Tech Universe: Friday 22 February

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

MIRROR SHIMMER: The European Southern Observatory needs a new mirror on one of its telescopes. The mirror's 1.12 metres across, which is a fair size, but it's also only 2 millimeters thick — thinner than most glass windows. When the mirror's installed it will be continuously deformed to correct for the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere and so create much sharper images. That's why it's so thin. To change its shape 1170 actuators apply a force on 1170 magnets glued to the back of the thin shell. They can do that up to 1,000 times per second. The whole thing's controlled by very sophisticated special-purpose electronics, of course. Oh, and those 2 millimetres of glass were ground from an original block that was more than 70 millimetres thick. That's an extremely sophisticated system.

COASTER IN CHARGE: The onE Puck from Epiphany is basically a thick drinks coaster. Inside is a Stirling engine though, so when you put a hot or cold drink on top of it electricity is generated.

And what do you do with that electricity? Charge your phone, of course. That's a nice asset in the office.

LOGGING ROADS: A team of engineers analysed the cellphone call logs of 680,000 Boston-area drivers, tracing commutes anonymously from origin to destination. They found that during rush hour 98% of roads in the Boston area were below capacity while 2% had more traffic than they could handle. Roads that connected different areas of the city tended to be most congested. They also found it was a small number of drivers from just a few areas who caused congestion, because they made particularly intensive use of the problematic roads. By reducing traffic in just a few areas planners could make everyone's trip faster and smoother. Now what will they actually do about it?

GENETIC EXPERTS: Ordering a medical test is one thing, but interpreting the results needs a lot of skills and knowledge. While most doctors can handle things like blood tests, working with DNA sequencing test results may require very specialised expertise. Coriell Life Sciences in the USA aim to help with ordering, storing, and interpreting whole-genome-sequence data for doctors. One aspect of the service is that the genomic data is stored in one place, then doctors can order various analyses and interpretations of parts of it. The doctor receives a report, then adds data to the patient's medical records and explains what it all means. Technology's hard enough to keep up with; medical technology must be a nightmare for doctors.

WALKING ON AIR: Volvo's V40 hatch is designed to help protect pedestrians who end up being hit. Sensors in the front bumper detect when a pedestrian has been hit then trigger an airbag that inflates near the bottom of the windscreen. The airbag is designed to prevent head injuries which are the biggest cause of death for pedestrians. Pedestrians: check the car's make and model before throwing yourself in front of it.

Miraz Jordan,

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