Tech Universe: Wednesday 13 March

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

SLOW FLOW: Wind turbines tend to be placed high up on towers to catch the air, but what say they could be only a metre or two off the ground and horizontal? The Solar Vortex system created by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology places blades horizontally to catch the flow created by warm air as it rises and cool air as it falls. The blades funnel the airflow into a vortex and turn a turbine. Because the blades are close to the ground, whose temperature varies slowly through the day, the flow of energy is fairly constant, peaking just after nightfall when demand is often greatest. The researchers calculate that a 10 metre turbine will produce 50 kilowatts of power. Surely they could apply that notion to places like train stations where quite a bit of heat is created at ground level too.

CHATTY FLIGHTS: Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787s are highly connected to the Internet.

Every piece of the plane has an internet connection, including engines, flaps and landing gear, alerting pilots to potential aircraft problems while in flight. Each flight could generate half a terabyte of data. I'm guessing encryption and security of all that data will be their next big challenge.

SCAN PLAN: 3D printers are old news now. You still need to feed the printer digital files with plans for creating objects though. That's where the MakerBot Digitizer comes in — it's a 3D scanner to create those plans. Two lasers and a webcam quickly scan objects up to about 20 cm in diameter. The scan can then be sent to the printer, for instant replication. We can guess what will be the first thing most 14 year old boys will scan and print.

LET THE SUN SHINE IN: Bridges and other structures made of concrete need careful maintenance to repair any small surface cracks before they cause big problems. Researchers at Yonsei University in South Korea have developed a self-healing protective coating for concrete. Their healing agent doesn't freeze even in very low temperatures and contains polymer microcapsules. In the capsules is a solution that turns into a water-resistant solid when light reaches it. That means that a crack exposes the interior to light, breaks the capsules and releases solution to solidify and fill the crack. Houseowners would love that product too.

FACE TALES: Dermalog's facial recognition system isn't trying to put names to faces. Instead it's guessing intent and mood. The system assigns a probable gender and age based on a face and then further derives a mood, such as happy. One purpose for this is to detect possible fraudsters, using the theory that faces can give away complex emotions and signals. Fraudsters are probably pretty happy, by and large.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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