Tech Universe: Friday 19 April

By Miraz Jordan

The Bio-patch not only sends health readings to your smartphone, it also has wifi. Photo / Thinkstock
The Bio-patch not only sends health readings to your smartphone, it also has wifi. Photo / Thinkstock

PATCH PERFECT: Many people need to monitor their health closely, perhaps after a stay in hospital. The Bio-patch sensor is a skin patch that's as thin as a piece of paper. It's inexpensive, versatile and comfortable to wear. The patch measures bioelectrical signals through the skin. Exactly what it measures depends on where it's worn: it measures electrocardiography on the chest, but brainwaves on the skull. On the forearm it tracks muscle response. The wearer can analyse the readings in their smartphone, or data can go straight to a health worker for professional analysis. There's a tiny battery in the patch, which is equipped with wifi too.

VIDEOS BY NUMBER: Have you been watching videos online? If they were smooth and easy you can probably thank the data centre hosting the videos for using redundancy, data distribution and cueing techniques. Any individual video is likely to be cut up, duplicated and stored across different discs to help create a smooth and unbroken experience.

But that approach also uses a lot of electricity. A new technology called network coding may be able to reduce both redundancy and power draw. Rather than storing copies of videos, the system uses algorithms to transform the data that makes up a video into a series of mathematical functions. Devices can then use the functions to compensate for missing portions of the data. There's logic in that.

WORD SHAKE: If you have to spend a while on a treadmill perhaps you'd like to do some reading at the same time? It's not easy though as your head bobs up and down. Engineers at Purdue University have created ReadingMate to solve the problem. The system adjusts text on a monitor to counteract the bobbing motion of a runner's head and allows them to read normal-size text on a small monitor mounted in front of the machine. Because our eyes already try to compensate for the movement the system can't just move the text in synch with the head, so an algorithm handles the calculations. A system like this could be helpful for pilots or people operating heavy machinery to compensate for turbulence while trying to read from a display. Meanwhile, maybe an audio file is a better choice.

CLEAN ON COMMAND: LG's RoboKings are voice activated robot vacuum cleaners. Clap twice to pause operation. The smart cleaner can move towards the user by recognising the direction the voice is coming from. It can also remember the corners of a room and efficiently locate obstacles thanks to 3 ultrasonic sensors. Upper and lower cameras help the robot to clean dark places. The cleaner operates at 48 decibels for up to 100 minutes on a charge. Voice control's a handy feature.

HOME PRINTER: A team of architects in Amsterdam has a 3D printer that's 6 metres tall. They're planning to use it to print a whole canal house from different types of plastics and wood fibres extruded through a flexible tube. The architects draw their plans on a computer and feed them to the printer. The printer will first create exterior walls, followed by ceilings and individual rooms, then finally furniture. The pieces will then be assembled on site. This project is an experiment to prove the concept, although the cost will likely be more than for a conventional house. And the great thing is it's easy to produce scale models beforehand on a regular sized 3D printer. Let's just hope it can work with plastics produced from renewable sources.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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