Tech Universe: Thursday 14 March

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

ALL IN THE HEAD: A surprising 300 to 500 people per month in the US lose part of their skull thanks to disease or accident. Now Oxford Performance Materials can help such patients by printing out replacement bone on their 3D printer. The polyetherketoneketone structure contains specially designed textures and holes to encourage the growth of cells and bone. Recently one US man had 75% of his skull replaced with a printed bone. And the head bone's connected to the printer bone.

MODERATELY BRIGHT IDEAS: Turning a dimmer switch to control a single light is one thing, but painting light and dark onto a tablet and having a set of robotic lights respond is a whole other level of sophistication. The Lighty system handles all the hard work by computing the movements needed for a set of a dozen robot lights in the ceiling. The user simply paints light or dark onto a representation of the room on a tablet and the lights immediately respond with just the right amount of light in the right places.

A camera in the ceiling allows the display to update instantly. It should also allow you to program favourite patterns of lighting.

JUST REMOVE AIR: The Varstiff smart textile will be useful for emergency responders. The material is malleable and can be easily shaped into any form. When a vacuum is applied to it the material becomes rigid and achieves hardness equivalent to that of a conventional plastic. That means it can be used as an emergency immobiliser for accident victims. The creators suggest it could have other uses as well in areas like sports and leisure, or for making adjustable seats in cars. That's hard to argue with.

TEAM WORK: The Internet is designed to route around damage, finding alternate pathways if one particular device fails. Now imagine that capability in the chips that drive devices themselves. A team of engineers at the California Institute of Technology has developed self-healing integrated computer chips. They first created tiny power amplifiers then zapped them multiple times with a high-power laser. In less than a second the chips developed a workaround. The trick was that the chips included sensors to monitor temperature, current, voltage, and power. A custom-made application-specific integrated-circuit took all the data they produced and figured out how to work around the damage. It all seems very fractal.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: In developing countries cellphones can crucially allow farmers to find the best prices for their products, or let traders make payments. But charging the phones can represent half the total cost of the device. Cell signals are weak which drains batteries fast yet power supplies are scarce. A cellphone owner may need to walk kilometres and pay a high price to charge their phone. Buffalo Grid's portable charging station for 10 devices may make a huge difference to local economies. A 60 watt solar panel charges a battery that is taken to villages by bike. When a cellphone owner sends an SMS, a charging point on the battery is activated for 1.5 hours. And we complain about walking to the next room to get the charger.

Miraz Jordan,

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 01 Nov 2014 11:59:44 Processing Time: 456ms