Tech Universe: Tuesday 9 April

By Miraz Jordan

Each person has a unique chemical signature in their breath. Photo / Thinkstock
Each person has a unique chemical signature in their breath. Photo / Thinkstock

SAY AHH: Just as your fingerprints are unique to you, so is the chemical signature in your breath, thanks to metabolites, the products of the biochemical processes in your body. Although a breathprint changes during the course of a day, the distinctive signature is still highly specific to an individual and could be a useful tool for diagnosing illness. More research is needed, but there are some interesting possibilities here.

SAY OHH: Veterinarians and doctors performs procedures on their patients on the basis of various scans and images. Thanks to an engineering student at the University of Notre Dame though they may soon be able to use 3D printed models to prepare for a procedure. The engineer made a CT scan of an anesthetised rat and sent the data to a 3D printer which then created a skeleton in white plastic and a removable set of lungs in green or purple.

If doctors could create such prints of their human patients before a tricky surgery they could practice beforehand. Imagine being take copy a replica of your own skeleton and organs too.

SAY GO: All those roads we drive on need to be regularly surveyed for damage and then repaired. Surveying is a laborious and expensive process. Or at least, it was — now a laser scanner can do the job more quickly, at less expense and with greater precision. The scanner's attached to a standard vehicle and then measures the evenness of roads across a span of 4 metres with a laser beam. Measurements are accurate to between 0.15 and 0.3 millimetres. GPS and and an inertial measurement system track the orientation and position of the vehicle at all times while it travels at up to 100 kph. It would be useful to combine that with a street mapping car.

SAY ANYTHING: People with severe hearing impairments may need middle ear implants that require complex operations lasting several hours. The surgery carries a high risk and is expensive. A new and affordable hearing aid is much easier to implant and could be done in an outpatient surgery with a small incision at the side of the eardrum. A piezoelectric micro-actuator is placed directly at the connection between the middle and inner ear and sends acoustic signals to the inner ear, enhancing hearing. Researchers have working prototypes but now need to develop optimised components for testing next year. Easier and cheaper are a winning combination.

DOUBLE COLOUR: It's hard to get good colour in a photo taken in low light. Most cameras use a system of colour filters that cause a lot of the light to be lost, leaving muted colours. A new system from Panasonic takes a different approach. Their micro colour splitter uses red and blue deflectors arranged diagonally across 4 pixels. The intensity of light can be determined from pixels without the splitters and high speed computation helps create a final image with colours that can be twice as bright. Small, fast computers make some very interesting things possible.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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