and health monitoring devices. Did you ever think of yourself as a power station? Discovery News details.

FLIP THE SWITCH: It's well-known that strobe lights can trigger seizures, but researchers at Stanford and Pierre and Marie Curie University in France found that pulses of light could also stop them. Tests on genetically altered rats targeted pulses of light to cells in the thalamus region of the brain. The light immediately stopped the seizure activity. The genetic alteration though may mean this approach would be too risky to try on humans. There are probably some people whose seizures are severe or frequent enough they'd be willing to give it a try. Technology Review explains.

DUMMY SURGEONS: At the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Scotland trainee surgeons are practising surgical techniques on 3D models and animations instead of working on cadavers or dummies. The interactive system means students can work at their own pace and repeat any elements they want to work on. The system could also be used to help patients better understand their diagnosis and treatment options. The cadavers and dummies are sure to be grateful for the reprieve. Golden Jubilee National Hospital has the info.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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