Tech Universe: Wednesday 28 November

By Miraz Jordan

Self-filling water bottles could be in our near future thanks to the desert beetle. Photo / Thinkstock
Self-filling water bottles could be in our near future thanks to the desert beetle. Photo / Thinkstock

BEETLE BUMPS: NBD Nano reckon they can pull drinkable water from the air, by mimicking an African beetle. They use superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic surfaces to harvest moisture from the air — something that could benefit yachties or desert dwellers. A fan drives air across the surface and water condenses out because of the specially textured surface. On a moving vehicle though the fan wouldn't be needed. Initially they'd like to incorporate the idea into greenhouses. We have so much left to learn from the world around us. Public Radio International elaborates.

IN THE GREEN: Jet lag can be really disruptive, but how about if you could reset your body clock in a couple of hours with green light? The Re-Timer is a device from Flinders University in Australia that looks like a pair of glasses. Wear the glasses for 50 minutes on each of 3 days so they can emit a soft green light onto the eyes.

Wear them before bed to delay the body clock to wake up later or in the morning to advance the body clock. Plug the device into a computer's USB port to recharge the battery. Do they cancel out the sleep disruption from viewing computers and TVs before bed? Flinders University details. Video here.

A TOUCH OF COLD: It's cold and you're wearing gloves, so forget trying to use a touchscreen phone. Or maybe not. With the help of Emitips you can keep your gloves on but still work the phone. The iron-on strips attach to the fingers of your gloves. The strips sense the pressure from your fingers and pass on what a capacitive touchscreen needs in order to work. Next you need only worry about dropping your phone thanks to the fumbling caused by wearing gloves. Emitips has more. Video here.

PUSH BACK: As trains rush along the tracks they cause the tracks to vibrate. A team at Stony Brook University in the US worked out how to convert that irregular, oscillatory motion into a source of usable energy. Alongside railroad tracks are switches, signals, gates and monitors that need power to operate. The scientists say the Mechanical Motion Rectifier based Railroad Energy Harvester can harness 200 watts of electric energy from train-induced track deflections to power such trackside electrical devices. That will save electricity, reduce CO2 emissions and save money for the railroads. I wonder if taking energy out of the track vibrations could also reduce wear on the track? Stony Brook University explains.

STEAMING AHEAD: Steam can be used to generate electricity, create drinking water from salt water or clean things. Rice University engineers worked out how to create steam using sunlight without needing to boil water. They direct sunlight onto nanoparticles that heat up quickly while they capture a broad spectrum of light energy. Submerged in water, they release the heat and create steam, even in nearly frozen water. The solar steam system is very efficient and has only a small footprint. It could be used for autoclaves in developing countries and many other purposes. There are so many ways to use sunlight; it's fantastic to see another one. Rice University finds. Video here.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald