Tech Universe: Thursday 29 November

By Miraz Jordan

The 'wasn't me' attitude will no longer fare well when scientists develop a device to measure how much gas is actually being produced. Photo / Thinkstock
The 'wasn't me' attitude will no longer fare well when scientists develop a device to measure how much gas is actually being produced. Photo / Thinkstock

THIS IS YOUR COW TALKING: Cows produce methane, and that's a problem as the gas is a serious component of global greenhouse gas emissions. But how do you measure exactly how much methane a cow produces? The answer could lie in sending electronic devices into the stomachs of cows and networking them together. The idea, from the Australian CSIRO, is that the device will stay in the cow's stomach for weeks and measure gas concentration using infra-red sensors, sharing the data through an ad-hoc wireless network. That's the first part. Now they have to work out how conditions in the cow's stomachs predict the volume of gases they belch. Once they have the data though, scientists can work on developing low-emission cows through feeding or breeding. And what happens when the devices exit the cows? Will they just lie crushed into the paddocks? New Scientist finds.

A MILLION A DAY: Does a 339 gigabits per second data transfer sound good? Physicists led by the California Institute of Technology achieved that speed in in Salt Lake City recently.

At that speed you could transmit a million full-length movies in a day. Such speeds are more practically useful though for sharing the data involved in high-energy physics, astrophysics, genomics, meteorology, and global climate tracking. That's a mighty lot of data. PhysOrg details.

SHAKY START: If you need to know how much damage an earthquake caused to a building having sensors in the right places beforehand would be very helpful. But of course they need power. A researcher at Victoria University has created sensors that harvest the kinetic energy of the earthquake itself as their power source. The wireless sensor is activated by a quake to measure the acceleration in the movement. It then sends the data to an off-site computer where it can be analysed. The biggest challenge was in figuring out how to make the sensor work from a cold start, given the suddenness of an earthquake. Using the power of the quake makes much more sense than relying on batteries. Victoria University elaborates.

COLLISION ALERT: A radar the size of a fingernail and costing around 1 Euro can calculate the distance of an object up to around 3 metres away with an accuracy of less than 1 millimetre. It can also detect moving objects and calculate their velocity using the Doppler effect. Its size and low cost mean it could be useful in cars, cellphones, robotics and for many other purposes. The radar works in high frequencies, so signal attenuation was a problem. A polyamide substrate for the antenna helped solve that difficulty though. A built-in test feature helps make sure the radar is working correctly. That could be specially handy for blind people and anyone too focused on their phone to watch where they're walking. European Commission, CORDIS has more.

SEEING SPOTS: A few blind people have a 10x6 electrode array implanted directly on their retina. They can make out colour, movement, and objects but trying to read letters is very slow and cumbersome. Researchers at Second Sight tried instead to project Braille onto the implant via a tiny video camera mounted on a pair of glasses and a wearable computer. The people being tested had a lot of success in seeing the Braille symbols, with a greatly increased reading speed. Presumably it's easy for a computer to convert text to Braille. io9 explains. Video here.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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