Tech Universe: Thursday 11 April

By Miraz Jordan

City wind funnels could be turned into electricity. Photo / Thinkstock
City wind funnels could be turned into electricity. Photo / Thinkstock

BUILD ON AIR: Many cities are full of tall towers. The wind often funnels between them, so why not make use of it as it does? PowerWINDows can be installed on the sides or roofs of buildings to generate electricity. The turbines don't have huge swooping blades, but rather look like windows with a sparse venetian blind. The blades move vertically up and down. The new kind of turbine is quieter, cheaper to run and safer than current wind turbines. Presumably they suck some of the energy out of the flow of air between buildings which could also make for a better environment for pedestrians and cyclists.

SNARK BY THE NUMBERS: Some of the news stories you read may have been written by an algorithm rather than a human. Narrative Science is a company that trains computers to write news stories. Feed in data such as statistics from a sports match or a political race and the algorithm turns out a perfectly readable story that may not be readily distinguishable from one written by a human.

The algorithm uses complex rules about the subject matter and templates written by trained journalists to create the stories. Clients can also customise the tone of the stories to be, for example, well-educated or snarky. This item was written by a human.

CONNECT THE DROPS: Scientists at the University of Oxford have been using a 3D printer to make materials with some of the properties of living tissues. The new type of material connects thousands of water droplets encapsulated within lipid films. The network of drops can carry electrical signals from one side of the network to the other and could perhaps help deliver drugs to targeted points within the body. So far they've created networks of up to 35,000 droplets, but the networks could be bigger. The droplet networks can also be designed to fold themselves into different shapes after printing. All with a drop of water and some oil: astonishing.

WELL-ARMED: Civil rights and aid workers in some countries face risks such as being kidnapped or even killed. The Civil Rights Defenders campaign group has developed a smart bracelet intended to help. The bracelet can be triggered manually or automatically. When triggered it uses phone and sat-nav to send messages to Facebook and Twitter warning that its wearer is in danger and providing a location. Other staff nearby will also be alerted. Keep those batteries charged.

PUSH OFF: The COMAN humanoid robot is being developed in Europe. It doesn't have a head or hands, but is just under a metre tall and weighs around 30 Kg. The robot features a combination of stiff and compliant joints that give it a spring in its step. Stabilisation control also means it keeps its balance on a moving platform or if it's given a bit of a shove. No pushing the robots!

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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