Tech Universe: Monday 15 April

By Miraz Jordan

There is a house in Hamburg that uses slimy green algae to create hot water. Photo / Thinkstock
There is a house in Hamburg that uses slimy green algae to create hot water. Photo / Thinkstock

HOT SLIME: The BIQ House in Hamburg runs on algae. The facade of the building includes 129 bioreactors containing microalgae that generate biomass, provide heat and offer some soundproofing. An energy management centre harvests and stores solar thermal heat and algae to to create hot water. That's one building where the green slime stays.

THINK IT SO: Fingerprints or iris scans may be used to protect important data or facilities, but such systems are slow and expensive. Researchers at UC Berkeley may be able to create a low-cost and fast way to use thoughts for computer passwords. In tests they had people wear a low-cost Neurosky MindSet that connects via Bluetooth. Test subjects were given a task such as imagining singing a song of their choice. The distinct brainwaves were enough to authenticate users on the computers.

Now that would have to be easier than remembering hundreds of passwords, but how does it handle tiredness or the influence of medication?

PHONE IT IN: Smartphones can do a lot of clever things, but how about reading fingerprints, scanning irises and identifying a face? AOptix has hardware and an app that turns an iPhone into a mobile biometric reader. A special case around the phone collects fingerprints, while the phone's camera is used for iris scanning and facial recognition, and the built-in microphone collects recordings of the voice. The user can add notes and email data back to base. This isn't for the general public though and is likely to be used by government agencies. That's a lot of power in a small device.

SMART READS: Have a reading assignment for your studies? Maybe you diligently read the whole book, or perhaps you flick through a few pages, or maybe you never even open the book. Beware the power of ebooks: your lecturer may know just which pages you have and haven't read, what notes you made or where you failed to highlight key parts. CourseSmart technology allows lecturers to track the progress their students make through digital textbooks. It collects data and then creates an engagement index for each student that can highlight factors such as how often the student opened a particular textbook. On the other hand, it won't know if a student makes notes on paper or in a separate computer file.

A LONG VIEW: A camera featuring a low-power infrared laser beam and superconducting nanowires can tell when a single photon has hit. With that information it can create high-resolution 3D images from up to 1 Km away. The infrared capability means the camera detects a wide variety of different items, like clothing, that don't normally reflect laser beams well. The camera could perhaps be used to scan a forest from a plane, or scan the ocean floor. One problem is that superconductors have to be cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero, so this won't be a handheld gadget any time in the near future. 3D from a single camera isn't bad. Wired.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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